Skip to main content

Down and Out in the New Economy

How People Find (or Don’t Find) Work Today

Finding a job used to be simple. You’d show up at an office and ask for an application. A friend would mention a job in their department. Or you’d see an ad in a newspaper and send in your cover letter. Maybe you’d call the company a week later to check in, but the basic approach was easy. And once you got a job, you would stay—often for decades.
Now . . . well, it’s complicated. If you want to have a shot at a good job, you need to have a robust profile on LinkdIn. And an enticing personal brand. Or something like that—contemporary how-to books tend to offer contradictory advice. But they agree on one thing: in today’s economy, you can’t just be an employee looking to get hired—you have to market yourself as a business, one that can help another business achieve its goals.
That’s a radical transformation in how we think about work and employment, says Ilana Gershon. And with Down and Out in the New Economy, she digs deep into that change and what it means, not just for job seekers, but for businesses and our very culture. In telling her story, Gershon covers all parts of the employment spectrum: she interviews hiring managers about how they assess candidates; attends personal branding seminars; talks with managers at companies around the United States to suss out regional differences—like how Silicon Valley firms look askance at the lengthier employment tenures of applicants from the Midwest. And she finds that not everything has changed: though the technological trappings may be glitzier, in a lot of cases, who you know remains more important than what you know.
Throughout, Gershon keeps her eye on bigger questions, interested not in what lessons job-seekers can take—though there are plenty of those here—but on what it means to consider yourself a business. What does that blurring of personal and vocational lives do to our sense of our selves, the economy, our communities? Though it’s often dressed up in the language of liberation, is this approach actually disempowering workers at the expense of corporations?
Rich in the voices of people deeply involved with all parts of the employment process, Down and Out in the New Economy offers a snapshot of the quest for work today—and a pointed analysis of its larger meaning.

304 pages | 4 halftones | 6 x 9 | © 2017

Anthropology: Cultural and Social Anthropology

Economics and Business: Business--Industry and Labor

Media Studies

Sociology: Occupations, Professions, Work


“Sympathetic and wide-ranging. . . . The world she finds is terrifying and topsy-turvy. . . . When an old boys’ network becomes a young boys’ network, as Gershon so nicely puts it, there will be new kinds of exclusion at work.”

Times Higher Education

"Once upon a time, corporations were business enterprises which we were supposed to pretend, through a quaint legal fiction, were people. Nowadays it's rapidly becoming the other way around; people are being pressured to imagine themselves as business enterprises. In this beautifully written volume, Ilana Gershon explores the subtle violence that ensues when, in order to get a job, you have to apply branding and marketing techniques to your own personality, and reconfigure your very sense of being in the world as a result. In doing so, she reminds us, more than any other book I've read in recent years, of the power of anthropology not only to expose the hidden workings of our everyday common sense, but also to show how strange and arbitrary they really are, in a way that can make us rethink almost everything we take for granted."

David Graeber, author of Debt: The First 5,000 Years

"A fascinating, hands-on account of what's really required to get hired today."

Peter Cappelli, author of Why Good People Can't Get Jobs

"Ilana Gershon vividly illuminates how workers have become 'brands' or 'businesses' in the new economy. Sounds liberating, but beware. As Gershon shows with numerous examples, the gain of the 'personal brand' may entail the loss of the person. And the gain of the 'personal business' may entail the loss of loyalty, security, and connection. This is a cautionary tale for all job seekers and the people who hire them."

Barry Schwartz, author of Why We Work

"Gershon's unique insights redefine employees as a personal business with their own brand. Her work offers incredible tips for those being hired, including  personal branding, preparing a unique (and generic) social media (e.g., LinkedIn) presence, demonstrating value to the employer, building a personal network of informed colleagues, working with recruiters and technology sites, and knowing when and how to move on. It also offers insights on how to do the recruiting as a line or HR manager. This is a creative, well researched, and useful book for those who want to be hired and for those doing the hiring."

Dave Ulrich, author of HR from the Outside In

Table of Contents

Preface: A Book about Advice, Not an Advice Book
Introduction: The Company You Keep
1                      You Are Just like Coca-Cola: Selling Your Self through Personal Branding
2                      Being Generic—and Not—in the Right Way
3                      Getting Off the Screen and Into Networks
4                      Didn’t We Meet on LinkedIn?
5                      Changing the Technological Infrastructure of Hiring
6                      The Decision Makers: What It Means to Be a Hiring Manager, Recruiter, or HR Person
7                      When Moving On Is the New Normal
Conclusion: We Wanted a Labor Force but Human Beings Came Instead

Be the first to know

Get the latest updates on new releases, special offers, and media highlights when you subscribe to our email lists!

Sign up here for updates about the Press