Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Middle-Class Are All Free Agents

An article by Tim Mullaney published a few days ago in USA Today caught my eye. Based on research conducted by the Pew Research Center it focused on the stagnation of the middle-class over the last eleven years, calling it the "lost decade." This segment of American society has grown smaller, poorer and more pessimistic since 2000. No surprise to anyone awake but the research adds weight to the discussion.

According to the Pew data during this time period,1 in 5 middle-class households moved up (earning more than twice the national median average) and 2 in 5 moved down (earning two thirds of the median average or less). 

The primary reason for this? The $7 trillion post-crash decline in home equity driving the economy since the mid-90s. Compared to upper income families with more diverse wealth structures, middle income families have (had) much of their wealth tied up in home value. 

Overnight much of the equity disappeared and with it a big chunk of consumer spending. And not just spending, but growth in spending. Ugly. The official unemployment rate is 8.3 % but when the underemployed and those that have dropped out of the market are included the actual rate is more like 20 % according to info from the Gallop Organization. All of this a direct result of the collapsed housing bubble and $7 trillion home equity vaporization.

How long will it take for this lost equity to return? Who knows but surely not in the short term. 

What other economic drivers are out there? 

Government spending on cutting edge R&D (i.e. 60's style space race outlays)? No, this remains the domain of private enterprise. 

Maybe transportation or other infrastructure repairs and upgrade? Not likely until the election is out of the way.

How about American manufactures all of a sudden ignoring the $1.68 per hour Chinese wage structure (or whatever it is exactly)? Nope, the rules of the Marketplace kick in here.

In this election there's all sorts of rhetoric about "job creation" and protecting the middle-class. I suggest not worrying about creating jobs, just zero in on critical infrastructure needs, set aside the money and let private businesses bid on the projects. As far as I know, privately owned construction companies actually require workers to do the work. Furthermore the longer these projects are delayed the more costly they become. For example the I-35 bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis (' 07) cost $5.3 million to construct in ' 64 and $243 million to replace in ' 08. Add to this $400k/day in estimated lost revenue to the Twin Cities and $30-40 million in lawsuit settlements. Yet all this is completely beside the point when the fate of the 13 killed and 145 injured are taken into account.

As for doing something for the middle-class ... I should hope so! The demise of this group is not in any one's best interest. Seriously, who's going to buy the goods and services if the middle-class continues to shrink? The last thing we want in this country is a paper thin and strapped economic mid-section. But this recession will take time to shake making it harder and harder for the middle-class. The "lost decade" could turn into two lost decades if we don't wise up as a nation.

Limited consumer spending means we shouldn't expect much near term growth in the economy. What's more, unemployment and underemployment may remain high exerting downward pressure on wages and the availability of benefits. 

Needless to say this is not a time for those with jobs and those seeking them to relax. Certainly not. If you are looking, you are a Free Agent. If you have a job, you're one too. Act accordingly.

Travel well.
John Jeffery Lundell

Monday, August 27, 2012

Your Job Search Objective and Tunnel Vision

Having tunnel vision means your perception is focused tightly on something up ahead to the exclusion of other things around you. 

To a large extent this is exactly what I recommend when putting your Job Search Objective into play. By doing this you move toward what you have set out to accomplish and not the twenty-five other things you might want to accomplish.

Simply put, your Job Search Objective is your employment goal. It serves best when it is specific and detailed in terms of location and duties. It is used best when placed ahead of all other options.

Equating your search objective to tunnel vision suggests that things not in and around your line of sight are to be ignored. That's exactly the point. You make a conscious effort not to engage in distractions along the way because you don’t have time or energy for non-applicable diversions. 

But remain vigilant because it's harder than it sounds. To many, focusing is an unnatural act. For them "shotgunning” seems like the best way to go. They believe it enhances their odds of being successful. In my experience this is completely wrong. Success is found by staying on track and doing many small things well.  The shotgun approach skims the surface, providing little or no access to the nuanced moves beneath

Another misnomer is that you should make an effort to stay heads-up for any and all opportunities that pop up. I am not against picking the low hanging fruit if an opportunity otherwise fits your objective. But taking this approach too often becomes rubbernecking and results in your head drifting out of the tunnel. Without discipline you end up in the same place shotgunning will get you. Rudderless and all over the map.

The biggest opportunities will be those you create for yourself. They will also be the most rewarding.

Keep your Job Search Objective tight, realistic and right for you and allow yourself to contract a strong case of tunnel vision. Then get on with the search.

Travel well.
John Jeffrey Lundell

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Show Up and Stand Out

Earlier today I spoke with my niece about her job search. Compared to most that I assist with these days, her search is very much in the professional arena. She is an educator, experienced in the classroom (elementary education) with master's degree and specialist certifications.

She is looking for a position due to a recent move to a college town where her husband's family home recently (and rather suddenly) became their family home. His business is transportable so she took a one year leave of absence from her teaching position and they moved lock-stock-and-barrel. And love it!

Still she wants to work and they can use the extra income. Furthermore, she has a very solid professional career to nurture. Sticking with her trade, she is doing substitute teaching. The assignments are available regularly and it positions her with the local school system. All good.

But she'd really like to get her foot in the door at the local university where there are open positions. She's made application and followed up with HR. Now what?

Ah, professional jobs. HR departments, hiring committees, bureaucracies, how to play this?

Sit back and wait, professionally?


