Calling All Generation Xers! The Job Search is Not What You've Done, But Who You Are

  • James Thrasher
  • Updated Jan 14, 2016
Calling All Generation Xers! The Job Search is Not What You've Done, But Who You Are

With graduation just a few months away, college seniors are searching for jobs. They should know that college graduates of today may have a dozen jobs in their lifetime, which often includes multiple major career changes. Shocking, yes. For members of Generation X (those born between the early 1960s and early 1980s), this is a radical change from the past. The world of work has changed and the traditional frame of reference is out of date.

The paradigm Gen X applied is not the interpretive lens from which to view the current job market. There needs to be a major transition of thinking regarding today’s hiring practices. After having advised thousands of young adults born to Generation X parents, it is exceedingly apparent that these parents are unaware of the massive changes in the job market.

In your generation, college graduates were deemed round pegs to go into round holes. There was a perception, even a prescription, that the college major defined your vocational calling. Many Generation Xers obediently, and sometimes, blindly, followed this well-established perception. This myopic vision, seen through your college major, ruled the day for any and all employment opportunities. If you veered off this major-driven course, you were seen as a little off-kilter, even weird.

If you were a political science major, for example, you were expected to go to law school or graduate school, teach social studies, or head off to Washington, D.C. for a politically oriented position. Because, come on, what else would a political science major do, right? If you stepped outside of the degree domain, you were greeted with the question: Why would you apply for this job? You are a political science major.

Well, welcome to a new day, members of Generation X. Today, college academic preparation or professional experience will not define or limit many, if not most, employment opportunities. Today, political science majors are going into business, consulting, communication, sales, social service, and technical careers to name a few.

“Traditional interviewing” is no longer viable or successful in finding the right candidate for the right job. For many years, companies utilized a philosophy of interviewing that was as simple as “if we liked ya, we hired ya” (as told to me by one of my seasoned corporate recruiters).

This outdated interviewing philosophy missed the boat by not taking into account the profundity of the candidate’s design. Behavioral interviewing has emerged as the gateway and the evaluative tool through which to get a job. The behavioral approach was developed by Development Dimensions International (DDI) and is being widely used by HR departments. This approach bases its evaluation of candidates on two things: aptitude and transferable skills. As the aptitude of the candidate is assessed, the company must confirm that the applicant has the ability to be trained (many times in a whole new field or career) to fulfill the job requirements. Also, each position is examined by the company to identify specific transferable skills that are absolutely necessary for a candidate to excel in that role.

Transferable skills, simply put, are skills, characteristics, and attributes that an individual displays in day-to-day living. These reflect natural inclinations, general approaches, modes of operation, and design. Transferable skills rule the day in today’s job market.

What job applicants are selling is who they are. Employers have a profile of the type of person, the transferable skills, and the aptitude necessary to be successful in a particular job. If an applicant has the right design, combined with the company’s training program, he or she will be off on a new career adventure.

Each person has a design which is uniquely his or her own, and which aligns with a wide variety of “fits” in the marketplace. Companies are well equipped to provide specialized training for new hires. But employers cannot change a candidate’s stripes—his or her very essence. They are unable to make an apple into an orange. This highlights how significant and foundational transferable skills are for company success, as well as for the candidate who is pursuing meaningful, satisfying, and purposeful employment.

But notice what is being left out of this hiring equation: college major, and potentially, even previous work experience. This is the radical transformation of the strategic components of job readiness in today’s job market. This is the exciting and fundamental change in the hiring discipline: sourcing exceptional individuals for new careers by identifying aptitude and transferable skills.

So Generation Xers, if you are advising your son or daughter regarding the job market landscape, or if you are thinking about your own next step in the world of work, don’t forget: It’s not what you’ve done, but who you are.

Dr. Jim Thrasher is the director of Grove City College’s career services office and the coordinator of the Center for Vision & Values working group on calling. 

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Publication date: January 8, 2016