Wednesday, July 2, 2008

human resources

The decor of my family's lakehouse is predominantly fish-themed. Ducks and geese are prevalent, as well, but fish dominate. We have a fish print blanket on the sofa, fish pillows, fish-shaped coffee mugs, that awful singing Billy Bass on the fireplace mantle. We have baseball caps, keychains, and wall hangings inscribed with "gone fishin'" related wisdom.

A great deal of this fishy paraphernalia was gifted to us by an uncle who keeps his fishing boat underneath the deck of the house. He is retired now and has more time to fish so he is often up at the house when no immediate family members are using it. I was up there recently after he had just left, and when I turned on the television, it was tuned to a station broadcasting a bass fishing tournament. I watched it only long enough to learn that there are actually people making a living fishing professionally, and even more surprising, there are enough people interested in watching professional fishing for the sport to be televised.

As interested in fishing as my uncle is, I don't believe that he entertains the possibility of becoming a professional. Maybe it is something that he fantasizes about now in his retirement years, but I've never heard of him entering any fishing competitions nor expressing the desire to do so. His interest in fishing is more than just a casual one, though, at least more casual than what I would think of as casual fishing, where the fisherman is more concerned with "goin' fishin'" than actually pulling fish out of the water. I think of casual fishing as having less to do with fishing than being alone on a lake or river, ensconced in nature, and set adrift from the demands of the workaday world.

My uncle may appreciate this aspect of fishing, but make no mistake about it--he fishes primarily to catch fish. He applies tactics acquired from the professionals on TV and articles in fishing magazines. He upgrades his rods, reels and tackle to give him the latest technological edge over the gilled. He motors out of his way to specific spots on the lake that he has learned are more likely to yield a catch, and he obviously takes pride in his catches, as evidenced by the number of photographs of him, grinning as he holds fish up to the camera.

I've been traveling up to the lake more recently in an effort to escape the frustrations of searching for a job, and I recognize that my early attempts at job searching were akin to casual attempts at fishing. Having shifted my career path from academia to corporate America, I abandoned my CV for a resume, with which I had forgotten what to do. I had to re-learn how to look for a job, i.e. I had to become more professional in my approach. I've researched resume advice postings on the Internet. I've read through a Dummies book on the subject. I revised and re-revised my resume and learned how to edit my cover letters to highlight my strengths relevant to the particular requirements of the jobs to which I've been applying. In many ways, my approach to job searching is analogous to that of my uncle to fishing; though I have yet to make a catch that I can hold up, grinning. Frustratingly enough, I've barely had any tugs on the line. When there has been something there, the job has been so meager that I've had no choice but to throw it back.

More and more, I've come into contact with individuals that make a professional living in HR, and while I am doing my resume song-and-dance for them, I wonder what their jobs must be like day-in and day-out, listening to variants of the standard resume story over and again. Is their interest purely professional, or is there a casual interest in the job, as well? Is there a pleasure in getting to know the job candidates as people, or a personal satisfaction in matching a person to the perfect job in addition to the professional one?

Since I am not a "people" person by any stretch, it's difficult to imagine anyone wanting to pursue a career in HR. But people do, and they must get into it because they are "people" people. There must be a personal, or human, interest there in other people, or else you'd get into another career. The HR profession interests me insofar as it requires its practitioners to balance professionalism and humanism-- two -isms which appear to be antithetical. If you are strictly human as an HR person, you can't lay off your co-workers and be able to sleep at night. If you are strictly professional, you don't lose a wink and are as close to a functioning android as exists today.

One HR person I met with never took her eyes off my resume as I gave my hire-me spiel. I could tell what I was saying fell on wooden ears as she scanned my resume, circling and underlining my skills and the jobby buzzwords that I chocked my resume full o'. I felt like a standardized test under the grading laser's eye. Another glanced at my resume only when I paused in my spiel to say " you can see in my resume..." She listened intently, responded jokingly, and established such a casual atmosphere in the conference room I would not at all have been shocked if she asked if I would like to grab a drink afterwards and talk some more.

After interviewing with the latter HR professional, which was my most recent face-to-face, I wondered how many years she would last with that same jovial approach to work. She was young, and I wondered how many more hirings and firings it would take before her effervescence started to go flat. I began to wonder if she, in particular, and we, as people in general, have a quantity of humanity that is finite. A reserve of human resources that, once consumed, leaves a person inhuman-- only professional-- like that first HR person I mentioned.

I'll have to revisit the concept of finite "human resources" for a poem later, though, as I have yet more job-seeking work of my own to do, as well as a curious idea for a Ginsberg-inspired poem I've started composing called "Shrike" which I'm sure I'll find cause to speak of in a later posting.

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