Everyone is part of it. It has many names: the game, the grind, the rat race. Unless you’re sitting on a trust fund, you probably worry about participating in it when the bubble of college eventually bursts. The bizarre ritual that grants you entry into this mysterious realm of 401(k)s and cubicles is called “getting a job."
What usually follows this realization is a feeling somewhere between anxious denial and a brain aneurysm. Then the panicked thoughts come gushing in: "Employers are searching for diligent, well-groomed worker bees to add to the hive, and if I don’t make myself employable, I will surely end up in the gutters!"
As I continue sending resumes to employers and resisting the temptation to create a LinkedIn, I have been reflecting on how thinking of our worth to employers in terms of how employable we are is an incorrect and patently harmful way of judging your value.
I attended career fairs for the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering and the College of Arts and Sciences two weeks ago to talk with employers about what being “marketable” really means. Their responses ranged from excruciatingly corporate to surprisingly earnest.
The first person I talked to was Andrea Dygas, a recruiter for a talent advocacy agency called Ascend Indiana.
“It’s all about demonstrating flexible, transferable skills,” she said. The key to any successful job hunt is being marketable through what she called "professional networking."
Laura Green, a recruiter for Franciscan Health, concurred that marketability relates to presentation, defining it as how well you present yourself to others and professionally convey your skills.
But I talked with just as many employers who had to a seemingly opposite philosophy, emphasizing a non-robotic and personalized approach to hiring based on maturity and honesty.
Tom Daniels and Katie McKnight from Harmony Healthcare IT acknowledged that in most instances, your marketability is essentially how well you can “give your spiel about yourself.”
“But what marketability looks like to us is personality and drive,” Katie said. She emphasized how their hiring process considers “how much of an adult you are” and focuses on how a candidate has grown from past experiences.
Similarly, Debbie Peterson, chief of staff of MetroStar Systems, said marketability involves being able to navigate dynamic environments. Peterson said MetroStar also requires a series of interviews to evaluate “character-driven things,” which she said are meant to parse through the “marketable” qualities to get to the “real” person.
While certain explanations smelled of Mark Cuban-esque corporate-speak, others reminded me that there are places where your passion can be used, no matter the industry, as long as it is genuine and you are determined.
Reflecting on these ideas, I've decided marketability is mundane.
When you attempt to mold yourself into the ideal job candidate, which is to make yourself more marketable, you are doing little more than quieting your passions and replacing them with cookie-cutter qualities found attractive only by employers interested in maximizing productivity. While being marketable may buy you a sense of security and a steady paycheck, you must perform a sort of transfusion on yourself — in with the profitable traits and out with the rest — to even get your foot in the door.
Imagine Ludwig van Beethoven trying to make himself more marketable. His patrons adored his music for its unrepeatable originality and grandiose style. What if instead of creating art he had merely tried to appease his listeners? Wouldn’t he be refuting what they admired about him in the first place? You and I may not be Beethovens, but that does not mean we should give in to the self-refuting temptation of “being marketable.”
Psychology research has linked excessive pursuit of wealth to increased levels of stress, anxiety, depression and selfishness. I’m not advocating unemployment, but if the cost of being marketable is ignoring my passions and sacrificing my mental health, well, call me unemployed.
Thinking of yourself in terms of your general mass-marketability is a sure way of selling yourself short, but it is not a sure path to success. Don’t let your career get in the way of your constructive and fulfilling personal habits, which are ultimately what distinguish you as a person from you as a job candidate.
Carter Cooley (he/him) is a junior studying political science. After graduating he plans to go into political campaign management.
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