Barbara Ehrenreich proved she couldn't make a living at minimum wage jobs in Nickel and Dimed. Now in Bait and Switch she proves she can't get a white collar job. But not to worry. Ms. Ehrenreich remains one very fine writer and again has a popular triumph here in this witty and eminently readable shuffle through the land of the unemployed white collar worker.
But why this should be called "Bait and Switch" is unclear. Apparently Ehrenreich believes that many Americans were promised a better life when they entered the corporate structure only to find that what they got was laid off. In the sense that a "bait and switch" maneuver involves promising one thing and then delivering another, this may be correct. It is certainly true in the case of one of her experiences, that of being interviewed for a "job" by AFLAC and finding that the job consisted of no office, no cubical, no salary, no health insurance, no car, no computer even, nothing in fact but the opportunity to sell insurance on commission. Another similar "job" that she found available was a franchise or pyramid enterprise in which the job applicant has to put up some serious money in order to go to work.
As in Nickel and Dimed, Ehrenreich becomes an actor in her own drama which leaves her again subject to the criticism that what she is doing is artificial and does not allow an accurate take on her subject matter. In Nickel and Dimed, she, unlike her fellow blue collar workers, could always quit and go home to her well-appointed living space. Here, whether she actually lands the job or not doesn't matter since she has an independent income from writing to see her through. So the pain she experiences is only part of the pain experienced by the people she writes about.Read more ›
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86 of 93 people found the following review helpful
The bait is formal education. The switch is the market reality.11 Sep 2005
Edward A. Eliason
- Published on Amazon.com
Ehrenreich might as well be telling my story from 2002 to the present. Years of top grades, honors programs, a top 10 MBA, 'investment' in student loans, a good professional start--ending in long term unemployment followed by underemployment when the industry I was working in crashed in 2001-2002.
Unlike Ehrenreich, I've had more time to consider why a good education can be so meaningless if something bad happens during your career. Anyone, REALLY ANYONE, can go from being the best and the brightest to essentially unemployable in their field within 6 months--irrespective of their confidence that they are the type of person with hard won skills that will always be able to get a good job. People who have not experienced this for themselves will not believe it, because it is too unconfortable to believe. But this is how markets really work. Customers in a grocery will buy perfect vegetables and skip over the ones with visible bruises until they are sold at a deep discount. Hiring managers do the same thing. Candidates must be unblemished by any concern or question, including hiring gaps or rapid job moves, or unusual industry changes.
So for many, the system is broken at many levels. Education does not meet the needs of the future employed. It is too costly and of too poor a direct relevance to compete with educational systems and hiring criteria overseas. The process of hiring people remains superficial and flawed (Peter F. Drucker has some very good data to verify this to be true) but it is what it is and probably will not change any time soon.
Most managers hire on the basis of positive inside references, directly related previous work experience, and enthusiasm and good interpersonal rapport during an interview--if you are lucky enough to get an interview. For all the emphasis in our culture placed on achievement through education, lets be realistic. It is at most a footnote on a resume. Even if it did cost you years of work and tens of thousands of dollars.
What is to be done? Avoid educational debt, if it is not too late. Cultivate interdependence with friends and family--they will more often than not provide the leads for your next job if you lose your current one. And for god sakes do not be another one of the millions of a-holes out there who say, if they don't have a job its because they should have worked harder on their education or career earlier. Ehrenreich is pointing out something very painful and real that people choose not to look at unless it directly confronts them, which is a bad time to get the message.
197 of 230 people found the following review helpful
Frayed white-collar workers.6 Sep 2005
- Published on Amazon.com
Barbara Ehrenreich's latest work of social commentary, "Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream," is an indictment of the "magisterial indifference of the corporate world." Posing as an unemployed white-collar worker, Ehrenreich adopts an alias and markets herself as a public relations person and event planner. Her goal is to obtain a corporate job that pays approximately fifty thousand a year with health benefits. She plans to keep the job for three or four months, write about her experiences, and then quit. The author sets aside five thousand dollars for travel and other expenses connected with her job search.
During her odyssey, Ehrenreich pays for career coaching, attends a job fair, posts her resume on Internet sites, enrolls in a boot camp for job seekers, and networks extensively. She learns to sell herself, treat job searching as a full-time job, always maintain a winning attitude, put her faith in God, and dress for success. Much to her surprise, Ehrenreich's efforts do not land her a suitable job. She asks herself: Do I lack charisma? Am I too old? Is it unrealistic in today's market to look for a decent job with health benefits?
The author acknowledges that any or all of the above may have been factors in her failure to find work. However, she wrote the book because she believes that there is a bigger problem holding job-seekers back--corporate America's indifference to the needs of its workers. Ehrenreich maintains that human resources departments rarely even acknowledge receiving a resume anymore. Even worse, when an applicant sends in a bid for a job, he is often the victim of "bait and switch" tactics. Instead of offering the advertised job, the company rep tries to convince the job seeker to settle for a lesser job with no benefits or job security. In desperation, some white-collar workers take "survival jobs" such as housecleaning, cab driving, and retail sales in order to put food on the table. When the income from these jobs does not cover the bills, these stressed-out individuals max out their credit cards, seek help from relatives, and downsize their lifestyles as much as possible. Without health insurance, workers are terrified of becoming become ill because they have no money to pay for medical care and prescription drugs.
