I was called recently by a client I’ll call Mary. Mary first worked with me over ten years ago when she first graduated from college with a degree in Marketing. Her first jobs focused on creative functions. Mary was talented and quickly became a manager. However, she also learned the ins and outs of how companies sell online. Two years ago Mary was promoted to Director of E commerce for a company that sells exclusively over the internet. Almost without knowing it, Mary changed careers.
Last week I talked with Mary about updating her resume. She knows her industry very well and decided to have three different version of the resume. In one, she will make a lateral move and pursue a position as Director of E commerce. To give herself more opportunities, Mary will also pursue positions as a Website Director, a position which would give her full responsibility for the website, not just E commerce. Finally, Mary also could use her technical skills as Director of Optimization, a position that focus on improving how customers move on a website, especially in getting them to purchase products instead of leaving them in the digital shopping cart.
Mary’s story is a good example of someone who is managing her career, not just looking for a job. She understands how technology has changed. By learning how the technology works, she has given herself more opportunities. Is there a similar opportunity in your industry? Have you learned new skills or mastered a new technology that opens new career paths?
Where’s the best place to look for a career? Technology. According to an article in Bloomberg, six of the top ten industries that hire career changers involve technology. As the article notes, these companies are not just looking for employees with technical skills. They need employees with a wide range of skill sets. The trick in a career change is to identify and leverage your transferable skills. For example, negotiation is a skill that can be used in sales, purchasing, and management. It will be used differently in each job function, but the skill will transfer from profession to profession. In some cases, a career changer will need to go back to school for a new degree or certificate. More often, if you can align your transferable skills and experience with an employer’s needs, you can make a career transition. With the unemployment rate going down, now is a great time to make a change.
Huffingtion Post (via 24/7 Wall Street) examines a serious problem facing working people: occupations that will no longer exist. As technology and processes improve, companies have been able to do away with people who perform tasks that can be automated.
The article cites the U.S. Postal Service as one example of a company that has been impacted by new systems. As more people use email and online systems for paying bills, there is less and less need for postal carriers and workers to process the mail. While this example is good, it does not address even more frightening scenarios for the job market.
What if businesses no longer needed to hire people to drive or wait tables? In the past few months, I’ve read articles that suggest that both of these occupations could go the way of the unicorn. Rather than have a waiter present the daily special and take orders, diners would make their choices on a tablet, and expeditors would bring the food/clear the tables. I don’t know if this system is practical given the waiter’s role in sales and customer service, but the system is plausible, especially for restaurants where service is less of an issue than price. I’ve also read articles that claim driving jobs will be gone by 2050 due to computerized vehicles. Imagine if all the people who held jobs as drivers and waiters were suddenly unemployed. I frequently criticize companies for paying low wages, but that is preferable to having an economy where machines do all the work.
What can we do? I don’t know. We can fight moving jobs to other countries through legal actions like tariffs and by economic nationalism (Made in the U.S.A.). I don’t know how you fight technology and progress. If a company can improve its business through innovation, it will do so. If it doesn’t, a competitor will do so. The problem of lost jobs (occupation extinction) is serious, and – like climate change – too many people are ignoring it.
The media is often overly negative in talking about the job market. Sometimes I fall into the same trap. Yesterday I talked about jobs being lost to automation, which is a big problem. However, there is another side to the story. In just this week, I have worked with clients whose jobs were created by new technology. One person was a social media community manager. The other worked on Cloud technology and software that is not stored on our computers. While it is important to criticize problems caused by technology, we also need to recognize that some jobs will be created by advances in technical systems. One way to win the job game is to find a way to take advantage of those changes
I’ve had a big problem over the last week: my company’s email system was down. In that time, a few clients called to ask what was wrong, which I appreciate. It also let me remind them of one of my most important career management strategies: If it’s important, call rather than email.
It’s very easy to dodge email contacts. If you’re clumsy like me, it’s also easy to delete or clump email together in a way that makes it easy to lose a connection. Finally, as in my sad case, there are times when systems go down. Generally speaking, none of these problems are as bad if you use the phone.
I also prefer phone contacts because they enable better communication. If you follow up on a job interview by phone you can ask questions and engage the employer in a way that email does not allow. You can also set up another interview in real time rather than going back and forth by email.
If it’s important, use the phone. It’s the best way to follow up.
One of my clients is seeking to make a career change. At three points during a 20 minute meeting, she asked the same question: Should I learn Excel? It’s a great question, but not the most important to ask in a career change. The most important thing to do is to find types of job that fit the kind of skills you want to use at work. The next step is to find some job posts and analyze them. If you keep seeing that the employer wants someone who knows Excel, it’s time to learn how to use that software.
This example is true of almost any job search. Know what the employer requires before you worry about the need to learn new technical skills. Almost every job lists computer skills, but they tend to vary from job to job. Take the time to research what skills are needed for the work you want to do. Don’t waste your time or money on training for a skill you may never use.
A client called me yesterday. He was very worried about an email he sent a friend that included negative information about his boss. Why was he worried? He sent the email from a work-owned computer. Could they track or read this email. Since it was on his Gmail account, I think it’s unlikely that the document can be read by his employer. However, the employer can tell that he is using is email for non-work purposes, which could be a problem in itself.
