Being a recruiter, I meet and befriend a lot of people that are looking for work.
The middle and end of the year, or 3rd and 4th quarters, are painful times to be looking for work. Many companies have adjusted budgets and hiring plans by this time of year to make up for lagging performance or other factors that put them at risk for falling short of fiscal ambitions by year end.
During a conversation I had with someone last week, perspective on today’s economy from another recruiter was shared with me. That perspective was: If you are are entry level or at the top, you’re safe. For everyone else, it’s a gig economy.
I don’t 100% agree with this idea, but I’ve still given it some thought. What did that recruiter mean? It may be an overly generalized observation but it holds some truth. And it means that if you’re anywhere in the middle of your career, meaning in the 5-17 year range of experience, you shouldn’t be lulled into a false sense of security. You’d better be agile.
Why does this apply more to people in mid-level career status than to people who are at the beginning or later parts of their careers?
To start, I think people that are entry level may feel the need to prove themselves. They might even have a self-imposed sense of replace-ability. In case of a need for a change, they don’t feel deeply invested with an employer after just a few years. They also know they still have a lot of learning to do and a number of directions they can head in toward the future. Finally, their wages are usually lower which makes them more appealing to employers to retain during company cut backs. At the other end of the spectrum, folks that are later on their careers may be looking forward to retirement and less concerned with security since they may have already built up what they need to move on after work life comes to an end. They maybe expecting a forced early retirement. They usually don’t think about the possibility of having to start over.
Then, there are the people in mid-career who are fully involved and committed, usually to a specific company and industry. Their network and expertise all are concentrated in one place. Should they become disconnected for any reason, their options and time frame to start again are narrowly limited. Typically they are in the middle of raising children, paying off large debts, and maintaining a lifestyle commensurate with a higher income level. These people have the most to lose if their jobs become unstable. For them more than anyone else, it’s crucial to counter the risks of losing everything at once with the buffer of being able to generate income from anywhere, anytime.
I’ll repeat again that I don’t agree that it’s a gig economy for everyone at this level. Not everyone is willing to be a freelancer, contractor, or entrepreneur of some sort. There are still people out there with steady jobs that will last for a long time. But being open to having a “gig” just in case — can benefit anyone at any level.
Security is an illusion and not guaranteed no matter who you are. If you’re someone who can’t afford to stop working right now, to be prepared to find ways to generate income using your gifts and abilities in case of unexpected unemployment.
Back Up Planning
Part of the solution to being a worker in today’s job market, which is often referred to as a gig economy, is to never fall asleep – you should always be prepared to market yourself.
This does not mean to constantly be on the lookout for a new job or to be that person that wants to know details on every job posting you see. Putting yourself out there “just to see what you can get” will not increase your appeal. It will make you seem too available and unstable. We’ll talk about that erroneous approach more further down in section about job hopping.
What back up planning does mean is never becoming so comfortable on your current job that you your no longer know how to put together a nice resume or forget how to interview.
As an example, some mid-career folks have settled into their jobs to the point that they have become second nature. They go about their daily routines not giving them too much thought and may even be able to hit their goals without too much struggle. The problem with being settled to this degree is that while they often know how to do their jobs well, they can struggle with explaining what they do to someone else.
This can create a major job search roadblock if it results in a poorly constructed resume that doesn’t show their true value to prospective employers, or if they can’t relay that value during interviews.
Some back up planning tactics that will keep you fresh and relevant include:
- Always keeping your resume, LinkedIn profile, or other professional profile/portfolio up to date with a modern layout or design.
- Keeping an up to date record of personal or team projects and accomplishments, noted with your specific contributions.
- Networking. Keep in touch with your old friends and make new ones.
- Staying on top of marketplace and technology trends, and consistently taking voluntarily training courses for software or tools relevant to your field.
While we’re on the topic of continuous training, I’ll share a glimpse of my personal experience with you. I’ve talked about my own recent, painful job search in articles before, and it’s just a reminder of how I know personal development is so important.
To make a long story short, I embarked on a job search after 10 years of steady employment, kind of like that mid-level career person I described above. It took me about 9 months of research, trial, and error to figure out what to do next.
A gig economy provides us all with the opportunity (and sometimes the need) to do something different, something out of the box.
This doesn’t mean to try everything under the sun so that your resume reads more like a lifetime of experiments than a work history.
It just means that during your personal time, you should try to develop a few of your gifts to a level that you can use them as skills to fall back on in case you become unemployed. They can also be useful as a source of a second income even if you don’t need a career change and are happily employed.
Because of insecurity in today’s job market, many people have become opportunists always on the lookout for the next best thing.
Millennial are constantly being called out for job-hopping and I admit, there are a lot of flaky people out there these days, but they come in all age groups. I believe it’s not a generational issue alone but a sign of the times. Many companies don’t take care of their employees, and the result is that many employees are disloyal.
No one wants to be treated like a number, or as if they don’t matter. I don’t agree with staying on a job you don’t like but I think employees should know how to make graceful exits in order to preserve their own reputations.
Things you can do to maintain an professional appearance and strong resume, even in a gig economy are:
- Keeping a job for 3 years or more. You can have a shorter stint here or there but if a prospective employer sees you moving any more than every three years they’ll fear that they may not get enough return on training and time they invest in you.
- If you’re freelancing or doing contract work, do it all through one entity or agency. List that single agency on your resume to show some level of consistency. Break down project experience in your skills or in a portfolio.
- Don’t burn your bridges. If your exit might prevent you from getting a good reference or providing and honest and acceptable explanation to your next employer about why you left your last job, you may need to change how you’re going about things.
If you’re a job hopper, you may not not like what I’m saying, and you may think it’s wrong to judge a book by it’s cover. But the reality is, most times when I’m trying to fill a position and try to give a job hopper a chance, they flake out on me, go ghost on, or have some other type of personality issue.
Stop with the drama already. If you want to be taken seriously, act seriously.
To sum up your defense against today’s crazy job market, while our world may seem out of control, we still have ways to carve out much of our own destinies. The best defense against job instability is you. Be creative, prepare for downturns, and expect good things.