One of the challenges we face as staffing agents is to help both ourselves and our job seekers understand the value of what I'm going to call "the new normal."
Our parents' "normal" meant a degree from a traditional college and an entry-level job. From that initial job, you would slowly rise up the ranks in the company, until you retired around age 50 with a pension and a gold watch.
As you probably already know, this "normal" only actually existed for a small percentage of our parents, and is even less likely for our generation and the generations to follow. Nearly everything about this system -- the concept of what constitutes a college education, the idea that you remain employed by a single company throughout your entire career, and the concept of a "pension and gold watch" retirement -- is no longer applicable to nearly all job seekers' situations.
Yet we continue to present this scenario as "normal," and all other scenarios as failed attempts to achieve this type of normal life. That's why you see job seekers who only want a permanent job, instead of understanding the value of taking on temporary assignments. These job seekers are holding themselves back because they're still searching for that elusive "normal."
Here are some specific aspects of the New Normal, and how they affect your job seekers:
Now that online education has been around for more than a decade, the results are in: online schools are just as rigorous and demanding as traditional schools, and students who receive degrees from online schools are just as prepared to handle the challenges of today's workforce.
However, many job seekers are hesitant to pursue online degrees because they believe that employers still devalue any degrees not handed out by a brick-and-mortar institution. It is your job as a staffing agent to help them see that this is no longer the case. The days of speculating over whether online degrees are as effective as "traditional" degrees are over. Online degrees are the new normal, and many companies even offer bonuses for staff who complete online degrees while working.
Freelancing and Temporary Gigs
If you have a job seeker who is stuck in the mindset that the only "real" job is a full-time job with traditional benefits, it is your job to get that candidate to consider other possibilities. Freelancing jobs, contract and consultant work, and temporary gigs are the backbone of the new normal. Many companies prefer to hire with what's called the "just in time" method, in which they ramp up staff during times of high production and ramp down again during slower periods. This means that there are a lot of jobs available, but that companies are looking for temporary hires or freelancers to get the work done.
I like to use statistics when talking to my job seekers, so I often tell them that we are very close to an economy where 40% of all American workers -- or 60 million Americans -- make their living by working freelance, short-term, or contract jobs.
Many job seekers are hesitant to commit to a job that they think will end in a few weeks. However, what a lot of job seekers don't understand is that these so-called "short-term" gigs often last for one to two years. Many IT job openings, for example, regularly last for a year or more, meaning that there is no real difference between this "short-term" job and a "full-time" job.
And yes, the people who work these jobs make very good livings, in addition to having the freedom that comes with controlling your own career. So I work very hard to help my job candidates get started as freelancers and contract workers, then watch them spread their own wings and learn to fly.
Job seekers, whether they are recent college graduates or adults who have spent a lifetime in a single career, tend to have a very rigid idea of what type of job they want. I hear job seekers say all the time: "I'm in public relations" or "I'm an English major." Any job that doesn't fit into their small umbrella of what "public relations" or "English" means is instantly turned down.
So I have to teach my job seekers about blended careers. I'm a staffing agent, and I'm also a writer. I've done contract work helping companies develop their strategic plans, and I've taught continuing education courses to help people write resumes. Often, I've held more than one paying position simultaneously; right now, for example, I'm working as a staffing agent in addition to writing these columns.
It's my job to teach people that they can pursue careers in two different areas simultaneously, or combine multiple freelance jobs into a single career. This, too, is the new normal: making a living from a number of different sources.