In the musical Avenue Q, Kate Monster (Julie Atherton, below) sings about the “fine fine line” that characterizes many social relationships: between “reality and pretend”, between “you’re wonderful, and goodbye”, and most of all between “love, and a waste of your time.”

julie athertonSo in the job market similar fine, fine lines exist in hiring, in promotions, in career planning. This past week, I encountered situations with three such fine fine lines. Most of us in the California job market will be familiar with one or more.

1. The fine fine line between taking an available job, and holding out for a job in a desired field: A young man graduated from UC Riverside in December 2012 with a degree in chemistry. This young man, who is on the autistic spectrum, has been searching without success for 18 months for a position as a lab tech or other position related to his degree. He had an internship in a Silicon Valley manufacturing firm lab, set up by a family friend, but it lasted for only a few months.

By his own count, he has put in over 100 applications (not unusual these days in California). Should be try to get any job now (if he could), or should he continue to focus on lab tech or related jobs? Of course, there are other options: he could try to get a job in fast food, say, and still keep on looking for lab tech. Still, there is often a fine line line between holding out for the desired occupation, and taking something that might be available now.

2. The fine fine line between you’re hired, and goodbye: Mr. Ron Galatolo, Chancellor of the San Mateo Community College District has been involved for years in hiring decisions for a range of community college positions from community college presidents to deans to administrators. Last Sunday, when we meet, we discuss how hiring has changed in the past few decades. It has become far more competitive for every position, the differences between candidates, especially in the final stages, are usually very small, each of the finalists has a strong case to be hired. There’s a fine fine line between being hired, and goodbye.

3. The fine fine line between volunteering, and a waste of your time: A young man is trying to decide whether to volunteer in a six month unpaid internship or keep searching for a paid position. The unpaid internship may lead to a decent job in a large firm, but there is no certainty. Volunteering is often a good way to get in the door, but it can also lead leave one feeling taken advantage of. There is a fine fine line.

If we can’t solve these three hiring quandaries, at least we can agree on the beauty and poignancy of this song from Avenue Q. In employment, as in much of life, there’s a fine, fine line. Take a minute and listen.