In college, my freshman economics professor put the acronym “TANSTAAFL” on the board the first day of class. He then went on to explain that it stood for “There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” Many of us have heard this saying, especially when it comes to commercials and consumerism and the “hidden costs” that often accompany offers that seem too good to be true. What I’d like to do instead is discuss more about how this concept applies directly to employment, especially from the perspective of employers and job seekers.
The key concept concerning TANSTAAFL is opportunity cost. This means that when you get one thing you enjoy, it usually means giving up something else you would like, too. Understanding that there is a tradeoff with each decision you make is critical. Often I see people who don’t apply this principle to their careers or recognize this fully enough during the hiring process.
From the perspective of employers, I see many companies struggle with hiring and retaining key employees. While numerous factors can go into an employee search, the primary group of items that firms tend to focus on includes: culture fit, experience, money, flexibility, communication skills, level of education, ability to learn new skills, and attitude. I’ll see companies desire a certain level of skills and education but struggle to pay the market rate for this type of person. By contrast, many other firms will prioritize hiring entry level to save on salary, but they often sacrifice productivity in the process. In both scenarios, the person they hire usually ends up leaving the organization sooner than desired.From the perspective of the job seeker, there are numerous factors that can go into a job search, but the primary group of items that most candidates seem to focus on are; money, hours, location, benefits, travel, job responsibilities, flexibility, advancement possibilities, industry, size of the organization, and training/ongoing education. It is important for the job seeker to understand the tradeoffs in the market for each one of these and to have proper expectations going into the search. For instance, I’ll meet people who are used to making a good salary and benefits but are tired of the long hours and constant travel. They desire to be home more but struggle with the thought of earning a lower wage to do so. On the other end, I meet people who want to earn more money and attain better benefits, but they also might not want to give up their flexibility, hours, or location.
Companies and individuals who choose to persist in their quest for the elusive “free lunch” in the short term will continue to reap disappointment and discouragement in the long term. I would instead strongly suggest that more job seekers consider making a transition towards becoming independents. When done correctly, these folks can attain a greater combination of money and flexibility and possibly attain a greater sense of security in the process. While success may not come instantaneously, when it does come, it makes Sunday evenings a lot more enjoyable!