How Not to Get a Job
Defying the slick and detestable maneuvers of the American tech industry autocrats
As millions of fellow grubs in 2020, I had the fortune of losing a full-time job in the midst of what we hope will be a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic (betcha it won’t), and a couple of minutes later, after having entertained going back to freelancing and remembering how much I abhor chasing clients, I did what most domesticated adults would do: ignominiously hit the job boards for what I expected would be my last time.
I had wished that the sudden, forced embrace of remote work would uncover new and unique ways of collaborating, that both puppets and puppeteers would finally realize that there’s opportunity beyond the glass partition, and that a threatening virus would bring out the best in us. A man can dream—none of that happened, of course. We’re talking humans here, remember?
I hadn’t been on the hunt for a new master in a while and didn’t enjoy a single second of it, but at least the ordeal inspired me to jot down my thoughts, revive an old draft from my antiwork folder—yep, I have one—and compile my suggestions for how not to get a job in tech, that lazy label pundits attach to anything involving software, Internet, hustle, and billions with a b.
What follows is painfully inspired by the more than two decades I’ve spent solving other people’s problems and sprinkled with extra findings from the myriad of job interviews I endured during the COVID-19 era. So heed the advice of this idiot and I guarantee that you won’t be getting sophisticated, respectable-by-the-masses wage employment anytime soon, but instead you’ll reap something much more valuable and important—a good life.
I’ve conversed with dozens of interviewers throughout the years I’ve been an invisible cog in the Internet industry and, except for a couple of rare grumpy faces, all of them have been extremely cordial; so much, in fact, that I determined long ago that everyone was pretending. The ultra-friendliness displayed by these men and women is just a disguise—I now know that being candid and speaking up your mind aren’t common traits in this circus.
Some guy called Will once said that all the world’s a stage, and a job interview is not but another performance on such a stage. Heck, the thing you are applying for is advertised as a role; you are expected to act, Ophelia.
And if you’re willing to play your part in the charade you’ll first find out what type of serf your target company is looking for—don’t tell me: a hard-working team player, a multitasker who will perform well under pressure, and a peer who would do whatever is necessary to go the extra mile. As they push you along their conveyor belt of applicants you’d do good to ask: How hard am I to work? How many tasks should I concurrently perform and under how much pressure? Oh, and how long is that extra mile you speak of?
But you don’t ask shit and just nod and mouth something with the words dent and universe in it. Stroke everybody’s ego and, by all means, bring up the bottom line for bonus points.
That’s all fine if you’re just getting started. You don’t care; you’ve got a stomach and need the universal lubricant to put something in it—just play along, don’t ask for much and answer all the questions with the right responses, the ones parroted in so many books and plastered all over the Internet. Here’s the good news: you don’t need to be a great performer. Employers definitely know you are babbling whatever they expect to hear and don’t care; the more submissive and cheaper you are, the better. The bad news? You are hired—you are number six now.
If you understand the game you are playing, sure, take the job, but don’t stop planning your escape and beware of being gullible. Do not ever believe the tales of the mighty propertarians and plummet into the abyss of easy money, beer taps and, the worst of all, team culture.
From hatchery, through conditioning, and into the grind. Those in command have trained you as a puppy since the day you were born—it’s the way of the world. A world largely in thrall to states, religions, capitalism, and traditional education; all forces that demand obedience, “bane of all genius, virtue, freedom, truth,” as Bysshe Shelley once penned.
So, be a docile peon, shut up, and do as you are told or you’ll be replaced; after all, you are just a disposable piece of meat.
I fell into the trap in my early twenties, when I met the owner of an itsy-bitsy shop selling computers out of his mom’s house. The doofus had no moral compass and was bereft of any skill but had the cash and connections to convince a few customers to part with their money and to attract two or three naive underlings, of which I was the first, to work for him. I had tinkered with computers since I was eleven and even if I’d earned a buck or two selling my nascent chops over the years, I’d never held a real job—so I sold my time and brains hoping to gain experience and learn the secrets of the trade.
