Don’t Be a Consumer of Work

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Libby Sartain is a former HR leader and the author of Brand for Talent. She advises HR professionals and executive leaders to treat job seekers like consumers who have preferences, choices, and motivations for seeking employment. If you respect the job seeker as much as you respect your consumer, a healthier and more productive ’employment relationship’ is formed.

I like any discussion where job seekers are respected, and I actually liked the idea of job seekers being consumers of work. On some level, it makes sense. Just like a consumer, a transaction happens and a decision is made. An informed job seeker will make a critical and more thoughtful choice between one employer and another.

But now that I’ve been giving career advice for over three years, I’ve come to believe that it is disrespectful to treat candidates & employees like shoppers at Nordstroms or Walmart. It just doesn’t make sense.

Hear me out.

Consumers are idiots — and companies know it. They make choices based on basic psychological needs and impulses. We shop for supplies such as food and clothing. We purchase items to make ourselves feel safer and more secure in a chaotic world. We shop because we want to be loved and to give love. We buy clothing and cars — and we make consumer beauty purchases — because we want to be perceived as important and relevant. Respect is acquired through the purchase & consumption of goods and services.

Very rarely do we buy things because we are self-actualized. In fact, the most self-aware and confident people we know—and often, the wealthiest—have opted out of our consumer economy. When you opt out of the consumer-driven cycle, you have more money and the ability to control your fate. More money in your pocket buys you all kinds of things that can’t be purchased at Target: freedom from the patriarchal institution of work, the ability to purchase things that have real meaning and value, and time to spend on the things you love.

Although we’re all consumers at a simple level, I don’t want to hire a consumer. I want to hire a self-actualized human being who is motivated to solve problems and take on the world.

Want to differentiate yourself as a job seeker in 2011? Don’t be a consumer of work. Operate on a higher and more empowered level. Don’t come to a job interview with a shopping list of things you require from a job. Come to a company with a list of ideas and a set of principles. Talk about your personal philosophy and how it can make the company better. Tell me how you can solve a problem and make the organization more profitable and more relevant in the global marketplace. And show me that you want to do more than just consume space in a cubicle, in an office, and on my benefit plan.

And then flip the model—find an organization that will spend its capital on decent salaries, on training and development programs, and on creating a work environment that gets out of your way so you can accomplish great things.

Don’t be a consumer of work. Don’t pick your job the same way you picked out those ill-fitting pants you never wear. Put some thought into your job search and spend your ‘professional capital’ in a new way. And remember that when you consume less and spend on your terms, you are wealthier in the long run.

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