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Putting Yourself in Context

In order to perform well in the questioning of the interviewing process, you need to recognize a little bit about yourself and your peers looking for a job in today's market. If you understand your own context, as well as the context of the people you are interviewing with, successful interviewing will be easy.

As mentioned above, the idea of going to work for an organization and building a career path for any reasonable length of time simply isn't realistic. This is the reality of the context of today's job candidate.

Highlights from a recent study published by the Bureau of Labor Statistics of the U.S. Department of Labor showed that:

Persons born from 1957 to 1964 held an average of 10.2 jobs from the ages of 18 to 38. These baby boomers held an average of 4.4 jobs while ages 18 to 22. The average fell to 3.3 jobs while ages 23 to 27, 2.6 jobs while ages 28 to 32, and 2.5 jobs from ages 33 to 38.

These baby boomers continue to have large numbers of short duration jobs even as they approach middle age. Among jobs started by workers when they were ages 33 to 38, 39% ended the job in less than a year and 70% ended in fewer than five years.

The average person was employed 76% of the weeks from age 18 to 38. Generally, men spent a larger percent of weeks employed than did women (84% vs. 69%). Women spent much more time out of the labor force (26% of weeks) than did men (11% of weeks).

This group also experienced an average of 4.8 spells of unemployment. Business Briefings recently reported that a 40-year-old average U.S. worker has changed jobs ten times.

The average 40-year-old worker in the United States changes jobs every two years. Although the Bureau of Labor Statistics has never attempted to estimate the number of times people change careers in the course of their working lives, my sense is that the older we get, the more stable we become in our jobs. In fact, a Department of Labor statistic bears this out. The DOL showed that the median tenure of workers aged 55 to 64 was 9.6 years—more than three times that of the younger workers. The worker at age 55 to 64, however, as we will analyze, sees the world differently then the 28- or 29-year-old worker. My sense is that the stability factor of these older workers isn't as much a reflection of today's business as it is a reflection of the values that were established when they first entered the work force thirty-five or forty-five years ago.

One challenge to compiling labor statistics is that there is no consensus as to what, exactly, constitutes a career change. For instance, if a person is promoted in an organization from a sales position to a sales manager's position or from an accounting position to an accounting manager's position, has his or her career changed from sales and accounting to a career of management? It would depend on how you define it as a career change. If a web designer was laid off and then took a job as a production supervisor for six months, then went back into web design, has he or she changed careers? There is no way of having a consistent definition of what "changing careers" means.

As a friend of mine, Paul Hawkinson, who is the editor of The Fordyce Letter (February 2007, p. 6), the foremost U.S. publication for the recruiting industry, writes that:

It seems that we're becoming a nation of "itinerant fruit pickers" where almost all jobs are impermanent. When CEOs are playing "musical chairs" with increasing frequency and most other senior executive level jobs are just transitory in nature, it's no wonder that America's work force has adopted a similar mindset. Especially since employers are no longer keeping "retirement watches" in their inventory because so few of their employees are kept on board long enough to get them. Loyalty is a two-way street and that street is full of potholes these days.

Let's face it; life on this earth is temporary, anyhow!

With this in mind, your approach to the interviewing process is going to be different. Your "career" will likely be a string of two-and-a-half- to three-year stints for at least the first 75% of your working life.

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