Work the System, or Break the System?

There’s two overall philosophies you can adopt in your job search. Both are legitimate, reasonable choices, and both have their upsides and downsides. The difference depends mostly on your goals… and what you have to lose. I evaluate almost everything I do or create in light of this dichotomy.


Work the System

Most of the job search advice out there falls in this category. You need a job, and to get a job, you sometimes have to do stupid, pointless, absurd or even demeaning things. Resumes and cover letters are arcane tools used as much to project that you understand and respect the game as they are to communicate your skills and passions. The employer holds most of the power, and some wield it much better than others. And, of course, depending on who you are you have to deal with the looming spectre of racism, sexim, classism, and all kinds of other filters on top.

It’s all a system, a game even, and it can be worked and mastered. Hiring managers are looking for signals that you belong to the same group of smart, professional, skilled, or agile (or white or middle-class or cis) people that they do. From the most perfect resume templates to the comprehensive interview prep to the formulas (and lack thereof!) of cover letters, I got you covered if you’re concerned first and foremost with getting a job.


Break the System

Even small acts can be revolutionary. Everything evolves over time, including the general social mores around hiring, jobsearching and work. Sometimes that evolution happens because of changes in law, but more often, there’s an interpersonal or even capitalist mechanism at work; either the employer sees data that a certain approach is demonstrably failing somewhere else (and they read a think piece about it), or they start losing too many good candidates who won’t put up with their nonsense.  

It usually sucks to be the first candidate to walk away from a shitty process, or to call out bad stuff your own employer is doing, or to visibly resist the worst practices of our flawed institutions. But being the second is a little easier, and third even easier. If you’re in a desperate situation and need to pay some bills, I’ll never fault you for that. That’s even quietly revolutionary, in its own way. But if you’re in a position to help make things a little less shitty for those who come after you, I’ve got your back.