Attending a Megachurch-sponsored Job Networking Event
Okay, I’ll go, I sighed aloud. I did not want to attend anything church-related and especially this church.
Background: thirteen years prior I had attended an early morning Easter service at this very megachurch with my then-husband and his two daughters. He insisted that the church’s senior pastor was quite a dynamic speaker and even though I am non-Christian, I should attend to hear this dynamic speaker. So in the spirit of being a good sport, I went.
We were seated in a balcony high in the auditorium-like church. A deacon of the church was announced as the first speaker and onto the center circular stage he strode with organ music reaching a crescendo. With a sweep of the microphone he waved his arms over the crowd—the music muted. In a clamorous voice he orated:
“On the way to service this morning I saw people at the car wash! The car wash, ladies and gentlemen!”
Then louder still, “Can you imagine that, the ca-aaar wa-aaaaash on Easter morning?” his booming contempt shook the stained glass windows. Judging from the church parking lot, clean cars were an important religious sacrament.
I could hear a few clucks and saw spouses looking at each other with veiled disdain…
The organ increased its tempo and volume, deepening in tone like the entrance of the antagonist in a thriller flick.
“Well, brother and sisters, I am just so glad to be here with Gaaa-awd’s people instead of those people at the car wash!” he closed with an emphatic flourish. The organ flooded the church with bass sounds just in case the oral condemnation of the car wash patrons was not clearly understood.
If his message were not so utterly horrific, I would have laughed out loud at the cheap theatricality of it all. The crowd seemed to be feeling pretty self-satisfied for being in the church and not at the car wash.
I stifled the urge to stand up and loudly remind him in front of the several thousand attendees that the car wash patrons were God’s people—heck, they could be congregants who planned on attending the late morning service at this very church—but I just stood up and walked out of the service leaving a completely unfazed husband to listen to his pastor. Eleven months later I walked out of the marriage with many of the same feelings I had leaving the church that morning. There was just nothing sacred in either place. Nothing at all.
So now, almost exactly thirteen years hence, I am considering attending a job networking event held twice a month at the selfsame church. Yes, I need to secure an income, if not a job, then to find writing projects. So I decided to attend the church-sponsored event in the center cluster of the megachurch campus.
Two months earlier a really miserable corporate job came to an end for me. Twenty eight months of 55-hour (and sometimes even more) weeks in a dysfunctional department headed up by a work-addicted manager was over and I was not at all unhappy about that. Re-entering the job market brought this particular church back into my orbit.
For two months I sent out resumés and did all the usual looking-for-a-job things. There are a lot of people looking for work and not many jobs available, unemployment is right at 10%. Although I am not shy, I am not in the least extroverted, that is, I not given to attend events with any similarity to large cocktail parties. Yet, this job-networking event—with its many resemblances to a cocktail party—was mentioned several times as I inquired about the process of job searching. With the memory of this church’s self-righteous religious views, I reached a place of reluctant resignation.
Okay, I’ll go. Silently I wondered how much of this particular brand of Jesus would I be subjected to in exchange for attending?
The day of the event:
Somehow I was not certain that this event was going to pertain to me with any significance. We were asked to name the industry in which we wanted employment. Is writing an industry? The thought of smoke stacks rising from my laptop amused me…
The event began with dinner in a very large banquet room peppered with announcements and a speaker, followed by breakout sessions in surrounding smaller rooms for honing various aspects of the job search and then a final keynote speaker. I learned that there were an average of 400 attendees and 140 volunteers twice a month. This was a very big effort indeed.
My work-world theory is that since sometime ago—perhaps in the 1990’s—all workers became self-employed. That is, we actually all work for ourselves. We are all serial contract workers even if we think we have a “job,” whatever that word means at this point. We may call our particular employment arrangement a “job” but the reality is that we work for ourselves and—especially in “at will” states—we are subject to firing for no reason at all.
Maybe that is why I spend a lot of time wondering why anyone still honors the hierarchical, top-down working system. In reality, we are all self-employed so why are we “employees” allowing this? Why have we not insisted upon a higher level of integrated cooperation from “employers,” especially corporations? Why does a manager have the right to review and fire an employee? Why do we allow managers/employers to prod us to 50, 60, even 70-plus hour weeks for salaries with no overtime? Why are managers/employers not demanding that we have balanced lives and insisting upon that instead of slavish productivity? Why are we, the self-employed, offering ourselves up as production units to a system that values the monthly budget more than the quality of the lives of those who produce it? Why are we allowing this?
Why are companies more rigorously regulated regarding the paperwork they submit every month to the local sales tax offices than they are with their effects on the lives of their “employees” and their families? Was every other attendee here with a job story as grim as my own or even worse?
At my dinner table of all women this was at least the third time that each of the seven women had been laid off, reorganized, downsized, outsourced, closed down, went bankrupt, whatever. Nor were they strangers to corporate greed and power misuses.
