The Utter Uselessness of Jobs

The New York Times has an article from last year on The Utter Uselessness of Job Interviews but I figured, why stop there? The uselessness of interviews isn’t a bug, it’s a feature within an economy that generally speaking makes a much bigger deal out of small and irrelevant things.

The problems with job interviews that this article highlights including reading too much into a situation that often reveals far more about the interviewer than the interviewee. The situation the author, Jason Dana, cites is one in which a friend of his thought they were 5 minutes early to an interview but were actually 25 minutes late.

[Normally this is where I would quote from the article but apparently NYT isn’t interested in copy and pasting so…]

This wasn’t because of poor time management but because they were given the wrong time. But because Dana’s friend didn’t know they were late, they acted composed and as if nothing was wrong. Funnily enough, instead of making the interviewer think that this meant Dana’s friend didn’t care they were actually impressed and hired them on the spot.

Dana uses this example to showcase the inefficiencies of basing long-term job related judgements with reference to how the interview goes. But on the other hand isn’t this often how these situations go in work itself? I’ve had more than a few times where the local district manager will show up and congratulate me on working so hard. But not too long before I was reading a book or slacking off in some other way but managed to look busy before they saw me.

And based on this small window of perspective, this district manager concluded I must have been working. Even though they know very little about me or how much I work (spoilers: as little as possible). The same can be said of any scenario in which you’re able to fool managers by keeping busy or showing up to a meeting with a manila folder.

“Ah, that folder means they’re prepared and well-organized!” Meanwhile your room is a total disaster, the apartment hasn’t been cleaned in a few weeks (if not more) and you only barely managed to wake yourself up on time and shower for the first time in a few days or more. First appearances can be misleading and I take no umbrage with Dana’s main points.

But they don’t extend far enough.

The lack of effectiveness of job interviews is just the first among many of the corporate inefficiencies that must be dealt with if you want to work. From the often outdated technology in the back of the store (the tablets and smartphones can’t cover up everything) to the ways in which menial work trumps relaxing and taking work at your own pace.

People will respond, “But work isn’t about relaxing and it’s not your pace but the boss’s pace that matters!”

And that’s exactly the problem.

Yesterday I was put in the position of working when a snowstorm had just happened. It wasn’t going to be a very busy day and my boss knew that so he assigned me a bunch of cleaning duties. This involved cleaning, dusting and putting away returns. The thing is no customer is going to care enough to say anything about dust or lack of cleanliness.

In over a year of working there I’ve almost never heard customers complain about dust. Once or twice there might be a stray comment about the floor. But even then it’s only if it’s really bad and that’s usually when it’s snowing and people keep tracking stuff in there. And in those situations it’s not worth cleaning until much later on anyways.

And so instead of enjoying the fact that we won’t be super busy I must make up for that fact by engaging in duties that make me, more or less, a maid. And I find it interesting that I had such a visceral distaste of this. I think part of its rooted in sexism (being a maid is seen as degrading) but also the fact that my boss can basically make me whatever he wants.

At the end of the day my paycheck depends on how much I succeed in making my boss happy. It doesn’t really matter if I feel demeaned or if I feel like I’m a cashier one second, a maid the next and then finally a door greeter. All that matters is that my boss’s boss (the district manager) is happy. So we have to write done these lists of (mostly) menial tasks.

So there’s not just uselessness in jobs interviews. That’s surely there too and I don’t dispute that there’s likely even some data to back it up (read the article for more on that). But the uselessness of the job interview is a sign of what’s to come in a field dominated by a complete lack of using resources effectively or at all intelligently.

Just fixing the ways in which people do job interviews (non-structured) isn’t going to fix the utter uselessness many of us feel during our jobs themselves. It isn’t going to make us suddenly feel like our bosses understand us and wages we may not be entirely happy with are suddenly A-OK. And it isn’t going to address other systematic issues of discrimination, pay-gaps, terrible co-workers and authoritarian bosses.

Fixing the job interview so it has more to do with, you know, the job you’re applying for sounds pretty reasonable. Instead of asking Susan if she likes dogs or how good she is at smiling, maybe make sure she’s good at dealing with stressful situations and isn’t going to complain all of the time.

But then I just worry that the newly highly structured nature of the interview is just going to make it easier for employers to monitor, control, regulate, surveil and otherwise dominate employees. Employers will finally get all of the “job-related” questions they need to pick the best and somehow it’ll just happen to exclude certain sorts of people.

I guess there’s just no winning.

Jobs are useless either way.


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