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The Proactive Passive Candidate
(February 3, 2005) From a distance, technical evolution looks like an incremental process. Sometimes, it resembles nothing more than a sleeper trying to awaken from a very deep sleep. The early moments of consciousness flicker and fade; the body moves; there are grunts and then, sleep kicks back in.

So it is with our definitions of candidates. In the current lingo, there are two types: active (currently looking) and passive (currently not looking). The fact that an entire industry devoted to people is able to categorize 130 million workers into two categories that aren't male and female is a tribute to either our ingenuity or our sloth. The realities of the situation are significantly more subtle and do not necessarily revolve around professional categorization.

Perhaps it will always be the case that employees are required to lead the charge towards more appropriate arrangements with employers. Certainly, the history of organized labor suggests that changes in the workplace involve brutal change and extreme conduct on both sides of the equation.

Work 2.0, by Bill Jensen, should be required reading for HR managers. It describes a way of thinking about the employment contract that treats each employee as an investor. The job of the employer, Jensen argues, is to ensure that each individual investor receives the maximum return on his/her investment. While the idea is flawed, it is a move in the right direction.

In a sustained labor shortage (and the demographics stubbornly refuse to get better) the relationship between employee and employer must change. Workers remain too unsophisticated to articulate the idea effectively (as is always the case with new ways of thinking). Employers have little incentive to change on more than a case-by-case basis.

The first sign of the groundswell towards a new employment contract will be the employees, who act like investors (rather than employees, who are treated like investors, as Jensen suggests). Their observable behavior will mimic the behavior of contract temporary workers, who always keep their options open. The behavior will vary by occupation. Like users of My Yahoo!, they may keep their appearance in the market invisible as they watch the flow of opportunity.

Reaching the proactive passives will become a central focus of advertising and recruiting companies. With the advent of desktop XML functionality, they will be able to subtly signal their availability. It's the subtlety, on both sides of the relationship that will characterize the real emerging difference.

- John Sumser

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Materials written by John Sumser © TwoColorHat. All Rights Reserved.
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