The dinner conversation revealed that more than anything, each attendee was searching—not for a job—but to cease searching for a job for the balance of her working life. One woman openly stated that she just wanted a job so she would be able to stop searching for a job. But as she was saying it, she seemed to know that the search would go on covertly for the rest of her working life. All seemed to unwillingly know that and no one spoke it out loud.
Something seemed terribly out of sync about the wants of this group of job-seekers and the realities of the working world. Any of them that actually got a job would just as likely be searching for a job within five years because jobs are no longer a long-term commitment between employee and employer. Just look at what brought them to this event: job cuts, reorganizations, mergers and acquisitions, downsizing, outsourcing, layoffs—all broken commitments. There was a disconnect between their experiences as workers and their hopes for future employment. Is our clinging to that false security why we allow corporations to treat us so abysmally? Do we overlook their greed and misuse of power in exchange for a false sense of security? Say it is not so.
A really big change about work and working had occurred sometime ago and it seemed that no one dare speak of it in this setting. The Industrial Revolution in all its dominator/patriarchal glory is long dead. Read here, (http://www.partnershipway.org/), watch the Full-Spectrum video.
Jobs in the paternal, take-care-of-everything sense were no longer being created and these attendees were the dazed second-wave displaced persons. The first wave left for some stripe of self-employment at least a decade ago. Some of them those first wave refugees have been trying to tell us in various ways that we all work for ourselves—even those currently traditionally employed. It’s over. Even if we are not aware that we are foot soldiers of a new working revolution, we are. What would the name of this reality shift be named? Work Evolution? Contribution Revolution? I am currently liking Riane Eisler’s Full-Spectrum Economics.
After dinner I attended a breakout session on résumé writing. We were advised by the session leader to extrapolate our strengths from our educational and job experiences, add exultant adjectives (that we “felt comfortable with”), use active verbs and create a two to three sentence sound bite about ourselves. We were directed to create an “elevator speech” about ourselves—which I had to look up on my cell phone as the instructor continued explaining that we were to place said elevator speech immediately after our names and contact information on our résumés. Huh?
Elevator speech: a short, persuasive description of a person, organization or group, or an idea for a product, service, or project lasting about two minutes.
An elevator speech example: “I’m a humorous speaker and corporate trainer. I help companies and individuals aspire and achieve through motivational speaking and interactive training. I have a proven record the next time your company needs a business humorist or high-energy trainer.”
Uh huh. Can you imagine reading or listening to stuff like that all day? Am I the only one that would feel nauseous after a few such pitches, I wondered?
The breakout session presenter earnestly wanted to help the attendees. He made every attempt to best frame the situations of the attendees in corporate-desirable terminology.
The trouble is, he was instructing the attendees to view and present themselves as one-dimensional producing units. From what I observed, that simply was not needed in the room. These folks were already flattened enough. As if they dared not be anything but production cogs. Sad.
The résumé instructor continued through the balance of the sample résumé but I was still ruminating about creating an elevator speech about myself and sending that out with every résumé—is that what we have come to as a culture?
Lost in the cultural implications of encountering each other with elevator speeches, I was startled by the PA system calling all breakout session attendees back to the main banquet room for announcements of the next event in two weeks and the keynote speaker.
With a presentation screen displaying the visuals, the emcee chirped that the next event was to be a “speed-networking event” where attendees deliver their elevator speeches 15 times to volunteers for practice and critique. Is this a joke?
Certainly I did not hear that…how could I possibly present myself—to really be known—in two minutes no matter how many times or by whom it is delivered? What is being promoted here? I felt a deep sadness that this was considered a good idea, a desirable enterprise. I saw how alarmed many of the attendees were as the emcee tried to incite enthusiasm about the event. We were instructed to bring our spouses for support. I do not think that anyone at my original dinner table had a spouse other than the volunteer. Ouch, a double whammy for those without a spouse.
A speed networking/elevator speech event seemed so bizarre that I decided that I simply must attend.
Looking around the room I saw thin smiles amid some looks of stark terror. Why would we agree to be in this constant comparative state? The “I am better, faster, more experienced, more this, more that than all other contenders?” My head was nearly ready to explode. Me, who had spent years trying to avoid the hierarchical and comparative, was suddenly aware that overarching competition was an ingrained part of our really toxic working conditions.
Before I fully recouped from the concept of speed networking elevator speeches, the keynote speaker was shouting “THINK!” in an arm-waving, high-energy, back-slapping style.
I stood to leave as soon as the speaker lifted his arms like a boxing champion dancing about the ring and before he took a bow. I made haste to my car with my little folder of names and handouts. My speed-networking/elevator speech bemusement had turned to dismay.
For days afterward I shook my head about the circus-y, surrealness of the event. Okay, I went, I mused. What a production.
