The good people at HECQO have asked me to pen an epilogue to the missives I wrote last spring that chronicled my trials and tribulations as a recently graduated PhD in the job market. I will make a long story short: I have finally found a job, and am in my fourth month of working for an arms-length Ontario government agency.
I feel like this is where I am supposed to relate an uplifting story that reassures the overeducated and underemployed reading this that yes, one day they too will find redemption in the shape of a fulfilling job if they just persevere with their job search, but I’m not sure that is what has happened to me at all. Mine is mostly a tale of sheer luck.
I was very, very close to permanently discontinuing my job search. As 2012 wound down I had been out of work for 16 months and was utterly convinced that I was unemployable. Even temp agencies were turning me down: I had sent my resume to about a dozen such agencies, but only one called me in for a meeting and most rejected me outright (I wasn’t aware this was even possible). Furthermore, I was thoroughly sick of the drudgery of employment-seeking and the almost constant sense of failure that accompanied it.
The dozens of resumes that disappeared into the ether each week, the interviews that led nowhere, the perpetually depleted bank account; I felt as though all of this was taking an increasingly costly toll on my mental health. I set a Christmas deadline for myself to find a job; if nothing materialized by then, I would go back to school. Or become a volunteer labourer on an organic farm. Or sign up to teach English in the Republic of Georgia. Or reconnect with one of my best friends in Guatemala and try to cobble out an existence as a gringo expat. Or run away and join the circus. Something. Anything other than the status quo.
Out of the blue, my current employers called me on December 20, their second-to-last working day before my self-imposed Christmas deadline, for a position I had not applied for and hadn’t even seen advertised. I had unsuccessfully interviewed with them for a totally different position in the summer and evidently made enough of an impression that they kept my resume on file. I took a French language oral test the next day, then a French written test and had my interview in early 2013. By the end of the first week of January I had myself a job.
The strongest sentiment upon signing my contract was relief. Though I had explored a multitude of other possible career options, I did so mostly out of desperation and a feeling that I might eventually have no other choice; my short-term preference very definitely was to start working and start saving money as soon as possible. I suppose I was happy too, though this was predominately happiness at no longer being unemployed.
At the time I couldn’t have cared less about where I had signed on to work. That being the case, I’m tremendously lucky – there’s that word again – to have fallen into a very good situation, realistically the best possible situation I could have hoped for at the end of 2012. I really, really, really like my coworkers, as well as the (relatively) laid-back and supportive work environment. Our clients are nice and rarely yell at us. The organization’s mission is one that I broadly support.
That being said, my situation isn’t perfect. For starters, the money isn’t great; let’s just say that I’m being paid well below the average salary for PhDs. Furthermore, my job security leaves a lot to be desired: I am on a one-year contract, and the organizational plan appears to be to eliminate my position completely at the conclusion of 2013. And most troubling for me, I am not using my core PhD skills (research, analysis, writing, public speaking, etc.) to their full capacity. Realistically, my job can be performed satisfactorily without a university degree, and indeed I was doing very similar work at a very similar organization in my hometown before I completed my BA.
But these are things to worry about down the road. I fully expect to resume freaking out about my long-term future in the weeks or months to come; that’s just the kind of person I am. In the meantime, I have authorized myself to bask in my good fortune for a little while; for the time being, I am content to work with people I like, in an agreeable environment, for a regular paycheck.
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