Dear J.T. & Dale: What gives? I’m a small business owner, and I can’t believe how many people just don’t want to work anymore. I see it in the media, and it seems to be a national trend. Are people ever going to get back to work? How are they living their lives? On what money? (The extra unemployment ended in my area months ago.) Meanwhile, my business is suffering, because I can’t get employees. Is this going to turn around soon? — Andy
J.T.: Now that people are coming out of hibernation from the pandemic, there is a lot of residual stress and anxiety. And many of them feel that they don’t want to go back to being the person they were before the pandemic, especially as it relates to work. The phrase, “life is too short” comes to mind. Plus, when people were forced to work at home, many had the realization they prefer it that way. I think that, eventually, people will have bills to pay and will take jobs, but I also feel a lot of people are trying to figure out new career directions, and the companies will have to adjust to get the talent they’re looking for. My advice is that you should seriously assess what you can do to offer benefits and perks to your employees that would make them want to work for you.
DALE: The pandemic has accelerated a number of trends, and that’s certainly true of the trend away from conventional employment — that trend is decades in the making. (For instance, it was in 2007 that the book “The 4-Hour Workweek” became a bestseller. Let me remind you of that book’s subtitle: “Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich.”) Meanwhile, even before the pandemic, corporations were ditching the notion of lifelong careers and generous retirement, and the old trade-off of freedom for security shifted. Here’s the new mindset among most ambitious, hardworking people today, the ones you’d love to employ: “A full-time job gets in the way of my real work.” The “real work” being the stuff that once were called “side hustles.” What can you do? (A) Pay way above-average wages or (B) accept the role as the World’s Most Flexible Employer. With the latter, your new job is to help your employees not have a regular job. If you sit down with employees and have that discussion, the path forward will emerge, one liberated employee at a time.
Dear J.T. & Dale: I have two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s. I worked for five years before the pandemic and then got laid off. Now I’m trying to go back to work, and nobody will hire me. I keep hearing that I’m overqualified. How can that even be a thing? You’re qualified or you’re not. — Aspen
DALE: Because you started by talking about your degrees, let’s start by pointing out that unless those degrees represent specific technical skills, they aren’t marketable except as boxes checked for some stuffier employers. Skills are marketable. Talk about those.
J.T.: As for “overqualified,” I know this is hard to understand, but hear me out. Recruiters are seeking an exact match for a position. They can’t pass along to hiring managers somebody who is underqualified or overqualified. If overqualified, the fear is that you’ll be bored, or you’ll be opinionated and make others uncomfortable by acting superior. They also fear that the moment you find a better job, you will leave. Those are valid concerns. The solution is to help an employer understand what they have that you want or need, such as the opportunity for you to learn in a new area. And one more thing: When you’re in interviews, I see far too many seasoned professionals coming off as know-it-alls, which confirms employer suspicions that you’ll be hard to work with. You have to calibrate how you speak in interviews and show intellectual humility.
DALE: And the best way to do that is to come to the interview with questions, proving that you respect their expertise and are eager to learn.
Jeanine “J.T.” Tanner O’Donnell is a career coach and the founder of the leading career site www.workitdaily.com. Dale Dauten is founder of The Innovators’ Lab and author of a novel about H.R., “The Weary Optimist.” Please visit them at jtanddale.com, where you can send questions via email, or write to them in care of King Features Syndicate, 628 Virginia Dr., Orlando, FL 32803. © 2021 by King Features Syndicate, Inc.