The Bitter Old Gen X’er’s Guide to Life

Arrgh!! (Or, Finding Employment with your Degree)


So! You want to get a job. Most people would be content without one, but nooo, starvation’s not good enough for you, is it? Huh?

Well, I suppose I should cut you a little slack. After all, you want to somehow justify your university education, and to serve society with your degree in Medieval Icelandic architecture. But in the meantime, I suppose I could advise you in some way. Before I finished university, I too lacked specific works skills and was without direction or purpose. But then... uh... well! Let’s start!

Let’s review how most graduates go about finding work. Perhaps a useful chart outlining the steps involved would be edifying. I think, judging from my past experience, that it would look like this:

  • Graduate.
  • Get asked ninety times by friends and relatives what you’re going to do next; evade question.
  • Go out drinking all weekend to celebrate.
  • Read or surf the help wanted section the next Monday, have a nervous attack, and consider another degree program to ‘enrich yourself’, or to help preserve the literature of the Antarctic by your studies, or something.
  • Decide to take a few weeks to think about your future.
  • Realize that, in your immediate future, you now require financing to buy a Big Gulp and that you need a job.
  • Look for employments openings again and begin to take notes on jobs you might be interested in.

As you go on, you will whittle down the numbers somewhat, after removing the jobs that you aren’t skilled for. If you’re a humanities graduate, this will simply the process greatly; let’s go straight to the general help section! Hmm, there’s quite a few openings, but they aren’t quite clear. To speed up the process, I will try to interpret what these ads mean. You thought they were written in English. But, really, they are written in ad-ese. It’s really quite simple to understand.

Expanding financial opportunity!
(translation: Telephone sales)

Do you like meeting new people?
(translation: Telephone sales)

Students! Join a fun-filled environment!
(translation: Telephone sales)

Now that you have grasped the basics of the dialect, it’s time to move on to some more difficult translations. Some of the language used in general help ads can be rather densely packed with information, and requires a more lengthy explanation. Here are some sample phrases:

Flexible kitchen partners needed for busy eatery!
(translation: You’ll be frying hamburgers.)

Experience preferred but not necessary!
(translation: You’re in, assuming none of the other 7,000 applicants have work experience. If someone does, well, tough buns.)

Earn up to $5000 a month!
(translation: It is theoretically plausible, if you are willing to work twenty hours a day, and the moon phases happen to be perfectly aligned, that you could sell enough vacuum cleaners to make a $5000 commission. It’s never happened, but hell, they said the Berlin Wall would never fall.)

So you are finding this rather difficult? Well, these things do happen. For this reason, many cities have employment centres set up by the government to help you find work. They seem to be a success by all statistical indications. Your average employment centre can employ up to twenty people or so to file papers, hold meetings, and nip out for donuts. Whether they actually ever secure employment for anyone is debatable, but there’s no need to be so demanding. The point is that you go there, line up in the crowd to use one of the three Commodore 64s inside that list vacancies, and away you go.

And then, after you have delivered, e-mailed, or sent by carrier pigeon copies of your resume, you can sit back and wait for your cellphone battery to go dead from the constant ringing. Perhaps you could spend some time considering what hot new mutual fund or IT stock you should invest in with the extra money left over from your first paycheque.


Are you sure you put the correct telephone number on the resume?

You know, perhaps we should trouble-shoot a little bit. Your college career-counsellor probably talked to you, or in high school you took a cheesy course for ¼ of a credit on Friday afternoons, which everyone skipped, which dealt with career planning. I remember them. Most of them had you take tests revealing that you should be a xylophone tuner or something for a living. Then there was the inevitable role-playing where you enacted a real job interview and critiqued each other’s performances.

This is wonderful, assuming you actually ever get a job interview. Right now, you’re trying to get your resume past the landfill. But don’t be too hard on career counsellors. If they had been personally successful, would they be career counsellors?

