How bad is the job market actually?
Reading articles about leaving your corporate job to pursue your dreams - especially to the likes of TechCrunch, which likes to put out stories like “10 Reasons To Quit Your Job Right Now!” on a fairly regular basis – inspires you to believe that 1) you are unique; 2) you are impossibly talented; and 3) the only thing standing between you and true happiness is your 9-5. So, perhaps quit your job, buy a ticket, get a tan, fall in love, never return. Or quit your job, start a blog, start a business, write a book, sell your business, make millions… never return. (Note, for the latter, it helps to be funny. People who are not funny do not write good blogs. That’s probably why this blog won’t do so well.)
This is also incidentally the thinking that might have you quit your job only to find that you are not funny, not creative and not a leader [great Forbes article, by the way]. You are, in fact, not only unemployed but also unemployable.
On the flip side, the slave-driving corporate pundits, job-seekers and media might have you believe that the world is a terrible and gloomy place. Jobs are hard to come by. Good jobs are even harder. Good jobs in places that have a good culture. Forget it. Hold on and never let go. As James Altucher puts it, “A billion people in China need a job and they are gunning for your cubicle.”
So, what do I think about the job market; enterpreneurship; branching out and the like?
1) Successful people are just successful people: And let me continue this thought. They will continue being successful anywhere. When I was 21, fresh to Chicago with a public affairs internship, I bartended at a popular place in the West Loop to ensure I could eat at nice restaurants and you know, pay rent. I felt superior for having a corporate job and used it as an excuse for when I wasn’t such a good bartender [oh, this is just what I do on the side]. “Bullshit,” my manager said, looking at me squarely. “I don’t believe this crap about, oh I’m great at my day job but I’m just not as good here. When you’re really good, you’re good everywhere.”
Take life as a wandering nomad, for example: scanning through the blogosphere, there are plenty of AWESOME, HILARIOUS blogs that start with, “I was a consultant/banker/actuary working too many hours and decided to quit to pursue my dreams.” Inspiring? Absolutely. I’m 100% one of those schmucks who reads some good, witty writing and responds enthusiastically, “I’m jealous! You’re living the dream!” Let me tell you something else. Did you notice a lot of these guys start out their blogs saying, I was a consultant/banker/actuary? The guy who was a smart, funny, successful corporate cog turned into a smart, successful enterpreneur/wanderlust/funny writer/human.
2) There are jobs out there: I was recently in Belgrade talking to a guy who hosted me CouchSurfing, who, unlike me, had always managed to integrate travel with work, thereby creating slow travel. Although I’ve been to a good number of places, I’ve always engaged in the kind of high-paced travel you are forced into when time is your commodity: even when you have a month–you are constantly on a speed mission to see as much as possible because there is a clear endpoint. I asked him how he lived in all these places and still managed to have such a successful career, to which he bluntly replied, “Honestly, jobs aren’t that hard to come by.”
“But,” I protested, “Take me for example: I work in such a niche, and I feel like the work that I do is so removed from, say, being a program development manager in Lagos.”
“Two words for you,” he replied. “Transferrable skills.”
3) Corporate culture and leadership are defining [and whether the company actually walks the talk]: There are days that I wish I could say that I hated my job. [Ok, there are actually days that I do hate my job.] But most days – especially these days – I actually like my job. A lot. In part, this is because what I do is stimulating: I help corporations address environmental and social issues that impact their stakeholders and business. Sometimes this looks like saving the whales [ok, well, it's never actually looked like that, but I'm making a broadsweeping generalization about pet-project philanthropy], and sometimes it looks like conducting community needs assessments and addressing, say supply chain economic development opportunities that really improve people’s lives and helps my clients get some positive attention.
But, I’ve also noticed changes of late that tell me the company is really striving to be best-in-class for its people. More holidays, enforcing vacation time and flexibility to name a few. It’s true that in the war for talent, particularly for Millennials who have higher social expectations from their employers, the best companies with the best culture and most interesting work get the best people. You can’t pay me to take a shitty job at a shitty company. This is my life we’re talking about, and it’s worth more than a paycheck. No matter how high. But internship at Kiva? IDEO?
This is a critical component to most CSR programs, and most companies will tell you that a top reason for investing in CSR is to engage employees and create a company their people are proud to work for. Particularly as more Millennials shun corporations to start their own ventures [it's no secret the days of corporate loyalty are over], keeping the human capital edge involves having a strong culture. This looks like work flexibility and mobility; happy hours; brilliant leadership; global/travel opportunities; advancement; open mentorship; really allowing for intrapreneurship and not just saying it; no caps on PTO; the list goes on. No one is paying me to say this.
I wish I hated my job more because it would make it easier to pursue my life dreams. But I don’t.
4) . You owe it to yourself to follow your dreams. Someone will hire you again: If you are good, someone will hire you again. You owe it to yourself to at least make a go at being the happiest you could be.
A friend’s [who later went to co-found a start-up] former boss at a private equity firm once said to me that the problem he saw with most young people today was that they didn’t take enough risk. “Your 20s are the time to risk it all,” he said. You have time to rebuild later in life. [Read: you are missing opportunities for huge rewards. Little ventured, little gained.]
I often say [to myself because no one else listens...] that I’m more fearful of what I’ll regret not doing when I’m 80 – like not going for something that I knew I really wanted – than risking everything I’ve built today. I mean, I’m 27 living in a one-bedroom in River North. How much can you cram into an apartment? Are you?
5) Media lie about how bleak it is ‘out there’: It wouldn’t make for a very good news article if everyone was happily employed, would it? I’m not saying there are not anecdotally difficult situations out there, nor am I saying that there isn’t an age bias [e.g. easy to get a job as a single, mobile 27-year old with 5 years experience, right?]. What I am saying is that what I see in the real world, where I am gainfully employed, is different than what I read in the papers.
Every time I open a website, every day is a sad day. Like this recent New York Times article: With Positions to Fill, Employers Wait for Perfection. My goodness, look at this poor man who has been going to job interviews, strung along for months. What do I know about the job seekers market? It might be that bleak for everyone! This is what the world’s like. I’ll never get hired again. ARMAGEDDON. This is like the time in 2005 when my parents called me frantically asking if I was all right because there were riots in Paris, and they saw the burning cars all over the city in the news. Was I ok?! My reply: Riot? Oh, I think they burned a car in the suburbs somewhere. Sorry, Mom, can’t hear you. I’m at a bar! A bar!
Here’s what my empirical data tells me. My company is hiring left and right. My team is hiring. In fact, since I joined it in 2010, our size has grown 400%; we’re hiring a VP as I write. Most of my friends who have left jobs in the past year have left for other opportunities. My clients are hiring.
No, it’s not rainbows and daisies out there. Yes, it’s easier to get a job when you’re employed. Yes, it’s easier to be young and mobile. BUT, reporters need to find voices that fill the narrative they are trying to tell. Just as my views aren’t indicative of the whole, the compelling one-story is that it’s a twister out there. Reporters will find the voices (even if it is only representative of 10% of the population) to color the story.
Net, net, what do I know? I have no market research. I am not a recruiter. I have never been unemployed. I actually enjoy my job. I have a life of personal dreams that I’d love to pursue. I wrote this to draw a line between reality and bullshit, and I’m still figuring it out. Check back with me in a few years, and if I’m unemployable, I guess you’ll know.