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 The way we work is changing-- and at a rapid pace. Advancements in technology are making us more nimble and connected than ever. I just watched an interesting presentation on the impact of blockchain on job search recruitment process, and I'm confident that the future of work will look very different.

I had the opportunity to meet Steve Faktor world-renown innovator, futurist and digital commerce expert, for a virtual coffee and conversation on one of my favorite topics--the future of work and entreprenuership.

Steve is the Managing Director of IdeaFaktory, which helps companies accelerate growth by partnering with top startups, developing new innovations, and restructuring for growth. He is author of Econovation, which critics describe as “a fascinating, erudite, bitingly funny, well researched, and…important book“ about capitalizing on the end of consumerism and rise of 'producerism'.  He also has a podcast, McFuture, featuring provocative, funny explorations of our future.

Sarah: As the Managing Director of IdeaFaktory, a company that you founded to help companies accelerate growth by partnering with top startups, you’ve seen your share of start-up expansion and talent growth.  For job seekers interviewing with a newer start-up, how can they demonstrate skill alignment (especially if the company is new and there is not a lot of intel)? 

Steve: Newer startups will always be a gamble, especially in the early stages. You can find info on who funded them, how much they raised, and press releases of customer wins, product milestones and partnerships. You’re also likely to find blog posts and tweets about (or by) the founders. Together, these can give you a sense of how the founders think, their vision, and how well they’re able to execute.

What’s more important is knowing yourself - strengths and weaknesses; what motivates you – and what doesn’t. For example, ask yourself if you see a typical startup’s lack of structure as freedom or uncertainty. And though my immigrant dad would disagree, given the choice, I’d choose a role that lets me triple-down on my strengths, rather than shore up my weaknesses. It’s your best chance to stand out.

While skills are important, ultimately, fit is king. Both the hiring manager and candidate must answer, “Will I enjoy working with this person (or people) every day?” And if you’re having trouble deciding, always choose the role where you’ll have the most fun. From my experience, grand plans and using jobs as stepping stones almost never work out, but an environment and people you enjoy being around will bring out your best and the money will eventually follow.

Sarah: You have a proven innovation approach for company’s called The 4C’s of Innovation(TM). These are: context, creativity, capabilities, and culture.  Can these 4C’s be applied to the job search?  And if so--- what are some practical ways that job seekers can demonstrate these 4 qualities?

Steve: I’ve never thought of the 4C’s in terms of job search, but I’m up for the challenge! Some or all of the 4C’s can make a candidate stand out, especially for strategic roles, like those in management, marketing, tech or operations.

Of the four, context is most relevant to a job search. Showing your understanding of the world a company operates in – how tech, economic, social, and industry trends will affect their business – is a competitive advantage. It’s essential in interviews.

But if you’re not getting the interviews you want, you can use mastery of context to get a hiring manager’s attention. Forward articles of interest with a short analysis to people you know (or previously interviewed with) in the field. Or, start a blog on topics relevant to people you want to work for. Email or tweet your posts to them or other influencers in the space. Share them on LinkedIn and Twitter. Or, do what we’re doing now – ask to interview executives you want to develop relationships with for your blog or podcast. It’s a great way to start a relationship.

Realistically, the best way for a candidate to demonstrate how innovative they are is to innovate their job search. I’ve seen people successfully use Google search ads to target a hiring executive with their resume or samples of their work. Others have networked their way to amazing jobs through events, LinkedIn, and friends of friends. My former intern saw me speak at a festival and volunteered to help me hire interns and book top guests for my podcast, even though he had a full time job. He now books guests for a major podcast network.

Sarah: According to a 2016 survey by Accenture, 44% of new graduates want to work in a startup or other small enterprise.  Is the trend of not wanting to work "for the man" something we will continue to see? 

Steve: Though I’m not familiar with this study, there’s definitely a defiant streak in today’s graduates. The good news is they have more exciting options than ever. The bad news is too easy to avoid developing the grit needed for long-term success.

As work becomes more esoteric, like shuffling emails and PowerPoints around, people hunger for meaning. Some seek work-life balance so they can find that meaning outside of work. Others will demand it from the job itself. But most jobs aren’t built to generate meaning. That’s where smaller companies have a structural advantage. Each employee represents a bigger percentage of a small company’s success. There’s less diffusion of responsibility than at large firms. Workers get to see the direct impact of their work in the marketplace, but also experience more of the lumps. Overall, it’s more tangible.

