Listening to the news it would be easy to believe that there are no jobs to be had for new college graduates or returning veterans. Current statistics reveal a flat, lackluster job market—with no real changes anticipated in the near future.
So, we ought just sit back and wait for something to happen… right? Wrong. There are gobs of jobs out there. They pay really well and they are really cool. But here is the thing; they probably didn’t exist five years ago.
Over the past year I have informally interviewed dozens of CEO’s and senior executives in financial institutions, health care offices, government agencies, and high tech industries—and here is what they are telling me—it is really, really hard to find good talent. Many reported having jobs open for months at a time. Several were “shocked” at how hard it was to “find someone with reasonable skills and experience who could bring leadership and good cultural fit.”
Faced with weak candidates, most would rather leave a position empty than to suffer through a bad hire. One HR executive in a commercial lending operation told me, “We have been there and done that. It finally dawned on us that our business IS our people. We expect them to be smart, reliable, proactive, self-managing, motivated, and great communicators. I am not exaggerating when I say we are constantly looking for good people; but they are tough to find.”
And when you do find them, it is tough to keep them. Hot talent shines like a bright light and the best people get picked up quickly—often by your competitors. In the high-tech world people think there must be something wrong with you if you stay in a job for more than three years.
So what are these mystery skills that are in such high demand? Why are some people getting paid great wages right out of college? It turns out that the winning “Instant Hire” profile is very similar for most all industries of relevance in the 21st century. Banking, education, health care, technology, manufacturing, marketing, sales, transportation, non-profits and even government are all clamoring for people with at least three of the five following competencies. If you have all five—and a track record to prove it, watch out!
You know your way around a spreadsheet. You can build them, fix them, and use core functions like statistics and pivot tables. You can find data, import data, and Tarzan happily between spreadsheets and databases. You understand the gist of structural equation modeling and you can smell bogus analysis a mile away. You are not freaked out by a balance sheet. You like building forecasts and scenarios based on possible changes in the marketplace.
You Can Tell a Story.
This means you can write. You use proper sentences and you use punctuation, even in email. You understand how to explain things concisely and accurately in a way that is clear and memorable. You can inspire and fire up the imaginations of others to think bigger and solve problems. You value Shakespeare and Joseph Campbell. Your copy of the Odyssey is worn. You are also tapped into the current pulse of modern culture. You are not, however, a “flavor-of-the-day” promoter. You “get” Gangnam Style but you have no need to dance in the office.
You Can Tell a Story with Pictures.
This means that you can produce strong info graphics. You have a good sense of design. Even if you are not completely skilled in graphic arts and designing PowerPoint slides, you know how to communicate with good designers. You will spend money and time on design issues. You love to use non-discursive images and icons to add impact and power to your communications. You think as much about form as content. You appreciate Zen simplicity in communicating a corporate report but you are not afraid to find a way to show the relationship between 100 different data points on a single slide.
You Finish Projects.
You use a calendar. You respect the deadline. You get things done on time. You can estimate work challenges accurately. You get help when you need it and you are organized enough to be able to delegate effectively. You have a strong sense for project management. You can lead or follow with equal effectiveness; what matters is the work, the outcome, the successful conclusion. You are able to see huge complex projects broken into manageable, do-able steps and phases. Your approach is steady, stable, predictable, and relaxed. There is very little drama in your world. Your results are consistent, measured, efficient, and strategically relevant.
You can Close a Deal.
It may be a deal with three different departmental leaders. It may be a deal with a new vendor. It may be a huge multi-national distribution deal. Doesn’t matter; you get the art of the deal. You know how to identify power players and move them along. You understand the art and science of negotiation and you bring a balanced approach. You’re not a shark, but you’re no fool either. You know that everything significant demands support and partnerships. You are able to enlist people in the goal and the vision as much as the deal itself. You rarely burn bridges—because you don’t need to—your colleagues will recommend you for your integrity.
How did you stack up? Very few people can honestly tick off all five of these characteristics. What is interesting is we expect people to bring these skills to the table in their mid-twenties. This is not the profile for emerging CEO’s—although they obviously need all these skills as well. I am talking about is what it takes to really be in the game in 21st century business; the idea of “entry level jobs” is so last century. You need to be a Renaissance person with Mad Max levels of adaptability and courage. The amazing thing is that there are people out there, just coming out of college or an MBA program, or military service with all these skills in place. They are the rock stars of the future. But you have to look for them. They are not likely to be the ones boasting about themselves. They are likely to be the ones who listen carefully and ask insightful questions. They will seem relaxed and able to focus. They will relish a big job, but they will need to believe in the goals.
If you are one of these wonderful people, take heart in the fact that you may be struggling because the people hiring often don’t know what they really need to be successful. Most are still operating with a classic organizational design and job descriptions that are 20 years old. You will have to educate your future employers. We are living in a world awash in information and you are one of the few people who can cut through the clutter and find meaning. With your help, the phrase “Business Intelligence” is more than buzz words. Don’t compromise and take the job they are offering. Go ahead; design the job you know they need to have done. The ones who resist don’t deserve you. The ones who get it will be the ones who are the most fun to work with and the most likely to change the world for the better.