Job Market Myths

It’s hard enough to navigate job leads in today’s tight economy. Doing it with a fictionalized view of the job market can totally sink your chances of success. What are such fictions? They are pipe dreams and urban legends, to be sure, but increasingly, they are also misinterpretations of conventional wisdom. They begin with the right idea, but come to the wrong conclusion. Here are three of the most harmful.

MYTH: A job search is an interruption in your career.

The conventional wisdom is that a job search creates a gap in your record. And gaps drain your perceived value as a new hire. Rightly or wrongly, recruiters believe that a gap is evidence that you’re out of date in your field and out of touch with the latest challenges at work.

Gaps come in all sizes, of course, but the larger the gap, the more explaining you have to do to employers. Why have you been unable to land a job? What’s kept you from being hired by other organizations? Is there something that’s not on your resume that we should know about?

Gaps signal a break in your career progression, and employers seek candidates who have a steady record of progress in their work. It’s a misinterpretation, however, to think that job searches create gaps. They don’t. In fact, gaps exist only if we permit them to. A break in your growth as a high-value performer occurs only with your permission.

How can you avoid a gap? The minute you find yourself in an active job search, enroll in a training program or academic course that will sharpen your skills and add to your perceived value as a candidate. Then, feature that development on your resume. Show employers that you’re determined to remain a high-value contributor even while you look for a new employment opportunity. You will not only impress them with your initiative, but you’ll eliminate the doubt a gap in your record may create.

MYTH: The best place to find a job is on a social networking site.

The conventional wisdom is that social networking sites are now the single best way to find a new or better job. According to pundits, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter have eclipsed if not replaced job boards, traditional face-to-face networking, print publications and career fairs as viable job search resources.

While such hyperbole gets media attention, it is a mistake to think that these sites are all you need to find a job. Social networking is indeed a valuable job search tactic, but it is not the sole technique for conducting a job search or even the most effective. Indeed, for every person who has successfully found a job on a social media site, there are literally hundreds of others who have found employment using other tools.

In my 2010 Source of Employment survey, for example, we had almost 1900 people tell us that the single best way to find a job was by using a job board. Answering a job posting or archiving a resume on such a site was selected by over 28 percent of the respondents. The second highest response was a tip from a friend (9.6 percent), followed by a newspaper ad (8.4 percent), a call from a headhunter (7.1 percent) and a referral by an employee of the company (6.4 percent).

Does that mean you should ignore social media sites? Absolutely not. But, take the chatter about the power of these sites with a grain of salt and use all of the tools at your disposal. Today’s job market is the toughest in years, and you simply don’t know which resource will end up working best for you. The key to success, therefore, is to play the odds and use every single one of them.

MYTH: There are no jobs to be found right now.

The conventional wisdom is that the stuttering US economy is simply not creating new jobs. According to the Department of Labor, there was a net loss of 93,000 jobs in September leaving behind an entirely new kind of job market. If we had a ‘jobless recovery’ after the 2001 recession, we are now enduring a ‘less jobs recovery.’ Employers are simultaneously seeing their revenue and profits rise and shedding jobs from their structure.

While a lot of jobseekers have been disillusioned by this situation, it is a misinterpretation to think that the job market is bereft of opportunity. In fact, the private sector actually created 64,000 jobs in September. And, there are other openings being created by voluntary separation. That’s right, people are actually quitting in this economy to look for something better. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more people resigned (2 million) between February and April of this year than were laid off (1.7 million).

Does that mean it’s now easy to find employment? I’m afraid not. But, it would be a tragic mistake to give up because you don’t think there are any openings available. The jobs are out there, but it does take more than simply sending in an application to land one.

The key to success is not to shotgun an application out to every job you could conceivably perform, but instead, to focus on the smaller number of positions where you perfectly fit the stated requirements. Then, do everything you can to stand out. Network online and off to find a person in the organization you know who would be willing to refer you to the recruiter with the opening. And look for professional blogs and other discussion forums online where employees of the organization tend to hang out, and add substantively to their conversation. In short, make it your job to convince employers they can’t succeed without you.

The conventional wisdom can clearly be helpful when you’re looking for a new or better job, but make sure that you draw the right conclusions. Misinterpretations of even the best insights or most accurate data create fictions that can undermine and even derail your ultimate success.

The War for Work

The Great Recession changed everything. The workplace was being pushed and shoved in new directions long before 2008, but that economic cataclysm brought all those forces to a head. And now, we have a very different reality from that which existed just a few short years ago. Today, we are embroiled in a War for Work.

Although the menace of terrorism is still real and proximate, we are now facing a new challenge that poses an even greater threat to our way of life. It’s not far away in Iraq or Afghanistan; it’s in Boston and Cleveland and Phoenix and Los Angeles too. This situation endangers our ability both to create a comfortable standard of living for ourselves and to pass along an even better tomorrow to our kids. To put it bluntly (and without any exaggeration), the War for Work is an all-out attack on the American Dream. And, it’s happening right here at home.

Who’s the Enemy?

Unlike our struggle with radical Islamists, however, this assault is not being perpetrated by an obvious and evil enemy. In fact, the aggressors are benign. Their actions are legal and not all that dissimilar from our own. With some obvious exceptions, we are under attack by people who have adopted our creed. By working hard, by doing skilled work, by making a real contribution, by applying new and better ideas, they are stealing our future. They are replacing the American Dream with the Chinese Dream and the German Dream and the Brazilian Dream.

