What's wrong with the American job market? I'm asked to explain that phenomenon every day. A strengthening economy should spell better job prospects as employers gear up to meet expanding demand. But unemployment still lingers in the mid-7 percent range, and some 11.3 million Americans remain out of work.
All bad news for American job seekers. Or is it? Ironically, while many Americans lament their plight in life, the dirty little secret is that there are some 3.7 million unfilled jobs waiting for qualified candidates. The other secret is that job seekers have more control over their destiny today than at any other time in history. Yet they don't know it. They don't understand it, and they're missing out on it.
But to gain this control, job searchers need to learn a lesson borrowed from the music industry. Just like the job market, the music industry has been devastated by fundamental changes in the way business is transacted, thanks to the Internet, social media, and a rebalancing of power that places more control in the hands of buyers and less in the hands of sellers.
To understand, think back to the height of music industry sales in the 1990s. Much of the success stemmed from the introduction of the CD and the manmade need for consumers to repurchase the music they already owned and loved on albums simply because of a format change.
The music industry responded by lapping up sales and growing arrogant and abusive. Disconnected from their real community of passionate fans, record companies fooled themselves into believing they were in a transactional business that sold shrink-wrapped pearl cases through mega stores. Who cared if that $16.99 CD only had one good song on it? Charge that teen full price -- she'll pay. Why concern yourself that the band you were promoting wasn't that good? Let the listener find out after coming home from Tower Records.
The music business was concerned about moving units, and not the least bit interested in tapping into fan loyalties and passion. Well, guess what? The approach proved ruinous. File sharing was inevitable in the music industry. Too bad the record companies didn't figure out a way to take part in the process.
Rather than enable file sharing in order to find new fans and build a community around a band or artist, the music industry decided to bind together. It reacted by suing 14-year-old kids who, with nothing more than a home PC and Internet connection, discovered how to circumvent the industry's entire greedy infrastructure.
But here's the real irony to the story. More music is being made today than in the history of mankind. And good musicians are making money. But they're not doing it through record contracts.
Rather, they have survived by sharing their love and passion for music with communities. Through the power of the Internet and the ability it provides anyone to engage, music is in great shape, even though the record industry is reeling.
The same exact situation now exists for job seekers. The job industry -- the one that views job searches as the transactional ritual of writing resumes and going on interviews -- is dead. It's been taken over by talent communities -- individuals who have bound together to share with, engage, and support one another. By educating, inspiring, and adding to the conversation, job seekers have built real networks and taken control of their careers simply by creating meaningful relationships that lead to real job opportunities.
This phenomenon is about our own willingness to share knowledge, or new learning, or new experiences, to somehow advance a conversation or add to the dialogue. It's what makes it worthwhile for someone to read our Twitter feed, open our email, remain active in our LinkedIn group, or comment on our Facebook page.
In that respect, the transactional job search is as outdated as a compact disc player. It's no longer exclusively about job boards like Monster.com or blindly submitting an online resume. Rather, it's about how artfully and generously we engage in our communities over the lifetime of our careers that dictates our success in finding new, exciting career opportunities.
How about you? Are you running your job search like the record industry sold CDs, thinking it's a transaction rather than engaging with a community? If so, you are one of the millions of Americans bemoaning their fate in life right now. Dissatisfied with their jobs. Wondering if they will ever find a job. Confused or angry about the lack of jobs, and the failure of prospective employers to respond to resumes, emails, or calls.
The solution is simple. Take control of your career and shift your expectations from one of entitlement -- like the record industry in the 1990s -- to the process of earned participation in today's talent communities.