Ehrenreich is a savvy writer who throws herself wholeheartedly into whatever project she undertakes. She skillfully depicts the humiliation and frustration of her futile job search. However, this book will probably not resonate with readers in the same way that Ehrenreich's bestseller "Nickel and Dimed" did. First, the author's experiences while she looks for work lack bite; they are not very dramatic or gripping. Furthermore, Ehrenreich's indictment of corporate America breaks no new ground. Anyone who reads a newspaper knows about downsizing, outsourcing, and greedy and corrupt CEOs who make big bucks while their lower level employees lose their retirement funds.
So why read this book? "Bait and Switch" is worth a look because of the author's self-deprecating humor, effortless writing style, and compassion for the victims of heartless companies. Ehrenreich exhorts middle class job seekers to become activists, urging them to protest the fact that people who "do everything right" and "play by the rules" often end up in ruins. The problem is that even if such individuals find the courage to mount some sort of protest, who would listen? "Bait and Switch" gets high marks for the author's lively presentation and style but lower marks for her exploration of an already well-publicized problem without offering a viable solution.
48 of 54 people found the following review helpful
A frightening look at unemployment in the business classes27 Sep 2005
- Published on Amazon.com
It's commonly assumed in the United States that if you go to college, get a job and work hard, you will be successful. You will own a house and a couple of cars, you will be able to afford medical care, and you will be able to educate your children to a level where they're guaranteed even more success than you've achieved. If this was ever true, it isn't anymore, and Barbara Ehrenreich shows us the results.
In her first book, NICKEL AND DIMED, Ehrenreich went undercover as an unskilled worker to learn how the lowest level of workers supports themselves. They don't, she learned, because the system doesn't work, and her second book shows that the system doesn't work for the business classes either. Here, Ehrenreich poses as an out-of-work PR executive and details her job search.
Franz Kafka joined forces with Charles Darwin to create the brutal, surreal corporate world the author discovers. People are downsized, laid off, forced into early retirement, and just plain fired as a matter of course in this brave new world of ours, for reasons as pointed as ageism and sexism, as arbitrary as a profitable company wanting to show more of a profit, or for no reason at all. Of course, even knowing the fragile task of holding a job in this environment, the human resources departments hold the job-seeker responsible for every unemployed minute. Working time lost to illness is unemployment, working time lost to child or elder care is unemployment, working as a consultant is unemployment. Unemployment is unemployment, and the longer such periods last, the blacker the mark against the prospective employee.
You're lucky to be working, even if you're doing more work for less money over longer hours than you ever expected, even if you get no benefits, even if you survived the last round of layoffs and have no idea what will happen the next time. For if you're not working, you become one of the lost souls Ehrenreich meets. They max out their credit cards on image consultants and career coaches, each one contradicting what the last one said, on networking forums that turn out to be loosely disguised prayer meetings, on advice books, and on inspirational videos. They spend months and even years surfing the Internet and sending resumés to companies that rarely bother to respond at all. Oh, it's depressing.
But it's not depressing! How could it be depressing? Jobseekers are instructed to leave behind any negative thoughts --- anger, depression or mounting panic, for instance --- in order to present a positive image in their next interview. They are warned that revealing any negativity will count against them, as will age, gender, overeducation, having children, or any interests at all beyond devoting themselves entirely to their prospective employers. Smile!
In the book's conclusion, the author urges the unemployed to band together and lobby for more worker protections. I hope they make it happen, I really do.
--- Reviewed by Colleen Quinn [...]
32 of 36 people found the following review helpful
She Didn't Even Get To the Ugly Part8 Jun 2006
B. S. Kimerer
- Published on Amazon.com
This is a well written book, but it reads like a description of a particularly vicious battle, as related by an observer comfortably hidden away on a distant, grassy knoll.
The author gave herself a nice nest egg of a few thousand dollars and then went out to find a job in Corporate America. Her plan was to spend six months finding a job, and then spend a few months working at it before she quit and wrote up the scandals. She spent her nest egg and then gave up in about 9 months, and then she went back to her comfortable life style. She even gave herself the luxury of sneaking back into the "real world" for a few breaks to rest up while doing the research. Those of us who live the nightmare do not have that option. We are stuck in it.
She did not even *get* to the ugly part, where you finally do find that job (after years, not months, of searching) to find that the corporation pays you only for the first 40 hours of work each week, and then the next 40 hours of work is OT (your Own Time).... and then they find a way to "downsize" you after only a few months.
Since she never found a job, the entire book relates her encounters with scummy con-artists posing as career coaches, the people that real job hunters know to avoid. She missed out on the longer and longer commutes and the ever-decreasing annual salary and the loss of benefits and the loss of vacation seniority and all of the other nasty rules that are now considered Corporate Standard Behavior.
