Sunday, June 22, 2014

Parents, It’s Not The World You Remember! (But It Is The One You Helped Create!)

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The Basics: The job market has changed in such a way that most parental advice for young people (especially recent graduates) is essentially worthless.

With the past month of graduations (college and high school), the usual life advice for graduates has been circulating on the internet and in real life. More than any other year, I have found that the advice given to recent graduates is especially out of touch with reality. Peddled by adults who grew up in a world that was very different from the one today, the advice and optimism given to people entering the work force today is mostly tragically out of date and not at all useful. As much as adults might want to use “good old fashion values” as a guidepost for advising their children, the old tried and true methods are no longer adequate for getting, maintaining, or advancing in jobs today to get to a living (or better) wage.

Some of the most common advice that no longer applies in today’s world is:

Pounding the pavement is the best way to get a job. In today’s world, spending one’s days going from business to business is an absolute waste of time. At least 90% of businesses that have entry-level positions require online applications. Those businesses do not accept paper forms and the people who are involved in hiring are not interested in meeting potential employees who just walk in off the street. Going from business to business is going to waste gas, time, and do little to advance one’s prospects of getting a job. So, spending hours filling out applications online does not necessarily mean that your job-hunting child, recent-graduate or spouse, is not actively looking for work. In fact, as little as those online applications are gone through by HR directors and operations managers, they are at least maintained online as opposed to sent pretty much instantly to the circular file.

Hard work will be rewarded. Entry level jobs today do not value their employees. Don’t believe me? Look up statistics for how many businesses cut the hours their employees could work when the Affordable Care Act came into effect. Businesses today would rather have more part-time employees and use the loophole in the ACA to avoid paying for health care for their employees than keep those employees as full-time employees. Finding a full-time job has never been harder in the United States, not because there is not work, but because employers have devalued their employees (check out my article on that here!) and see them more as an expense than a benefit for their business. As a result, most businesses cut hours in order to prevent their weekly expenses from ever dipping into the red. No matter the effectiveness of the worker, those businesses will use the “corporate policy” excuse to prevent giving employees who work hard fair remuneration. Those employers will lowball initial wages, raise the expectations after hire, and they will claim that they cannot give “off-cycle” raises.

More than the frequent lie about how billion-dollar corporations “cannot” afford to pay workers fairly is how employers work to retain quality employees. This is a problem at both the small-business and big business level. I, for example, worked for a small business that was a start-up by a conservative, “I love America,” “Buy American!,” veteran who insisted he wanted to make a real difference in the local economy. A month after an intense discussion about exactly what his vision for the company was and his appreciation of the skills I brought to the job as a writer (which was very much outside his skill set), he decided that it was better for his business to have products with poor product descriptions and he outsourced my job to a small team of Pakistanis oversees. Sometimes, when I am feeling terrible about my current soul-crushing, muscle-tearing physically-demanding night job, I check out the site from my prior employer and I have a good laugh over the spelling, usage, and other mistakes the site it now riddled with.

Your job interview is your chance to shop the employer just as much as it is their chance to determine if you are a good fit for their business. Your job interview is the chance you have to get in the door at a job; that is the extent of it. In this day in age, the job interview is your chance to weed out the jobs that will not keep you versus the ones that actually want you. The difference is all the difference: if at the job interview, you declare that you can’t work Friday nights after five P.M., when (on your initial job application) you previously stated “open availability” (which is pretty much the only way to get in the door at all these days!), you’ll get weeded out at that point as opposed to three days into training when you tell the businesses scheduler of your altered needs.

Perhaps more importantly, while the job interview can frequently be held against an applicant, there is no recourse for employees who are lied to during the application process. Employees at my current job are frequently lied to during the job interview about exactly what the job entails and what the expectations are. When I was able to produce documents from the corporate handbook about what my job entailed (at the time I was hired), the management at the business came back with two things: different documents with different expectations and “if you don’t like these new job expectations, you can leave.” The scourge of “at-will” employment is that employers can openly deceive applicants by doubling their job requirements without paying employees more. This workplace truth completely undermines the “tried and true” wisdom with additional job responsibilities, you will get increased wages.

Your friends can be a great resource to getting into a good, new job. There is nothing that beats one-on-one contact at a job, but in today’s job market, friends are not the asset they used to be. Friends might know you, but unless you’ve worked together at a similar job, most will not know your work ethic. The three scenarios most friends will have in today’s job market are these: 1. Your friend will not want to risk their own job by recommending a friend who could usurp them or become a liability to them, 2. Your friend might not want to recommend you because they don’t want to subject you to their own horrible workplace, or 3. Your friend does not have the influence at their place of employ to actually make recommending you make a difference.

