“Ben, What’s the answer?”, Willy Loman asks his brother in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman.
We are told that Ben went into the jungle when he was 17 and came out when he was 21 and he is wealthy. Willy is an aging salesman, who after 35 years in sales has lost nearly all of his accounts. His two grown sons, Biff and Happy, once so full of promise, are in and out of jobs, in and out of trouble. Willy is searching for the secret of securing a good position.
Last week, I met with a group of 25 job club members at the ProMatch Job Club in Sunnyvale last week. The ProMatch job club members are very sophisticated about the job market. They know about job boards, and social media, and most of all, about the various forms of networking. Yet, even among this most informed group of job seekers exists an undercurrent that there might be a job search secret they’re missing, a reason why persons with less experience, fewer credentials, are getting jobs.
Most of the ProMatch job seekers are from the technology industry in the Silicon Valley. The Valley economy has been booming in the past two years, with job growth outpacing job growth rates in the state and nation. However, the number of job seekers in the Silicon Valley continues to be far greater than the number of jobs: among engineers, marketing and sales representatives, human resources specialists. Workers who are over forty years of age face a most difficult path, as younger workers are welcomed as less expensive, or more flexible, or with more current skills.
Our discussion started with the job boards. A number of ProMatch members cited Indeed.com as a board of choice, and recommendations were made to Dice for technology jobs and craigslist for nonprofits. LinkedIn is by far the preferred online job search method among the group. ProMatchers use it for job leads, labor market information, and for job networks.
The job search network is at the center of the ProMatch approach. It involves several circles of contacts and several levels of job search. These levels range from networking for an edge on jobs listed on the job boards, to networking to find jobs in the hidden job market, networking to generate a job in a targeted firm, and networking to get in the door through part-time, contract or volunteer work. ProMatch not only has its experienced job coach staff, but also a group of volunteer job coaches, who offer one-to-one job counseling and insightful job search/networking sessions.
There was little I could add to ProMatch’s job search techniques I did suggest two further dynamics that might guide job search.
The first is the volatility of the job market, which means that a job seeker’s situation can change in an instant. Fox and Hounds previously has noted the enormous job creation/destruction and worker movement in California, which results in roughly 450,000 separate instances of hires each month in the state. Even in these lean employment times, hiring occurs.
The second dynamic is the more sobering one, regarding the competition for each job and the eroding job security. The competition and the insecurity have been other Fox and Hounds themes for the past four years. We discussed what this competition/insecurity means for California job seekers and workers today: Even when employed, networking is required; a worker always needs to be prepared for a layoff; if a layoff occurs, stay active above all; taking a lower level job, or contract work or volunteering can be a good bridge; the greatest impediment is isolation/loss of confidence/depression; far from respecting the experience and wisdom of workers over forty, employers tend to avoid such workers; we’re all temps now.
Death of a Salesman centers to a great extent around Willy Loman’s self-deceptions, and grandiosity about his sons and their careers. Willy repeatedly accuses Biff of sabotaging a big job or a big deal out of spite. Only near the end of the play does Biff confront Willy with the explanation that “I am not a leader of men, Willy, and neither are you…I’m one dollar an hour, Willy. I tried seven states and couldn’t raise it. A buck an hour. Do you gather my meaning? I’m not bringing home any prizes any more, and you’re going to stop waiting for me to bring them home… There’s no spite in it any more. I’m just what I am, that’s all.”
So too, there’s no spite in setting out to job seekers today how tough the job market is in California, and likely to continue to be. We’re all better if we avoid any delusions about what’s going on or about getting back to the pre-Great Recession job world any time soon.
As for the secret, the ProMatch techniques and their extensive levels of job networking represent the best thinking I know of today. If there is a further secret it is that even following all of the ProMatch techniques, the job search is likely to be difficult, and we should respect the efforts of anyone looking for a job in California today.