In the beginning I was drinking it all in but soon I discovered there was nothing to learn from this entrepreneur—that’s how these shrimps like to call themselves—as he only knew how to close a shady deal by being a sleazy salesman and an adulator, and how to abuse the hapless bastards under him until they cracked. Just a few months in, I wanted out. It was a difficult time—as in not-able-to-buy-food difficult—and it took me a couple of years to gather enough clams to quit and go solo.
In her book Nickel and Dimed, Barbara Ehrenreich painted a sadly familiar picture. She went undercover as a low-salaried employee in the late 1990’s America and revealed, among other dismal findings, that “most of the big hotels run ads almost continually, if only to build a supply of applicants to replace the current workers as they drift away or are fired.” Two decades later, the glorified technology powers keep luring for fresh souls; promoting a different kind of job, yes, with higher salaries, perhaps, but with the same crushing intentions.
“Finding a job is just a matter of being in the right place at the right time and flexible enough to take whatever is being offered that day,” Ehrenreich concluded. Welcome aboard, sucker. Florida tourist-infested hotels of yore, New York City trendy startups today, or the pathetic swindler of my youth: they’ll all squeeze out your juice in the name of profit.
No. This can’t be the way.
Turn the tables
In the years after my first encounter with wage slavery, I came up with three principles to live by: honing my craft to the point I won’t depend on anybody, being leery of people trying to make money out of me (that’s almost everybody in a world infatuated with wealth), and bringing a smile to someone else’s face every single day, no matter how bleak the day is.
Of course you must put the time and the effort to gather experience and abilities, to get the perspective to recognize and overcome your limitations—beyond any possible Dunning–Kruger effect—and to save and invest smartly, aggressively, until you are in possession of a satchelful of the stuff, enough to survive for six to twelve months while you devise your next move. You’ll know when you’re ready to get off the hamster wheel.
Looking back at it now, I was slow to break from the subservient mindset and I overestimated the merits of those with privilege and money (that’s typically all they have) for far too long. If you are good at what you do you must know that those who buy your hours—and that’s all they should be getting—need you. If they could do what you can they’d do it themselves.
But I’m too busy having meetings, closing deals and strategizing!
Fuck off. What an empty riposte! These pigs are just after cost-effective exploitation of resources and those “resources” are dummies just like you.
No job is going to be as amazing and rewarding as that buoyant recruiter pretends it to be. Unless they are literally saving kids or dolphins or forests, most enterprises are just a bunch of opportunists getting in the middle of an inefficient-by-design process to take their cut. That includes chatty recruiters with posh accents.
I finally decided to stop mingling with a workforce after a short last stint with a firm in New York City. It was back in the Before Times and I moiled from home in Jersey but was invited—forced—to go to the place every Monday, a Midtown Manhattan office peopled with all the personages: the loud lady foaming over her sister’s boys (with accompanying coworkers’ oohs and aahs), the swaggering CEO babbling about his incredible trips to the most exotic places (it was all superlatives with this imbecile), the parasitic and obnoxious supervisor strutting out imaginary accomplishments in his charts (a real-life Komiya), and the surrounding, miscellaneous assortment of suckers. You know the place.
Sick of this travesty of a business I quit but the CEO offered me a raise and I took it (I take no shame in that), stayed for a few more months and when he found a couple of planks to replace me, then he fired me. Right at the time the COVID-19 roller coaster was about to start. Classic dick move, classic NYC CEO. Good—that was my mark to switch from auditioning for employment to picking which project, if any, was worthy of my attention.
A few weeks later I started on what should be my final salaried job and five minutes after accepting the offer I was already savoring the day I’d quit.
And that’s how, after mountains of gigs and charlatans, I’m more than ready to deep-six the stupid idea of being the right fit for a bullshit job. Are you?
Five steps to not being hired
Still here? Neat. A peculiar one you are.
Here are the five steps I recommend you follow in your future interviews; they’ll short-circuit the pretense and, I assure you, definitely won’t get you the job. Thank me later.
1. Don’t bother talking. There are tons of spammy recruiters out there firing off a boatload of canned messages (“I was impressed with your experience building impactful platforms at Crappy Corporation”) and they are desperate to catch a new peon—you—to exchange for their commission.
