Many years ago, after Nashotah House decided it no longer required my unique outlook, I bought a book. (That’s my default reaction.) This book was on how to write killer cover letters. I don’t remember the title or the author, but I followed the advice, well, religiously. It got me nowhere. Business tricks, at least historically, don’t work in academia. Sitting at home, pondering my sins, I flipped to the chapter on advice to take if none of the rest of this was working for you. Here’s where the human side began to show through. Have you been eating onions or garlic before your interviews? it asked. Do you need to lose weight? Try dressing nicer. It occurred to me that the business world lacks the imagination required for denying jobs. And besides, who was getting any interviews before which I shouldn’t eat garlic?
Business advice is, in a word, shallow. It assumes that if you’ve got the goods there’s no reason you won’t get hired. Reality is a bit more complex than that. I often ponder how people simply go for what they want. They reach for the biggest piece without pondering the repercussions of their actions. I see it in my small world of publishing all the time. Those who are “hungry” (read “greedy”) succeed. Those who wait behind to help others simply can’t compete. So the cover letter book did get that part right. Is it possible, however, to devise a society where everyone fits? Not all are created equal, perhaps, but do we have to reward those who seem to care only for themselves? Let them eat garlic.
The cover letter book, in the end, never really did me any good. I found my way into publishing by being willing to aim low. I’ve written many cover letters since leaving Nashotah House, and only two ever led to a job. Those who work in business, what with their concerns about readers’ aromas and weights, seem never to have considered the intricacies of the intellectual job market. What strikes me as particularly odd is that there are plenty of smart people out there, and yet they haven’t organized to offer alternatives to the greed-based structure on which our work lives are based. They can’t, it seems, gaze beyond capitalism as a mechanism for helping individuals lead productive lives. Business operates on the principle of replaceable parts, many of which happen to be human. And even those who know how to write can’t hope to compete against those who prefer cogs that know to avoid onions.