It seems like everywhere you look these days, there are headlines screaming with unemployment numbers. Statistics purporting to show how many people are working or not working are thought to be an indicator of the general health of our economy. Now we all know that news organizations have a natural tendency to sensationalize things to gain ratings. They tout numbers designed to show us that things are either getting better or getting worse, depending on what flavor of news you choose to follow. Viewers of FOX News will likely get a very different picture of things than viewers of CNBC or CNN. Lately I’ve been seeing headlines with statements like “Unemployment Rates Dropping,” and “Applications for Jobless Benefits Falling” and “Employers Adding New Jobs.” The government loves to brag about their wonderful accomplishments. Presidents love to claim that things are better than they used to be, and take credit for improving our lives during their time in office. But are those statements and statistics meaningful and accurate? Do they tell the whole story?
Statistics are an interesting thing. It’s been said that you can prove or disprove just about anything with statistics depending on what your sample is, how you count things, and how you interpret the results. At the height of the most recent recession — around the end of 2009 — the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the national unemployment rate to be around 10%. Today, that number is around 5.2%. That sure sounds like things have gotten better, right? But here’s the dirty truth about those numbers: they are only counting a small percentage of the actual potential workforce population. They are NOT counting people who are “underemployed” — i.e. people who have taken low-paying jobs well below their experience level just to pay their bills. They are NOT counting people who have taken part-time jobs — in some cases just a few hours a week, and usually without any benefits. And most importantly, they are NOT counting people who have been out of work for so long that they’ve become discouraged and have “given up” looking for a job altogether. For anyone in these last categories, those government statistics are a cruel joke, indeed!
Check out this 2-minute video cartoon that explains how the government arrives at their unemployment statistics. It’s both hilarious and depressing at the same time:
So, what is the “truth” about the current unemployment picture? Again, it depends on how you count things … but here’s an interesting tidbit I came across: According to the Gallup organization, 30 million Americans are either out of work or severely underemployed. Gallup defines a “good job” as one that is at least 30 hours or more per week with a company that provides a regular paycheck. Using that definition, they’ve determined that right now in the U.S., only 44% of adults age 18 and over have “good jobs.” They go on to say that in order to restore America’s middle class, the target for this should be at least 50%, with 10 million new good jobs.
Elsewhere, AP reported that last month U.S. employers added 223,000 jobs, but despite widespread job growth, overall there is a shrinking workforce. As as recruiter, I can certainly attest to the fact that in almost every specialized job category, there are more job openings than there are qualified candidates! I keep hearing the term “Talent War.” Among my peers in the staffing industry, there is a widespread feeling that qualified talent is getting harder and harder to find in almost every category.
One of the most obvious explanations for this growing talent shortage is simple demographics. In 2011, the oldest of the Baby Boomers (people born between 1946 and 1964) started turning 65 — the traditional retirement age. Of course more and more people now expect to keep working past the age of 65 … but sooner or later just about everyone reaches an age where full-time work is no longer a desirable option. We are now seeing the beginning of a mass retirement movement unprecedented in American history – a radical demographic shift in the makeup of our work force. All told, there are about 76 million people in that Boomer generation who will, over the next couple of decades, drop out of the work force. By contrast, there are only about 51 million “Generation X’ers” (people born between 1965 and 1976) who could potentially step into all those higher level jobs that the Boomers are retiring from. That leaves a huge talent deficit: at least 25 million fewer potential experienced workers!!!
OK — so what does this all mean to the average job-seeker? Honestly, not much. It’s really mostly just background noise. For anyone in job-seeking mode, my advice is to take most of what you see and hear in the news with a grain of salt and just concentrate on the basics of job-seeking strategies as expounded in the numerous articles here in Recruiter Musings. Work on your résumé, work on your elevator pitch, work on your interview presentation, and most importantly, concentrate on the activities that will get you in front of actual decision-makers at your target companies: “Networking, Networking, Networking!”
It’s been a long time since my last “Comic Relief” posting … so I think it’s about time I took another break from my usual “advice for job-seekers” mission to offer up this 6th blog of pure job-seeking humor! [See “Volume 1”, “Volume 2”, Volume 3”, “Volume 4” and “Volume 5” for the last five editions of this series!]
Once again, I’ll include my standard disclaimer: I fully realize that being unemployed is generally not a laughing matter. However, much like “gallows humor,” the intention of “job-seeking humor” is quite simple: to lift the spirits of people who are in an otherwise depressing situation. I’m a firm believer that maintaining a sense of humor is a key component to positive mental health. And I’m a still a tough critic when it comes to job-seeking humor. I figure, if it makes me laugh out loud, it’s worth sharing here!
