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Go to Menu The Two Fallacies (part 1)
By Nick Corcodilos

This special edition of The Headhunter Articles comes in two parts, and it's dedicated to debunking two fallacies that may have kept your job search stuck in low gear up to this point. We'll cover the first fallacy here, then move on to the second in the next installment.

Fallacy #1: Don't worry! It's a job hunter's "market"!

What's the news? Why, it's all great if you're job hunting. The government reports record low unemployment claims, and the media shouts that companies can't find enough good workers. As an example from what's perhaps the hottest of professions, the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA) claims there's an enormous shortfall of information technology workers. What an opportunity! And the music swells and job hunters come running… well, their resumes come flying in, anyway.

So, by merely tossing your resume up in the air, you should be able to get an interview and a job offer, negotiate a great compensation package and get a job, right?

Think again. There's lots more to the "great job market" than meets the eye. Here are some sobering observations about this "market":

  • The employment news bears a highly political edge. Today's volatile world economy, a nervous stock market, and a heavily-invested population of soon-to-retire baby boomers all suggest that we're seeing more spin than truth in interpretations of employment data.
  • Many healthy companies are still downsizing in a big way.
  • There is nothing to suggest that downsizings will end soon.
  • Corporate America has acknowledged that jobs are not secure for the long term anymore.
  • Many of the "new jobs" created by the "new economy" are lower-level jobs than those being eliminated (middle-management is no more).
  • Because so many highly-educated, skilled, experienced workers are being laid off, competition for the job you want is much stiffer.
  • American business has changed drastically. The focus is not on jobs, people, or even on products. The focus is on profitability. Every company is watching its bottom line carefully. And that means it's watching you.

There are political agendas at play in the land. Professional associations claim the ITAA statistics are off by a mile, and suggest the figures are politically motivated. All eyes are now on a new immigration bill passed by Congress to allow more cheap labor to be brought into the US.

While the government crows about low unemployment, a close look at the monthly figures over the past two years reveals a disturbing up-and-down effect, leaving us wondering whether the fluctuations really mean anything. And the numbers themselves aren't exactly anything to crow about, even when they're good. Not when you consider that after a certain point, there's no reporting of the cumulative level of "lost workers" who are off the unemployment rolls but still out there looking for jobs, starting their own struggling "consulting" businesses, or taking huge pay cuts.

In a Reuter's news report, UCLA management professor Sanford Jacoby says, "There is a bit of substitution going on of lesser quality jobs for better quality jobs."

Does this sound like a "job hunter's market" to you?

The heads continue to roll
"People are still anxious even though they see new jobs being created," continues UCLA's Jacoby. Why? Because the cuts continue. If there's good news, people who have been -- or are about to be -- laid off must be scratching their heads.

There's nothing to suggest the downsizing trend will change any time soon. I've noted in other Ask The Headhunter articles that even as companies show workers out of one door, they're usually still hiring through another. But that still puts workers on the street, turning the "market" into more of a free-for-all where the downsized fight for lower-paying jobs.

Bend over for turnover
The notion of a job for life is officially dead. High job turnover will be the rule. The media say so. Soon you'll see it as an explanation emblazoned on your pink slip, and perhaps even as a reminder on your pay stub.

Work has become more project-oriented. When the project's done, so is the job. Lots of work can be outsourced. Why should a company pay you benefits when it can hire an independent contractor for six months?

There is no job security. But that may not be bad. As the value of a job declines with its projected lifespan, the value of your ability to ride a fast learning curve without falling off increases. The talented, skilled individual becomes more in demand, as long as he can compellingly communicate his value to an intended employer. Welcome to a new way of life.

You're facing more competition
Are you looking for a mid-level job in marketing? In office administration? In manufacturing? In sales? In finance?

Well, so is the $120,000 senior manager laid off from that big insurance company in the next state. He'll take anything he can get so he can pay his mortgage, because the job he had doesn't exist anywhere anymore. He's desperate. And he's got an MBA, a BA in English, and twelve years experience managing budgets, people and information systems.

