Joan Graci, a self-proclaimed “career reformist” and president of APA Solutions, an Amherst-based recruiting firm, has spent the past 28 years researching the changing dynamics between employees and employers. She also teaches workshops as a career coach and helps people build sustainable careers. Graci’s new book, “No More Bad Advice” came out in April and is designed to help job seekers navigate the changing job market. Graci says she is committed to finding talent for employers, as well as helping people develop to meet the demands of today’s workforce.
A: Most people don’t know what their speciality is. They really don’t understand what they’re good at and how it applies to the new economy. Everyone is a specialist, everybody owns a business and that’s their background. And because of that, it is really up to them to determine: ‘How does this fit into the new economy?’
I see a lot of people who say: ‘This is what I want to do,’ and it’s kind of like a product that has been invented and there’s not a buyer for it.
It’s great if you want to get a degree in basket weaving, but there’s just not a lot of people hiring in basket weaving. It’s great if you want to be a milk man, but unfortunately, we don’t get milk delivered any longer. So it’s really understanding who you are as a person and how it relates to a good occupational choice. And I don’t see that.
I see where people give their control of their futures to their boss or to an occupation without really understanding how an employer is looking for a strategy. I would say unequivocally most of our kids are going to ‘I-don’t-know University’ and they’re graduating with an ‘I-don’t know education.’ What I do know is they’ve got big student loans and they can’t find jobs. And in the mean time, we can’t fill positions like you can’t believe.
Q: What are the fields that are in demand right now?
A: Technology has completely changed the way in which we work... I see technology in every single facet of the type of opportunities, positions, companies that we represent. There is always going to be a need for engineering, information technology, medical, well-being – there’s a huge trend in IT security. I was speaking to a gentleman from Washington, D.C., who told me there are 2,000 information technology security positions in Washington. There are only two colleges in the country that offer that curriculum. I rest my case.
Anything that has to do with statistical analysis or outcomes is going to be huge. People are going to want to better understand social media and what it means to long-term stainability... Before it was like, ‘We use social media but we don’t know what it means.’ That’s not going to be tolerated. There’s going to be a huge piece of math-oriented technology, life sciences, the environment, the list just goes on and on of choices.
Q: How has the job market changed in the last few years?
A: We have moved from an employee mindset to an ownership mindset. We’re not employees anymore, we’re partners. We are partners to the people who pay us. But that whole, ‘I am subservient to you,’ and ‘I’m going to sit there and I’m going to perform a series of tasks,’ is gone. Now, those tasks have to have a strategic element to them. You have to understand why you’re doing things. What is the meaning? No company has an opening without an expressed purpose of what that means to them... Growth companies are not going to keep seat-fillers anymore. They can’t.
Q: How can people adapt to that change?
A: I think the first step is understanding that the workforce of today is very different than it was yesterday. And understanding that, and looking at your future in a more empowered way - don’t dread it ... I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen who have lost their jobs, it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to them.
When you really step back and say: ‘Wait a minute, I’m carrying a backpack with me and inside that backpack I’m going to put all my intellectual property and no matter where I go, I take that with me.’ And each stop on your journey, you should be adding to your backpack ... So look at your last position, look at your current situation and say: ‘This is what I have.’ And start building the confidence in yourself and see how it can be distributed in different ways.
Q: What’s the average amount of time it takes someone to find a job?
A: We encourage people to have a plan... For each layer of professional development there’s a strategy attached to it. But what many of us do is take any job that’s going to pay us money. And at the end of the day, that’s not adding to your toolbox. You can’t sit across the table from an employer and say, ‘Well, they paid me.’ They want to know what skills you’re bringing to them, they want to know how you’re going to impact them, they want to know how you’re going to problem solve. So if you have a good background and you’ve done good, strategic work and you know what it is you’re looking for, you’re in such a small segment of the population - you literally can have a job within weeks.
Q: What are the main things employers are looking for?
A: Employers are looking for a whole person. We’re so used to just bringing our background, that one slice ... Not only do you have your background that you bring, but you also have your soft skills, emotional intelligence, all those things that follow in that category. How well do you operate your business? Are you showing up on time every day? Are you surfing the Net? ... If you’re adding to your toolbox and have the right skill set and attitude, people are going to want to buy you.
Q: What skills should people bring to the job hunt?
A: It’s got to be a holistic approach. You don’t post on Monster and they will come. You’ve got to be networking. You’ve got to have great social media representation; that’s part of your great marketing campaign. You’re resume has got to be responsive to this new economy
I can’t tell you how many people have spelled “manager” wrong on their resume. How do you brand yourself so that the world sees you? And every single mechanism from your personal representation to your telephone representation, to your written representation. Are you prepared to look for your job? Do you know who you’ve applied to, when you applied to them? Do you know why you applied to them? ... It is a multifaceted representation: networking, associations, job boards, ads and the social media. You’ve got to be doing all of those things not just one.