The economy is–somewhat surprisingly, given the current world situation–strong, American confidence is high, and unemployment is at its lowest point in years.
So why are so many people still having trouble finding a job?
Well to start with, that isn’t a universal question. A year ago, job search site Glassdoor.com pointed out that out of 5.5 million available jobs, nearly 70% were spread between five industries: health care, professional services, retail, hospitality, and government. That’s great if you’re an X-ray Technician; if you’re in education or real estate, however, you could end up stuck.
Job availability also varies by location: this report from marketwatch.com pointed out that in 2017, half of the new jobs in the US were created in just five states: California, Texas, Florida, New York and Georgia. In other words, states with a total of roughly 1/3 of Americans captured over 50% of the job growth. Again: great if you’re in Atlanta or Houston, not so good if you’re job-searching in Indianapolis.
Finally, there is the simple fact that many of the current job seekers who are struggling are in that “No-Fly Zone” in terms of age and experience, perceived to be either too qualified or too pricey. This is particularly true of people in their 50s and 60s who haven’t been job hunters for decades and find that it’s a whole new ballgame.
Keep Up With the Times … or Not
There is no end to the number of workshops, support groups, and blogs (like this one) that purport to teach job seekers–many of them age 50 or older–ways to adapt to the altered job search landscape. They teach how to leverage LinkedIn and other social media sites for maximum exposure. They offer seminars on how to write resumés, and forums for networking.
Most nowadays emphasize the importance of developing a “personal brand”: learning to think of your talents and experience as a product that can be marketed like any other brand. It sounds very promising, and instructors like to point to celebrities who have made it work for themselves. Research shows, however, that unless your last name happens to be Kardashian, developing a personal brand has little practical use.
In her book, Down and Out in the New Economy: How People Find (or Don’t Find) Work Today, researcher Ilana Gershon refutes much of the current conventional wisdom on looking for work. For example, many advisors will stress the need to get LinkedIn followers, no matter who they are: the more you spread your network, the more likely you are to connect with someone who’s looking for someone like you. Quantity of contacts is the key.
Gershon shoots this idea down by pointing out that most help white-collar job seekers are better off focusing on high-quality ties, like workplace ties. She stresses the importance of connecting to people you’ve worked with who can speak to your abilities, experience, and work ethics.
In the end, while social media ties can show that a potential worker is not stuck in the past, they’re still part of an overall presentation package. Creating a personal brand can help workers focus and hone their search, but it’s not an answer in and of itself. As Gershon writes,
“No one I talked to on the hiring side ever seemed to care about personal branding. Being good at personal branding isn’t an indication that the person will be good at the job, unless they’re trying to get a job as a marketer.”
Focusing on the Positive
While there is no silver bullet when it comes to job-hunting, the best overall advice is to trust your own experience. Your instincts, too, but that can be hard, particularly if you’ve been out of work for a while: it’s easy to start second-guessing yourself.
But your experience is more solid. Workers in their 50s and 60s, for example, have worked with many people; spending more time connecting with those folks is more likely to yield results than simply trying to collect followers. Only a fraction of people obtain a job through these so-called “weak ties, ” whereas over half claim to have found a job through workplace ties.
Rather than channeling all your energy into a personal brand, learn to think like an entrepreneur. We can’t all be Richard Branson, but we all know our own talents better than anyone. Read through lists of successful entrepreneurs. Find the things they had in common–with each other, and with you. The same sorts of traits that have led them to be individual leaders might be the attitude that takes you into the job of your dreams.