Where I’m less optimistic is total entrepreneurship is down. And more people are becoming independent contractors by necessity, not choice. At the same time, our expectations from college are way too high, especially at these prices. Half of graduates already go into jobs that don’t require a degree. And the only degrees with a strong ROI are what I call “trade degrees”, like medicine, engineering and finance. At the same time, we have over five million unfilled skilled trade jobs that offer training, benefits, and good salaries. While top suburban plumbers are buying million dollar homes, too many subsist on liberal arts debtgrees, streaming Twitch videos or chasing menial media jobs.

As we morph from dutiful sled dogs to finicky house cats, the robots can’t come soon enough. Otherwise, that sled ain’t moving.

Sarah: According to the Centre on Aging Better, nearly one in four workers aged 50 and over are self-employed – twice the rate of younger people. The percentage of mid-career or older workers who no longer feel like “climbing the ladder” is on the rise—some predict that the number of self-employed will triple over the next 5-years.  In your consulting work, what are some key traits that experienced workers have that make them successful in self-employment?   What are some traps or things more mature workers need to be concerned about when evaluating entrepreneurship?

Steve: It's important to distinguish between entrepreneurship, driven by choice and ambition, and freelancing, which is often spawned by necessity. Many older workers are being pushed out of corporate jobs because companies feel like they can get 80% of the quality for 50% of the price with younger workers. So they do. That’s why it’s critical not to let yourself stagnate. Don’t wait for someone to make that choice for you. Develop your skills, network, speak at conferences, put out content demonstrating your expertise, and understand the latest technologies. Start thinking about where your abilities overlap with your passions and market needs. Start a side-business while you’re still at your corporate job. Then, when you choose to leave, it’s for something. That will feel empowering. By then, you’ll have laid the groundwork needed to keep you going through the inevitable ups and downs of entrepreneurship.

So you know I practice what I preach, this is what I did when I left American Express after writing my first book. I’ve written in more detail on this topic in Employees Are From Mars, Entrepreneurs Are From Venus.

Sarah: Your bio describes you as a futurist.  Look into your “crystal ball” and tell me how you think job searching will evolve as we think about the future of work.  

Steve: Much of what I’ve predicted is happening, like the shift from diplomas to ‘auditioning’ and alternative certificationsreturn of vocational training and apprenticeshipsand colleges as incubators. One big prediction I plan to explore in a future article I’m calling “vouching at scale”. Fair or not, the best opportunities always come through personal networks and trusted referrals. We are finally at a point technologically where we can incentivize, rank and improve referrals at scale. There are countless ways to make this system universal, inclusive and private. The discomfort with Yelp/ZocDoc/Glassdoor-type tools is their lack of transparency. Once that’s addressed, I am certain we can create a true meritocracy that’s both inclusive and forgiving. (If there are any developers and behavioral scientists interested in collaborating on this, they can reach out to me here.)

In the meantime, I encourage everyone to develop their networks, but not in some cold transactional way. That’s for amateurs. Make friends you like and respect, give your time or money to help others achieve their dreams, go the extra mile on projects, and help others without them having to ask. And do it all without any expectations of payback. You’ll be amazed at how much richer your life will be and how many opportunities will open to you.

Sarah: What is the best career advice that you've ever gotten?  Did you take it?  (Asking everyone this question)

Steve: It’s hard not to offer some hollow platitude you can scroll through on Instagram. Instead, I’ll share something I heard recently that I wish I’d heard 15 or 20 years ago.

I stumbled onto a podcast interview with Scott Adams, creator of Dilbert. When asked how he got into doing what he does, he said (paraphrasing), ‘I wasn’t the best cartoonist, but pretty good. I wasn’t the funniest guy, but funny. And I wasn’t the best at business, but I had good business experience. But I was the funniest business cartoonist in the world.’

The idea is understanding what you’re best at – even if you’re not world class at any one thing – and build your career at the nexus of those things. No one can copy that. That space is uniquely yours.

After hearing this, I realized how much of this I’ve been doing intuitively, combining humor with innovation, economics and futurism. It’s a space no one occupies (to my knowledge). Thanks to Scott Adams, I’m doubling down on that with more intention and clarity. You’re never too old or wise to take advice!

Want to learn more about Steve's work? You can sign up for his  newsletter, listen to his podcast The McFuture Podcast, follow him on LinkedIn,  Facebook &  Twitter.