Bait & Switch

by James & Miel on November 20, 2007 · 0 comments

Bait & Switch is one of the latest books from Barbara Ehrenreich, author of Nickel and Dimed.

The premise of Nickel and Dimed was that Barbara went under cover in the working class; you can check our my review of this book here.

Bait & Switch – The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream takes another look at employment in America; this time from the middle class. I’ll admit that I actually bought the book in a bit of a rush while I was shopping to come to Kabul and thought after reading Nickel and Dimed that it was work the $6.98 on sale at Powell’s. I mistakenly thought it was about the myth of being better off with both parent’s working.

In fact, Bait & Switch is about trying to get a job in corporate America. After an entire career as a writer, Ehrenreich changes her identity and tries to get a job in corporate America. While there are some points of the book that I would identify with, I think there are a number of areas where she misses the mark:

1st – She sets up this experiment with an allotment of $5,000 for expenses related to job searching. I don’t know about you, but I don’t know many people who have just lost their job and have $5k to dedicate to coaching and travel expenses in getting a job. From my experience, it’d be more likely that the person was $5k in debt and they’d be lucky to have planned ahead and have $5k for living expenses until they got a job.

2ndShe sets her expectations way too high. For some reason, she claims it was the coaching but I think it was her, Ehrenreich expects to land at an executive level. I just think that she was in over her head and overly confident about her place in the corporate ladder.

3rd – The book reeks of an experiment with her life, and not the real deal. She clearly sees herself as different from all of the other job seekers she meets. Her attitude just doesn’t feel genuine. When someone has lost their job it is more than an experiment for fun. For instance, she upgrades or downgrades her resume as she goes along. Real people don’t have that liberty.

4th – Bait & Switch also is permeated with self justification. You can easily tell that Ehrenreich is proving what she has set to prove rather than seeing how it all plays out. It reminds me of shadiness of tweaking the stats to prove your point.

5th – She makes lots of assumptions and generalizations about job seeking and the corporate world. I don’t think she has what it takes to back these up.

I honestly started the book really wanting, thinking, that I would like to book. In the end I probably only finished it so I could report here what the outcome was. In the end, after nine months of searching, she basically doesn’t get a job and just gives up. She’s missing the whole point, that most people don’t have that option. She just acts like such a pompous know-it-all that it was hard to take some of the book.

The odd thing is, you would think that this would have been more of the case with her review of the working class in Nickel and Dimed. In the end I think she is too close to the middle class and thinks she is superior. I had much more respect for Ehrenreich before reading this book though.

To sum things up, I guess I would recommend the book if you want to have someone to argue with. If you like books that make you want to curse at the author, this one might be for you.

I guess I’ve also had some experience in this area, so that might be why I saw through her experiment. Near to the same time Ehrenreich was doing her little experiment, 2003, I was also looking for a job. Luckily it took me two months rather than her failed attempt in ten months, but my two months was far more real than her ten. I remember sitting around a room with five folks in their twenties with prestigious undergrad degrees and not one of us had a job. That was real, her experiment was far from it.

To truly illustrate my point, her last paragraph reads:
I do not follow my fellow job seekers into the world of survival jobs. My great advantage in this project is that I can simply say “game over” and return to my normal work as a writer. My fellow job seekers still hang out there, suspended above the abyss.

I find it ironic that I’m actually having to deal with topics closely related to this subject. Tomorrow I’m doing a training on how to write a good CV and today I had to fire my assistant. So the realities of the importance of employment feel pretty close to me at the moment. Unfortunately, I still don’t think Ehrenreich gets it.

Best wishes in the job market. If our readers have any comments on their experiences with job searches I’d love to hear them.



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