Get a college education. Unless you are seeking a highly-technical job or becoming an educator, a college education means very little compared to job experience in today’s market. Even the health care field does not require a post-high school degree for an entry-level position. But unless one has a degree in the specific industry one is seeking a job in, the degree is virtually meaningless. I make a dollar more per hour in the job I have now, which does not use my degree at all, than I did in the position I had before which required my specific degree. And, in my current job – where I work alongside high school dropouts – I am paid several dollars less than people a decade (or more) younger than me who did not pursue higher education, but entered the job market immediately instead.

Never one to simply complain about a problem, here is some useful advice for new job applicants or parents of young people entering the workplace:

Pick the company you want to work for, befriend the HR manager, and follow their directions exactly for obtaining the position you want. The codicil to this piece of advice is, of course, “pick a company that will be around in ten years when you’ve done all you need to to get the job.” As jaded as it might sound, the best chance one has to get a career they want is to meet someone on the inside who actually has influence on the company’s actual career path. The wrinkle in this piece of advice is in meeting the HR manager. In any number of big businesses today, the Human Resources manager is in their position because their ultimate career path requires some operations experience. The result is that young job applicants could easily find themselves getting advice from people who are phoning in their advice while they keep their eyes on their real prize.

Either way, the only real way to get the fabulous job you truly want is to befriend the people that make the hiring decisions and the executives they report to and do exactly what they tell you in order to get the job you desire. It’s not like the head of Human Resources of Google spends their day reading through blogs and says, “Here’s a person who has talent; I’m going to contact them to see if they can come to work for us and we’ll find a position that uses their obviously amazing abilities!” No, it does not matter how much experience, education or portfolio one has, until one makes meaningful contact with hiring personnel, the quest for a great job is likely to be more frustrating than rewarding.

Apply for social programs as soon as you are able. This might seem controversial, but here’s the thing: social services are designed for people in need and the job market is brutal right now. By the time someone needs social services absolutely, odds are it will take too long for the benefits to kick in. Having grown up with parents who gave mixed messages on this (a proud upper middle-class father who despised the idea of using social programs and a lower middle-class teacher mother who was tired of seeing her children hungry whenever they were living on their own led to thousands of wasted dollars over my poorest years when I paid my mortgage and electric bill, but had no food in the house!), I can attest to the usefulness of being progressive and straightforward with young people in this regard. If you manage to land a full-time minimum wage job today, you still qualify for food stamps and are unlikely to be able to afford an apartment with electricity, water, and heating services. So, responsible parenting these days should certainly include a component of utilizing the programs available to them, especially when their attempts to “do the right thing” by today’s standards when it comes to getting a job does not yield enough money upon which to live.

Hire a headhunter. Finding a job is a fulltime job. In this day in age, people who are employed (even at crummy, underpaying jobs) do not have time to spend working and looking for a better job. As important, spouses/partners who do not work are not qualified to job hunt for a spouse/partner/roommate. Headhunters are professionals who are only paid when they lock down a position for an applicant. Professional headhunters are the only ones with a truly vested interest in finding a job for someone else; even human resource directors are more interested in the business for which they work than for the job applicant.

Be compassionate.  Finding a job today is hard enough; young people don't need to be put down about why they haven't secured an incredible job right away.  Anyone looking for a job in the United States today is stressing enough about making ends meet and they could use compassion over irritability during their job search.

The world is different from the time when a job applicant could walk into a potential employer and wow the head of the company. If Kramer Vs. Kramer (reviewed here!) was being made today and it was going to retain its accuracy, Dustin Hoffman’s character’s impassioned speech at the law firm he went to to get a job to maintain custody over his child would either not get him the job, or the employer would use the character’s desperation to lowball Kramer’s wage requirements so he got the job, but still could not afford to keep his child based on those wages. Getting hired for a job in the United States right now is a deeply impersonal hassle where applicants are treated like beggars and the process of wooing employers seldom leads to the needs of the business or employee being truly met.

Such an observation might not be the most inspiring one for new graduates to hear, but it is the reality of today’s dismal marketplace into which new graduates are being thrust.

For other social or economic commentary pieces, please check out:
The U.S. Government Should Put Bank Of America Out Of Business
How The Affordable Care Act Is Unconstitutional
It Is Time To Abolish The “Tipped Employees Minimum Wage”

For other reviews, please check out my Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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