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WHEN BOB LEARNED that his name was on a list of IT employees whose jobs were to be downsized—a polite term for "fired"—he knew exactly what would happen next. This was the third time in five years he had gone through the same routine. He would attend a group meeting, which would be followed by a one-on-one session with an outplacement counselor, followed by an appointment the very next day to start his job search.
Bob would again be told that terminated employees should not dwell on negative emotions. Those who start on their job searches right away find work more quickly than those who do not. The group meetings always seemed to be held during the week but never on Fridays. He would eventually understand that outplacement firms got paid based on their "pick-up" rate—the number of people who actually start programs. Getting them to start without an intervening weekend improved the rate.
But Bob had more to think about than how outplacement firms made money. He was worried about his own finances and how long it would be before the family had to make major adjustments in their standard of living. He had new bills to consider, like health-care premiums and perhaps tuition for a return to school for the training required to change careers—to an area less subject to downsizing.
He also started to think about the damage this last layoff did to his reputation. Though aware that layoffs in some fields and industries are more common than in others, he wondered if employers were beginning to think that the problem was with him and that he simply couldn't hold a job. Three jobs in five years would surely get a thumbs-down from hiring managers. They will want to know what's wrong with me, he thought.
But now was not the time for self-analysis. First, he had to find a job, and he knew exactly what to do. He quickly updated his résumé by adding his most recent position to an already polished document. He had been taught by outplacement counselors: "Always keep your résumé up-to-date and stay in touch with your networking contacts." Of course, most people hate to network. They are not very good at it and quit doing it the minute they find other employment. The motto of outplacement professionals Bob worked with was, "Be prepared and stay connected. And don't forget to join as many self-help groups as you reasonably can. They will help you tap into the hidden job market."
Bob would do all that, but this time he would make a significant change. He had learned about a new way to look for white-collar work: value creation. He noticed that certain people had figured out that their job instability wasn't their fault. There was nothing wrong with them and they knew it. The skills each one brought to the job market were similar to those of others, yet these people appeared to be most in demand from employers. When he met them, he wondered, "What do they know that I don't?"
During previous job searches, Bob approached the task in a predetermined sequential order: update the résumé; look for positions that match; and in knee-jerk reaction, apply for the jobs at hand. He now understood, however, that the requirements of similar jobs change from one organization to the next, depending on the specific problems each company is looking to solve. Now, his first order of business was to discover what those problems are and to adjust his application accordingly. Using this new approach, he landed an IT manager's job at a comparable salary within five months.
Bob was convinced that his application got attention because of what he noticed about the position description. Besides the normal competencies every candidate is expected to have, there were key words in the job description that he could use to customize his résumé, making it specific for this job opening. The keys included the maintenance of a professional image (one of the main reasons the job was vacant), alignment of IT goals with corporate strategy, and IT policy development. These were skills Bob had demonstrated in previous positions. This time, however, he made sure they were emphasized throughout the application process—including in his résumé, cover letter, and interviews. The key points represented areas in which the hiring organization wanted value created. The IT manager positions in other companies might emphasize different problems. For each opening, it was important that he customize his résumé to address the areas the companies considered important and never assume that the same job in one company would address the problems in another company.
You should note that none of this made Bob's job more secure. He could get a job one month and be downsized the next. He would, of course, be disappointed but not downhearted. There was nothing wrong with him, and he knew it. He also had the added advantage of understanding value creation and the role it plays in today's marketplace of jobs. He is now able to adjust his approach to finding a job to reflect the new realities in the market—adjustments he would not have made using the same job-search methods he had learned earlier. At one time, employers were impressed by his familiarity with different aspects of information technology. He now understood that they wanted more. He had to emphasize how his skills matched the job descriptions of potential employers. He received a lot more interest once he focused on exactly what employers wanted, and as a result, he became a lot less anxious about instability in the white-collar job market.
The Demand for Value Creation
Those who understand how the job search has changed over the years have turned their career ship around so it's headed in the direction of creating value for others. That's the innovation my firm has pioneered, after I'd worked in human resources, global outsourcing, and the outplacement industry for twenty-five years and had read untold thousands of résumés. When we began the process, we understood the job market in general but not how our particular method would work out practically.
We tested the process first on family and friends and then on a broader audience. The results were strikingly similar. We put together a value-creation workshop for soon-to-be college graduates from the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP) in New York City, and we offered a slightly different one for students from Michigan State University's prestigious James Madison College. In all instances, the students dramatically improved their ability to navigate their job searches as a result of our programs. One student commented that the workshop was a humbling experience that has motivated her to revisit her entire job-search strategy.
Dan, the volunteer research assistant for my first book, Are There Any Good Jobs Left? is a good example. Dan was a typical soon-to-be graduating political science major at Northwestern University. He knew he wanted a job in private industry but was not sure how to go about getting one or how to make the best impression on employers. Furthermore, political science was not a typical major for someone interested in a business career. Using our value-creation method to develop a résumé (and write cover letters, prepare for interviews, and eventually manage the full range of his career), Dan applied to fourteen companies, got eleven interviews, and had three job offers—all at more than twice the going salary for social science majors. We then tested the method on more experienced job seekers. The results were the same—value creation is a language employers understand and job seekers can use to effectively make themselves stand out from the competition.
Using the value-creation method initially feels like little more than a résumé-writing process. That's certainly the way it felt to Jenny. When we met her, she had already paid a consulting service $600 to develop a résumé. She got a professional-looking document—but one that was of little use to her in a job search because it was no more than a summary of what she thought was important about her background. It lacked mention of what particular companies considered important as they advertised their positions.