Two weeks later:
I ventured back back to the megachurch campus wondering if I could create an elevator speech about myself.
The volunteers at the door were familiar from my previous visit. What seemed a little odd to me was that the attendees looked not at all familiar. This was another crowd altogether although the overarching format of dinner with announcements and a speaker began exactly like the previous event.
After dinner, the emcee brought up the slide that offered the four-step elevator speech formula, explaining that all of the below is to be given in 30 seconds or less. Wait, last week we were told two minutes and now we are down to 30 seconds? Oh, no.
1. I help: (this is the service you offer to an employer):
2. My name is: (at least this one was easy)
3. The most exciting project I worked on recently is (to specify the kind of work you do best/like most/brag about your accomplishments):
4. Do you know of anyone at a company such as XYZ company who could help me in my job search? (wait a minute, how exactly am I supposed to know which company has writing gigs?)
As the emcee was elaborating on this formula arms shot up around the room with questions. Most simply put their heads down and began applying the formula, pen to paper. The emcee could not answer all the questions in the five minutes allowed to create elevator speeches. Five minutes? So the emcee then offered to work with those who had questions in a room away from the much larger speed networking event.
About 30 people took advantage of this impromptu offer. Since I had only one of the four requisite elevator speech elements—I went to the remedial elevator speech class. At least I knew my name.
Thirty of us were hurried into in a side room, and immediately an attendee volunteer was called upon to read his attempt. Too wordy, it took almost a minute. The emcee began pruning from the first portion of the attendee’s speech, made suggestions to shorten the balance and to clarify the fourth portion.
The attendee sat down to make the edits and re-write his speech as others came up front. When an attendee created a 30-second effective elevator speech, s/he was rushed to the larger room to participate in speed networking. So as the remedial class went on, the numbers declined. In the duration, I heard about some pretty arcane jobs in manufacturing supply chains, architectural project management and banking database management.
With the direction of the emcee, the group began timing the attempts and began chiming in with suggestions to eliminate superfluous words, phrases, information. These gems were to be brutally brief. Talk fast. Think fast. Live fast. Look for another job soon.
The most poignant of all was a lady that owned a failing drapery workshop that just wanted a job, any job. She did not know what to put in any of the slots other than her name. The emcee dismissed her frustration with the platitude that if she did not know what she wanted that no one could help her. She looked more adrift after asking for help than beforehand and I then understood that this was not the place for getting clarity, simply for packaging it into 30 seconds.
I never made it back into the speed networking process, as the remains of our remedial group was called back into the banquet facility for the final wrap up as a whole group. If I remember correctly that consisted of a prayer, but by then I was lost in my thoughts about a 30 second summation of what it is I do and what it is I want from others. The impossibility is the 30 seconds. The condensation, the rush. The smallness of it all.
As I left that second job networking event, I could not help but hear the words; “Well, brother and sisters, I am just so glad to be here with Gaaa-awd’s people…” Yeah, the people with very clean cars, I do remember.
Then the internal questions began: Where was the religious outrage at current working conditions where corporations expect 50, 60 and even 70-plus hour work weeks from their employees, creating spiritual and emotional orphans and dead marriages? Where is the moral indignation at the unemployment numbers, the mistreatment of workers, the ability to fire employees for any reason, the lack of legal protections for workers? Where was the outcry about mergers, downsizing, job cuts, layoffs, plant relocations and outsourcing for starters? Why was it okay for this ministry to remain silent while work is moved to countries where horrific abuses occur, abuses so severe that workers are committing suicide in factory after factory rather than face such a life?
Why was there no mention of the obscene (and all-too-common) 400:1 pay ratio of CEOs to the lowest paid employees? No mention of absurd bonuses given to “C” level employees all the while thousands and tens of thousands of mostly underpaid employees are losing their jobs? Is financial under-valuation of the rank-and-file not a moral issue?
Did the church inquire of their members if their companies were engaging in these practices or dealing with businesses that did so? Why were they sponsoring speed networking and elevator speeches instead of working for change in the lives of workers and taking actions to assure worker protection, not only here, but world-wide? How could they pretend not to know what was going on? Why were 400 attendees here looking anxious and fearful being spit out of a broken system while the ministry was focused upon critiquing bookkeepers’ elevator speeches? Where was compassion? Moral outrage?
Why was this ministry focused upon molding individuals to an ill-begotten, corrupt and failing system? Was sending workers back into the morass without insisting that changes be made morally acceptable to them? Was this the best they could offer? Maybe so. What is religion if it has no moral outrage? Sold out corporate concubines is the first answer that came to mind.
I left with the now-familiar feeling that there was nothing sacred there. And I set out to find a way to make my work and working sacred.
My elevator speech never made under a minute, although I worked on it for over a week. In the end, I decided I was not going to ever, ever use one. I simply do not want to try to engage someone in 30 seconds or less.