If you have any doubt about the seriousness of this threat – if you think I’m exaggerating – look around you. One out of five Americans is unemployed. Millions more come to work each day not knowing if they’ll have a job by the end of the day. People don’t even talk about job security anymore; no one wants to indulge in fantasy when their reality is so frightful.

How Do We Defend Ourselves?

Here’s the hard truth. You can’t win the War for Work – you won’t find a new or better job – by writing a stronger resume or by acquiring more friends on Facebook. I know that’s what you’d like to hear, but it’s not true. Those strategies were effective in a time of peace. In a time of war, they aren’t enough.

What can we do? How can we protect ourselves from this threat to our way of life? If there’s no defense in the actions we’ve been taking – if answering more job ads or making more connections on LinkedIn won’t keep us employed – what else is there?

The place to begin, I believe, is at the beginning. If we want to strengthen our defenses and steel ourselves for victory in the War for Work, we have to change our values. We have to discard the self-delusion that employment is somehow guaranteed in the United States of America or that the job we have today will always be there for us tomorrow. We must jettison the self-indulgence of doing just enough to get by at work and expecting annual pay increases that will sustain and improve our standard of living.

Lessons From the Past

If we want to preserve and protect our ability to work – if we want to win the War for Work and save the American Dream – we’re going to have to adopt the values of victory. And who better to learn those values from than the “Greatest Generation,” who fought and won World War II? They sacrificed in the near term to ensure our longer-term security. They didn’t expect success to be handed to them; they were ready and willing to work hard for it. They were self-reliant, self-motivated and fearless.

And that’s what we need to be as well. We have to set our sights on becoming the greater than the Greatest Generation. They were imperfect, to be sure, but they were also exemplars of the work ethic and quiet sense of duty that made this country such a special place. So, it’s entirely appropriate that we should both emulate and do our best to improve on their outlook, their beliefs, and their commitments.

Ironically, that’s exactly what they would want. They were the Americans who showed the courage, the tenacity and the generosity of spirit to give their kids a better future. They would be proud to have us do the same. And do so even better.

Personal Branding

A record number of people across the nation are unemployed and looking for work. With such intense competition, it has become more and more difficult to stand out from the crowd. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that 14.6 million Americans are unemployed – a number that hasn’t changed much since the beginning of 2010. That translates to an average of nearly six people now competing for each job opening.

Branding YourselfCareer development professionals are creating new strategies to help clients increase their chances of getting noticed among the throngs of job applicants vying for positions. One such professional is Martha Schottelkotte, director of career services at Brown Mackie College in Cincinnati. She guides students and graduates regularly as they create resumes and seek employment to begin new careers.

Schottelkotte introduces students to the concept of personal branding. Branding is a term borrowed from marketing, where brand names are carefully managed. In marketing, a brand is an intangible collection of perceptions in the consumer’s mind about a product or service. A brand name helps to raise awareness and build trust in a crowded, competitive marketplace. Personal branding is the process of distinguishing the essence of an individual’s relevant career attributes and communicating them consistently throughout the resume and interview.

Establishing an Identity

“We begin work on personal branding by looking at brand icons that we all know, like the McDonald’s arches,” Schottelkotte says. “The icon represents the business and how they want to be perceived.” The same principle works for individuals. The resume becomes a personal marketing tool to communicate core attributes, not just as a medical assistant or paralegal, but also as a human being. “For a truly effective resume, you must know who you are and what you stand for,” she says.

To this end, she asks students to develop a personal statement of philosophy. Schottelkotte shares the one she wrote for herself with students as an example to guide them in writing their own. “So many resumes out there are overblown, copied, or misrepresentative of the person applying,” she says. “Writing a personal statement of philosophy helps students crystallize who they are and how they want to be perceived by the world. It gives them a launching pad for how they can effectively and authentically market themselves.”

Key Words of Character

In developing the statements, key words come up for each student as they describe themselves. When they distill their life views into five or six key words – such as integrity, enthusiasm, accountability, or reliability – students can develop a greater understanding of themselves and what drives them as a professional. “It truly helps them to focus on themselves, and personalize the content in a resume,” says Schottelkotte. “It’s not just about where you worked and what tasks you did. It’s about your range of skills, what you have accomplished, and how you accomplished it. It comes down to who you are at your core, and translates to what you bring to your work and your employer.”

As students read their personal statements of philosophy aloud in class, Schottelkotte says, “There’s always hugging, and sometimes tears, as they see each other in a new light. It reminds people to be conscious of other people’s stories.” In an interview, they can weave attributes from their personal philosophy into the conversation.

“The dominant interview questions are behavioral,” Schottelkotte continues, “what you’ve overcome, how you would take action in a given situation. Students get a heightened sense of confidence when they’re able to respond to interview questions in a more authentic way. They’re no longer as anxious going into an interview.”

Recent college graduates and experienced professionals alike can benefit from personal branding during a job search. The discipline and soul-searching required to develop a personal statement of philosophy is well worth the effort, resulting in a greater understanding of self and heightened authenticity in professional endeavors.