Allen R. Dodd, Jr.’s The Job Hunter is the flip-side of “Mad Men”. This is what the world of 1960’s advertising–of the white-collar workplace in general–looks like from the outside looking in. Subtitled “The Diary of a ‘Lost’ Year,” The Job Hunter began as an article in the 30 November 1962 issue Printer’s Ink–at the time one of the leading trade journals of the advertising business. Although Dodd acknowledges in his introduction that his first-person narrator is “a composite figure, a typical white-collar job-seeker, created from a variety of sources,” he fully succeeds in creating a believable character from what could easily be a stereotype of one of John Cheever’s middle-aged train-catching commuters.
“It’s going to be tough on the company, of course, but the last thing in the world we’d want to do is to stand in your way,” Dodd’s nameless narrator is told one July afternoon by one of his higher-ups in a mid-sized ad firm. And so he is evicted from the world of the working and left to find another position, a process that takes him the better part of a year. Although many of the practical aspects of job-hunting have changed–Dodd’s narrator has little else besides the help wanted ads and a few business directories to go on–The Job Hunter is very effective in conveying the sense of being a social outcast that inevitably clings to a man without a job, particularly a white-collar professional.
Almost 50 years later, many Americans are still in the same position as Dodd’s job hunter, walking a tightrope on which the combined financial burden of a mortgage, two cars, middle-class social expectations, and limited savings mean just a few months without a job can send a family crashing to the ground. Dodd’s narrator has the added tension of being a child of the Great Depression, having grown up in a time when fathers went years without a job.
One of the biggest challenges Dodd’s man has to confront is that of having so much time to kill:
It all added up to two or perhaps three interviews a week, but I still rode the train almost every day. The cost was acutely painful now; handing a dollar through the ticket window was like pulling a hangnail off and for what? To prowl the train, looking for familiar faces; to nurse a beer at lunch time under Philippe’s contemptuous eye; to sit in the phone booth; to “drop in,” at calculated intervals, to offices where I had long since worn out my welcome; to eat a sandwich at the Automat. Each week I would pick an absolutely blank day–there would be at least a couple–and stay home to get “caught up on the paper work.” There wasn’t much of it–a letter or two to write, shots in the dark at some remote target; or, perhaps, still another reworking of my resume. I was saving the fare, but there was small consolation in that, for I was wasting the day. At home, there was not even the remote chance of running into someone “accidentally” and I was acutely conscious of the time ticking away. Perhaps, if I’d gone into the city, this could have been the day. Sometimes I was hit by a hunch so strong that I wanted to jump into the car and drive in–except that Janet had our one car and I couldn’t drive anyplace.
Although practical circumstances may differ now, The Job Hunter does, in the end, prove a useful handbook to the art of finding a white-collar job. While he suffers from regular bouts of depression, hopelessness, and loss of self-respect, Dodd’s narrator never stops working his connections, chasing the slightest leads, sending off hale letters about “batting around some ideas I have for your company,” and applying and applying and applying. In the end, he does find a job–not as well paid, outside the ad business, and requiring a move to New Jersey.
And his outlook on work has changed fundamentally:
Something seems to have happened to my ability to believe, for example. I like my job, but I have no faith in its permanence of the permanence of any relationship between a man and an organization. No matter how well I do, no matter hose close this relationship becomes, I still expect them to walk in one day and say, “The water cooler’s been fixed and you’re fired.”…. Common sense tells me this is foolish, but I still keep very little personal stuff in my desk. It could all be carried away in an attache case
The Job Hunter: The Diary of a “Lost” Year, by Allen R. Dodd, Jr.
New York City: McGraw-Hill, 1965