Real Leaders

Why No One Wants to Hire You – and What You Can Do About It

No one really wants to hire you… not really. I’m not being mean. I am just stating the obvious. And believe me it’s not you. No one in business wants to hire anyone if they can possibly avoid it. That’s the reality… and I know this sounds harsh… but the sooner we face it the happier we’ll be. I just returned from DIG SOUTH which is a multi-day conference/festival for young digital entrepreneurs in the Southeast.

I gave the kickoff keynote titled “How to Start with Nothing, Save the World and Make a Fortune.” I hope you like the title. I was trying to attract thirty-something techies who like to work all night and sleep late. It seemed to work as a nice big crowd showed up. I told the story of Jeff Jordan, a recent client who started a marketing agency when he was 17 that focused on helping high-risk teens quit smoking.

He’s 30 now and business is good. Very good. He just landed a $150 million contract from the FDA because his track record of success is so remarkable. Jeff has created a very cool job for himself. He gets up every morning to help thousands of teenagers live healthier, happier lives. He also lives where he wants to live and has a highly individualized work schedule.  None of this happened by accident. Jeff has passion and a plan… a vision for his life.

His story created a launch pad for me to talk about the new reality of work.

The reality is that we are all entrepreneurs.  We are all in business for ourselves because all jobs are temporary. It didn’t used to be this way. When I first started working with leaders in the late 1970s CEOs actually took pride in the number of people they employed. The more, the better. It was a marker of business success.

I actually had a CEO tell me it was a great source of satisfaction for him to think of all the mortgages and college educations his company made possible. These distinctively communitarian values have since been shredded.  Now we hail the latest, greatest business achievement, which is selling a revenue-free company called WhatsApp for $19 billion to Facebook. And the crown jewel of this jaw dropping acquisition is that this virtually brand new company has only has 55 employees. Wow!

So let me restate it. Nobody wants to hire you.

The recession has been over for three years and economists tell us at the real unemployment rate is over 12%. That simply takes into account all the people working part-time that wish they were working full-time. One of the reasons that hiring has been so anemic is that leaders have been amazed how much work people could actually do when they’re scared of losing their jobs. The recession took the concept of doing more with less to new levels. This has created what I call ‘fake productivity.’ Productivity is simply a measure of total revenue divided by total payroll costs. So if you can maintain your revenue level and cut payroll, profitability rises. Duh. That’s why most big companies didn’t lose any money even in the depths of the recession. They cut payroll faster than sales dropped and got their workforce used to working lots harder. And most people just deal with it.  It’s the new normal but it’s not a good normal… at least not if you want to be healthy and happy. It’s also not good if you want to be innovative or provide an amazing customer experience.

Years of research confirm that overwork simply fries our brains, original thinking and commitment to excellence.

So here is my advice. It is the same advice I gave to the young entrepreneurs at DIG South. Is the same advice I give to employees of the progressive companies that hire me. It’s simply this.

Quit waiting.

Quit waiting for the world change. Quit waiting for things to go “back” to a time where loyalty was the adhesive of a social contract between employers and employees.

Instead… know what you want for your life… do work that makes the world a bit better… and say “No” to other people’s agenda for you.

We live in a time where most of us spend our lives achieving other people’s goals. If our own dreams and our own goals and our own lives are not crystal clear we will bounce around from job to job, house to house, even spouse to spouse hoping it will all work out. But the social science research is clear that this is not how to have deep life satisfaction.

What is… is to have a clear self-vision of the future you most want.

Over 90 years of research following people who started life from almost identical backgrounds found that those who live the longest are the healthiest, get the most education, make the most money and enjoy the happiest marriages are people whose daily decisions were guided by clear goals that they selected and fine-tuned to create the best life they could envision. Turns out not very many people do this.

Most of us wing it.

We often have specific goals that are in conflict with other goals. For instance most of us want deeply satisfying, mutually supportive, positive relationships with our loved ones. Well that doesn’t happen by simply hoping. It’s also unlikely to happen if we get trapped by work that keeps us engaged most of our waking hours.

Examples of conflicting life goals abound.

We all want to be healthy but we feel compelled to do really stressful work that leaves little time for exercise. We all want to be financially secure but we work for wages and salaries that can evaporate in an instant. What amazes me is how many people will sacrifice almost everything that matters for a $50,000 job.

It used to cost more to get people to sacrifice their health, their family and their peace of mind.

It’s like we’re hypnotized. Consider this, a single well-run Subway sandwich shop will make you $50,000 a year. With 10 you can make a half a million. Sure it’s a lot of work but is it any more work than you’re currently doing? Of course I’m not suggesting that we all go out and open Subway sandwich shops. What I am suggesting is that there is no reason to feel trapped into spending your life achieving other peoples goals. But the only way to awaken from this trance is to have goals of your own. Clear ones.

Try this exercise: Imagine your ideal future life two years from now… Think about where you want to live.

How do you want to feel about the community and neighborhood you live in? (Remember that wherever you dream of living there are people in all economic circumstances living there right now. So “anywhere” is possible.)

How do you want to feel about the home you live in?

Is your home a refuge, a safe place for you to relax and refresh yourself? Can you easily afford your home or does your home make you feel trapped? (Please keep in mind that there is no correlation between home ownership and happiness. Increasingly people find the flexibility of renting to be more important than the fiction of home ownership. It’s called fiction because most people will never own their home at all. They will simply pay a mortgage, pay the taxes, make improvements and repairs until they die.)

Think about how you want to live.

How do you want to feel about your life? When do you want to get up in the morning? When do you want to start working? Do you commute? How long is your commute? When do you come home? What do you do when you get home? What do you do on weekends? What are your hobbies? How often do you enjoy them? What kind of friends do you have? How often do you see them? What do you do together?

Think about your loved ones.

How do you want to feel about the most important people in your life?  Research is clear that the happiest people among us are in committed, intimate relationships with people they both trust and enjoy. Sometimes people are fortunate enough to find that in a romantic partner. Often these high functioning relationships are created with friends.

Now think about the work that you do.

How do you want to feel about your work? Is it purposeful to you? Does it call on you to grow and learn and become more capable?  Are you able to channel your unique personality and passionate interests into your work? Are you extraordinarily effective? Do you make an impact?  Does your work give you energy? These questions are neither silly nor unrealistic. I developed them by studying the lives of hundreds of people that I met during the eight years I lead the American Dream Project. What I discovered were scores of ordinary people living amazing lives right now.

They all had one thing in common. Their daily choices were intentional. And their intention was to create the life they most valued and enjoyed.

The time for vague longings and weak hopes has long passed. Each of us is the entrepreneur of our own lives… and all good entrepreneurs are driven by a furious vision to make the improbable… inevitable. What is your improbable dream? Imagine. Then just start!