Dad's Advice to a Job Seeker

January 13, 1995|By GREGORY P. KANE

My one and only son, all of 19 and convinced he is the very fountain of teen-age wisdom, had trouble finding a job recently.

''Some businesses don't want to hire young black men,'' he proclaimed, seemingly proud of his own profundity.

I had to be careful here. Was this an invitation to discuss the social and economic effects of lingering racism? Or was my son trying to sucker me into one of those conversations that usually end up with me holding my head in my hands and babbling incoherently?

I remembered the time he ''boycotted'' his history class in February to protest a teacher's perceived lack of devotion to black history. I had him read a passage from Chancellor Williams' ''The Destruction of Black Civilization,'' in which the man who may have started the Afrocentric movement claimed that studying European and American history gave him a solid background for the study of African history.

''Do you see what he's trying to say?'' I asked my son.

''No,'' he replied, not blinking an eye as I resisted the urge to toss the book in the air and run screaming out into the night air.

Well, he wasn't going to get me this time. I didn't take the bait. Instead, I feigned shock and amazement.

''Oh, the hell you say,'' I responded.

He's since found a job, but it wasn't easy. It would have been easier had he listened to my advice on how to get one.

I know there are still some people who don't like to hire blacks of any gender. I also know that some employers are so desperate for minimally competent workers that they'll take a chance on anybody, no matter what their race or gender. So here are my tips for young black men looking for work.

* Stay in school. That advice would seem almost obvious were it not for the growing movement among some black youth to embrace ignorance and hold knowledge in contempt. A common complaint I hear is that school is boring. You think school is boring? Try being stuck in a low-wage, dead-end job for years.

Actually, school is easy. You get every weekend off. You get every major holiday off. You get a Christmas break and a spring break. You get 2 1/2 months off in the summer and only go to school six hours a day. In the work world, you may have to work evenings, double shifts, weekends and holidays. If you can't handle school, potential employers will figure you can't handle a job.

When I was a supervisor at Sinai Hospital, I had one standard rule from which I never deviated: I gave no interviews to high school dropouts. Ever.

* Do well in school and graduate. Again, this is advice that should be fairly obvious. Good grades on a report card and a high school diploma are written documentation for prospective employers that you may have something on the ball.

My first job as a teen-ager came as a result of my being in an Upward Bound program at Johns Hopkins University. My grades got me into that program.

* Speak standard English when you are interviewed for the job. A potential supervisor is not one of your homeys.

I am not one of those prigs who believes that the slang of hip-hop culture will lead ultimately to the collapse of Western civilization. As a writer, I know that all language is a tool. But you have to use the right tool for the right occasion. You wouldn't use a jackhammer where a screwdriver was needed.

* Volunteer for a company if you can't find a job, and get a written recommendation for the work you do. This lets prospective employers know that you're eager to work and that you're reliable.

* Abandon know-it-all attitudes. I realize that teen-agers know everything about life and don't need us ignorant, meddling adults. But I have one observation. Potential employers no doubt will feel that if you already know everything, you certainly don't need a job with their company.

* Last but not least: Pull your damn pants up. The delusion among many young men that the world wants to see their underwear is pervasive. They strut around with pants sagging at mid-butt, convinced that makes them the essence of cool.

There are no fashion police around, although we sorely need them. Go looking for work dressed that way and your chances of getting a job are reduced nearly to zero.

Gregory P. Kane is a reporter for The Sun.

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