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Book Review: Bait and Switch (Barbara Ehrenreich)

March 19th, 2008

Bait and Switch - Barbara EhrenreichI just read the book that describes so many of my feelings and experiences from when I got laid off. You may recognize the title, Bait and Switch, or the author name, Barbara Ehrenreich, from her previous best-seller “Nickel and Dimed.” I had heard of her before but didn’t have much interest in reading her stuff until a friend recommended it.

Barbara talks about how she wanted to go undercover as a white-collar job seeker to see what it’s really like. She had to doctor up her resume a bit, find some friends who would essentially lie for her (in case an employer called to check references), figure out how to hide her professional accomplishments and create a story for potential employers and networkers. I didn’t have to do any of that, of course, but aside from that, Bait and Switch was comfortable material.

Why do I love this book? Because Barbara spends 230+ pages on a journey that starts out like I did, with an attitude of “I’m getting a new job soon, and I rock, and people love me, and I’m a professional,” and of course, “I did all the right things so I’m in demand.” The journey spirals down, and ends with a surprise (spoiler at the end, don’t read any further if you don’t want to know where she landed).

Here’s a quick tour of what you’ll read:

  • her experiences with a resume writer and career coaches (not positive at all – she must not have used one of my partners), and
  • her experiences with a fashion/image makeover expert, and
  • her experiences going to network meetings, with different takes on networking in highly religious settings (I’m guessing she’s an atheist, or at least very cynical), and networking with rednecks. And of course, networking with … losers…
  • her thoughts on her own value proposition and self-worth and marketability. Like me, she started out as “hot stuff.” But got nowhere fast. And that’s the the formula for depression or other problems (check out this post, with over 100 comments, called Depression Clouds Everything), and
  • and of course, her thoughts on the online job search.

I should say, you won’t walk away from this book feeling happy about your future, or good about yourself. And she will cause you to rethink the value of career professionals (coaches and resume writers), networking, networking groups, and a lot of other things that I recommend. I’m going to have a post soon about my position on this, after hearing “the other side,” but for now I’ll say that I still stand by my advice.

But reading her experiences helped me rethink who you partner with for your job search. Go back to CEO of Me, Inc…. all of these people are vendors, partners, customers, etc. You need to go into the relationship with eyes wide open, and not fully trusting.

Barbara Ehrenreich speakingThe hard part, though, as Barbara shows throughout her book, is that getting a job may be part art, and/or part science, but it’s certainly not easy, and it needs serious strategy and execution.

When I got laid off the last thing I wanted to do was read a ton of books on how to network, or how to find a job. I didn’t have time for that, I just wanted the job.

Barbara shows what most of us will do in our job search, if we don’t know what we are doing. Oh, did I mention she spent thousands of dollars on her search? It wasn’t hard to burn through.

So here’s my recommendation – read the book if you are not emotionally fragile right now. It can be rather depressing.

If you are NOT in a job search right now, and either worry about one or think you are invincible, then this is a must read right now. Why? Because you really need to think about your future, and that next transition, and how you will get through it. And this is a realistic scenerio. Guess how it ends?

spoiler –> She fails. She doesn’t get a job offer. She gives up and goes back to her writing career. You may not have that luxury

… so prepare now.

(other bait and Switch reviews can be found at The Village Voice, STLtoday.com, Deseret Morning News, the Post Gazette, Salon, and The Seattle Times)

2 Comments »

2 responses to “Book Review: Bait and Switch (Barbara Ehrenreich)”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for the book recommendation!

    Often you hear about all the magic bullets to jobless-ness. Such as positive thinking, networking, career coaching, resume tweaking and job search mania but when they don’t provide results you start to think it must be you and can easily become depressed.

    A “slow down” in the economy doesn’t help. There are no quick fixes to career management. You need to continually invest time and money into career management to procure the dividends of future career opportunities.

    I look forward to reading this book as although I’m happily employed. I’m actively investing, planning and working on what my next job(s) will be. Although I think there is some value in each of those “magic bullets”, I do appreciate some realism regarding the process!

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