My Week in Joblessness (5): We need to crack down on the hidden market [GoThinkBig column]

Published 5/07/2013 on GoThinkBig

My Week in Joblessness sticky-2

I propose a hidden market crackdown…because I can’t network to save my life.

It’s an oft-repeated whinge that most jobs are found on the elusive ‘hidden market’, where editors hire internally or throw a drinking buddy a nepotistic bone. These jobs aren’t advertised to us open market mortals.

But don’t despair, jobseekers, vague advice is at hand! Apparently, we’ll happen upon the hidden market if we just “network”. I imagine ducking into a dusty back alley in Morocco, pulling back a tatty curtain to reveal, in a billowing cloud of cigar smoke…The Hidden Marketers. And they’re all your dad.

“Network” was the only one-word lesson in my MA. Sometimes they padded it out, “Network – networking is important. So make sure you network”, with no real explanation of HOW. Perhaps because it’s embarrassing – how do you tell a bunch of wide-eyed wannabe hacks their time might be better spent shoulder-rubbing than CV-writing?

Why the jobless need to network

The system is broken. While it would be lovely to make the process fairer, no one seems keen to get started. Fairness and meritocracy clearly aren’t priorities in an industry where over 90% of journalists are white, under 5% are working class, and nearly 80% of newspaper articles are written by men – not to mention the 92% of aspiring journalists who will, at some point, have to work unpaid.

The folks in the shady bars of the hidden market must find our “please interview ME!” covering letters adorable.

Not that they don’t interview hidden market candidates – I’m sure they ask, “Why do you want to work for us?”, “What are you drinking?”, and, most importantly, “Who’s your daddy?” Meanwhile we’re left begging for stop-gap archiving jobs where the only question is, “Are you familiar with the alphabet?”

So…looks like we might have to network.

Why networking is a little bit hideous

  • It ain’t what it used to be

I get nostalgic for days I never saw (the summer of ’69 really was splendid), so I miss the days of getting chatting in a lift to a guy in a sharp suit, his hair slicked back with the grease of his workers’ elbows; he’d tell you he likes the cut of your jib, next thing you know you’re heading up a department, shouting, “Get me Jackson on the phone!” – all with a tumbler of whiskey, which no one finds inappropriate.

Alas, those days are gone (indeed, unless you’re white, male, and running up to 50, you never had them). Thanks to fierce competitiveness, everyone’s networking ‘at’ the same people. They’ve lost the illusion that they’re being pestered because they’re admired. It’s become clear – you network with people because you’re hoping to use them as a ladder rung. Maybe that’s why no one likes the cut of anyone’s jib anymore. You may as well let your jib grow out.

  • That awkward moment when YOU WANT TO DIE

Networking is awkward, because insincerity is awkward.

I tried once. It was horrible. I was ‘covering’ an event for some minor MA module. A well-meaning PR lady pointed and said, “That’s Johnny Bastardface [I’ve changed his name to protect his identity, and because it suits him]. He works for the Guardian. Go and ask if he can get you work experience!”

Great. At what point should I say, between bites of dry canapés, that I (a wannabe who’s buying experience from a fancypants school) want him (a seasoned professional who got where he is through graft and gin) to pull strings for me just because I buzzed around him at a boring event?

But I thought – come on. Network. That’s what journalists do. So I went over to Johnny Bastardface and introduced myself, told him I was studying journalism, and watched him silently curse the gods. You know what’s coming next, don’t you Johnny Bastardface? You know, I know, and now we both hate me. Hey JB, what’s say we sack off this shindig and go beat me up in the alley? Then we can share notes on the event so you have something to give your editor, and I have something for my tutor to rip up in front of me. Now, that’s networking.

Instead, I said, “So, you work at the Guardian?”

“I can’t get you work experience.”

  • It’s discriminatory

The expectation of networking discriminates against people who are socially awkward, or weren’t conceived by their future boss. (I’m now coughing James Caan’s name, which is ridiculous given that I’m alone, plus no one ever escaped a libel suit with the old “tickly throat” excuse. Anyway, James Caan hired his daughter. But I’m sure she was definitely the best person for the job.)

The hidden market is for the well-connected and the extroverted. If your parents aren’t on TV, or you’re not comfortable going up to strangers and saying, “Can I step on you? I need to get somewhere higher”, you’re at a disadvantage.

The HTBJ hidden market crack-down

Just as fake DVDs are destroying the film industry, the hidden market is destroying our job search. So I’m enlisting #Pyjarmy soldiers for the Hidden Market Hit Squad. We’ll identify the culprits and TAKE. THEM. OUT. Not kill them, you understand. We’ll just put them in a vat of jam – and there they will stay, until they get a job OUR WAY.

They will experience life as a REAL jobseeker, spending months on job sites applying for positions like “Person Not in Vat of Jam” or “Jam-Free Manager”, or “Social Media Production Executive Who Isn’t In Jam”. Unsuccessful candidates will be left in jam.

Now, Hit Squad candidates, as your employer is unemployed the pay would be very poor indeed –  and if you value your career there will be no exposure whatsoever. It would mainly be the joy of looking at The Hidden Marketers and saying, “HAHA! You’re in JAM, now!”

All candidates will be contacted, and indeed, accepted.

Now, could anyone lend us a vat? And quite a lot of jam? GoThinkBig

Our anonymous blogger is an active #Pyjarmy recruiter in her spare time.

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2 thoughts on “My Week in Joblessness (5): We need to crack down on the hidden market [GoThinkBig column]

  1. It is one of the most uncomfortable moments when we call the former colleague (inside the company or a client of the company) and he or she is just as uncomfortable by the fact that we are actually networking as we’ve been told to do. Then we realize they really didn’t mean it when they told us to call them if they can do anything for us.

  2. Pingback: #Pyjarmy soldier Natasha | howtobejobless

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