So when you receive that suspiciously upbeat message don’t waste time in a meeting—you haven’t been chosen because you are that lucky or that special—and just respond with an email including your résumé, expected salary and conditions. Make it clear that you don’t have the hours or the patience for long examinations with a dozen people and that a couple of conversations and proof of your experience is all you’re willing to offer.
Remember: it is you who is picking so be blunt. Back in my days of shooting cover letters I did this around the fourth paragraph so I know it works: never got a job.
2. Expose the sham. Interviewers will smile, nod, and agree with you in almost everything. Actors, all of them, told ya. Shatter the illusion by asking some simple question, “How much is your budget for this role?,” and when they dodge it yakking about values and processes and how, at the end, it’s all up to Jake, their messianic leader, cut them short. “Thank you, I know the darn drill. Pass.”
Anybody expecting you to believe they are running a bussiness without knowing how much they can spend on personnel is taking you for a fool, a fool who won’t see that these leeches are just trying to enslave idiots to extract maximum labor at the minimum cost.
3. Be honest. The best answer to the question “Why do you want to work here?” is the truth: “I’ve heard this company pays currency in exchange for the performance of services so I want to get some to avoid living in the streets.” There’s no need for empty flattery and it’s okay to say you are leaving your current job for a better salary or due to disagreements with bossy cretins or because you are bored—you can tick the three, be my guest.
4. State your conditions. They don’t care but will ask, “What are you looking for in your next job?” This is your chance to entertain your vis-à-vis with your fancy. No need to worry, they won’t hire you anyway.
“Why, just the usual, a challenging, meaningful, and worthy problem; smart coworkers; independence to make my own decisions; a fair salary with all the benefits; a 32-hour week; and no unnecessary meetings or bureaucracy. But before we continue I’ll need the contact details of a few former employees to ask them what is like to work for you.”
5. Paint your future. And here’s when they ask, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Go ahead, tell them. “I’m financially independent and I’m playing music, writing, or drinking a beer at my beach house. Every. Single. Fucking. Day.”
As Hans Landa would say, “Oooh, that’s a bingo!”
I predict with a 98.51% certainty that you won’t get the damn job. Cheer up, at least you’ll receive plenty of nicely-worded and very automated messages praising your awesomeness and wishing you luck in all your future endeavors. You can now move on with the next chapter of your life.
No more appeasing the beast
Now, hear me out: this is fine. You’ve got nothing to prove to anybody, you never had. Got the skills, got the experience, got the attitude? That’s all that matters. You are just a critical thinker and are not afraid of speaking up; both are signs of a healthy human being.
I still have traces in my mind of the last interview I took. The lad said, “I’ll give you an overview of the company and the role, then you can tell me about your experience and what you’ve been up to recently and I’ll answer any questions you may have at the end. Sounds good?”
“No. It doesn’t. I already read about the role and the company so I know you want to track everything users do online and sell their data to the best bidder (an originality contest you schmucks won’t win) so I’d prefer it if you just describe the hiring process.”
“Oh… okay (I wanted to waste thirty minutes of your life to pretend I’m doing real work). You must first complete a take-home project, it shouldn’t take you more than three or four hours so you can do it over your weekend (we don’t care). Somebody here will review it and decide if you make it to the next step. Then you’ll go through a technical interview and some coding exercises with the engineering team, a cultural fit interview with the business team, and, if you make it this far, a one-to-one conversation with our magnanimous and oh-so-busy leader. We’ll evaluate your performance against all other candidates and circle back. It shouldn’t take more than three or four weeks.” Of your miserable, expendable life, despicable vermin, he may have added, for giggles.
And that’s what I call a ten-out-of-ten interview. You don’t have to explain your reasons for not wanting to be another smiling servant. If these people can’t see through their own bullshit that’s their problem.
You’ve spent years designing and writing software for others to make their fortunes while they throw a few coins your way; I’d wager that you have what it takes to get rid of the constant pressure of a normie job and to work and live however the fuck you want. You don’t need these bloodsuckers. “Oh, you want the app to be cooler and faster? Tell you what, Mr. Big Shot, why don’t you program it yourself?”
Focus your energy and your time on what matters to you, screw them all and do your thing—it’s such a liberating feeling. I know you can do it but most importantly: you know you can do it.
Kuato said it best: “Start the reactor. Free Mars.”