Saturday, September 4, 2010

Bait and Switch (2005)

by Barbara Ehrenreich
237 pages

In "Nickel and Dimed," Barbara Ehrenreich assumed the identity of a homemaker who wanted a job - any job. She toiled as a retail "associate," housekeeper and waitress, and saw just how bad things are at the bottom. In "Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream," she becomes Barbara Alexander, a public relations consultant who wants to break into the corporate world. She massages her past into a half-convincing resume, buys a new tan-colored professional wardrobe, and off she goes.

Like the aforementioned book on lower class jobs, Barbara takes on the white-collar world under certain conditions. One of her rules is that she must utilize the supposed help for people in her situation. Thus, Barbara shells out thousands forhalf-baked "premium" job boards on the web, and frequently vacations to Atlanta for "networking events."

Despite using the word "must" frequently, Barbara Alexander uses her Barbara Ehrenreich ethics to weasel out of job leads that may have given her that glimpse inside the corporate world. The fact that (spoiler alert) she largely gives up on her job search, not even committing the time she originally sets for herself, undermines her conclusions at the book's end. I think she thought her talent for writing would be evident, despite the faked 'n' fluffy resume omitting her actual credits.

If her optimism on gaining anything of value from these networking sessions was in earnest, then I have some concern for Barbara's grasp of the modern picture. She was offered a job in sales for a major insurance company that sounded a lot like the bites my resume gets at Monster or CareerBuilder. Yes, you have experience in TV production Jason - come sell insurance for us! I think a self-respecting business professional would see through these hundreds-an-hour "coaching" sessions, as they reek of infomercial. Those sessions use more acronyms than an AOL chat session about "Star Trek" (TOS or TNG?).

It's a little funny, and a little sad, to see these cult-like workshops for the white-collar worker "in transition." The earlier chapters describing these personality tests and Dr. Phil-like motivation provide some laughter. You wonder who in their right mind would attend, and you're thankful it's not you. Later, it becomes tiresome - you see the book's three-quarters done, and she's starting another anecdote on a nothing event. If this counts as experience in finding a white collar job, then I must have two books in me.


"Nickel and Dimed" gave the hourly worker a chance to bathe in Barbara's empathy and say yes, somebody notices me. "Bait and Switch" is just depressing. It's another reminder of how big business is changing, with the added knife twist of seeing the displaced from the ground floor. People who made the "right" moves (college, career, etc.) ending up in the wrong places. With her actual experiment a failure, there leaves little reason to pick this one up.

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