By Peter Weddle
Many of today's job seekers have been unemployed for a longer-than-expected period of time. Why is this happening? The conventional explanation is that rising layoffs have increased competition for a limited number of jobs. This is definitely true, but it's not the only reason people have been out of work for so long – in fact, it's not even the most important one.
So what is the most important reason so many job seekers are struggling to find a job? Basically, the problem is that there's been a change in employer expectations. Employers are no longer content to just hire qualified workers, which is why many competent job seekers wind up applying for jobs and getting no response from companies – even when they clearly meet all of a job opening's requirements with ease. Employers may say that's what they're looking for in a new hire, but in reality they expect more.
Why are employers suddenly being so fickle? Companies today are battered by turbulence, and face new competition in both their local and overseas markets. They must satisfy increasingly cost-conscious consumers who are less likely to spend money on new products and services. And at the same time, these organizations feel under pressure to keep up with the continued development of new technology and better practices. To survive, let alone prosper in such an unsettled environment, employers need workers who possess two key traits:
While the first trait defines a typical, qualified candidate for a position, the second is describing something altogether different - a career activist.
What's that? Simply put, a career activist is a person who recognizes the fleeting nature of their qualifications, and takes proactive steps to ensure their skills are always state-of-the-art. Why is that important? Because a qualified person may be able to do a good job today, but that's no guarantee they will be able to do the same quality work tomorrow, when the economic and technological landscape has changed. In the unsettled environment of the global economy, every job is constantly in flux, and only a career activist will have the capability to quickly adapt.
But how do you become a career activist, and no less important, how do you prove to employers that you have this unique set of traits?
Becoming a career activist begins with acceptance. You must acknowledge that the familiar "come as you are" workplace no longer exists. Today's turbulent economy means that nothing is settled anymore. In effect, you must get comfortable with the one thing most people humans hate: sudden change. You must be willing to expect it, plan for it and, ultimately, put it to work for you.
Once you've reached this point of acceptance, however, you still have to back it up with action. In the past, maybe you could get away with paying attention to your career once a year – during your annual performance review. Today, however, you have to work on increasing the strength, endurance and reach of your career every single day. In short, you now go to work not only to do your job, but also to do all the things that will help you keep your job in the future.
Proving Your Activism to Employers
Once you've adopted that kind self-improvement philosophy and made it an integral part of your workday, you can start to develop a record that employers will appreciate. Try to demonstrate your ongoing acquisition of skills and knowledge in a broad range of workplace situations. This can help you increase your visibility and stature among your coworkers and professional contacts. And, it will underscore your commitment to taking on new challenges – a quality that's highly-prized by today's employers.
The hallmark of a career activist is appearing to be a person who is never satisfied with where they are, but instead always looking to grow and improve. If you're in a job search, for example, show this off by listing key courses or training programs you're taking on your resume, along with the term: "Ongoing." This one word tells an employer that you are, in fact, a career activist.
The long-term unemployment people are enduring today is mainly due to economic problems beyond their control. That said, these same problems are also forcing a significant and permanent shift in what employers expect from their new hires. So while there isn't much you can single-handedly do to fix the current economic downturn, you can learn how to meet these new employer expectations and become more attractive in the job market. And in uncertain, ever-changing times, that is a competitive advantage you can take to the bank.
Formerly the Chairman and CEO of Job Bank USA, Peter Weddle is an HR consultant, recruiter, author and commentator with an international reputation. He has authored or edited more than two dozen books, including "Recognizing Richard Rabbit: A Fable About Being True to Yourself", "Work Strong: Your Personal Career Fitness System" and "WEDDLE's 2009/10 Guide to Employment Sites on the Internet". In addition, he oversees WEDDLE's, a print publisher specializing in the field of human resources. WEDDLE's annual Guides and Directory to job boards are recognized for their accuracy and helpfulness, leading the American Staffing Association to call Weddle the "Zagat of the online employment industry." Peter Weddle is also CEO of the International Association of Employment Websites.