In the category of Videos, the following clip is a classic scene from the TV show “Seinfeld.” George Costanza has just impulsively quit his job in real estate, and is now struggling with what he should do next. Like so many people I’ve actually talked with over my years as a recruiter, George hasn’t quite figured out what he wants to do when he grows up, and is having a hard time identifying his own marketable skills. (I certainly remember feeling this way a few different times in my own life!) I hope this doesn’t hit too close to home for any job-seekers watching this now …
In the category of Cartoons, the following are some miscellaneous funnies that I couldn’t fit into any other blog articles, but I think are hilarious nevertheless … and deserve to be shared here. (You may need to click to enlarge some of these images, since I had to reduce them to fit in this space.) Oh, and this first one below — while technically not a “cartoon” at all — may not make sense to anyone but my fellow recruiters … but trust me, it’s funny to us! And the second one is a companion piece to that first one.
Finally, in the category of Letters of Recommendation, here’s a posting I found on LinkedIn by one of their most distinguished “Influencers” — Conan Obrien:
LinkedIn Influencer Conan O’Brien here. Today, I’ll answer a question that’s plagued mankind for countless millennia: “What’s the secret to getting hired?” Is it education? Job experience? Unique skills? NO. None of those matter. All you need to succeed in today’s competitive job market is a letter of recommendation from a politician or celebrity. That’s it. Nothing more, nothing less.
I’m well-aware that getting a letter of recommendation from a celebrity is easier said than done—until now. Below you’ll find a form letter of recommendation from ME to your next potential employer. All you have to do is circle the appropriate option in each sentence and voila, your own personal letter of recommendation from Conan O’Brien. You’re as good as hired.
Dear Madam or Mister,
My name is Conan O’Brien, a respected public figure and LinkedIn Influencer. I am pleased to recommend (Amy/Bill/Marco) for the position of (manager/senator). I’ve had the pleasure of working with (him/her) for over 60 years. (His/her) multitude of abilities are evident through exceptional (leadership/sheer blouses) and a refined (personality/pill connection). Not to mention (he/she) is one of the most (industrious/anti-union) employees I’ve ever encountered. If (Amy/Bill/Marco) has a weakness, it’s that (he/she) is TOO (diligent/serotonin deficient).
The first thing you’ll notice about (Amy/Bill/Marco) is a prominent (neck tattoo/well-connected father). But, with such a (passive/aggressive) outlook, you’d never know that (he/she) comes from (political/orphanage) royalty. (He/she) is loyal to a (fault/vengeful god). (Teamwork/Naming names) is always at the core of everything (he/she) does. Plus, you won’t find someone better at (connecting/sleeping) with customers than (him/her). I’ve got the (sales figures/tears) to prove it!
Of course, you’ll also be relieved to know that we never proved (Amy/Bill/Marco) was responsible for setting the fire that destroyed our headquarters (two/three) years ago. You may have (heard/read) about the ensuing trial and (appeal/settlement). The flammable residue discovered in the (clothes/trunk) of (Amy/Bill/Marco) was found to be inadmissible due to a (technicality/bomb threat). Personally, I think it would be a (shame/mistake) to hold such a small (incident/episode) against someone for longer than (necessary/30 days).
Once again, with (his/her) relentless motivation and knowledge of (Windows 95/carburetors), I believe (Amy/Bill/Marco) would make an excellent addition to your (company/embassy). If you have any questions, please do not contact me, as I take my privacy as a public figure very seriously.
[Forged signature goes here]
P.S. – Please do not sell this letter on eBay.
More Job-Seeking Humor:
► Comic Relief: Job-Seeking Humor – Volume 1
► Comic Relief: Job-Seeking Humor – Volume 2
► Comic Relief: Job-Seeking Humor – Volume 3
► Comic Relief: Job-Seeking Humor – Volume 4
► Comic Relief: Job-Seeking Humor – Volume 5
► “In Transition” and Other Awkward Euphemisms
► Candidates Gone Wild: Recruiter Horror Stories
Anyone who has ever been interviewed for a job of any kind has most likely heard some variation of this line: “So, do you have any questions?” It’s the standard way that most interviewers wrap things up, and signal that the interview is coming to a close. It’s a query posed near the end of practically every type of interview: Phone Interviews, Face-to-Face Interviews, Skype Interviews, etc. It sounds like a rather innocent question, and could easily be dismissed by a job-seeker as a mere formality — not worthy of a thoughtful response. Well, don’t make that mistake! The truth is, how that question is answered can often make or break someone’s chances of landing a job.
Candidates are judged by the quality of the questions they ask during an interview. Candidates who have no questions at all might be perceived as having no interest in the position. Even worse than that, inappropriate or off-track questions can be viewed as a huge red flag by any interviewer. Asking the wrong questions can easily sink an otherwise successful interview.