The book has no credibility because the writer did not really experience the horrors of Corporate America any more than she would have experienced the horrors of war by watching "Saving Private Ryan".
I think that the author was honest in what she did write, but the work is so incomplete that it carries no weight.
17 of 18 people found the following review helpful
Mixed Results from Barbara Ehrenreich-- And Some Good Advice from Me9 Jan 2006
- Published on Amazon.com
Based on personal experience, I'd say that 'Bait and Switch' nails the isolated, anxious and frequently depressed flavor of the lengthy white collar job search. I'd also give 'Bait and Switch' kudos for publicizing the frequently unpublicized fact that 90% or more of what you'll do on a job search will be useless. And I further endorse Ms. Ehrenreich's view that the economic and institutional causes behind increasing white collar job loss are seldom discussed and even more rarely viewed as areas suitable for public policy intervention. So, all told, 'Bait and Switch' has some worthwhile things to say.
That said, 'Bait and Switch' comes across to some degree as an inept parody of a job search. For the most part, Ms. Ehrenreich (using a fictitious identity) seems to select relatively unqualified job counselors and spends most of her time in unfruitful activities, including entry-level job fairs, sending her resume to Internet job boards and networking with job seekers with little or no knowledge of the public relations industry in which she hopes to secure employment.
Ms. Ehrenreich might have been more successful in securing a white collar job if she had included the following activities in her job search, and this advice will probably hold true for you and others:
1)Screen all career counselors carefully before hiring them. Previous corporate placement experience and successful experience in placing people with backgrounds similar to yours should be sought. Get references. If your budget is tight, establish or resume contact with less expensive but reputable organizations that offer career advice-- including your college or grad school placement office; a community college class; or local alumni groups, many of which sponsor career activities.
2)Network with people who actually have jobs or work for organizations in the industry that you hope to enter. Ms. Ehrenreich did relatively little of this in her book. How can you find these people? Ask friends, relatives, business contacts, and professional associations in the field in which you have an interest. Yes, you can cold call relevant organizations, professional groups and employers. Yes, you will be turned down repeatedly, but some folks will talk with you and will be helpful. It will take awhile, but it will happen, so be patient and persistent.
3)If you are going to spend money on networking, see if you can attend professional meetings or conferences for the field(s) in which you hope to work. You will learn more about your field of choice (which will make you more knowledgeable about where to look for a job, as well as a more confident interview subject) and meet employed professionals in your chosen field. At least a few of the people you meet will be willing to suggest additional ideas or contacts that will help you find a job. If your budget is tight, focus on local meetings. This process may take awhile, but it will give you a more solid network of contacts than if you do not focus your efforts on the field you hope to enter. Ms. Ehrenreich did not undertake much of this type of activity and her follow-through appeared to be spotty.
4)Hedge your bets. People find jobs through a variety of mechanisms, including job postings on the Internet and in the newspaper, through executive recruiters, and through networking. So use ALL of these mechanisms. A lot (perhaps most) of what you do won't work (that is rule number one of job hunting, so just accept it), but you will make progress. The key is to broaden your network of people and companies with actual jobs to offer and contacts who actually work in the field.
5)Be persistent, but know when to fold. Most folks with jobs will need a few e-mails or calls before focusing on you, so do make multiple attempts. But if someone does not get back with you after 3-5 contact attempts, go on to the next contact or organization. Your mission is to concentrate on the subset of people who will be helpful. Ignore those who are not.
6)Stay in touch with the folks in your network. E-mail or call them every couple of months to report progress or no progress and to ask for their continuing support. Keep these contacts brief, but do make them-- you never know when someone you contacted in the past will get some new information that will benefit you. And if you hear of some information that will benefit your contacts, pass it on to them-- that will help cement ties.
7)Local focus may help, as some companies are not interested in paying relocation costs. That said, you can make it more likely that an out-of-town employer will notice you favorably by scheduling a trip to that city to meet with prospective employers, or by stating that you will pay your own expenses to get to and from the interview. If you are intent on relocating to a particular city, you can purchase a cell phone with that city's area code, rent a PO Box in that city for a mailing address, or see if a sympathetic friend in that city will allow you to receive mail care of his/her address.
8)If you are 40 or over, take your school graduation dates off your resume and delete all of your job history more than 10-12 years old. Unfair, I know, but it will help to eliminate age bias when your resume is screened. I am sorry to have to include this piece of advice, but it is helptul.
9)More power to you if you can job hunt 40 or more hours per week. But if you can't, that seems reasonable to me and is one of the points on which Barbara Ehrenreich and I agree. Just make a sustained effort to find employment and stop to renew yourself when you get discouraged or stuck. Try to keep your life balanced while you search, and leave enough time for relaxation and exercise. Easier said than done, but give maintaining balance your best shot.
10)Pay it forward. With luck, white collar unemployment will make you more compassionate toward job seekers in the future. Accept the help that you receive with gratitude, and make it your business to help someone else when you are able to do so.