Like any other professional, as a career counselor, it’s important for me to keep up with what’s happening in my field. I do this by reading and studying and talking with thought leaders I respect.
I also periodically take a look at what the general public is reading by perusing the career shelves of bookstores.
I rarely buy these books because they tend to repeat things I already know and because, in the vast majority of cases, they present an approach I consider to be ineffective and outdated.
Sadly, however, I discovered that Monster Careers handles these ideas in a way that I find distressingly superficial. The authors treat them as mere "motivational mantras", like "success art", those posters you see for sale in the mall and on the Internet.
Which explains why I was so pleasantly surprised when I picked up a copy of Monster Careers: How to Land the Job of Your Life, by Jeff Taylor and Doug Hardy and read the first page. There, in crisp, bold statements, were the cornerstones of the new mindset that is necessary for achieving work security in today’s "post long-term job" era:
- "Think like a Free Agent"
- "Train like an Athlete"
- "Prepare like a Marketer"
- "Work like an Entrepreneur"
Finally, I thought, someone was telling the general public what I’ve been teaching for a long time—that it’s a whole new world out there and in these changing times the old ways of looking for work are producing rapidly diminishing returns.
Finally someone had named precisely and emphatically the mental transformations someone has to undergo in order to leave the narrow and depleted world of job-search behind and step into the wider expanse of creating work. I brought the book.
Sadly, however, I discovered that Monster Careers handles these ideas in a way that I find distressingly superficial. The authors treat them as mere "motivational mantras", like "success art", those posters you see for sale in the mall and on the Internet where there’s a colorful photograph of snow-covered mountains mirrored in a tranquil lake with an eagle flying in the foreground, and beneath it in bold block letters the word, "Leadership", or a picture of a rowing crew on a golden, glowing river at sunset with the caption, "Teamwork".
As anyone who’s ever been a leader or functioned as part of a team knows, saying the word and doing the deed are two very different things. Unfortunately, this book, which has such a promising beginning, rapidly deteriorates into just another version of the same old job search message we’ve been hearing for years. People who are caught in the seismic changes that are going on in the world of work today need more than a pretty picture on the wall.
A few weeks ago, I was on a business trip to Salem, Massachusetts, and over breakfast I read in the business section of the local paper an article about a man who was laid off two years ago by a high tech company. This led me to wonder what these slogans might mean (or not mean) to him—a real-life person in the real-world situation of being out of work for a long time.
THINK LIKE A FREE AGENT
For the last two years, this man (we’ll call him John) has sent out an average of more than four resumes a week.
In the same period of time he has had only half a dozen interviews and received one offer, for a low-paying temp job.
Is John thinking like a free agent? Hardly.
His entire focus is on getting the same kind of job he had before. He’s trying to recreate the past, to get his old life back, because it’s all he knows.
The truth is that the kind of work he did was highly specialized, and is now obsolete, and the fact that while he was employed he didn’t keep up with new developments means that his work life as he knew it was over the moment he was let go two years ago.
That’s a reality he still hasn’t dealt with.
The real work of "thinking like a free agent" must begin with John accepting that he is in Transition and that his situation goes far deeper than just finding another job like the one he had.
Until he recognizes that the door to the past is closed, locked, and barred, he will not be able to see the doors which could open to him in the future.
TRAIN LIKE AN ATHLETE
At first glance, John’s commitment to sending out all these resumes every week seems like a pretty good career "fitness program". In fact, he credits the longevity of his job search to being able to "stick to a routine of research and resume tuning."
Two years of tweaking a resume??!!
If you’re an athlete, you don’t get stronger by doing the same exercises day after day. You get stronger by steadily adding weight, increasing the distance, upping the level of difficulty, etc.
It’s true that by chasing posted job openings, John is getting a certain amount of career "aerobic exercise", but he’s not building strength in the marketplace by enhancing his skills, nor is he improving flexibility by going beyond the traditional job-search activities.
He needs to find ways (little ones at first) to move outside his comfort zone, to incrementally increase the load. He’s kept himself at the same level for two years and he expects to get stronger? It won’t happen.
PREPARE LIKE A MARKETER
John has produced an exhaustive (and no doubt exhausting) direct mail campaign, but his rate of response is below the threshold that would justify the cost of postage, much less the time and energy he’s expending.
In order to prepare like a marketer, John will need to get his Four P’s—product, price, promotion and pipelines—in order.
He will need to know how to strengthen and articulate his value in the marketplace and explore different ways to make his "product" (i.e., himself) visible. He will need to open up more than one channel of distribution—the kind of work he was doing before he got laid off.
But before he can put this marketing foundation in place, he will need to be his own "creative department" and discover how fertile the "in-between space he’s living in can be for identifying new possibilities.
"I’m 50/50 about getting more education and training," he comments. "I think I’ll take a week off from the job applications to research college offerings and do some soul searching."
Ah, now that’s a good beginning!
WORK LIKE AN ENTREPRENEUR
One of the positive steps John has taken is to use the time on his hands as an opportunity for learning more about non-profit organizations by volunteering for a local watchdog group.
Unfortunately, his thinking has gone no further than that—it stops right at the point where entrepreneurial action could begin. Just as he has drawn a line limiting the scope of his work search, he has also circumscribed his volunteer role.John’s interest in non-profits, if cultivated, could offer an opportunity to expand not only his employment options, but also his level of satisfaction in the work he does. Yet the fact that he describes himself as "the worlds oldest intern" suggests that he does not see this new activity as a stepping stone.
An entrepreneur would ask, "Where could this lead? How could I develop this opportunity? What leverage could this have in other markets?"
WILL THESE MOTIVATIONAL MANTRAS HELP JOHN?
It’s hard to say whether John would ever go out and spend the $18 on Monster Careers. I am concerned, however, that if he did he would find nothing in it but new ways of doing the "same old same old", new reasons to stay stuck doing job-search instead of making the move into the more meaningful and ultimately rewarding experience of being in Transition.