Good times make poor teachers.
When wealth rises, everything else–the necessity of inventing motherhood, the need to create urgency, the instinct to support subsistence–declines, unless, of course, we are so well disciplined that we overcome these conditions. But honestly, how many of us? Therefore, it is only natural that we become relaxed, confident and satisfied. This generally does not happen when practical learning occurs, the learning that is the basis for our survival and progress. However, when challenges arise, our survival and learning mechanisms are involved. Let’s apply this to the job market.
In my working life (after college), I’ve experienced eight downturns of varying severity, five as an employee and three as a freelance coach. The last two (2007-09 and 2020) were, as we all remember, the worst.
In retrospect, everything I learned about the job market, I learned during a recession. Such as…
1. A new world. None of us know what the job market will be like a year from now, let alone beyond. Anyone who pretends to know is either making it up or is really delusional. We can’t even say he’s lying because in order to lie you must first know the truth, which we just agreed we wouldn’t know until it showed up. However, one thing we do know is that the job market in the near future will be vastly different, and perhaps unrecognizable, than today, and will operate according to a different set of rules. The lesson is not to fight them. Learn and master the new rules, whatever they may be.
2. Ready for anything. Thus, readiness will be more valuable than experience as your most important trait. Anyone who plans to be in the workforce for more than five years needs to upgrade and update credentials through degrees, training courses, workshops, or other professional development. There is no choice.
3. Be really good at something. Now that we’ve agreed that readiness replaces expertise, develop expertise in something anyway. We’re not talking about being proficient at something; We’re talking about being great at it. Irreversibly great, indeed. Then make sure you still follow the advice from point #2, anyway. John F. Kennedy said, “Change is the law of life, and those who look only to the past or the present are sure to miss the future.”
4. Networks. The US job market will never absorb the passive job seeker. But understand this: the inverse of the passive voice, in this case, is not active. It is proactive. I’ve been saying this for two decades now, but it’s getting more and more engraved in stone every year. Targeting and communicating with companies you want to work for will account for more than 90 percent of all job vacancies. But let’s be clear about one thing: If you only get into networking mode when you’re looking for a job, you might not care either. Remember: ABC – always be online.
5. Will your career last exactly how long? Whatever you thought would be the end of your career, think again. In my father’s generation, almost everyone retired at 65. In your generation, almost no one would. Unless Social Security eligibility is intentionally lowered (which is debated, but I wouldn’t bet it), it will continue to rise. This, combined with the financial setbacks most people have experienced in this and previous recessions, adds to the greater need to work longer. As more jobs shift to white collar (less physically taxing work), it will make it more rewarding, provided (of course) that we all don’t forget point #1 above. Plan accordingly but don’t deny it.
When I was a kid, we had a cherry tree in our backyard. I would go in there with an empty bag and drop off with a few pounds of cherries. Do you know what I learned from that? The sweetest fruit has always been on the high branches and outside the ends. It was a lot of work and risk, but the rewards were there.
It turns out that slacks and cherries are good teachers.