On Typecasting

14Jan12

It’s well-known that in Hollywood, actors are typecast. Think about any actor and their roles, and you will usually see what their type is. From time to time, an actor is cast against type, in a role that’s a stretch from what they’ve previously been known for. More rarely, an actor will select a series of roles, to effectively change their type (their previous work is usually then ignored in casting). Even more rarely, an actor will be able to resist type entirely.

In Hollywood, typecasting serves a purpose, one the audience usually appreciates. It gives us a shorthand and tells us what the movie might be like. If it features Bruce Willis, you can expect action and explosions. If it features Robin Williams, expect drama with an eccentric character (unless the movie is from before Dead Poets’ Society, in which case expect zany comedy). In contrast, if it stars Nicholas Cage, that doesn’t tell you much on its own.

For job seekers, we have our own typecasting to be aware of. While ideally we want to get a job that we will find fulfilling, that we will learn a lot from, and that we will eventually master, we probably can’t get that job right away. Instead, we usually have to take a job that is less than our ideal.

There are huge advantages in taking this job — as far as the common wisdom is concerned. I’ve heard more times than I can count that it’s easier to find a job if you have a job. I don’t know if this is true, but it definitely makes sense. The other advantage is that you can put food on your table and keep a roof over your head while you search for your ideal job.

Here’s where the issue with typecasting comes in. Unless you have found a job related to your goal job, you run the risk of being typecast. In the current economy, this is a challenge that many (especially recent graduates) will be facing in a few years. As those who are able find jobs, many of them will be taking jobs for which they are overqualified. As the job market improves, they will be competing against recent graduates in their field and experienced professionals. The jobs they have taken may put food on the table and a roof over their heads, and given them work experience. However, they may now be typecast as a clerical worker or laborer, with the assumption that their skills in their chosen field are rusty, and that are much more skilled in the area in which they have been working, whether or not it suits their personality, interests, values, or strengths.

Typecasting in employment can be useful in many situations. It lets employers determine from a potential employee’s education and employment history whether they will be a good fit for a particular position. However, for the under-employed (of which there are many, particularly in the current economy), it can keep them in a cycle of under-employment, from which they will have to struggle to get out. For employers, and the economy as a whole, the situation means wasted potential and under-used resources.

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One Response to “On Typecasting”


  1. 1 More on Typecasting | withamouthfullofstones

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