An unfocused résumé is a little like fishing without bait—if you catch something, it is strictly by accident. And Jenny wasn't catching anything. Though she had previously worked as a personal consultant on an hourly basis, that fact wasn't part of her current résumé. As a result, her expensive document was useless for the freelance marketing/public relations job she was now interested in pursuing. The job she eventually applied for and got was as a public relations consultant for a Washington, D.C.–based lawyer who wanted to increase his visibility in the legal community. That happened because once Jenny understood the value the lawyer was looking to have created, she adjusted her résumé to reflect her accomplishments in those areas. For instance, she emphasized her experience in developing short- and long-term marketing/PR strategies; her effectiveness in pitching to local media outlets; and her broad knowledge in developing a media list—all things she had done but had not, until now, highlighted. Once Jenny applied the concepts of value creation, her job-hunting fortunes turned around. So can yours.
Why the Job Market Changed
It is taking longer to find suitable work these days, and people are growing uneasy about whether there are enough jobs to go around. When you feel that things are rapidly spinning out of control, there is a tendency to look inward and lose confidence. Yet most of the time the problem isn't you. Today's job market has been mightily affected by globalization, changes in technology, and the deregulation of various commercial sectors in the United States and elsewhere. Briefly, here is how each affects your job search.
The world is poised for more, not less, globalization so we might just as well get used to it. Corporations that operate as global players have a tremendous advantage over those that do not. As a result, products are increasingly made overseas, where labor is cheaper. That doesn't only include factory work or telemarketing; even professional work is often outsourced. For instance, Craig was a software engineer who had been laid off for the second time in a year and a half. The work his department did was outsourced—once to another department in the same company and another time to a company in India. Some professionals in the automobile industry had similar experiences when Chrysler merged with Mercedes. It did not take long for many of the automobile design jobs to be relocated to Germany. Craig's initial thought was to return to school and pursue a course of study and a career less susceptible to outsourcing.
His strategy was flawed, for a simple reason: the future is uncertain. How is he supposed to determine how globalization might evolve over the next few years? What if his new line of work later proved to be susceptible to the same outsourcing pressures as his previous employment? At one time, most of us thought heart surgery, income-tax preparation, and drive-thru order taking at McDonald's were all safe from outsourcing. That is no longer the case.
None of us can predict with certainty what impact globalization will have on certain job classifications five years down the road. In a global world, jobs are fluid. For example, a CEO relocated to St. Louis for one month, and because of a merger, his job was eliminated sixty days later. In many other cases, new employment opportunities ended much sooner than anyone anticipated. Because these upheavals are difficult to predict, it is better to be prepared for job instability than to try to avoid it altogether. White-collar professionals need to develop the skills required to survive and prosper in today's job market, regardless of how unstable one particular job turns out to be.
That idea of adaptability includes retraining yourself in response to an unstable work environment. Retraining is always an option—just not the first one to consider, because it is a time-consuming, uncertain path.
The Internet may emerge as the single most important technological innovation of our time. But it also has increased the instability in the workplace. Among other things, the Internet:
Spread near-instant communications across the globe and for a relatively low cost, making possible the 24/7, 365-day world we live and work in Allowed the cost of data and product distribution to be reduced Made price data for an endless variety of goods and services available, driving prices and profit margins down Reduced the barriers to entry for niche businesses and enhanced their ability to grow larger without additional cost—an important consideration for a new class of entrepreneurs Generally intensified the global competition for goods and services What has any of this got to do with the job market in which you compete? Everything! It is like learning to make lemonade when you are stuck with lemons, as the cliché goes. That is what Heather did when the responsibilities of the compensation department in which she worked were outsourced. It was no longer necessary for her company to maintain an entire staff of compensation specialists. Near-instant communications allowed it to buy those services on a just-in-time, as-needed basis. Heather's recourse was to use her expertise and technology to establish a 24/7 international compensation-consulting firm. With a remarkably few number of employees (ten people headquartered in Marin County, California; two in New York City; one in London; and two in Singapore) hired as temps on an as-needed basis, she was able to transfer work electronically (at essentially no extra cost) from one time zone to another, to be worked on until completed.
Heather's firm was set up to service other newly emerging global businesses that suddenly found themselves in need of a uniform compensation system for their employees around the globe, which would help them remain in compliance with different national pay systems, meet the legal requirements, and abide by local customs—all the while maintaining some semblance of internal global equity. Her typical call came from a new client in the midst of a merger or acquisition that could not be completed until the deal included specific language about compliance on compensation issues. Heather soon built a loyal following of corporate clients that trusted her judgment and relied on her quick turnaround times.
Globalization and technology have combined to create instability in the workplace. Heather used those elements (and the value she had learned to create) to create her own business opportunity. In other words, technology is a source of instability as well as a great enabler. You, too, can reasonably pursue business ownership as an employment alternative. When companies outsource, they often outsource to the same workers they laid off. And it is possible to perform those functions across several organizations in ways that bring greater take-home pay and provide more personal time than ever imagined. Many people have taken this route once they got over the trauma of being fired. There are added risks, to be sure, such as having to purchase your own health-care coverage, coping with an uneven income stream, and having to continually search for new business.
Excerpted from Cracking the New Job Market by R. WILLIAM HOLLAND Copyright © 2012 by R. William Holland. Excerpted by permission of AMACOM. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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