She's already taken the first step by trying to determine which departments are hiring, something not always clear by the way job postings are written. HR has been helpful by giving her a few names to get the process started. The next step is to go in and introduce herself.

There are lots of reasons to do this, here are a few.

To demonstrate interest and initiative

If she wants it, show it. This is rather easy because she's local. Doing so doesn't require a long drive or plane trip, all she has to do is drive across town.

To do some marketing

She is attractive, professional and likable from the get-go. People hire people they like. Okay, walk in and be liked.

To do recon
Frankly she doesn't know much about the open positions and the decisions makers associated with each. Other than the bits and pieces available though HR and whatever can be found on the university website, she's on her own. How about just walking in and finding out?

Certainly she will continue to do what all the other professionals do by applying, sending resumes, calling HR (maybe), following up with HR (maybe) - but come on, that's all? Why be so reactive, why sit around waiting to be picked? 

No, that won't do. She is a free agent running solo in a new community looking for a way to sell her services to a willing buyer. There are indeed services that she has to offer but going about things as a professional, in a professional manner (which usually means waiting way too much) won't distinguish her. She must show up and stand out.

I write this from Las Vegas, the land of bookmaking and odds calculation. In my view the odds clearly favor playing to her attributes and location, which means going for the introduction.

Travel well.
John Jeffrey Lundell

Thursday, August 9, 2012

New Jobs and What Employers Want

An August 4th article in the LA Times by Don Lee provided a nice overview of the monthly jobs data reported for July.

Cherry picking from the article here are a few interesting tidbits:                

  • employers added 163,00 jobs in July (good)
  • but the (official) unemployment rate actually increased to 8.3% (not so hot)
  • resulting in the somewhat problematic situation of more jobs AND more unemployment (huh?)
  • the labor market isn't losing ground, as economists had predicted only 100k new job (good) 
  • unemployment is less than a year ago when it was 9.1% (also good)
  • economists believe the underlying job growth rate is about 150k (sounds ok ....)
  • yet 150k jobs per month is only enough to absorb NEW workers coming into the market (ugh)
  • at the July rate it will take 8+ years to absorb the 12.8 million jobless, reaching full employment (sobering!)
  • in July, manufacturers added 25k (not sure what type actually, but anyway added)
  • professional and business services added 49k (same, probably a grab-bag of types)
  • government jobs decreased by 9k (no surprise, see my July 25 post)
  • food service and retail added jobs (many minimum wage and commission positions I'm sure)
Further to the info above, just released data from U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics shows that productivity increased by 1.6 percent during the second quarter of 2012. Okay let's review. 

Regardless of month to month fluctuation, job growth is flat, keeping pace with new workers coming into the market only. Not much progress has been made eating into the over-hang, the 12.8 officially unemployed (note that the unofficial rate is likely around 14.5 % but that's another story). Productivity on the other hand has gone up indicating that employers continue to become more efficient as the recession continues (I won't split hairs on the definition of recession, as a practical matter its still game on).

So what does all of this boil down to? In short, we're treading water in job creation and many of the new jobs coming into existence are low paying with minimal benefits. 

And, business is continually learning how to do more work without adding people. A portion of this increased productivity comes from innovation and technological development but also from people doing more for the same pay, in effect working for less. Businesses are (understandably) being cautious and picky in their hiring, looking first to increase productivity by means other than hiring new workers.

But when businesses do hire, what do they want to get in return? Service. Your service leading to more efficient productivity and greater profit for the business.

As someone seeking employment do you see yourself as a provider of service? More to the point, do you see yourself as a seller of service? Or perhaps a seller of time? Give it some thought.

Now think about this. 

Businesses concerned with the least expensive ways to increase productivity are not interested in (just) your time. Nope, time comes free with service but has no value as a stand-alone.

Travel well.
John Jeffrey Lundell

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Who Decides?

When teaching job search classes I ask early on (and continue asking to drive the point home) “Who decides your success in securing employment?”

No one gets the answer I’m looking for. Never. Typical responses: the employer, the interviewer, me (myself, the captain of my own ship, etc.). Nope, not where I’m headed and not where I want them to be. These answers are not incorrect however they are way too close to the ground.  

The view from 35,000 feet is what’s needed. Initially. From this height, all the details fade and blur. Personalizing the situation becomes difficult, impossible.  

The answer I seek? The Marketplace. The huge pond in which we all swim or sink.  

Prying people from their own narrow reality is critical. Take it up, way up and away from as many limiting and unhelpful self-held concepts as possible. Look, really look from your mind’s eye at the vast landscape spread out below. How significant do you feel now? How important in the overall scheme of things are your concerns? Exactly.  

Now imagine the sprawling countryside laid out below to be one big Marketplace with each of us buried somewhere within it. Its a dispassionate, open-schmoppen, free-for-all, where, like it or not, we all have to compete.  

I want people to “get it” - get that we all must take stock of just how unimportant, unspecial and insignificant each of us really is when viewed from cruising altitude. And how unnoticeable we are to a Marketplace that cares not, feels not ... UNLESS we do something about it!

The first step is to recognize that each of us is a Free Agent. Next comes the realization that we must compete in the Marketplace. And you might say, so what’s the big deal about this? What’s the grand revelation here? 

Well there must be some small kernel of merit in it because so many people walk around as if others were in charge of their lives and as if somehow they were immune to the ebb and flow of the Marketplace. Seriously.  

Travel well.

John Jeffrey Lundell