Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Death of the Renaissance Man

Jobs and job hunting are still very much on my mind these days (thought I had a steady day job, but things are not working out in the "I want to get paid on time" department). As usual, though, history and historical characters are also on my mind.

I've been reading Bill Bryson's At Home, which is, superficially at least, a study of the history and culture surrounding the house and its various rooms. Like any decent history book though (as opposed to, say, a high school history textbook), At Home uses the specifics of the various changes the house has made over time to illustrate the changes in society and technology that went with them.

One of the things that struck me about many of the notable figures in this history is that many of them spent a large part of their life moving from career to career before finally accomplishing what put their names in the history books. Some of them then had found their calling, others kept on jumping around, trying their considerable talents at whatever new idea caught their interest. History's great innovators were all job hoppers.

Contrast that with today, in the age of super-specialization, background check and instant searches, where employers see too broad a range of experiences on a resume and think "well, he's never going to stick with anything, we'll pass on him." True, in many cases the job hunter may be a feckless twerp who can't actually hold a job for a month straight, but he may also be a creative and passionate innovator who is looking for the right opportunity. The job market being what it is, the prospective boss may never know, and our next Einstein or Joseph Paxton may be getting stuck flipping burgers or trying to sell handmade jewelry on Etsy.

This isn't to say that employers should have no regard for the past, but it might be a bit foolish to think a temp job at the mall or four-year-old Myspace post will tell you what you need to know about the person who could be your new greatest asset.

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