I’m here in my apartment just north of the Los Angeles airport, writing this article because I was unfit to fill a position for Production Assistant on the TNT drama Dark Blue. I wish I could say that I didn’t get the job because I refused to sleep with my interviewer. I wish I could say that I was turned away because I was underdressed, and underprepared, and under-awesome. I wish I could say I was rejected because during the interview I said the word ‘fuck.’ I can’t say any of these things. And even though I don’t know for sure, since the bastards at Dark Blue never called me back, I have a sneaky suspicion that I was denied because I was simply not qualified to fulfill the duties of a production assistant; things like filling the refrigerator with Coke, talking on the telephone, and saying stuff like, “Yes sir. Right away sir.” Somehow, I’m not qualified to be someone’s bitch.
It turns out that outside the field of education—a field from which I’m desperately trying to extract myself—I’m not really qualified for any job. I moved to LA almost a year ago to the day to—among other things—fulfill my hopes and dreams of becoming a writer for situational comedy television. After a year of searching for entry-level jobs like the one described above, I have extended (read: stooped) my search to jobs at noble and prestigious establishments such as The Apple Store, The Enterprise Rent-a-Car, and The Radio Shack. But even at these places, I’m somehow unqualified. But in quite a different way.
For these jobs I will label myself ‘overqualified’, even though that’s not really what I am. What I am, at least on paper saved as “Matt Shirley’s Resume”, is someone who is highly educated, pseudo-experienced in a variety of fields, and a risk of only staying with the company for weeks or months instead of years or decades. Simply put: I’m not a lifer. Or a semi-lifer. I’m someone they would train for two weeks, only to leave four weeks later. Assumedly, I’m a bad investment. And I get that.
On the other end of the spectrum, but not all the way on the other end, are the jobs for which I have been turned down, or for which I was never considered, like the PA job at Dark Blue. While the qualifications for jobs such as these are not strenuous—applicants must be able to walk (or roll in the case of the handicapped), talk, and maybe do both at the same time—there are a few skills that an inexperienced applicant would not possess. My interviewer mentioned things like ‘understanding insider lingo’ and ‘knowing your way around’ and, well, that’s about it. While she was telling me these inane things that experienced applicants might know, I got the vibe that there was no way that I was getting the job. She may have wanted to mate with me, but she didn’t want to make me PA on Dark Blue.
What these two types of jobs—jobs for which I’m ‘overqualified’ and jobs for which I’m ‘underqualified’ –have in common is something I don’t think the people doing the hiring for those jobs fully understand. I’ve read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and I realize that corporations have us employees over the barrel, but I will forever back a business’s decision to do what is right for that business. If it’s fiscally responsible to outsource jobs, I think they should probably outsource jobs. If a TV network can make money showing trash like “Jersey Shore” or “Millionaire Matchmaker” or “Glee” then they should do it. They have no responsibility to uphold a certain noble standard to society. They do however have a responsibility to their shareholders and their employees to increase revenues and turn a profit so the business, and everyone involved in the business, stays afloat. But while these businesses may believe that hiring applicants who fit into certain molds because the skill sets required are either incredibly general (in the case of Radio Shack) or relatively specific (in the case of Dark Blue), I have a hard time believing that companies should employ these molded applicants rather than the smartest and most capable persons up for hire.
It seems to me that intelligence is undervalued. The ability to solve problems is undervalued. The propensity to make good decisions is undervalued. While it appears at the outset that a lot of the jobs discussed wouldn’t require any of these assets, at least on a day-to-day basis, I can’t imagine that there haven’t been situations where these molded applicants have made mistakes, or missed opportunities to increase business that a more intelligent applicant wouldn’t have made or wouldn’t have missed. Furthermore, I hypothesize that it’s always sound business practice to hire an smart candidate, if only to have that person within the realm of your company. Yes his talent could be squandered at the lower levels of the Marriott Hotel Chain hierarchy, but talent doesn’t disappear, and might come in handy when the manager’s inappropriate use of company beds and company maids comes to light.
I don’t make these hypotheses for the purpose of deluding myself into thinking that I’m a great fit for any job. Or that I’m – necessarily – the smartest kid in the candidate pool. (Although one might draw the conclusion that I think just that from the somewhat bitter tone of this piece. Forgive me, I’m firing back.)
And I know from experience in the field education that there are certain personality traits—traits I clearly lack—that are required to make a good educator. I do however think that companies are missing an opportunity when they decide to hire the molded applicants rather than the best and the brightest.
Perhaps then, instead of employing more worker bees trained to say, “Yes sir. Right away sir,” those employers would hire a more intellectual group of thinkers and would in turn hear something infinitely more helpful and infinitely more frightening coming from their mouths:
“Wouldn’t it be smarter if we did it this way?”