Like The Other Charlotte, I read the Washington Post’s profile of Barbara “Bait and Switch” Ehrenreich, and I concluded that the main reason Barbara Ehrenreich couldn’t get a job is because she’s Barbara Ehrenreich. (See TOC’s “Would YOU Hire Barbara Ehrenreich?” today below.)

Ehrenreich may be a brilliant writer, but her job history stinks. In her previous book, “Nickel and Dimed,” about going undercover in the blue-collar employment world, Ehrenreich reported with glee how she: treated the customers at the Wal-Mart where she worked with the sullenness she thought they deserved; sneaked off to the restroom without permission (sorry, but working a sales floor is like working a sentry post in the military: you’ve got to be there, not in the ladies’ loo); and signaled she’d quit by simply not showing up for work one day. That’s a good way to get a glowing recommendation from your former boss! Ehrenreich refused to hold any of the blue-collar gigs she got for more than a month, indicating a certain lack of patience and perseverance. Ehrenreich’s a job snob. She expects workaday employment to afford her, the great Barbara Ehrenreich, the perks and obeisance that she receives on her book tours, and if they’re not afforded her–why there must be something wrong with capitalism.

The same mentality clearly pervades her undercover search–under an assumed name–for a middle-management slot in her newest book. Surprise, surprise, Barbara, but employers willing to shell out $50,000 a year plus health benefits (which I know doesn’t seem like much to you, Ms. Famous Writer, but looks pretty good to most people) actually want to see some genuine expertise and experience. The fake resume doesn’t quite cut it. And everyone–well, practically everyone– knows that the “career counselors” of the “transition zone” and the employment agencies where you, not the the employer, pay the fee, are taking you to the cleaners. You can get all the help these characters provide from a couple of $20 handbooks off the shelf at Barnes and Noble. And instead of paying someone to polish your resume, why not spend the money on a brush-up course in grammar and spelling at a community college? That’s what white-collar bosses are looking for: not fancy packaging but people who know that the word “opportunities” has two “p’s.” 

Just for funsies, I checked a couple of reviews of “Bait and Switch.” Here’s an excerpt from the usually sympathetically leftist Village Voice (et tu, Village Voice, eh, Barbara?):     

“Unfortunately, Ehrenreich has saddled herself with a handicap that gives the whole project a fatal whiff of artificiality. Since she can’t use any of her high-powered media connections, she’s effectively searching for an executive position with fewer contacts than a college grad. She gets a nibble of interest from a military contractor involved in the Abu Ghraib scandal but can’t bear to pursue it. (‘My professional flexibility does not extend to defending torture allegations.’)”

Well, there you go, Barbara. Everyone knows that military and Homeland Security consulting are hot hiring fields that actually might be willing to pay good money to someone with zero experience like you. But noooo, you are too ideologically pure for that sort of thing.

And here’s a review from Fortune:

“Unhappily for readers, Ehrenreich never does get a real job, so she doesn’t get inside big business. Instead, she concludes that the ‘transition zone’ proves that corporations want people who are ‘relentlessly cheerful’ as well as not too bright. Really? Aside from the sheer impossibility of generalizing about what corporations want, the truth is that business would implode if it were as ‘disturbingly loony’ as Ehrenreich describes.”

Yes, Barbara, it’s tough for older workers with strong salary histories to find comparable new jobs–partially because employers have seen too many employees in their fifties and sixties spending their energy daydreaming about retirement rather than throwing themselves into their work. You’ve got to show that you’re the exception. And employers do expect people who seek jobs at their companies to project some enthusiasm for the work they will be paid to do–if that’s what you mean by being “relentlessly cheerful.” The problem with you, Barbara, is that you believe that all employees should be relentlessly adversarial, on the job and off, to the dreadful capitalist system that is your bogeyman. No wonder no one wanted to hire you.