I have two resumes. One of them states that I graduated from high school and learned how to drive a truck, work dispatch for deliveries, lead a work crew, and show up places on time. The other reveals that I am a published scholar with a Master’s Degree in philosophy summa cum laude from a prestigious New York institution you’ve probably heard of. Guess which one gets me called back?
Hint: Socrates isn’t hiring.
Pretty much everyone lies on their resume, or resumes, since you probably have a few different versions of your life depending on who’s asking. Most people innocently pad their qualifications with cute euphemisms and half-truths, turning “food runner” into “expedition specialist” or “assistant manager” into “team leader.” We fill gaps between jobs to avoid nosey questions or leave off past employers likely to give us a bad reference.
A bold few take it a step further and invent fictitious college degrees, as in the famous case of former M.I.T. Dean of Admissions Marilee Jones, who resigned in 2007 after 28 years of passing as a PhD despite not receiving any of the three degrees she claimed to have earned on her resume. And Ms. Jones, from one bullshitter to another: You had a good run. But in my case, I got the fancy degree, and I lie by leaving it off.
I didn’t set out to be a liar. I just never had much luck with the truth. Whenever I’ve mentioned my education to the employers who call me for an interview, which is almost always in a field that doesn’t require a degree at all, it has become the unwanted focal point of the interview, evoked as a reason why I’m “overqualified,” caused suspicion of my motives for taking the job, or forced a potential employer to question how long I plan on staying. In their eyes I’m just a carefree kid who will screw around, use the job a short-term source for beer money between exciting upper-class adventures, and vanish in a few months. In reality, I just want a living wage and health care, and I will stay on anywhere this can be assured.
To be clear, I despise the humanities bashing that typically hangs over the discussion of “useless degrees.” I consider trashing the humanities a counterpart to the imposition of austerity measures that reduce public education to the most basic skills required to be a subordinate worker. This means diminishing access for working people to exercises in critical thinking, spirituality, aesthetics, and basically anything that will not support, or worse yet, will undermine their predestined role in the accumulation of capital.
What’s more, the job market at present is over-saturated with “practical” graduate degrees in business, law, graphic design, and so forth; and pretty much whatever well-paying trade you can name that I “should have gone into” will soon be flooded with hordes of equally qualified unemployed. In 2011, only 55 percent of law school graduates ended up getting a law-related job. Percentages are better for B-school go-getters (77.7 percent in 2010) and architecture school nerds (92.3 percent). But these and other once ”safe” professions are no safer from the assault on the full-time, secure job.
At the university, where I once planned to work, this tendency is on full display. The same basic strategies of austerity that pervade the public and private sectors have made securing full-time work extraordinarily difficult, and often, part-time work at a university is the only option for those seeking to stay anywhere remotely in their chosen field.
As tuition rises, the number of full-time tenure track positions at American universities is shrinking. These positions are increasingly replaced by adjunct work, which is low-paying and freelance. Adjuncts typically do not receive benefits, have no assurance of long-term work, and can be dismissed at any moment, with no explanation. And it’s no more certain with a PhD. This arrangement is starting to become the norm, no matter how much academics may want to believe that their line of work is somehow removed from the present arrangement of capitalism.
Sixty-five percent of the teachers in the CUNY system, that proud bastion of NYC leftism, are adjunct, up from 60 percent in 2003, and reaching 70 percent at Hunter College. This is the story everywhere.
The official unions are either powerless or complicit, and the politicians only want to ease the pain. It’s becoming hard to deny that the only thing that can save the working class is its own collective power. Accordingly, independent struggles are emerging, like the adjuncts at Hunter College, and these movements find common ground with the precarious workers in seemingly unrelated industries. The most pressing task at present remains to link these emerging struggles together across sectors, and fight together as a class: full-time, part-time, precarious, unemployed, white collar, blue collar, no collar, and so forth.
While this is all admittedly a generous reading of my adventures in resume lying, and one I hopefully won’t have to answer for it in future job interviews, I’ll conclude with a question I’m sure to hear every time:
Do you know how to drive this thing?
Previously: I Punched My Boss in the Face