by Aliya Hamid Rao
“How’re you going to find a job when you have no confidence and are very emotional?”
Emily Bader, an office administrator asked me this rhetorical question when I interviewed her about her husband’s unemployment. Emily was worried about her husband, Brian, currently unemployed, who used to work as a project manager. She was concerned about the personality he projected when he went on job interviews. She thought he needed to be confident and upbeat. In his interview with me, Brian agreed with this.
But, after half a year of being unemployed and job-searching, Brian was down in the dumps. Projecting cheer was difficult for him. Emily worried about Brian, but she also worried about when and whether he would find a job. She worried for their future.
Being unemployed is difficult. There is a lot on the line: money, your relationship with your spouse (especially if you’re a man), and feelings of shame and stigma are just some of the negative impacts of unemployment.
But if you’re a white-collar worker, job-searching means showing your best side even you feel your worst. It means convincing potential employers that you not only have the right skills, but, as on a date, you also have “chemistry” with the employers. As sociological research has shown, job-searching and going on job interviews requires tremendous amounts of what sociologist Arlie Hochschild called emotional labor – “the management of feeling to create a publicly observable facial and bodily display.”
Emotional labor is usually done for the benefit of employers, for pay, while its counterpart in the private realm of the family is not done for pay. The white-collar job seeker has to show that he or she is upbeat, cheerful, enthusiastic, and passionate about each job he or she applies to.
But, as I show in a forthcoming article, job-seekers don’t work on their presentation of self alone, nor are they the only ones to worry about how they perform in their job interviews.