Why finding employment is tougher than ever: Invention is now mandatory

07/16/2011 5:19 PM

07/17/2011 1:23 AM

The rise in the unemployment rate last month to 9.2 percent has Democrats and Republicans reliably falling back on their respective cure-alls. It is evidence for liberals that we need more stimulus and for conservatives that we need more tax cuts to increase demand. I am sure there is truth in both, but I do not believe they are the whole story. Something else, something new — something that will require our kids not so much to find their next job as to invent their next job — is also influencing today's job market more than people realize.

Look at the news these days from Silicon Valley. Facebook is now valued near $100 billion, Twitter at $8 billion, Groupon at $30 billion, Zynga at $20 billion and LinkedIn at $8 billion. These are the fastest-growing Internet/social networking companies in the world, and here's what's scary: You could easily fit all their employees into the 20,000 seats in Madison Square Garden, and still have room for grandma. While they're all hiring today, they are largely looking for talented engineers.

Indeed, what is most striking when you talk to employers today is how many of them have used the pressure of the recession to become even more productive by deploying anything they can use to make better products with reduced head count and health care and pension liabilities. That is not going to change. And while many of them are hiring, they are increasingly picky. They are all looking for people who not only have the critical thinking skills to do the value- adding jobs that technology can't, but also people who can invent, adapt and reinvent their jobs every day, in a market that changes faster than ever.

Today's college grads need to be aware that the rising trend in Silicon Valley is to evaluate employees every quarter, not annually. Because the merger of globalization and the IT revolution means new products are being phased in and out so fast that companies cannot afford to wait until the end of the year to figure out whether someone is doing a good job.

But you would never know that from listening to the debate in Washington, where some Democrats still tend to talk about job creation as if it's the 1960s and some Republicans as if it's the 1980s. But this is not your parents' job market.

This is precisely why LinkedIn's founder, Reid Garrett Hoffman, one of the premier starter-uppers in Silicon Valley — he is also on the board of Zynga, was an early investor in Facebook and sits on the board of Mozilla — has a book coming out after the new year called "The Start-Up of You," co-written with Ben Casnocha.

Hoffman argues that professionals need an entirely new mindset and skill set to compete. "The old paradigm of climb up a stable career ladder is dead and gone," he said. "No career is a sure thing anymore. The uncertain, rapidly changing conditions in which entrepreneurs start companies is what it's now like for all of us fashioning a career. Therefore you should approach career strategy the same way an entrepreneur approaches starting a business."

To begin with, Hoffman says, ditch a grand life plan. Entrepreneurs don't write a long business plan and execute it once; they're always experimenting and adapting.

It also means using your network to pull in information and intelligence about where the growth opportunities are — and then investing in yourself to build skills that will allow you to take advantage of those opportunities.

You have to know which industries are working and what is happening inside them and then, Hoffman says, "find a way to add value in a way no one else can. For entrepreneurs it's differentiate or die — that now goes for all of us."

Finally, you have to strengthen the muscles of resilience. "You may have seen the news that (the) online radio service Pandora went public the other week," Hoffman said. "What's lesser known is that in the early days (the founder) pitched his idea more than 300 times to VCs with no luck."

THE NEW YORK TIMES

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