||The Two Fallacies (part 1)
By Nick Corcodilos
This special edition of The Headhunter Articles comes in
two parts, and it's dedicated to debunking two fallacies that may have kept your job search
stuck in low gear up to this point. We'll cover the first fallacy here, then move on to
the second in the next installment.
Fallacy #1: Don't worry!
It's a job hunter's "market"!
What's the news? Why, it's all great if you're job
hunting. The government reports record low unemployment claims, and the media shouts that
companies can't find enough good workers. As an example from what's perhaps the hottest of
professions, the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) claims there's an enormous shortfall of information technology workers. What an opportunity! And the music
swells and job hunters come running
well, their resumes come flying in, anyway.
So, by merely tossing your resume up in the air, you
should be able to get an interview and a job offer, negotiate a great compensation package
and get a job, right?
Think again. There's lots more to the "great job
market" than meets the eye. Here are some sobering observations about this
- The employment news bears a highly political edge. Today's
volatile world economy, a nervous stock market, and a heavily-invested population of
soon-to-retire baby boomers all suggest that we're seeing more spin than truth in
interpretations of employment data.
- Many healthy companies are still downsizing in a big way.
- There is nothing to suggest that downsizings will end
- Corporate America has acknowledged that jobs are not
secure for the long term anymore.
- Many of the "new jobs" created by the "new economy"
are lower-level jobs than those being eliminated (middle-management is no more).
- Because so many highly-educated, skilled, experienced
workers are being laid off, competition for the job you want is much stiffer.
- American business has changed drastically. The focus is
not on jobs, people, or even on products. The focus is on profitability. Every company is
watching its bottom line carefully. And that means it's watching you.
There are political agendas at play in the land. Professional associations claim the ITAA statistics are off by a mile, and
suggest the figures are
politically motivated. All eyes are now on a new immigration bill passed by Congress to allow more cheap labor to be brought into the US.
While the government crows about low unemployment, a
close look at the monthly figures over the past two years reveals a disturbing up-and-down
effect, leaving us wondering whether the fluctuations really mean anything. And the
numbers themselves aren't exactly anything to crow about, even when they're good. Not when you consider that after a certain point, there's
no reporting of the cumulative level of "lost workers" who are off the
unemployment rolls but still out there looking for jobs, starting their own struggling
"consulting" businesses, or taking huge pay cuts.
In a Reuter's news report,
UCLA management professor Sanford Jacoby says, "There is a bit of substitution going
on of lesser quality jobs for better quality jobs."
Does this sound like a "job hunter's market" to
The heads continue
"People are still anxious even though they see new jobs being created,"
continues UCLA's Jacoby. Why? Because the cuts continue. If there's good news, people who
have been -- or are about to be -- laid off must be scratching their heads.
There's nothing to suggest the downsizing trend will change any
time soon. I've noted in other Ask The Headhunter articles that even as companies show
workers out of one door, they're usually still hiring through another. But that still puts
workers on the street, turning the "market" into more of a free-for-all where
the downsized fight for lower-paying jobs.
Bend over for turnover
The notion of a job for life is officially dead. High job turnover will be the
rule. The media say so. Soon you'll see it as an explanation emblazoned on your pink slip,
and perhaps even as a reminder on your pay stub.
Work has become more project-oriented. When the project's done, so is the job. Lots of work can be
outsourced. Why should a
company pay you benefits when it can hire an independent contractor for six months?
There is no job security. But that may not be bad. As the
value of a job declines with its projected lifespan, the value of your ability to ride a
fast learning curve without falling off increases. The talented, skilled individual
becomes more in demand, as long as he can compellingly communicate his value to an
intended employer. Welcome to a new way of life.
You're facing more competition
Are you looking for a mid-level job in marketing? In office administration? In
manufacturing? In sales? In finance?
Well, so is the $120,000 senior manager laid off from
that big insurance company in the next state. He'll take anything he can get so he can pay
his mortgage, because the job he had doesn't exist anywhere anymore. He's desperate. And
he's got an MBA, a BA in English, and twelve years experience managing budgets, people and
He's looking for one of those "newly created
jobs", and he's your competition. Each time a major company like AT&T or Kodak or
IBM downsizes, this is the caliber of worker who enters the pool you're trying to stay
afloat in -- the so-called job market.
