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The Job Market: Stand Out or Put Out

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I recently bumped into my very fancy-looking, highly-educated, unemployed girl friend who was frustrated about being so fancy-looking and unemployed. Life has not treated her well, she said. "I went to an Ivy league school. I have a master's degree," she explained. "And," she paused, "I'm not 25. I cannot go through this again." I felt for my friend. Because there is no excuse for feeling like a failure at life in your thirties as opposed to your twenties when you're supposed to be a failure. We know so much more now.

"I'm just going to have to put out," she said as a matter of fact. "That's really the only way to get a job."

A say wha?

In today's market, responsible once-working adults try to be responsible. Spreadsheets of contacts. Business cards with cute logos to make up for the lack of business. Six months of savings and a list of contacts, says the Suze Ormans of the world. Follow these rules and you will survive in this economy.

I have six months of clothing if I can't afford detergent. "Go on," I told my friend.

As an educated female of with absolutely zero proclivities towards prostitution, my intrigue was quite shocking. I went to Barnard. I wear pearls. I didn't even lose my virginity until I found the perfect guy -- he had a good job, good apartment, good parents.

But if there is one thing my student loans and horrendous first time has taught me is that theories are crap. Pearls are forever. And that Reality has its own rules. Reality: People trimming their fingernails on the subway. Unbelievably disgusting and morally reprehensible, yes. But people continue to do it.

Could it be? The only way to get a job is to do a job? It's certainly better than submitting online. At least you're not one of a million. Maybe one of like, five.

I know this sounds crazy. And wrong. But having been in the work world for more than five minutes, I can say that theory in your thirties is a store and only that, not the crutch it was in your twenties. We've just seen too much; too many going away parties for women that have been more like I've-been-fired-I-don't-know-what-happened-my-boss-is-so-gross-although-he-was-so-nice-at-first-and-now-I-am-incompetent-apparently parties.

The reality in the workplace, my frustrated friend complained, is that men continue to rule it. And the reality is that men don't think with their heads, they think with their heads.

"Ok, so how would this work? Do you what, show up in like in a negligee?" I'm so awful at this stuff it's surprising to me how I've ever had boyfriends.

"No," she said. "You don't show up in a negligee."

"Ok," I said, summoning What Not to Wear. "Dress for the job you want, not the job you don't have yet: trade the trouser pants for a short-ish skirt. Gloss for red lipstick. A networking mixer is now the Four Seasons Hotel. Or the St. Regis."

No, not the St. Regis. I heard real call girls linger there.

"Thanks you for the tip," my friend said.

Although I've always gone the traditional route with my job search and everything else in my life, I thought about time, particularly how much I've spent. What would this be, what like three, maybe five minutes? Pales in comparison to the days upon weeks of phone tag, uncomfortable not-so-warm-but-trying-to-be-warm emails, and job interviews that result in someone asking you to do their child's Spanish homework.

I'm just saying.

"You know, I really don't think you should do this." Burying the Spanish memory. "You're super smart. Super cool. And you have morals," I said, reminding myself of my own.

"You've put out too, don't pretend to be a prude."

A say wha?

Something about my friend's delusional self-confidence inspired me to think that perhaps it wasn't just that she was making sense, but perhaps she was also more socially evolved than I. My overpriced education led me in this direction. So when I think back, although I've never put out to bosses, I've definitely put out to boyfriends who thought they were my bosses. And such acts have afforded me a fountain of riches: time with my girlfriends, loads of laundry, dinners without his blackberry and even a vacation -- to see his relatives in a place called Arkansas -- but nevertheless, I got stuff. And I wasn't even paying attention half the time.

But that's the thing: although men may think with the wrong head, women always think with the right one. And we do think. Every smile, every pause, every question, every answer is planned/obsessed over/calculated. We think about every action, every word, every thought that runs through our minds. If I were a man, and thank god I am not, I'd be wary of my friend and women like her.

I could never be my friend. I once spent an entire year disguised as a cyber secret admirer of a married cheater ex-boyfriend before telling him it was a complete joke, that he was the ugliest m-fucker I've ever seen, and that his wife seems nice. I'm just too sensitive for such things.

"Well, if you don't wind up getting the job," I said, "Just let me know where he lives."