The Problem With Job Postings: Penny Arcade Edition

If you have a solid group of friends or relatives, a degree in an in-vogue “good” subject (which will just as quickly become a “bad” subject once public taste changes – just look how far Greek and Latin have fallen in 150 years), or a stable employer that doesn’t dabble in “improving operational efficiency” by slashing jobs, reshuffling roles for no reason, and driving away good employees, then count your blessings. You’re not one of the millions of struggling “overqualified” (read: too skilled/expensive for spendthrift HR departments) job seekers who comb through the cesspools of online job postings.

But if you’re in the latter group, you’ve probably grown familiar with the endless bullet lists of qualifications that finish off many job ads like the unappetizing icing on an expired pie. You know, the paeans to thinking outside the box (a metaphor with no literal grounding) or having 10+ years of experience for an “introductory” role. Maybe you’ve been asked to move to Iowa, or cold-called about relocating to Spain. Either way, the worst job posting essentially combine two seemingly contradictory things:

  • Things that seem/are below the candidate – this can come in the form of implied low salary/no discussion of salary at all, overly stringent workplace requirements for a job that can be done with just an Internet-connected device, or something else
  • Things that seem/are above the candidate – basically, a mother lode of responsibilities that would be unrealistic even if for the most “overqualified” person unless said candidate is willing to forgo her health and sanity. This aspect is made worse by criterion #1, and the combination ultimately either drives the candidate away or – perhaps worse, depending on perspective – sucking them into a position that they feel like they have no choice but to keep working at.

The environment created by these posting is as a good a reason as any to support basic income. Ideally, Switzerland will get the ball rolling on this initiative, but I’m not holding my breath for its worldwide roll-out.

On a more immediate level, some tech job postings having gotten out of control. An irritating IT job ad from Penny Arcade has become the object of scorn for sites as varied as Valleywag and Marco.org, which provides a good indication of how deep-seated and widespread (seriously, Valleywag can’t stand Marco Arment – it’s amazing and telling that they agree on anything) the resentment has become at employers who demand a founder’s work for an intern’s pay. The endless drive toward efficiency has resulted in corporations that have to ask customers to subsidize underpaid employees, as happened recently with Wal-Mart.

What does Penny Arcade want? The details are enough to make one’s eyes glaze over while raising one’s blood pressure. Most of it isn’t enough to bowl anyone over – they’re looking for sysadmin experience, competency with object-oriented languages (though the ad’s apparent ignorance of PHP being an object-oriented language is a nice touch), and IT miscellany.

BUT – they’re forthright about not having work-life balance and running “lean.” Now, the way that they present the work-life balance issue is telling – to Penny Arcade, it’s not that they’re actively forcing employees to work and have no lives, but that they “suck” at achieving that balance. This is insane if you think about it – the long, thankless weeks aren’t the product of a proactive “Destroy Work-Life Balance” initiative, but rather a failing – as if they were powerless to stop it, a stance that becomes a convenient way to get off the hook for any responsibility in degrading an employee’s workplace experience.

The word “lean” is legitimately used for labeling meat and describing some very specific types of startups. For everyone else, depending on context, it’s a euphemism for putting too much work on the average employee in a company or making fun of overweight people (the latter isn’t related to this article, but I just bring it up as a coincidental semantic note – it’s particularly egregious in the shallower parts of the gay community). It’s not transparent.

Granted, Penny Arcade likely received tons of submissions for this job, if only because the labor market continues to be depressed even 5+ years after the 2008 meltdown. What most observers don’t realize, however, is that it is these types of positions – underpaid, with long hours – that sap economic demand and perpetuate the cycle of weak hiring. There needs to be a return to sanity, but it won’t come tip we realize that we’re all in this (economy) together.

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