Monday, January 24, 2011

Who wants coffee?

I know that my last post was about a year ago, but I've been fighting the great college battle, and now, I am on the cusp of graduation. But what lies on the other side?

Let me tell you what to expect: A cruel, dark world where cash-strapped organizations can only say "thank you but no thanks" to your bridge to nowhere-employment. Upon interviews you can be met with criticisms on your limited work experience, your choice of major, and your appearance.

Ok, so maybe the above happened at only two interviews, but the reality of structural unemployment is a real one. Living in Dubai I've seen friends who've graduated a few years ahead of me get shown the door. People who are meant to "advise" you wonder who gave you a degree because they think you've got shit-for-brains when they look at your employment strategies (i.e. fixing your CV, going to job fairs, signing up on Bayt.com). The biggest criticism I've heard is "why haven't you established more wasta?"

Wasta. Let me unpack the term. Meaning 'network' or 'connections' in Arabic, it generally refers to laiasing (or schmoozing) with people in higher places to help you make it up into the working world. While I acknowledge that building real connections with people is definitely part of employment, it just feels that getting a job based on merit is seen as the last thing on your priority list, while establishing wasta should be your first.

Awkwardly, I attempted it, but I am really not a smooth operator when it comes to making friends for specific benefits. I make friends the normal way: you meet someone, they turn out to be cool, you make lunch plans and the rest goes from there. Showing up at some function and trying to segue into work conversation, sucking up to someone's company, taking a card and then trying to meet with them for shisha or something in the insincere attempt at bonding (but actually trying to get into their company's pants) is a skill beyond my capacity. I feel like Monica in that one episode where she tries to seduce Chandler with carrots and a box of cereal.


"You're hired!"


In any case, having been reduced to a pile of self-esteemless rubble, I sell myself as a great coffee goffer. Let me tell you, if you're hankering a grande latte from Starbucks, you can't find anyone better than me to speedily retrieve one. Let me be your coffee retriever.

About a month ago, my professor took our class to meet with a higher member of one of Dubai's bigger companies (his daughter happens to be in my class. If you live in the UAE, this is a normal story). He gave us a candid talk, running through the entrepreneural history of the UAE before turning to the recession. "I'm sorry guys. We were growing too fast, making wreckless decisions and we didn't stop to gather info or assess our situation, which is why you guys will embark on a world that needs repairing and we have not done enough on our part to train you for it, and for that I am sincerely sorry."

For the first time in my souless job-hunt, I felt like I was released of blame. All those punishing noises about not having the right wasta or the right job experiences died away when he apologized. I admired his honesty and I thanked him in front of everyone for admiting that and taking the blame off of us, timid fresh-starting graduates. He just shook his head and said that he wished more could be done to prepare us for the recession-fraught working world.

My feelings are mixed at this point, a few days before I graduate. I started out college with hopes that I would own that chic apartment in Dubai with the french bakery downstairs, taking the company car to my awesome job (whatever it was). I'm sure we all started that way, but with the recession and structural employment, I have no choice but to tough it out along with my peers and keep hoping that after every silent rejection there's a joyous acceptance email waiting for me in my inbox.

It's going to be a rough next couple of months.

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