Instant global communication, dynamic technologies, changing forces and market trends: the revolutionary changes over the last 20 years in the world and in the way it does business have also changed the process of looking for a job.
The single biggest change, of course, is the Internet, and the access it provides to information about individual companies and the marketplace - quite literally at the click of a button. Today most people don't go to the copy shop to mass-produce their resumes, lick envelopes, and send out mass mailings in the hopes of landing an interview. Their first step is to turn on the computer.
While it's important not to minimize the importance of the Internet as a job hunting tool, Tony Lee, editor in chief and general manager of the Wall Street Journal Online Network, says it's still up to the job-hunter to demonstrate his skills and value to a potential employer and for that, the resume and interview are still the basic barometers. "The Internet is key in delivering the information, but the information hasn't changed that much," says Lee. "The qualities employers are looking for and the tactics that you use to find a new job are similar to what they were 20 years ago."
In talking to both job hunters and human resource professionals, Lee has discovered another essential truth that has remained unchanged over the last 20 years, and that is the power of networking.
"Networking accounts for 79 to 80 percent of jobs being found," he declares. "The better you are at networking, the better you'll be at finding jobs. The point is to be aware of that, look for the opportunity, and jump on it right away when it presents itself."
Lee's own employment history mirrors some of the vast changes the Internet has wrought in the job world. When he started working for Dow Jones just about two decades ago, he was hired for the National Business Employment Weekly, a publication that focused on a regional approach to job hunting ads. That approach has been overshadowed by the instantaneous global reach of the Internet, and the National Business Employment Weekly no longer exists.
Lee also worked on a new publication back then called "Managing Your Career," created for college students on campus who were subscribers to the Wall Street Journal. "I worked my way up the editorial food chain and by 1989 was the editor of both publications," he says. "By 1997 the Internet was big enough that we wanted to start an online career site."
Lee was instrumental in creating the jobhunting sites that make up the WSJ Online Network - including CareerJournal.com, StartupJournal.com, RealEstateJournal.com, CollegeJournal.com, CareerJournalEurope.com, and CareerJournalAsia.com. He has written the Wall Street Journal's "Managing Your Career" column.
Lee was born in Dallas, Texas, Lee did his undergraduate work at Regis College in Denver and earned an M.S. in journalism at Northwestern University. His first job was with the American Diabetes Association as director of publications and special events. After only a year he came to South Brunswick to work for Dow Jones.
His wife, Jane, whom he met in graduate school, worked at IBM for 13 years in corporate communications. They have two daughters, 12 and 10, and live in Hopewell Township, having moved there three-and-a-half years ago from Essex County.
Lee says despite the dot-com crash of a few years ago one of the trends he sees now is that a lot of the dot-com companies, the ones that figured out how to survive the downturn, are actually thriving. "There are quite a few that have smart business models that have identified a niche and are serving it well."
Lee has plenty of perspective from which to view jobhunting and hiring trends in the 20-plus years he's been at the forefront of the jobhunting scene. Another trend he sees in today's market is that while loyalty is not gone entirely, it's not anywhere like it used to be, and that is true on both sides, employers and employees. "There are certain companies that are paternalistic and they still retain long-term employees," says Lee. "They're companies like IBM, Proctor and Gamble, and General Motors, where they train you and advance you and expect good things from you. But what's changed is that companies that were growing 20 years ago either don't exist anymore or are not growing. It makes for a fluid job market."
A very fluid job market indeed, where job-hoppers may be motivated to leave unfulfilling jobs for work that appeals to their sense of social conscience, intellectual challenge, or just plain more fun. They may be less tolerant of inconsiderate bosses or work that leaves them bored, with little chance for upward mobility. They may be drawn back to school to learn new skills, especially in today's highly technical vocations that require specialized education. "There are some jobs that simply didn't exist 20 years ago, certain jobs in the computer and telecommunications industry, for example," says Lee. Other areas such as graphic design and photography now require knowledge of new equipment that may require training.
Twenty years ago a job hunter might typically start out his search by scouring the help-wanted ads in the newspaper and examining materials at the local library such as the Occupational Outlook Handbook. Today the electronic environment plays a huge part in the hiring process. Job listings are posted on the Internet and job seekers can send their resumes by E-mail, speeding up the interaction between those looking and those hiring.
