The immortal bard himself once wrote, “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet…”
Ah, but is this really true? Are words, labels, and terminology really as interchangeable and superficial as one of Shakespeare’s most famous characters, Juliet, would have us believe? With all due respect, I’m not so sure. While we live in a world today that’s awash in buzzwords/jingoism and this isn’t likely to change anytime soon, it’s sometimes important to step back and reexamine the meanings of certain verbiage to ensure it’s still accurate, relevant, and on target. So when it comes to the job hunting world, I couldn’t resist jotting a few thoughts down about some career-related terms I hear mentioned a ton out there, but that are either nearing their expiration date or worthy of some further critical thinking.
The Unemployment Rate: As I opined in my last newsletter editorial, what bugs me about this common phrase is that the “official” unemployment rate (known as the U-6 definition) is just one of six different ways that the U.S. government measures this concept — and is, in some ways, the most misleading one. So when politicians and other parties make simplistic statements such as “Look, everybody, the unemployment rate is down to only 4%!” it seems that many people interpret this as meaning that 96% of people are fully employed, happy, and fulfilled. Alas, this is a grossly misleading assumption, since the official unemployment rate doesn’t count discouraged workers who have given up searching or those folks who are underemployed and working in menial jobs far below their qualifications. If I had my druthers, there would just be a lot more transparency about this term, when it’s used, and more clarification to the masses at large that the “official” rate isn’t nearly as black-and-white as it sounds.
Side Hustle: Oy vey. This one drives me bonkers. I cringe every time I see advertisements for companies like Uber or Taskrabbit or the like that feature some hip-looking millennial expressing, with pride, that they have a “side hustle” they love and that makes them extra money. As if it’s perfectly normal for people to have to work three jobs to make a living or endlessly fun/cool/interesting to spend your disposable time driving packages to people or walking their dogs when they’re on vacation. Sure, it’s a free country and probably a good thing that these kinds of flexible, part-time jobs exist for people looking to make a little extra income. But the “side hustle” label that’s been pinned to them? Give me a break. That sounds like a term some marketing company came up with, trying to normalize the fact that many qualified professionals still can’t find a steady full-time job that meets their financial obligations. So trying to make some of these gig economy jobs sound overly glamorous, and like some sort of highly desirable lifestyle choice, seems pretty smarmy and disingenuous.
The Hidden Job Market: Sure, there’s a kernel of truth in this term, assuming you take it to mean that many of the job opportunities in the marketplace (60-70%?) never actually see the light of the day in the form of a published job advertisement. What turns me off about this phrase, however, is the notion that such roles are truly “hidden” and extremely hard to find. Essentially, if you can pin down the kind of companies and types of hiring managers (i.e. what would the title be of your next boss?) most likely to be facing the problems you can solve, it’s not hard to reach out to these organizations — and people — to pitch yourself or see if they have any pending or current openings. Sites like LinkedIn make it a piece of cake to do so. So sure, not all jobs get advertised, but the notion that there’s some super-secret trick to finding unpublished opportunities is a bit misleading — and outdated — given today’s powerful networking tools and readily-accessible company databases.
Transferable Skills: Almost every book about career change ever written, starting from What Color Is Your Parachute on forward, stresses that the key to shifting careers is to identify one’s “transferable skills” and then seek out a different occupation that might require them. Which totally makes sense. But what many of these resources don’t clarify, however, is what a “skill” actually is. According to most job descriptions, and HR definitions, a skill is a particular work task that takes years to develop and master. It’s not simply a “strength you have, often from birth” as the Parachute website (and many similar career resources) imply. The thing that makes skills valuable is their scarcity. So there’s a world of difference between trying to find a new career path that would capitalize on one’s natural abilities/strengths (such as being a good communicator, problem-solver, or analytical thinker) versus an actual skill like financial analysis, writing white papers, operating welding tools, or solving differential equations. Trying to leverage basic strengths or personality traits doesn’t usually doesn’t get one very far and tends to turn up low-level roles that almost anybody, including new high school grads, could do. If you really want to find a new career that will pay you a decent wage, you need to pivot your efforts around the hard-earned skills and problem-solving capabilities you’ve honed over the years, instead. That’s your meal ticket. So my beef with the “transferable skills” term is merely that in so many articles I read on the subject, the authors don’t actually define the idea of a “skill” in a concrete, actionable, and practical way.
Informational Interviewing: Last but now least, there’s this common and well-established term that generally means reaching out to networking contacts not to get a job, but as part of a research effort to learn more about their company, or industry, or profession. Don’t get me wrong, this is still a great idea if you’re just starting out your career. Or exploring a new occupational direction. But what’s changed about the notion in recent decades is that we now live in an age where information is everywhere and one can easily do a ton of company research and career-related sleuthing without necessarily talking to a live human being. So if you’re engaging in this step, and using this term, make sure you’re not wasting peoples’ time asking them questions that could easily be derived from the web. Focus on getting their take around more qualitative issues, questions, and research items instead, such as the ones you’ll find outlined here in one of my earlier postings. And above all, DON’T ever request an “informational” interview and then hit somebody up directly for a job. That’s the cardinal sin, since it makes it seems like you tricked the person into meeting with you simply in the hopes of getting a job with their company — not because you sincerely wanted their input as part of a career research effort.