The Job Market Fairy Tale

The Job Market Fairy Tale

I recently read one of the seemingly endless news reports about how the recession is affecting those of us who are looking for a job.

In the article, a worker was complaining about the number of immigrants in the job market, arguing that the openings should be reserved for “real Americans.” Disregarding the fact that at one point in the past, one or more of his family members were also immigrants looking for work, this guy went on to say, “Besides, this is the crummiest job I’ve ever applied for.”

That kind of occupational arrogance is the root cause of much of what ails the American workforce today. Too many people think they are entitled to a great job and that they should be provided that job (and its paycheck) with little effort on their part. Maybe that’s true in fairy tales, but in the real world, it ain’t gonna’ happen.

The Declaration of Independence promises us Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. The operative word there is “pursuit.” If you want a decent job, you have to go after it. No one’s going to hand it to you.

What does it mean to go after a job? Well, first, it’s important to recognize what it doesn’t mean. The pursuit of Happiness doesn’t mean standing in line at some plant door or at some career fair whining about how lousy life is and how unfairly it is treating you.

It also doesn’t mean looking for a job using tools and techniques lifted right out of the 1950s. Yet, that’s what many of us think we can do. We seem convinced that in this, the worst job market in almost 100 years, we can write up a resume, send it out to a bunch of companies, do a little networking around the edges and come up with not one but several great job offers from which to choose. Dream on. There’s more fantasy in that than in a real fairy tale.

Look, I know how tough it is to hunt for a job. I’ve been unemployed twice in my life, so I have some experience out on the bricks. I’m also not going to blow sunshine at you with a lot of well-meaning, but useless prattle about sticking to it, keeping your chin up and believing in yourself.

I’m here to tell you that to find a job today, you’re going to have to work harder than you ever have before. And even that won’t be enough to ensure your success. If you want to find a decent job today, you’re going to have to work hard AND work smart.

What does working smart mean? It means doing a whole range of things that will give you more occupational muscle, endurance and reach. The first and most important step in building up this “career fitness” is gaining workplace expertise (which is not the same as knowing the ropes in one organization or another). You have to be at the state-of-the-art in a field that has a future in the 21st Century economy or you have to find a field that does and get smart there.

The smarter you are in a field that employers need today, the greater your potential contribution on-the-job. The greater your potential contribution on-the-job, the quicker you will be hired and the longer you will stay employed. That’s the bottom line. And it’s a better line to be in than the one where that worker is whining about why no one has hired him. He might as well be reading Little Red Riding Hood.

Thanks for reading,
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