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March 22, 2011
Can't Help Wanted Ads Be More Helpful?

The answer is “aggressive, hands-on, shirt-sleeve, results-oriented achiever.”

Is the question: (a) How would you describe your tailor? (b) How would you describe your fourth-grade bully? (c) What are some of the most common words used in help-wanted advertising for middle and senior management staff?

As any middle management job seeker knows, choice (c) is correct.

If you need to verify this, simply surf on over to your the job listing on this site and click any link to just about any gig. Read the ads that you find attractive carefully.

One of the first things you will notice is that the phrases “hands-on,” “shirt-sleeve,” and “aggressive” appear, well, ad nauseam. Frankly, if I knew any one with these “qualities,” I would be extremely suspicious of this person, and I would certainly not want to spend most of my waking hours in the company of such a volatile automaton.

Just what do companies that advertise for such beings want? What in the world does “hands-on” really mean? Does it describe a particularly lecherous manager? What does"aggressive," that most tired of business banalities, actually mean? Does it mean they want yet another ladder-climbing bully in the corporate ranks. We already have too many. As for “results-oriented,” what manager with any drive doesn’t want to see the results of his or her labors?

Another desired quality in vogue among employers is “entrepreneurship.” This is merely a nod to the dreamers of the world who really want to achieve something meaningful. It is also used in the most ludicrous of situations. To describe, say, a product manager’s position deep in the honeycomb of some corporate giant as “entrepreneurial” is somewhat akin to saying the world is flat. A true entrepreneur would last all of five minutes in such an infrastructure.

All of this is, to me, somehow symptomatic of narrow and unproductive thinking and promotion of American business on the subject of people. After reading the postings at the leading job sites and elsewhere, it seems that companies are in the market for a set of character traits that borrow heavily from Machiavelli. How nuts is that?

What about the well-rounded, humane personalities that true leaders historically possess? Maybe they are not needed, as they might cost firms some coveted short-term profits.

This kind of limited corporate thinking is further reflected in online job postings (and the few traditional adverts in Sunday newspapers) that give specialization new meaning. Any day now I expect to see a job for a software project manager that requires a B.A., Ph.D., fluency in Armenian, willingness to travel 80 percent of the time, and be a former All-American, ambidextrous third baseman with extensive experience in nitrogen microcircuitry; or one for a marketing manager that insists on a B.S. in economics and an MBA (top schools only), with 5 to 10 years experience in human resources, seven years in natural resources, and eight years in information resources. This one would have to be a pretty resourceful character, wouldn’t you say? Probably began career training in the crib.

What's funny is I always thought that concern for the individual was an inherently American business value. You’d never know it to read through recruitment text. Undoubtedly, the employment community’s disclaimer is likely: But they work!

True, but in these times, what wouldn’t? Just about any notice that promises a decent job (for some, any job that pays decently) to desperate or restless middle managers is going to elicit a ton of strong interest.

I’d love to see job opportunities with requirements like: Be relentlessly positive; be able to visualize complex projects and imagine alternative possible outcomes; have charisma to easily engage with strangers and actually enjoy selling ideas to them; be good at listening to stories and using them to change your mind; be comfortable with ambiguity and rarely ask for detail or permission; find satisfaction in reaching self-imposed goals and willing to regularly raise the bar on those goals; be intellectually restless and care enough about new ideas to read plenty of blogs and books and curious enough about what others think of your ideas that you publish your own blog; understand that the system is intertwined, that your actions have side effects and you not only care about them but work to make those side effects good ones.

It’s just that in light of today’s economic struggles and ebbing morale, current help wanted ads, and more important, the kind of thinking they reflect, are no help at all.

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A sales and marketing conquistador, Michael Albert’s mantra is: concept, implement, and profit. He’s best suited for a gig needing strategy at 10,000 feet and execution at sea level. From promoting casinos and Web services to specialty foods and even recruitment advertising, he’s taken on audacious projects and run them as the lead. Relentlessly positive, his 2010 pet project is to become ambidextrous.  

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