What Bosses Really Want Hasn't Changed Much in 50 Years

The economy and society may have changed so much and so fast in the past 50 years that they're hard to recognize. However, what bosses want in their employees has remained the same, according to Karin Helgesson from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, who wrote a doctoral thesis on the evolution of recruitment ads.

Helgesson found that the most frequently requested characteristics throughout most of the 50-year period were:

  1. ability to cooperate
  2. personal drive
  3. ability to work independently

"Recruitment advertisements can be used to study the evolution of how the values in the labor market change over time," says Helgesson. Or how they don't change.

There are some adaptations, however. Since the turn of the century, personal drive has replaced ability to cooperate as the No. 1 requested characteristic, according to the research.

There are also clear trends in people's use of language. In the 1980s and 1990s it was common to present requirements through expressions such as "We believe that you are at least 30 years old and have sales experience." Today, requirements are presented much more directly, as in "You are able to cooperate and are outbound and driven."

In addition, the ads reveal a lot about how employers have historically presented themselves. Over the past 50 years the employer is portrayed as large and successful. Words such as large, leading and expansive are commonly used, but illustrations of well-known products, office buildings and industrial plants also are used to convey the message. There have been recent changes in this respect as well.

"Recruitment advertisements reflect the development in society at large. The employers who used to offer workers the security of belonging to large and successful organizations have become partners who are offering their co-workers personal development and stimulating work tasks," says Helgesson.

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