An honest look at present-day dynamics within the job market
It seems these days that everything can be done via a smartphone or tablet. If someone is hungry they can have food from any restaurant ordered and delivered within minutes. Business presentations are being led by employees hundreds of miles away from any corporate office. Parents are connecting with their kids via face-time rather than over the dinner table.
With the dawning of this new age of technology it is no surprise that the area of employment is also becoming inundated with change. LinkedIn is now one of the leading providers of applicant information and job recruiting. Online job boards have taken the place of ‘help wanted’ ads in the Sunday paper. Long gone are the the employees who last a lifetime and the employers who treat you like family.
This increased reliance on technology has driven a bit of a wedge between employers and their prospective employees. As someone who has been on both sides of the hiring process I recognize this change all too sharply. I remember going to job interviews with paper application and resume in hand, without the help of online endorsements or “likes.” My first jobs were sealed with a handshake and a smile. No longer. During my most recent job search I had to create my own LinkedIn profile and transfer all of my ‘on paper’ information to a readily accessible online format available for all the world to view.
As I have aged I have transitioned to the other side of the desk; now I am the one responsible for the hiring and supervising of staff. Many a job seeker has come into my office, seeking something I had to offer. I have seen both sides of the coin, per say, and in doing so I can say for sure that there are some things within the area of employment that have changed, and I don’t just mean the type of Notepad a resume is on.
Truth #1 Face to face communication is a lost art
I cannot tell you how many times I have had an employee resign or have had to let a staff member go due to the fact that they refuse to communicate with me face to face. I pride myself on being a family-friendly and reasonably compassionate supervisor. Yet despite my willingness to work with people who are experiencing unexpected life issues so many of my younger staff will not even take the time to come and meet with me to discuss what is going on. Instead they will no-call/no-show or quit without notice, often via text message. I have told my staff time and time again to come and talk to me face to face if they have something going on, because nine out of ten times I can help…but I can’t help if they won’t talk to me.
Yet no matter how many times I recite this mantra I still have those who would rather find another job than deal with the challenges of the one they are in. Technology aids in this on so many levels. Job seekers have quicker access to open positions than ever before. There is every type of online networking group that one might need. Even employment references are now limited and, many times, automated. Leave without notice? Well, that’s not a problem anymore because nobody will ever know. As technology has advanced and the economy rebounded jobs have become a disposable commodity to many job seekers. What once was hard to find now overwhelmingly available.
The opposite of not communicating enough is communicating too much. This extreme at times is even harder to handle as an employer than the other. I have no doubt that so many peoples willingness to divulge personal details and an utter lack of professional boundaries is only compounded by social media. People do not have to talk face to face to communicate anymore so when they do they just start spewing information that has absolutely nothing to do with their potential job. In fact, it’s often detrimental to them being hired at all. It is as though the art of conversation has become a no holds barred Olympic sport.
If you ever come to me as a prospective employee please know that, as an employer, I do NOT need to know about your parent’s divorce or your child’s eating habits or even the fact that your husband left you for your friend’s cousin’s daughter. If it isn’t related to the job, what you are looking for in an employer, or what you can offer the company, the interview is not the right time to tell me.
If this concept is still hard to grasp let me put it in more technological terms. Think of an interview as a tweet versus a Facebook post. On Facebook people can rant and rave about everything and anything with no limit. On Twitter there is a limit to how many characters someone can use. I want a limit. When communicating with a prospective employer it’s vital that a person think of the most relevant information and included that, without all of the extra characters.
Truth #2 Youth today do not know how to sell themselves
Nobody is skilled at interviewing or selling themselves when they first start out in their job search. Knowing how to make yourself stand out and selling yourself as a candidate are not skills learned overnight. The more jobs you have the better you get at knowing how to handle those tough interview questions and really portray your best self.
However, the trend I am seeing these days is that even experienced employees don’t know how to sell themselves. More often than not applicants come to interviews poorly dressed with an almost non-existent resume and no idea really what the job is that they are applying for. Handshakes are few and far between, and very rarely does an interviewee have questions ready to ask after the interview (unless, of course, it’s about pay).
What I long for most is to take some of these newer job seekers aside and not only help them discover they are worth but also help them to figure out how to express it to others. I want them to learn the importance of soft skills, of how to incorporate all types of experiences (school, work, family, volunteer, religious, etc.) into a resume that highlights them for the worker they are (or could be). I want them to grow to feel comfortable with the interview process, always remembering that employers are just people too. I know without a doubt that there are so many hard working youth and young adults who do not get the chance to prove themselves simply because nobody has ever shown them how.
