Tuesday, July 31, 2007

What can I do exactly?

Recently I've been through the rather complicated and laborious process of applying for jobs. Those selection criteria are astonishing. One job I looked at (but did not apply for) had seventeen selection criteria, for a job which basically consisted of answering the telephone and filing. I spent some considerable minutes wondering who would apply for that job, and which poor human resources minion would go through the applications and decide who wrote reasonable answers.

But quite apart from trying to think of ways of convincing myself and others that I have communication skills, problem solving abilities, the ability to work in and/or lead a team and drive, the process has made me wonder what I can actually do. What have I learned in my time at university and in the workforce? Is it any use to me? Is it any use to anyone? So I have been having a crisis of meaning.

My undergraduate degree is a BA, with a major in creative writing and a minor in media studies. Even I, with my heartfelt commitment to a humanities education, feel slightly embarrassed mentioning this to chance acquaintances, let alone potential employees. My postgraduate research is in the field of children's literature and publishing, only narrowed down even more than that. When having a friendly chat with the managing director of a local publishing house about future work he commented, bleakly, 'that's very specific, isn't it?'. I tried to explain the generic skills and industry knowledge I was accruing, but he had already turned his mind to other things (which in this case was praising mutual friends, which made me like him quite a lot at the time).

So I learned one thing, don't mention too much about my research topic to people who might be interested in employing me. This has stood me in good stead at my recent round of interviews, although after getting a bit carried away one astute interviewer did ask me why I wanted to work in his organisation if I was so passionate about my research field. I had to do a Fonzie like double-take and turn the cool back on. Given the amount of other postgraduate students I met at these interviews I have to say I'm not the only one who has realised that the public service is a better bet vocationally than trying to pursue an academic career in the humanities.

I'm pretty confident I have learned quite a lot of other things, though. No one is much interested in my opinion of 1990s media policy, no one has asked about my ideas on Australian satirical poetry or my well-evaluated attitude to digital communications technology. They are mostly interested in whether I can understand what I read, whether I understand statistical information (the answer is no, actually), whether I can listen and whether or not I'm really interested in working at their organisation. I think I learned some of those skills at university, but I suspect what I really learned was how to figure out what people want. All those different tutors, lecturers and workshop leaders taught me that. Thank you to all of you.

And yes, I did really want to work at the organisations. I've also learned, from my undergraduate students, to be absolutely honest about what I want.

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