He's looking for one of those "newly created jobs", and he's your competition. Each time a major company like AT&T or Kodak or IBM downsizes, this is the caliber of worker who enters the pool you're trying to stay afloat in -- the so-called job market.

You're not swimming with sharks. You're swimming with millions of very hungry fish who just want to be able to feed their young. Your odds of finding food just sank. But don't get depressed. Be aware of what you're facing, and you can take steps (or strokes) to avoid it. First you have to understand what makes American business tick nowadays.

Business gets smarter
If American business ever took the long view, John Q. Public's IRA account has forced a change in that perspective in some notable ways. Today, poor earnings for a quarter or two cause stocks (and the mutual funds that hold them) to tumble. Management responds by tightening the reins immediately, and ol' John's paycheck chokes while his mutual-fund-bound 401(k) goes back up.

Frightening as this trend may seem, bear in mind that the powerful focus on profitability has probably kept American business from the fate suffered by its counterparts in Europe and Japan. Today, American companies cut costs when profits are down. And, a quick, highly visible (to stockholders) way to enhance profitability is to cut the workforce.

Are these companies letting people go gratuitously? In some cases, yes -- and you may be one of the casualties while employers learn how to manage more effectively. But for the most part, American business has learned to take a very close look at what produces profit and at what doesn't. It used to be that a company's divisions were profit-and-loss centers. Below that level, no one looked very carefully at who (or what) was contributing to the bottom line. Today, every department, every manager, every employee is scrutinized. You may be a nice guy and you may be a loyal worker, but either you produce more than you cost the company or you're out.

The message is simple: American business is changing radically, and you'd better learn to deal with that change. Not many years ago, the economy was very healthy and companies were fat and happy. Hiring went on willy-nilly. High headcount was a sign of health. More recently, these companies have had to lay off alarming numbers of workers. Why?

Profitability is the job
Every job in America has one description at its core: to produce profit. (A lot of companies are just starting to get that.) If a worker doesn't address this job requirement, his job will go away. Yet, few workers (or their bosses) could explain to the board of directors exactly how their work contributes to profitability, let alone explain it in a job interview.

But take heed: this focus on profit is rapidly starting to influence the hiring process. Granted, efforts to determine how a candidate will impact the bottom line are running into entrenched, stagnant HR practices that are more focused on processing thousands of resumes than on finding and hiring the one person who can deliver profitable work. But as the attention of the boardroom turns to the recruiting process, managers are finding ways to address the issue. Companies big and small, old line and online, are paying more than lip service to the idea that hiring is a strategic enterprise by launching initiatives to improve recruiting practices.

Managers are thinking more carefully about the value of a job and the worker doing it. This can slow down the hiring process and put your candidacy on hold, no matter how good the "job market" is. And remember: with each downsizing comes a swell of new job hunters for an employer to pick from. This makes employers pause and interview some more.

The new standard is value
Just because a company needs workers doesn't mean it will apply the same old standards it did ten years ago. The standards have risen, and so have the risks. So, managers are grappling with the current value of a candidate's specific experience. They're trying to figure out what predicts success. They're asking, "Does this candidate really understand the work we need done? Is she demonstrating -- hands down -- the ability to do the work? Is she really going to pay off if we hire her?"

The same managers are also asking, "Do we really need to fill that open job? Or, could we split the work up among four existing employees?"

As employers struggle to assess a job candidate's worth as well as her experience, a particular kind of job candidate starts to stand out: the one who can explain it all to the manager, calmly, intelligently and confidently. This is the candidate who has invested her entire being in winning this one job. She's not out to market, shopping blindly. She knows what matters most to this business. She can demonstrate (without being asked) how -- and how much -- she's going to contribute to the bottom line.

And this focus on the bottom line creates a new awareness in the savvy job hunter: There is no such thing as a job market. "Shopping" is no strategy, unless you like rummage sales.

What counts is knowing exactly what you want. If you can't communicate how you're going to profit a particular employer, you have no business approaching him.

Stay tuned. Next, we'll look at how you can skip like a stone over the sea of competition out there as we debunk... Fallacy #2: Job search is a numbers game.

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