If you have any kind of employer-owned tool (computer, phone, car, etc.), be sure that you know and abide by the company’s rules. Some companies let employees use these tools for personal business. Even in these cases, I would recommend being very careful in how you use anything owned by an employer. While it’s tempting to only use one phone and computer, there’s an equally good case to be made for always having your own computer and phone, especially if you are conducting a job search while you are employed. Keep work tools and personal information separate.
[On Sundays, this blog explores diverse issues. Today we think about life when there is no work.]
The Real Job Killer
As humans, we want to be in control. When something goes wrong, we look for a cause, and – too often – we blame other people. One of the areas where this is most prevalent is job loss. In the current debate about immigration, opponents of reform claim that undocumented workers are taking jobs from Americans. To some degree that claim might be true. However, it’s equally true that immigrants have traditionally done the work that nationals don’t want to do, menial tasks with low pay. We also blame outsourcing to other countries. Again, this is a piece of a bigger problem, an important piece and one that should be addressed by politicians in Washington (Buy American!).
The real job killer is something we all love and can’t do without: technology. From the invention of the wheel to the iPod, humans have looked for a better way to work and more ways to live comfortably. In the age of the computer and advanced technology, those same innovations have led to work processes that need fewer and fewer people. Think about the self-service options we now have. Whether you’re pumping your own gas, ringing up your own groceries, or buying tickets for travel or a movie tickets online, you’re doing work that an employee once did. Similarly, automation has led to incredible efficiencies in manufacturing. In one of his State of the Union speeches, President Obama pointed out that steel mills that once needed 1,000 workers to operate now only need 100. Great for technology and profit, not so good for working people.
Technology moves forward like a steamroller. It doesn’t go backward. Jobs can be brought back to the U.S. from China or Mexico. We cannot undo automation or the ability to work remote via our computers and smart phones/tablets. Social scientists once predicted this trend and thought it would mean people would have more leisure time. They were wrong. Instead, too many people, especially those who are poorly educated, cannot work in the new system.
What can be done about this problem? I don’t see a simple or fast solution. Too many people are making money off the current system. Too often those most affected are poor and powerless. We blame them and label them as “takers.” I believe the first step to a solution will be to stop blaming people and really analyze the problem: How can we enjoy the benefits of our technology and still have work for people?
I attended a great seminar on LinkedIn yesterday. Over the next few weeks, I hope to put what I learned into practice and share it with blog readers. LinkedIn is a great tool, and everyone who wants to move ahead in his or her career should be using it. That said, there is a right way to use the tool and a way that is less effective.
Job seekers should use LinkedIn as a tool for an active job search, a way to contact people you know and connect to others through them. In an active job search, you will be meeting people and talking to them on the phone. You will not be looking for email that will never come. LinkedIn also provides strategic information about companies, alumni networks, and professional groups that can give us both information about potential employers and ways to reach them. Should you still respond to job posts? Yes, that’s part of an active job search. Anytime you are contacting a potential employer or someone who can help you make a connection, you are being active in the job search.
In the past, I’ve condemned passive job search in which job seekers post their resume and wait for the phone to ring. Over the past 5 years, major job boards such as Monster and Careerbuilder have improved the search functions of their databases. Some of my clients have gotten jobs by posting resumes. LinkedIn ups the ante. More employers will search LinkedIn, and jobs seekers have more ability to sell themselves. Every job seekers should make an active job search the first priority. However, it is also important to practice smart passive job search techniques. A good job search will include both active and passive job search strategies.
Writing in Huffington Post, Jeff Jarvis argues that the future will be “jobless.” Technology and efficiency will make traditional business models as extinct as dinosaurs. He cites several industries and demonstrates that fewer people are needed to do “job” work. Instead, Jarvis puts his faith in entrepreneurs in a way that is similar to Seth Godin’s arguments in Linchpin.
I’m a big fan of Godin, and I agree with most of what Jarvis says. However, my outlook is much darker when it comes to technology and employment. Even entrepreneurial models are employing fewer people. Compare Subway to McDonald’s. The sub shop runs with a much leaner crew and lower overhead than does the king of burgers. Better still, let me talk about two businesses where I live, Andersonville, one of Chicago’s great neighborhoods.
George’s Ice Cream will employ 4-6 employees at any time, and they are hustling to make cones, sundaes, and shakes. Yogurt Avenue opened a few months ago. It is located three blocks north of George’s, and its business model is self-serve. Customers pour their yogurt, top it as they wish, and put it on scale where the only employee in the store weighs it and rings up the sale. What could be more efficient? What could be more deadly for an economy in which people need to earn cash?
The story of John Henry is a great fantasy. When a human competes against the machine, put your money on the machine. Before they were laid off, several of my clients have been creators of automated systems and software that help companies be more efficient and profitable. These innovations do nothing to create work. In fact, their success can be measured in this happy image: “reduced head count.” Call it jobs or entrepreneurship, the opportunity to earn a living has become harder because of technology. In the future, it will be worse, much worse. “Soylent Green is people!”
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