The Myth of "The Job Market"

Author: Dick Bolles

What Is "A Market"?

The Flower Market

A number of years ago I visited the Aalsmeer Flower Market, in he Netherlands. This Market (technically called an 'auction') is the largest building in the world (by footprint), covering 10.6 million square feet, an area equal to 120 football fields (or 100 soccer fields! And you can stand on a catwalk, looking down on much of it. I have never forgotten the sight. 20 million flowers and 2 million plants are auctioned or sold there daily.

I was told at the time – and being of simple mind, I believed it – that Aalsmeer was the only flower market in all of Holland, and that to this central market each day came every flower that was to be sold in the Netherlands, and to this central market each day came every wholesale buyer (or shipper) who wanted to buy flowers in the Netherlands. Unfortunately, it turned out not to be true. Though Aalsmeer is the largest to be sure, there are actually seven flower markets (which is to say, 'auctions') in the Netherlands. But never mind. The fantasy that there was but one central flower market for all of Holland, had been indelibly burned into my mind, forever.

"The Job Market"

When, some years later, I came into the field of job-hunting and career-change,  I kept hearing the phrase "the job-market," and I always thought of Aalsmeer.  Or my fantasy about Aalsmeer.  Great!   As with Flower Market,  so with Job Market. Maybe there is one central market in the world,  where everyone who is looking for a job and everyone who has a job to offer, comes.  One central place where they all could come, and meet and find each other! 

Alas! The phrase "the job-market" is a merely a poetic metaphor, that exists only in some poet's head.  There is no real "job-market" – not in the sense of that Holland flower market, as I first understood it. There is no catwalk anywhere – metaphorical or otherwise – that look down on all the jobs to be sold, and all the potential buyers of those jobs, in one central meeting place.

Rather, in real life an employer can go out the door, and walk up and down the streets, looking for a certain kind of employee, while some job-hunters who exactly matched that description can pass them right by, on the street, and they will never know how close they came to each other.  They have no meeting place,  except perhaps on "job-boards" or employers' own site.  And there are so many of those, that an employer may be looking in one place, while a job-hunter is looking in another.  "And never the twain shall meet."  It would be nice if there were but one meeting place.  But there is not.  

100,000 Little Job Markets

Pete Weddle, human resources expert, says there are now 100,000 "job-markets" (employment sites) on the Internet.  Still, people speak of "the job-market" as though it were One,  Well, let's go along with that.   What are the characteristics of "the job-market"?   What are the changes in "the job-market" from, say, ten or fifteen years ago?   I can think of four, in particular: 

1. Every job now is a temp job.

That is, 'of uncertain length.' 90 percent of the workforce in the U.S. is not self-employed; so, you are probably working for someone else. And how long that job lasts will be up to them, and not just you. If they so will it, your job may end at any time, and without warning. Even if you are self-employed, your job may end at any moment, if your customers prove fickle, and flock to another vendor. The question in any case: will you be ready for the next job when this current temp job of yours fails?

2. Every job now should be regarded essentially as a seminar.

If you have a job, the question is: what are you learning there? Of course you want this job to put bread on the table, clothes on your back, and a roof over your head, plus give you a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. But. Almost every job today is moving and changing so fast, in its very nature, that you must think of this job as exactly like enrolling in a seminar. There is a lot you have to learn, when you first begin, there,  and throughout the time you are there. You must not only be ready to learn, but eager to learn. Prize the job for its learning.

3. Every job now should be regarded essentially as an adventure.

If you are working in an organization of any size, it is very likely that the dramas which get played out there, daily, weekly, monthly, rival any soap opera that is on television today. Power plays! Ambition! Rumors! Poor decisions! Strange alliances! Betrayals! Rewards! Sudden twists and turns that no one could have predicted ahead of time, will unfold before your very eyes. Sure you can get bitter about it all. But since most of us love adventures, why not think of it as an adventure! Hang on to its every twist and turn. Pretend you're in Congress.

4. Every job that you choose now should be one where the satisfaction lies in the work itself.

Despite your best research during your job-hunt, you may have ended up in a job where your bosses fail to recognize or acknowledge the fine contribution that you make, leaving you feeling unloved and unappreciated. They may fail to give you a raise, or at least the raise you believe you deserved. They may fail to give you the promotion you were hoping for, even passing you over for another. And, to add insult to injury, they may suddenly let you go, and without warning, citing a business turn-down, the need for 'new blood,' bankruptcy, merger, or the full-moon.

In other words, you are getting none of the future rewards you were hoping for, when you signed on. Well, future rewards can't be counted on, in most jobs today. So, where should you look for rewards? I reply, simply, "In the very doing of the work." Be sure it is work that uses your highest skills, work where you take pleasure in the very doing of the tasks that job requires. Where you are working with people you really like. Present rewards. And if your present job doesn't give you that, better start thinking about moving to a job that does.

So there you have it,  the four basic words or phrases to describe "the job-market" of today,  if there were one job-market.

Temp. Seminar. Adventure. Satisfaction

(must be found in the work itself.) Paste them on your mirror. Look at them each morning while you're getting dressed. And start preparing for your next job-hunt the day you began your present job.  Close your eyes and dream. Open your eyes and prepare.