“We’re becoming shabbier by the year.” – Paul Krugman, New York Times
“The light at the end of the tunnel is dim at best.” – Fareed Zakaria, Time
“The United States is in the caboose of the global economic love-train.” – Jim Cramer, CNBC
America is in trouble. Despite a record setting Holiday spending spree and a resurgent stock market, the unemployment rate in the U.S. remains stubbornly high – officially 9.4% but much higher for many regions, demographics and sectors – and Americans are decisively pessimistic about their future. According to the Pew Research Center, a mere 30% of Americans believe the U.S. is headed in the right direction; comparatively, 45% of Indians, 50% of Brazilians, and 87% of Chinese are optimistic about their countries’ outlook. Less than half of Americans believe their children will have a higher living standard than they do; in fact, social mobility in the U.S. – a critical ingredient of the “American dream” – is now among the lowest in the rich world. Yet while pundits and politicians banter and bloviate about why it all happened, who’s to blame and what should be done in response, America continues its economic, political and attitudinal decline while the real historical driver of America’s economic engine – human capital – remains substantially under-leveraged.
According to Gallup’s Employee Engagement index, around 70% of employees are not engaged (or actively disengaged) at their jobs, meaning only one in three employees is truly committed to the success of their company. Meanwhile, CEOs from companies of all sizes – from VC-backed startups to transnational Fortune 500 companies – continue to complain that they can’t find quality employees. Ivory tower academics have pointed out the same problem, albeit from a different perspective. Research done by one economist, a winner of the Nobel Prize last year, highlighted how ‘search friction’ – ways in which the labor market can break down and fail to connect the right people to the right jobs – prevents optimal employment levels and frustrates economic growth. But although there is a great deal of agreement between academia and the private sector about the diagnosis of the problem, the solutions provided in the jobs marketplace so far – including outplacement companies and employment sites like Monster and CareerBuilder – have failed to buck the trend. Regardless of the hype, there has been no appreciable effect on employee engagement over the last 10-15 years that these online jobs boards have operated; in fact, levels of disengagement have actually peaked recently, in response to the 2008 economic crisis and subsequent recession.
A significant part of the solution to our current malaise remains untapped because society continues to resist unconventional methods of job searching and employee selection. The majority of business professionals continue to market themselves with their resume – essentially a personal brochure – despite an expected success rate of around 2.3 interviews generated for every 100 resumes sent out. True, most working people (somewhere between 60-80%) can find a job by ‘networking’; but clearly, as demonstrated by persistently low levels of employee engagement, they are not finding the right job (and how could they, considering that even a network of thousands of contacts would still leave someone unexposed to literally millions of companies nationwide). Employers, on the other hand, are equally discontent. According to the staffing giant Spherion, just 40% of companies are satisfied with the quality of their full-time workforce. Yet as long as companies continue to elevate easily quantifiable benchmarks in their hiring practices, this won’t change. Demanding a certain number of years of experience or some specific academic profile can’t provide any insight into the quality of a person’s experience, whether they are aligned with a company’s mission or how they will help generate value.
According to the same Spherion study, 74% of workers say their jobs mean more to them than “just making a living” – in other words, employees want to be engaged at work. Our experience working with thousands of job seekers over the years has shown the same thing: when people start taking the time to find and pursue those products, services or causes that truly excite them – beyond simply functional compatibility – their conviction and engagement can serve as a catalyst for success – in their careers, their respective companies and organizations and ultimately, for America as a whole.
“This country works. The best is yet to come.” – Warren Buffett