You're not swimming with sharks. You're swimming with
millions of very hungry fish who just want to be able to feed their young. Your odds of
finding food just sank. But don't get depressed. Be aware of what you're facing, and you
can take steps (or strokes) to avoid it. First you have to understand what makes American
business tick nowadays.
Business gets smarter
If American business ever took the long view, John Q. Public's IRA account has forced a change in that perspective in some notable ways. Today, poor
earnings for a quarter or two cause stocks (and the mutual funds that hold
them) to tumble. Management responds by tightening the reins immediately, and ol' John's
paycheck chokes while his mutual-fund-bound 401(k) goes back up.
Frightening as this trend may seem, bear in mind that the
powerful focus on profitability has probably kept American business from the fate suffered
by its counterparts in Europe and Japan. Today, American companies cut costs when profits
are down. And, a quick, highly visible (to stockholders) way to enhance profitability is to
cut the workforce.
Are these companies letting people go gratuitously? In
some cases, yes -- and you may be one of the casualties while employers learn how to manage
more effectively. But for the most part, American business has learned to take a very
close look at what produces profit and at what doesn't. It used to be that a company's
divisions were profit-and-loss centers. Below that level, no one looked very carefully at
who (or what) was contributing to the bottom line. Today, every department, every manager,
every employee is scrutinized. You may be a nice guy and you may be a loyal worker, but
either you produce more than you cost the company or you're out.
The message is simple: American business is changing
radically, and you'd better learn to deal with that change. Not many years ago, the
economy was very healthy and companies were fat and happy. Hiring went on willy-nilly.
High headcount was a sign of health. More recently, these companies have had to lay off
alarming numbers of workers. Why?
Profitability is the job
Every job in America has one description at its core: to produce profit. (A lot of
companies are just starting to get that.) If a worker doesn't address this job
requirement, his job will go away. Yet, few workers (or their bosses) could explain to the
board of directors exactly how their work contributes to profitability, let alone explain
it in a job interview.
But take heed: this focus on profit is rapidly starting
to influence the hiring process. Granted, efforts to determine how a candidate will impact
the bottom line are running into entrenched, stagnant HR practices that are more focused
on processing thousands of resumes than on finding and hiring the one person who can
deliver profitable work. But as the attention of the boardroom turns to the recruiting
process, managers are finding ways to address the issue. Companies big and small, old line and online, are paying more than lip service to the
idea that hiring is a strategic enterprise by launching initiatives to improve recruiting
Managers are thinking more carefully about the value of a
job and the worker doing it. This can slow down the hiring process and put your candidacy
on hold, no matter how good the "job market" is. And remember: with each
downsizing comes a swell of new job hunters for an employer to pick from. This makes
employers pause and interview some more.
The new standard is value
Just because a company needs workers doesn't mean it will
apply the same old standards it did ten years ago. The standards have risen, and so have
the risks. So, managers are grappling with the current value of a candidate's
specific experience. They're trying to figure out what predicts success. They're asking,
"Does this candidate really understand the work we need done? Is she demonstrating --
hands down -- the ability to do the work? Is she really going to pay off if we hire
The same managers are also asking, "Do we really need to fill that open
job? Or, could we split the work up among four existing employees?"
As employers struggle to assess a job candidate's worth
as well as her experience, a particular kind of job candidate starts to stand out: the one
who can explain it all to the manager, calmly, intelligently and confidently. This is the
candidate who has invested her entire being in winning this one job. She's not out to
market, shopping blindly. She knows what matters most to this business. She can demonstrate
(without being asked) how -- and how much -- she's going to contribute to the bottom line.
And this focus on the bottom line creates a new awareness
in the savvy job hunter: There is no such thing as a job market. "Shopping"
is no strategy, unless you like rummage sales.
What counts is knowing exactly what you want. If you
can't communicate how you're going to profit a particular employer, you have no business
Stay tuned. Next, we'll look at how you can skip like a
stone over the sea of competition out there as we debunk... Fallacy
#2: Job search is a numbers game.
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