Here's How Socioeconomic Class Affects Your Job Search

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By Peter A. Gudmundsson

For most Americans, the only topic more uncomfortable than race is socioeconomic class. Many like to pretend that the attitudes that attend any level of our social strata are random or correlated with other factors. Indeed, many Americans like to dismiss the very existence of socioeconomic groups as a holdover from other countries, another age or a mere reflection of other group dynamics. Yet, social scientists and experienced hiring managers observe that socioeconomic-derived job seeker values have a profound impact on the way individuals conduct their job search. Since our military disproportionately sources recruits from the working and middle classes, it is not surprising that many of our veterans carry attitudes about job seeking and career development that are characteristic of those groups. Understanding the tenets of one’s own socioeconomic group will help a veteran more effectively and efficiently manage the job search process.
Many of our former enlisted personnel, who constitute 84 percent of our veteran population, grew up in working-class households. The prevailing attitude about careers in the working class is respect for individual skill and self-reliance. As a result, working-class job seekers tend to emphasize individual skills and competence and assume that potential employers seek the same. On the one hand, this is a good starting point for a job search because it calls for a clear assessment of skills and abilities. Unfortunately, the emphasis on individual skill limits the importance placed on developing social capital – for example, networking – for access to information and people. In fact, for members of the working class, networking for a job can feel inauthentic and almost like cheating. After all, if one’s individual skills are really that good, why should he have to “suck up” to a bunch of strangers to prove it?
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