But anyway, what is the difficulty? Was there a problem with your application process? Did you show up for the office interview after changing your car’s oil? Did you wear a paisley dress shirt to the construction site? Did you hit on the receptionist? Did you keep asking the director to repeat herself because you couldn’t hear her over your headphones?

Was it your resume? Ah— your resume. No doubt it’s a good one. You didn’t include a nude photograph of yourself; you didn’t list your mum as a reference. You didn’t list your name as your Facebook nickname, ‘Tequila-hound .’ No doubt you worked on your resume to make it look polished and professional, and did your best to honestly present yourself and to describe your accomplishments.


Wrong, wrong, wrong! No wonder you’ve been so unsuccessful in your search for career employment. You’ve made a glaring mistake: you should never honestly present yourself! The point of a resume is to make yourself look good, not to tell the truth, you silly goose. Don’t begin your resume as I used to:

Dear Sirs & Madams,
I would greatly appreciate it if, in a moment of charity, you might be indulgent enough to spare a moment of your time to glance over my qualifications. I realize that my talents are paltry in comparison to the mighty and triumphant glory of your department and its heroic deeds, capped by the splendid grandeur of your leadership, but I humbly and dutifully beseech thee, with harp and lute and psaltery, to consider my time and energies at thy ever-ready disposal if ever thy grace might findst me even of momentary employment.

Rather, accentuate the positives in your background:

In the beginning, there was darkness. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a job. The earth was alive with a vitality that shimmered forth unto the stars.

And then the heavens shook. The seas turned to desert and the desert to water. The mountains trembled and the clouds were rent asunder. And then, amidst the chaos, there was silence; and then, as the wise men prophesied.... there was Ken.

Some people are born with greatness; some earn greatness; others have greatness thrust upon them. But it was early in my life that I realized that I would take my place along with the Charlemagnes and Gandhis of our world. It seemed that the very heavens thundered forth the word that the young Ken’s destiny was one of eminence. The poets sighed and the dreamers dreamed. And so, please consider me for the summer groundskeeper vacancy.

And you needn’t confine yourself to cover letters. The resume itself is full of scope for improvement and positive enlargement upon your actual experiences. Here is what I used to allow to pass as my resume:

Work experience

  • French-fry maker, Stinky’s Burger House and Auto Salvage.
  • Reason for leaving: Showed up drunk and mistakenly threw supervisor into grease trap.
  • Gas jockey, Twistlehoofer Service Station
  • Reason for leaving: Filled customer’s new Porsche with diesel fuel. Hey, accidents happen!


  • B.Ed. program, Duluth College of Mining
  • Expected date of completion: Unknown. My practicum didn’t go very well. I thought you could go out with students once they turned sixteen. How should I know she was the principal’s daughter?

Once I realized that this resume lacked a certain.. special.. something, I began to work on it to
emphasize the things that would make me attractive to a potential employer. After some careful
and deliberate pruning, this is what resulted:

Work Experience

  • Specialty chef for an internationally-known culinary house.
  • Reason for leaving: Creative differences inhibited the refinement of my work skills.
  • Petroleum transfer engineer, customer service setting
  • Reason for leaving:  It was strongly felt by my superiors that additional training would improve my employee efficiency.


  • B.Ed. program, in the tradition of Oxford University
  • Expected date of graduation:  I’m unsure, as I feel a gradual pace will aid in more depth in my program. My personal interest in my fellow students has been noted by my practicum advisers.

And there you are: a sensitive, yet factual portrayal of my work-related life skills. I believe it captures the essence of my experience in a tactful manner. Failing this, bribery or coercion may have to suffice in today’s rapidly-changing globalized job market. Hey, where would Machiavelli or Attila the Hun be today if they had been delicate weaklings in their careers? Perhaps career counsellors, I suppose.


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The Great Authors Contest

Sports & Recreation

The End of Everything

The Care & Feeding of Women

Death: A Lively Discussion

Getting a Job

Canada: The Real Story

My Hair: A Requiem

The Church vs. Wipe-Out

The Language of Attraction

Life Rules

Bitter Gen-X’er Exam