As a lot of my work recently has been with people who are unemployed, I have a ton of articles coming through my feeds on job search, unemployment, etc. Most of them are about "personal branding" and "building your network," how to manage your social media presence, write a great LinkedIn profile and navigate ever-more confusing and time-consuming online applicant tracking systems.
This morning, I ran across one that lists 18 Reasons Why You're Still Unemployed. These include being pierced, tattooed, angry, depressed, interviewing poorly--the list goes on. All of this, of course, suggests that the reasons for your unemployment lie somewhere in YOU. YOU need to do something to fix all of these flaws and once you do, then (presumably) a new job will be waiting for you.
I have a secret for you though. You could fix every single flaw on this list--including re-training for another career and magically erasing the depression and anger that pretty much go with the territory of unemployment--and you could STILL be unemployed. Do you know why?
Because there are 3.3 job seekers for every job opening.
I'm going to repeat that.
There are 3.3 job seekers for every job opening.
That's on average, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Depending on where you're looking for work and the kind of work you're seeking, the numbers can be even worse.
It's kind of like playing musical chairs with three people walking around a single chair. When the music ends, only one of them will be able to sit down. And no matter how awesome the other two may be, through no fault of their own, they will still be sitting on the floor.
This is the elephant in the room we're not really discussing. We're all so busy looking at what we can personally control (like our "personal brand" and endlessly re-writing our resumes) that we've completely lost touch with a fundamental reality.
There are not enough jobs to go around.
Why does this matter?
Well if you're unemployed, it matters a lot. It gets old feeling like you've done everything you can and still you're having no luck landing a job. And then when you feel angry or depressed about it, people admonish you to "have a better attitude." Worse, they will argue that it's your "bad attitude" that keeps you from finding something new!
What about people who have a job? Well this should matter to you too, because this trend of fewer jobs for more people is going to continue, and probably accelerate. See this and this to get an idea of how technology is impacting jobs. Then read this Business Week article on the disposable worker to see how that dynamic is intersecting with technology. You may be safe for now, but that may not last forever. And if you're one of the lucky few who doesn't have to deal with this reality, you are still going to have a spouse, child, parent, or friend who does. At some point, we are all going to be dealing with unemployment, many of us more than once.
I think we're doing tons of damage to people by continuing to peddle this story that it's individual shortcomings and flaws that explain long-term and/or frequent unemployment. Yes, we can all do a better job of job searching. Yes, people still continue to find jobs in this economy. But focusing on individual flaws keeps us all from discussing the bigger problem--that there aren't enough jobs for everyone who wants one.
So let's stop putting all of our energy into figuring out how to "brand" ourselves so that we can compete for the limited pool of jobs that are available. And let's stop acting like the unemployed are lepers who somehow deserve their fate because they didn't create a great LinkedIn profile or keep their skills updated.
Instead, let's turn to discussing what we're going to do about the fact that the pool of available jobs is shrinking and the real crisis is not about personal branding. It's about needing more jobs.
And let's quit telling the unemployed that it's their fault they can't find work. Believe me, if there were tons of jobs that needed doing, then employers would be a lot less picky. Your tattos and piercings and lack of a social media profile wouldn't get in the way of needing to get some work done.
It's simple math. So let's start dealing with that.