The web has become an invaluable tool for candidates who want to prepare for an in-depth job interview by researching the company online. No longer do they have to track down hard copies of annual reports or look for microfilm of past articles. A company's history and accomplishments are in the public eye. Candidates can also study a potential employer's reputation and find out what it's really like to work there. Being armed with that knowledge helps them make a much better-informed decision should an offer be made.
A company's website is also a place where a job hunter can first hear of a job opening, then send a response directly. It's ultimately up to the applicant to win the job based on his talents, but the Internet can play the role of matchmaker and get the relationship rolling. In addition to company websites, today's job market has produced a myriad of online jobhunting sites that include the likes of Monster.com and jobweb.com. These not only post openings but also add advice and tips on navigating the market.
Job hunting in today's fast-paced electronic age has also produced the potential for blunders that were unheard of 20 years ago. For example, experts say if you give a prospective employer a cell phone number and the phone rings, don't pick up unless you're fully prepared to discuss the job and a possible offer. Discussing your options with children fighting in the background or a store clerk totaling up your purchases is not going to make the best impression. Better to miss the call and call back rather than make a negative impression.
There are also some basic pitfalls when it comes to job hunting on the Internet. "E-mail and electronic resumes are increasingly a job seeker's first line of communication," says Lee. "But many qualified applicants are being overlooked because of abuses by less-professional applicants." Among the most common Internet job-searching blunders as listed by CareerJournal.com lists are these:
Cover letters. It's simple to cut and paste a copy of the same letter to different hiring managers, but make sure you proof your changes to avoid silly mistakes.
Direct communication. It may feel like you are communicating directly with a hiring manager, but he or she likely is receiving hundreds of resumes each day, so don't be too familiar in your greeting.
E-mail addresses. Make sure the address you use is professional. "If your address is ' firstname.lastname@example.org,' consider opening a new E-mail account," Lee says.
Out of your league. It takes only a click of a button to apply for a senior-management position, but don't submit an application unless you're truly qualified or you will waste everyone's time.
Fear of discovery. "What if my boss finds my resume?" Surveys show that you aren't likely to be fired for job hunting; it may even prompt your boss to improve your position to keep you.
Job seekers must also be very careful about when and where they post their resumes. Balanced with the need to circulate a resume among the right people is to protect privacy and to prevent the unauthorized use of information typically on a resume.
What has changed most over the last 20 years in the job-hunting world is the technology in the midst of head-turning political and economic changes. A key point that hasn't changed, and all the experts will tell you this, is that to be truly happy in your work and most productive, you have to choose a career in line with your personality, your values, your education, and skills. How do you stand out in the crowd in a job market that is fierce and the competition much more cutthroat than it was 20 years ago?
Job experience is a key way to get a leg-up on the next guy. And you can start to rack it up even before you earn your first degree. "While you're in college did you have internships, did you have paid experience, did you have stuff that makes you look like a professional ready to contribute right away? It's December. It's not too late to get an internship over the last four months of college. "
Lee says networking is still the most effective way to find a job and that hasn't changed over the last 20 years either. He has the perfect anecdote to illustrate that point, a true story that he gets supreme satisfaction out of relating.
"A CPA had lost his job. He decided he wanted to get out of accounting and started looking for a job in corporate finance. He kept hearing about the importance of networking, but he was shy, introverted, and he didn't want to meet people cold. It was a Friday afternoon and he had just had a job interview that didn't go well.
He didn't have high hopes and it must have shown on his face, because when he pulled into the gas station where he had gone for 15 years the guy who always pumped his gas asked him how he was doing. And he answered 'not too well. I lost my job, I'm trying to find a new one in corporate finance and I'm not having any luck.' And the gas station owner says 'my sister works in finance, let me let her know you're looking.' The next week he had an interview and the week after that he had a new job. Now how many people would think to network with the guy who pumps your gas!"
As for the coming year, what does Lee predict? "The economy is improving and new jobs are being created," he says. "Prospects for 2005 are better than they have been for the past four years. In central New Jersey traditional employers are hiring again. That's in pharmaceutical, banking, retail, real estate. Opportunities are being created again. As the 2005 budgets are approved they're larger and they're adding new people. The real trend you're going to see in 2005 is turnover. People who have been at companies and haven't been rewarded over the last four years will jump ship. This will create more opportunity as their jobs open up."
- Euna Kwon Brossman