Truth #3 Entitlement is an epidemic
Entitlement seems to me to be an epidemic spreading through the employment world on so many levels. More than once my Office Manager has had to rearrange multiple schedules to try to accommodate a job seeker coming in for an interview. I have had prospective employees bring their significant others into the waiting room with them, with no second thought of getting a ‘good luck kiss’ as I’ve called them back. Many a time I have gotten to the hiring stage of the interview process only to have the applicant present me with a list of demands as long as my child’s Christmas list.
Never will I forget my first job. I had no idea what I was doing, and the term “fake it ’till you make it” held no water when you had a boss as eagle eyed as mine was. If she said jump, I jumped. I didn’t argue with her over the schedule and made darn sure that I was never late for the start of my shift. She was the boss…I didn’t question her requests, no matter how terribly pointless they seemed to me at the time.
These days I am often outright baffled by some of requests and demands I receive on a regular basis. It’s not unusual for me to hire in a staff member for a certain shift only to have them come to me a few weeks later and say they can no longer work the schedule they were hired for. Employees will call in for most any reason, often minutes before the start of their shift. Customer service comes second to the needs of the employee, and the customer is only right if it does not inconvenience the person helping them. And don’t even get me started on cell phone usage on the job.
Bridging the Gap
Somehow in this new digital age we have to find a way to bridge the gap between employers and employees. In what way can we as hiring managers make the entire hiring practice more “user friendly” while still maintaining some of the ideals of the past? More than that, once hired, how do we as employers connect with our younger generation of employees so that we can help them grow their skills and retain them as employees?
I think there are a few things that can be done. First, job preparation classes should be mandatory in all high schools. Like the home economics of the past, there needs to be a class that teaches students ‘hands on’ skills needed in order to be successful once they enter the world of competitive employment. This should include resume writing, job search skills, and interview practice. It should also include communication skills and even some emotional intelligence training.
Second, I think we as employers need to regularly incorporate technology into our hiring and interview processes. While larger companies are already doing this, many small privately owned establishments are not. Using online job boards to post openings is a good first step, but I encourage all employers to use boards which also allow applicants to apply directly online. The paper/pencil application is, for all practical purposes, completely outdated. I am not a fan of the extensive pre-employment personality tests, however. I find they do little to tell you about a prospective candidate. In my opinion a good old fashioned sit-down talk is much more revealing.
Speaking of sit-down talks, one thing that employers can do to help their employees build on their communication skills is to hold ‘peer-to-peer’ conflict resolution meetings. So many times employees today do not know how to deal with conflict, and the littlest misunderstandings can become massive issues which negatively impact staff, clients and the overall business. With my employees I stress open communication in a safe environment. If two staff members are having a conflict I will often bring them in and mediate why they attempt to work out the issue themselves. Of course, this is not a good solution for every situation (harassment comes to mind). However, many times employees involved in a peer-to-peer will come out understanding each other better and with a heightened sense of empowerment.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, I think as employers we have to stop being afraid to set expectations and boundaries for our employees. As a whole we have become so worried about everyone’s feelings that we are afraid to really ever draw that hard line in the sand. This laxity leads to outcomes that are inconsistent and often results in both poor customer service and low staff retention. Employees need to know that there are standards by which you expect them to abide by. They need to understand that you will work hard for them if they work hard for you. Each employer needs to decide what the “deal breakers” are and should have a policy in place that deals with corrective actions up to and including termination.
Be the example
Remember, as an employer you should also set a similar set of standards for yourself. If you do not want your staff to be constantly on their cell phones then you need to not be on yours. If you want staff to communicate and be upfront with you then you need to be the same way with them. If you want staff to come in to talk to you then make yourself available to them. I personally like to adopt an “open door policy” with my staff. I won’t address issues via text message, for example, and my staff know this. Show them you are approachable, and that they do not have to hide behind their phone screens in order to feel comfortable coming to you with questions or concerns.
Change is inevitable in all things. As communication styles change and the younger generation steps up to become the leaders of the future it is more important now than ever for both employers and job seekers to really understand the importance of solid communication. Really, when it comes down to it, the most effective communication is that which is honest, respectful and mutually beneficial. If conversation and communication fits these three standards, the rest will eventually fall into place.