Unemployment, it seems, isn’t short enough on dignity all by itself. The random convulsions of labor markets and the cost-cutting mandates of merged corporate properties of course should never draw skeptical inquiry from their collateral victims. But as Money magazine correspondent Paul Keegan explains, if the nation’s reserve army of the chronically jobless is finally to start turning the corner, its members need to do much more than silently assent to their grim fate. No, they need to double down on the market-personality complex, and embrace the very ideal of the protean corporate self that has cast them into the outer economic darkness. They need, in short, to promote the brand of You.
The logic is simple, you see: “whatever reputation you have is spreading quickly across the Internet, thanks to Google, industry blogs, and social-networking sites,” Keegan explains. After all, he adds, “even failing to turn up on search engines says something about you.”
Of course, the thing it says may well be that you have a life of your own, or that the susurrations of the online reputation industry leave you cold, or that you fetishize the quaint, classically liberal notion of personal privacy. No matter; these days, employers instantly adjourn to Google or Facebook to size up the character of would-be hires, and therefore “it’s critically important to take control of your professional image, or â€˜brand.’… Actively promoting the brand you’d like to be can help get your name on the radar of industry leaders and advance your career.”
As Keegan lays things out, it’s all just a matter of strategic character-tweaking. After conducting your own candid identity-tour through Google, “ask former colleagues to give anonymous feedback about your strengths and weaknesses via reachcc.com/360reach. These tools can help you identify both any problems (the photo of you tipsy at JazzFest) and positive qualities to exploit (your efficiency).”
Just how a roundabout survey of anonymously polled former colleagues can itself yield evidence of superior efficiency is a puzzle for high-order Zen adepts-it seems that the process itself rules out a positive verdict. Still more recondite mysteries await in reachcc’s other webby features, such as its scarifying “branding club,” where aspiring employees “can understand what makes them exceptional, and how they can use it to deliver on your corporate-brand promise in a way that is authentic to them and their own personal growth.” Again, if you’re repairing to branding clubs for proof of your irreducibly exceptional nature, I’m pretty sure ur doing it rong-just as, say, you’d be ill-advised to scour VH1’s reality programming for tips on how to sustain human intimacy. And releveraging one’s character in maximal corporate-brand-promise-delivery mode seems a singularly poor prescription to do anything “in a way that is authentic” to oneself, one’s “personal growth” or to whatever remains of the integrity of the English language.
But really, the revolutionary self-criticism is just getting under way. “Next, in 20 words or less, answer the question, â€˜How do I want employers to view me?’ ” Here again, it’s vital to isolate the unrepeatable essence of your Youness-though this isn’t a question of some austere, Kierkegaardian quality of inwardness. Rather, just “focus on what makes you unique-maybe you’re an engineer with great people skills or a marketing exec who knows accounting.” Or maybe you’re having a bit of trouble squaring the uniqueness ideal with that whole wanting-employers-to-view-me question. That’s probably because, as Christopher Lasch explained long ago in The Minimial Self, “the conditions of everyday social intercourse, in societies based on mass production and mass consumption, encourage an unprecedented attention to superficial impressions and images, to the point where the self is indistinguishable from its surface”
But that’s a good deal more than 20 words-and what’s more, it’d make for a real bummer of a blog post. Because, yes, the next stop in your boss-osculating self-reinvention tour is the Internet! “Start by making sure that your LinkedIn profile plays up your brand message-use the â€˜summary’ to state it outright-and that your Facebook page doesn’t distract from it, since both show up in early searches.” And why stop there? “You could build a website to promote yourself further. Or you might start a blog on a topic that fits with your brand identity. (But remember that an infrequently updated blog can do you more harm than good.)” Also: Don’t forget the link-whoring! “Drive traffic to your site by commenting on other blogs and asking them to link back, says search-optimization expert Evan Bailyn of First Page Sage. Also, feed blog posts automatically to your Twitter and Facebook accounts.”
Of course, the title “search-optimization expert” by itself is enough to make any chronically unemployed person despair that this economy will ever create a real job again. But all this dizzying comment-for-branding’s sake raises a larger question: Why would mastery of the time-killing canons of the blogging and social media worlds recommend anyone as a desirable worker in the first place? Why should a prospective employer assume that if you’re now furiously shoring up your reputation in blogland, then hieing over to Twitter and Facebook to boost your SEO quotient, you’d behave at all differently when he or she grants you a bit of scarce and valuable cubicle space? Transforming yourself into an online brand doesn’t mean you represent anything of real value, any more than commenting on a blog means you really have anything to say.
But perhaps that’s the real point here. The sooner that we’re all our own self-maintained online brands, the more briskly we can be moved across the placeless, virtual frontiers of digital-age production, not as collectively bargaining workforces, but as roving bands of impression-managing personality glyphs. Brands, after all, principally exist to be consumed.
The goal of the Taylorite phase of industrial production was famously to place the manager’s brains beneath the workman’s cap, but it seems that the New Information Economy is upping the ante by supplanting the besieged private self with the market’s very soul. If the signature postwar manual of self-marketing was How to Win Friends and Influence People, its closest cognate in today’s free-agent is Discipline and Punish. As Mark Crispin Miller also said long ago, Big Brother is you, watching.
The Chris Lehmann Brand represents industriousness, incisiveness, and frequent use of hashtags.