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Cracking the New Job Market

It’s no secret that today’s workplace and job market are radically different from those of less than a generation ago. The rules have changed, and those who don’t change along with them may be left behind. R. William Holland, Ph.D., has written an invaluable new book, Cracking the New Job Market, The 7 Rules for Getting Hired in Any Economy (AMACOM, 2011), that challenges conventional job-search and career-management wisdom and helps job seekers identify what employers are really looking for.

AMA spoke to Dr. Holland recently to learn more about “cracking the new job market.”

AMA: What prompted you to write this book? Why now?
R. William Holland: The world of work—how we prepare for jobs, find and keep them, and find them again when necessary—has undergone a seismic shift. The rules for finding a professional, white collar job today bear little resemblance to what they were just a few years ago. Yet despite these changes, which are largely due to recent advances in technology and the rise of globalization and deregulation, the job search literature hasn’t changed much in the past 40 years. I wrote Cracking the New Job Market to help people understand how things have changed so that they can abandon their outdated job search tactics and adopt the strategies they need to find success in today’s workplace.

AMA: Obviously, the job market has changed in response to the economy.  But, just how is today’s job market new?
RWH: The main difference is that in the past, if you had a college degree, you had a job if you wanted one. That is no longer true. Yet we continue to invest in a college degree as if that guarantee were still in place. An increasing number of students graduate college with mountains of debt and no career prospects. Those fortunate enough to find employment commensurate with their expectations are soon confronted with an unstable employment situation in which companies no longer feel a sense of loyalty to their employees.

In addition, as advances in technology have made it possible for jobs to move easily across national boundaries, the competition for white-collar jobs is now global. Further, the fastest growing segment of the American economy, Silicon-Valley social media start-ups, do not employ the numbers needed to contribute significantly to job growth. As Thomas Friedman pointed out in a recent op-ed in The New York Times, the top- five fastest-growing social media companies do not employ enough people to fill the 20,000 seats in New York’s Madison Square Garden.

AMA: What are the first steps for someone who suddenly finds himself laid off?
RWH: First and foremost, people should brace themselves in two ways. The first brace is psychological. White-collar workers are often positive people with a “can-do” attitude. They have been rewarded for taking personal responsibility for their outcomes. It’s difficult for them to imagine that being laid off is not their fault. They must understand that there is no shame in being unemployed. And they should remember that they are not alone. If at all possible, they should share the details of their circumstance with others who can often help them think through the situation and help them feel a lot better about themselves.

The second brace relates to bread and butter issues—the economic damage that can (but need not) accompany unemployment. Good decision-making will help them now and in the future. They should focus on things such as personal cash flow, unemployment compensation, and healthcare coverage. They should also get legal advice if possible. In the coming days, they will feel more balanced. However, they must be careful not to assume that their employment prospects will improve with an improving economy. We are in the midst of a worldwide restructuring of the workforce and competition for white collar work will continue to intensify.

AMA: The first chapter of your book deals with value creation—in one’s résumé, cover letter, and interviews.  How does a job seeker determine what a prospective employer values?
RWH: Understand that the context for the presentation of your credentials and career aspirations is provided or shaped by the requirements of the position and job market—not vice versa. When you read a job description, pay close attention to the words the employer uses to explain the problem(s) they are trying to solve by filling the position. You can also review the company’s Website and industry publications. This will help you identify the key words the company uses to communicate the skills they value. Highlight all the action verbs, adjectives, and skills that the employer uses to describe their ideal candidate. Then, as carefully as you can, describe your accomplishments and credentials in the same language (using the same words when possible) the company uses to describe their problems.

The most successful candidates will be able to apply these mechanics across the entire spectrum of the job search and career management processes. They will undergo the complete shift in mindset that is required to be effective in today’s job market.

AMA: You write: “Presenting your credentials to the job market as if your previous work history and college degree are enough to carry the day is a critical mistake.” If experience and education are not enough, what is?
RWH: Always remember: your résumé is not just a summary of what you have accomplished. It is a promise of what you can accomplish for someone else. All employers—whether for profit or nonprofit—are of necessity interested first and foremost in themselves and their profitability. They want to know one thing: what’s in it for them if they hire you? Can you create more value than your competition?

Many other candidates have the same or similar credentials. In a job market in which more people with college degrees are competing for fewer good jobs, the advantage goes to those who most closely approximate the skills and contributions employers are looking for. Hiring managers want to bring in people who can make a difference to their bottom line. Your ability to demonstrate that potential by drawing parallels between your previous experience and an employer’s needs is crucial in getting hired and remaining employed.

AMA:  What is the #1 job interview mistake? 
RWH: The most common mistake is that people assume that the interview is about them. It’s not. Just as with your résumé, cover letter, and other aspects of the job search—interviews are about what others want from you. Companies are desperate to hire talented employees who can add value. So the interview is about what you can provide to them, given their needs. Your job is to find out in detail what they want and then explain during the interview how you can provide it.

Another interview problem is poor preparation. There are too many ways to improperly prepare for an interview to list here. What I see most often are candidates who try to memorize the answers to tough questions. My advice is to focus on what a company values and then link your experiences and accomplishments to what the position calls for.

AMA:  Frustrated with the job search, some downsized white-collar workers have decided to return to school for a graduate degree. What’s your feeling about this?  Is it a good idea?
It can be a good idea, but caution is advised. Too often people return to school because they don’t know what else to do. Or they hope that more education will insulate them from further insecurity in the job market. But education alone is not likely to have that effect. As an example, I recently met an individual who earned three master degrees (and accumulated a mountain of debt in the process). Each degree was supposed to elevate his job prospects to another level. Sadly, none had that effect.

While education remains important, the real answer is that all of us will have to learn to create value for ourselves and our employers, regardless of how much education we have, if we are to survive and prosper in the new job market. If another degree materially enhances your ability to do that, it might lead to better employment. But no degree will guarantee job stability.

AMA: In the book you divide today’s workforce into three sectors; traditional, nontraditional, and entrepreneurial. What are the benefits and downsides of each? Are older workers better off sticking to the more traditional ways of working that they may know best? Do you have any advice specifically geared to older (over 50) who want to stay employed?
RWH: If most of us had our druthers, we would stick with the traditional, secure white-collar jobs we have come to know and love. However, that may no longer be possible because of the pressures from technology and globalization. Some of us will be forced into seemingly higher risk/reward nontraditional jobs that pay only when we are called to work. The good news is that learning to create value at one level of employment enhances our ability to create value at others. And value creation is required at all levels. Entrepreneurs occupy the highest risk/reward positions. No one has to tell them they need to create value. Either they create it or they go out of business.

My advice to the over 50 crowd is to understand the generation to which they now belong. To date, the various generations—Baby Boomers and Generations X and Y—have been defined by the years in which they were born. Now, a new generation is emerging that is defined by how it sees the world, rather than by chronology. Today’s world is global and the requirements for membership have more to do with one’s ability to create value than with age. So if you want to remain employed, find out where value can be created and opt to be a member of generation global. Go for it!

About the Author(s)

Shari Lifland is Editorial Communications Manager for American Management Association.  She is editor of the eNewsletters "Moving Ahead," "Management Update," and "Administrative Excellence," and manages content for the Members-only section of AMA's Website.