There are literally thousands of possible variations of typical questions that could be used as interview closers. I certainly don’t intend to list them all here. And obviously, the specifics of each interview (the nature of the position, the type of company, the level of the person conducting the interview, etc.) will often determine what questions make the most sense to ask. Rather, I hope to list some general do’s and don’ts, and suggest some specific examples of successful questions that are likely to score points and head the conversation in the right direction.
What NOT to ask during an interview:
Let’s start with obvious no-no’s that will most likely get you eliminated from consideration by any interviewer:
► Don’t ask what the company does, what products they produce, or other basic questions that anyone could find the answers to by simply reading the company’s website. (Do your homework, and don’t sound like an idiot!)
► Don’t ask about compensation, vacation, or benefits. Those are clearly things that fall under the category of “what’s in it for me” — but certainly won’t show what’s in it for the interviewer! On the other hand, if the interviewer brings up the salary issue first, be prepared to address it head on. [Read “Answering the Dreaded Salary Question” for suggested strategies on how to deal with this controversial issue.]
► Don’t ask about anything sensitive or negative that you might have read or heard about the company — e.g. recent layoffs, poor financial performance, bad press reports, lawsuits, complaints or any other negative issues you are aware of. Most interviewers would rather keep the discussion focused on the positive aspects of their company, and will be very uncomfortable if those types of issues are brought up by a candidate.
► Don’t ask generic, standard questions that sound as though you found them on a website (like this blog!) and are reciting them from a script. Most savvy interviewers will be able to spot those types of canned questions a mile away, and easily distinguish them from more thoughtful, insightful questions that pertain specifically to their company or the exact position you are interviewing for.
► Don’t ask personal questions about the interviewer’s family, marital status, children, hobbies, political opinions, religious affiliation, etc. Unless you have a prior history with the person, issues like that are totally inappropriate for an interview with someone you just met. (On the other hand, if they bring those things up first then simply follow their lead … but tread carefully with these topics and don’t offer up too much personal information of your own. Try to stay focused on the business at hand.)
► Don’t ask point blank if you are going to get the job. That tends to put the interviewer on the spot, and makes people feel very uncomfortable.
What you SHOULD ask:
Here are some general categories that you can use as a guide to formulating winning interviewee questions:
► Ask open-ended questions, as opposed to yes-no questions. “Can you tell me more about …” “What is your opinion of …” The idea is to get the interviewer to talk more — to reveal more information about the company, about the position, about themself and about their expectations. Ideally, you can then use that information to say things that will demonstrate that you truly fit whatever it is they seem to be looking for.
► Take something you learned beforehand about the company, and probe further. Show that you’ve done your homework about the company. Ask specific questions about those things that you learned. Start out with something like “During my research, I read that … I was wondering …” Demonstrating that you’ve read up on the company, and that you are curious and interested can be very impressive!
► Take something discussed during the interview, and probe further. Expand on topics already covered, and ask for more details. This shows that you’ve been paying attention, and that you are curious, interested and eager to learn more.
► Ask about the company’s culture and work environment. Those are issues that tend to be rather abstract, and less likely to be explained on their website. Therefore, they are good topics to ask the interviewer about.
► Ask about what qualities they look for in a successful employee. How can someone succeed and grow within the company? What are the specific goals and expectations for the position you are interviewing for? What do they hope to accomplish — both short and long term — with this hire?
Here are some suggestions for questions that fit into the categories listed above. The key is to modify them, and formulate your own versions of these questions that are tailored specifically to the company and the position you are interviewing for:
► “What do you like best about working here?”
► “How would you describe the daily work environment / company culture here?”
► “How would you describe the best people you have in this company?”
► “What characteristics have made your best employees successful here?”
► “In my research, I noticed that (blank) is a big priority with the company. How does your team contribute to that company mission?”
► “Earlier, you mentioned (blank). Can you tell me a little more about how that works in your department?”
► “What are your expectations for this role during the first 30 days, 60 days, 90 days, 6 months, year?”
► “What are the biggest opportunities facing the company/department right now?”
► “What are the biggest challenges facing the company/department right now?”
Nailing the Final Closer:
In the end, if you are interested in this job, make sure to say so! Your final question should really nail the closer: “I just want to let you know that I am very interested in this opportunity, and hope we can move forward. What are the next steps in the interview process?” Don’t leave without determining what the expectations are for the next steps, and how and when YOU should follow-up. Ask what their timetable is for hiring, and how their hiring process works. Also make sure you get a business card with the email address and phone number of your interviewer, and send them a thank-you email that same day. If you met with more than one person, get everyone’s cards and do the same with them. Then immediately make a note on your calendar of when your pro-active follow-up call will be if you don’t hear back from them first. If you really want this job, don’t just sit back wait for them to make the next move. You have to go after it!