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How the World of Work Has Changed

By Peter Weddle
Courtesy Weddle's Newsletter

This column is the third in a three-part series focusing on what recruiters want from job seekers. The first column explored how recruiters work and why, while the second discussed how to stand out with recruiters (for all the right reasons). If you missed either of them, they're both available here.

This column will address a topic that's every bit as important as the first two. It will reveal how the world of work has changed in the last five years so you understand what's causing recruiters to act differently in today's job market and why you have to adjust, as well.

As I explain in my book, The Career Activist Republic, the Great Recession changed everything in the world of work. It put a punctuation mark on trends that had been developing for at least a decade and, in the process, it forged an entirely new kind of workplace in the United States of America.

This new norm in the world of work affects everyone in the workforce. Male and female. Young and old. Its effect is as great on those who have just graduated from college and are looking for their first job as it is on those who've got years of experience under their belt and are looking for a new or better job.

While there are a number of facets to this new environment, the single most important one for our discussion is this: the tenure of employment positions is now dramatically shorter than it has ever been before.

Most of us know that the days of working for the gold watch - of being employed for an entire career in a single organization - have been gone for quite some time. What many of us haven't recognized, however, is that the jobs we do have are going to have such a short life span.

For example, according to Spencer Stuart, an executive search firm, the average tenure of a Fortune 500 CEO is now down to less than four years. In other words, when a CEO takes on his or her new job, they can expect to be in that position for four years or less. And, if that's true at the top of the heap, you can be sure it's the same at every other level in the organization.

What's driving this significantly shorter job duration? In a word: uncertainty. It is the fact that employers can no longer count on what they thought they knew about the global marketplace. Technology is advancing so rapidly, competitive pressures are shifting so continuously, consumer tastes have grown so fickle and destabilizing events around the world - from wars and revolutions to earthquakes and reactor meltdowns - are occurring so frequently that no employer can predict what will happen six months from now, let alone a year or more down the road. To put it bluntly, the global economy that produces our jobs has become totally unpredictable.

So, What Are Employers Doing?

How are employers dealing with this totally new and unsettled environment?

Well, obviously, some have stuck their heads in the sand and are pretending it isn't happening. Most, however, are developing their own version of a common strategy. They are engaging in what might best be described as "rapid adaptation." They know they can no longer survive let alone prosper by standing still - by doing what they've always done - so they are adjusting as rapidly as they can to the changes going on around them. And, those adaptations are changing the nature of the work they need done and thus the jobs and kinds of employees they require to implement their plans. In essence, they are doing away with the organizational chart and now operating with an organizational compass. And every time they shift direction, they change their staffing requirements.

What does that mean for those of us in the world of work? Permanent employment will now be much less permanent.

A person once wrote that what most Americans want is "an honest to goodness, full time permanent job," and that's probably still true. What has changed is that the definition of an honest to goodness full time permanent job now looks uncomfortably like an honest to goodness full time here-today-gone tomorrow job. We used to tell people that they would likely go through seven or eight job changes during a thirty year career. Well, that's now old news. In today's world of work - in the 21st Century - people are likely to go through fifteen or twenty job changes during a fifty year career. To put it another way, they are now likely to be changing jobs every three years or so.

Some of those changes will be to new roles within their current employer and some will be to entirely new employers, but in every case they will be dealing with a recruiter. You see job openings are actually filled from two populations: those employees who are already working for an organization and those job seekers who want to. In fact, according to one survey, just over half of all new openings in large employers are now filled by internal mobility, by a current employee moving from one assignment to another within the organization. Even though the process involved in making that happen is dramatically less complicated than the traditional recruiting process, it is still under the control of the recruiter. They still determine who gets through the door into the realm of consideration for all of the openings that will be filled internally.

The rest of the openings will be filled by external or new hires and there, of course, the recruiter is in charge, as well. They may not control who gets hired, but they definitely determine who gets considered. In most recruiting processes, it is the recruiter who conducts the initial pre-screening of all applicants and thus who is invited in for an interview with the hiring manager. In addition, it is the recruiter who oversees any background and reference checking that is conducted and can, therefore, influence how the findings of that research are presented. Think of it this way: A recruiter may not be able to select you for the job you want, but they can definitely ensure that you don't get selected.

So, the reason for learning what recruiters want is very simple. From now on, you are going to be interacting with them far more often than you ever have before in your career. In many if not all cases, the quality of those interactions will determine the quality of the jobs for which you are considered and ultimately hired. Recruiters don't have to become your new best friend, but you must understand how they work and why and how you can be a stand our candidate with them. That's the single best way to ensure success in your career.