July 24, 2012
Your role in restoring compassion to the job market
There's an old quote about many drops of water coming together to form a mighty stream -- a sentiment which, if we all play our cards right, may turn out to have a surprisingly positive impact on the modern job market.
As I think about all the turbulence, confusion and frustration that we've been suffering through as a society these past few years in terms of the job marketplace, I find myself asking: What will make things better? How will we lift ourselves out of all this? When and how will we get back to the days when people could count on a little more security and civility in their professional lives?
Barring a cataclysmic event or sweeping legislative mandate (which seems unlikely, given the never-ending stalemate in Washington, D.C.), I think any such change is going to have to come from all of us, as individuals. Per the quote above, such a change could potentially derive from millions of people doing more of "the right thing" and making better, more conscientious decisions about how they treat their employees, co-workers and business associates.
Sound impossible? Perhaps. But even though this vision may seem distant, I see encouraging signs every day that people are waking up to the insanity of what's going on in the job market -- and taking steps to address it, even if just in their own little pocket of the working world.
For example, a client of mine landed a great new job the other day, after more than a year out of work. She shared her success story at a networking meeting I was facilitating. As she told it:
"I had met the person who is now my new boss once or twice, over the years, at various industry events. When I saw him again at a recent conference, we got to talking; I confided to him that I'd been out of work for a long time and was getting pretty disheartened. He proceeded to invite me in for an interview the next day, and after a few rounds of discussion, he offered me a job!
"A few days later, as I was settling into the new assignment, he stopped by my office and shared a few words I'll never forget. He said that one of the main reasons he hired me was 'because I was in your exact same shoes several years ago, and I remember how much I needed somebody to just take a chance on me and give me a break.' "
When my client finished telling this story, the whole room erupted in spontaneous cheering. Seriously -- it was like a flash mob. It was instantly clear on every unemployed person's face that they could relate to this woman's experience. They felt beaten down by the job-hunting process, but knew that if even one open-minded employer would give them a shot, and the chance to shine, they had it within them to accomplish great things.
The question is whether today's unemployed individuals, when they land their next job, will remember the lessons of what they went through. Will they adopt a "now I've got mine, forget you" attitude, or will they (as I sincerely hope) pay it forward, acting more thoughtful and considerate of those folks who may come to them for employment down the road?
Alas, I occasionally see behavior that ISN'T quite so noble-minded, and that directly contributes to the ongoing every-man-for-himself mess we're stuck in.
For example, I know another professional who just landed a position after a fairly long stretch in the market. For months, he'd been blaming almost every setback on age discrimination (he's in his mid-50s) and was enraged by the number of employers he'd approached who said they were hesitant to hire him because he was "overqualified" for the position at hand.
I tried to explain that age discrimination and overqualification are two separate things. While the first issue is inexcusable, employers often have legitimate concerns about hiring somebody whose skill set and experience go far beyond what the particular job in question requires.
Such employers worry about the job hunter getting bored in the assignment, being unable to take direction from a less-experienced boss or becoming an expensive "flight risk" who would likely move on to a higher and better-paying position as soon as one comes along.
Here's the irony: This individual managed to secure a job offer for a position that was several rungs below his level. The first thing he said to me upon sharing the news of this new development? "Yeah, I'll take this job for now, just to get some money coming in. But I'm going to keep looking for something that's more suitable for somebody at my level."
And so the stereotype wheel grinds on and on ...
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
Paul Anderson helps professionals in transition find their desired employment.
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