Tuesday, December 15, 2015

"Entry Level" No Longer Means "Entry" Level, and We Are All of Us Unqualified

I've worked at the largest chain book store in the country for the past four years. As a writer and a person, it's been good for me. I learned better how to interact with people–specifically strangers who want things I may or may not be able to give them, and how to handle myself when I can't. Additionally, it introduced me more thoroughly to the landscape of e-books, e-readers, and digital publishing. Last year I self-published my own book because I could. I got tired of shopping it around to agents with just a proposal for a work that was essentially done. I knew design, I knew editing, I learned the software, and I poured over copyright law and production costs. I created a finished product orders of magnitude beyond some of what I shelve on a daily basis. This job has been very, very good for me.

Last week I applied at our corporate offices to become an assistant merchandiser, basically someone who figures out what is selling, what isn't, and what's the most cost effective and efficient way to stock our shelves For the record, we at the store level hate our merchandisers. They seem perpetually unaware of the dimensions of displays and the products intended the be displayed on them; they send extraneous units of expensive, non-returnable, unsaleable items; and just generally make it impossible for us to actually merchandise effectively. That said, a new assistant by definition would either be a replacement for the last merchandiser (for whom we held this ethereal enmity), or a new position to alleviate some of the workload from the current merchansiders and improve performance. Either would benefit stores greatly. Having worked in one of our well-performing retail locations for over four years, getting promoted and expanding the scope of my responsibilities in that time frame, obviously I am uniquely qualified to already know what kinds and lines of products sell well. I heard back within 48 hours.

"We have chosen to pursue other candidates whose skills and experience more closely align with the qualifications of the role."
Alright, the job description referenced some heavy math use, but I'm not a walking English degree; I've done some fancy math. I once calculated the energy release of being hit by a single positron in a particle accelerator for fun. (Actually, twice. Gotta check that math.) But let's set that aside for a moment. What could better qualify someone for a role than working the other end of that same job function for four years? The only thing really is doing that job already. And this is infuriating.


"They want to hire someone with experience but how can I get experience if no one will hire me?"
Major companies' hiring practices are appalling. Even Vince Vaughn made an entire theatrical bomb release relating the painful truth that one of the only ways to get hired at Google is to have already completed an internship with Google. "Entry level" no longer means "entry" level.

Greater economist minds than I have railed against the exploitation of the working force, the abstraction and commodification of our labors into products we ourselves cannot afford. I fully support the argument that a minimum wage should be a living wage, that a company which cannot afford to pay its employees that wage is by definition unsustainable. I also fully subscribe to the ideas that major corporations are driven toward profit growth at the behest of their executive boards over their laborers, employees, and even shareholders, and that powerful individuals and corporations through political funding and lobbying manipulate industry regulations to stifle competing technologies, smaller companies, and voices of dissent. Let the greater minds be the voices for those battles. I shall voice this one:

Major corporations are terrified because they're losing money and they don't know why.

I'll make it easy: Part of it is the rise of the Internet has diminished dependencies on physical products that are more costly to produce or maintain than a $17.99 yearly subscription to a GoDaddy URL and some server space.

Part of it is Internet megacorps like Google and Amazon are cutting out middle-men type business models, and by vertically integrating are making superfluous entire industries. While there will always be one remaining of any brick-and-mortar storefront for offline perusing and human-to-human commerce, many industries will become, at least physically, monopolies. When Borders bookstores folded due to mismanagement of their online store and reliance on outsourced e-content, Barnes & Noble effectively became the national bookstore monopoly. Not because they were better and absorbed the competition (Amazon did that), but because they were second-best and survived the culling of the weak. Their biggest competitor was eliminated by a young upstart that completely dominated the game in a way no one had ever seen before.

Part of it is these remaining Non-Coms don't and usually can't operate with the same business models that the Dot-Coms can. Book and e-book prices are set by publishers, and the only way a retailer can undercut that is to continue to give the publisher the List Price they're entitled to and take a hit on the difference. Typically, this is a "sale." Heavy stuff. But a sale can only undercut the suggested retail price so much before any profits the retailer would have made evaporate completely, and they begin selling the product at a loss. For a physical retailer, that's suicide. For a bulk- or wholesaler, that price may be lower based on the deal they got on quantity, but there's still a limit. Amazon doesn't care. Amazon can sell every Kindle and every copy of Harry Potter at a loss (and are well-documented having done that for the former) because they know that they'll make it up in Candy Crush and Kanye downloads. A majority of the time Amazon is actually just being a digital version of the middlemen they supplanted: I sell old books and movies and toys through them and they take a cut in return for me using their brand and an infinitesimal portion of their server traffic. Their operating costs for this are next to zero compared to their profit with even a small transactional percentage, so they can really throw their weight around when it comes time to negotiate artist rates, sale prices, and promotional offers.

And hell, I'll say it: Part of why traditional corporations are hiring scared is because "millennials" are jaded as all hell trying to get a job let alone getting ahead with companies that still cling to outpaced and outdated business models that would rather gouge their employees' salaries and benefits than accept a negative profit growth quarter as a change in cultural buying habits.

Maybe more small, diverse businesses and fewer hulking conglomerates would better allow for innovation. Perhaps consumers are happy to pay more for local/artisanal/whatever products of high quality and enjoy purchasing cheap, mass market items from select carriers whose business models change over time and survive market shifts.

Maybe if companies stop hiring scared we wouldn't be glad to see them go.

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