Summary: This article examines six assumptions about your job search that you need to make in order to succeed.
Several assumptions pervade the job search; collectively people make up an attitude about the job search that is different from the view that job hunting is dreadfully hard work, highly competitive, and pressure laden. I believe it is important to bring these central assumptions into the open so that you can understand a little better how you can succeed in your job search.
1. The Job Search Is Fun
As long as you regard looking for work as drudgery or as punishment for leaving your last job, you will try to terminate it as quickly as possible and will accept the first thing that comes your way. I assume throughout this article that the job search is an activity you can look forward to and become enthusiastic about. I believe it will become enjoyable for you about the moment you realize that you do have many options, that you can turn down an offer, safe in the assurance that you will find a better one. You can look forward to a job interview, instead of dreading it, because you will regard it as a chance to be curious and explore, rather than as an all-or-nothing situation.
2. The Job Search Involves Exploring, Not Hunting
Job seekers lose their patience and will because they are too single-minded about the task at hand. They easily become anxious and frustrated because they are trapped by the mentality that says: “If I don’t get what I want the next time around, I will stop trying.” Anything short of a job offer is interpreted as a failure.
People make the mistake of hunting, rather than exploring, for their work. Hunting implies the direct pursuit of quarry, zeroing in on a known adversary, and moving in for the kill. Exploration, by contrast, is a process you conduct in a carefree, information-seeking manner designed to satisfy your curiosity. Hunting is deadly; exploration is for fun.
Job hunting is an all-or-nothing game that has many unpleasant conditions about it—long trips across town, detailed arrangements in advance, talking to strangers who ask you questions you may not understand, getting dressed up, acting sophisticated, and, worst of all, trying to convey your personal capabilities within a brief time.
I don’t believe you will last long in your job search unless you treat it as an exploration process rather than a deadly hunt. Therefore, I recommend that your initial job search activity follow certain rules designed to maximize your positive experiences and minimize your negative ones.
3. Multiple Skills Are More Important
One of the complaints most frequently heard from job seekers is the no-talent refrain: “I don’t do anything especially well, so why hire me?” Many people believe that a single prominent talent is necessary to attract employers; if you are not a financial wizard, an exceptional speaker, a skilled artist, or a persuasive writer, you may fear you are destined for mediocrity.
The power of a highly visible talent is somewhat overrated. Very few jobs exist that permit a person to depend solely upon one talent for success. It is far more commonly true that multiple competencies are necessary for any job for highest-level performance. For example, an effective insurance salesperson must possess persuasiveness, competency with numbers, and long-range planning ability when discussing estate matters with clients.
In most cases, the combination of competencies is more powerful than any single talent could be. I assume this is true because I want you to recognize that all your strengths can be put to use.
4. The Job Search Is Largely Detective Work
I assume throughout this volume that the most effective job search is fundamentally an exercise of detective skills, that the largest part of one’s effort should be devoted to finding the right work situations. For every promising job you have found, another two remain undiscovered. The wise individual understands this and looks further. About 80 percent of your time should be devoted to detective work because the seek-and-ye-shall-find motif incorporates all four of the skills categories; the detective attitude is at work in self-assessment, identifying job leads, communication skills, and selling yourself.
Detective work is a state of mind. Once you adopt this attitude, you will regard your career as a complicated mystery story and become absorbed in following the clues and looking for new evidence; you will enjoy being the Perry Mason of your own career.
5. You Need Time on Your Side, Not against You
Time works against you if you force yourself to make an instant career decision. Your strategy requires time, and you can buy time by either staying in your present situation or acquiring an interim job. Time allows you to maintain the search at a comfortable level and to let informal contacts begin working in your favor. The harder you look for work, the more it may elude you. It is an axiom among employers that the applicant who too clearly wants to be hired has a tough time convincing the employer that she or he is competent. Instead of mounting a campaign worthy of Sherman’s army, let your search take a more leisurely course. The lower your desperation quotient, the easier it is for you to exchange views with a potential employer on a level of parity. Therefore, I assume in this article that the job search is best conducted many months before you must actually make a change; if you practice these skills before your situation becomes urgent, they will work doubly well for you when you embark on an actual job search.
6. The Job Search Is an Everyday Thing
Looking for better work is rather like learning to tie your shoes by yourself. You have to do it several times before you get it right, but once you have it, you wonder how you ever allowed anyone else to do it for you.
We have tried desperately to make a science of career decision making, and have succeeded in making a mystique of it. In fact, choosing a career is the most obvious of functions, relying on the natural rhythms of self-reflection and human interaction. An army of career-choice “experts” has mobilized because of people’s inability to recognize their own opportunities for career exploration. The less we do for ourselves, the more we assume that expert advice, outside consultation, and placement assistance are necessary. It is time to restore the natural order of things. Job seeking is as natural as any other kind of social interchange. By turning matters over to the pseudoscientists, we have assumed that (1) we know nothing or little about ourselves, (2) no one in our own circle of acquaintances can possibly be helpful, and (3) job getting requires a sophisticated set of techniques known only to the select few. The ultimate extension of this absurdity is to designate personnel officials as the soothsayers of the employment world, presumably capable of reading our palms, feeling our foreheads, or otherwise determining our capabilities from arcane criteria.
The more you believe that your ideal job is hidden away in a cave that can be discovered only by an experienced guide, the more helpless you will feel. Helplessness will lead you to desperation and a willingness to accept any employment as good fortune. By contrast, if you recognize that the skills of the job search skills are ordinary life skills and that they are available to anyone who cares to practice them, you can attend to the task yourself.
Looking for better work is fun. You can do it by yourself. It is relatively easy. Often it is the least expensive thing to do with your time. Why is it necessary to state that the job search is pleasurable, self-propelling, and not complicated? Because of the way you’ve interpreted your previous job-seeking experiences. When you have obtained a job, you’ve assumed that your success was largely a matter of luck, fortuitous circumstances, or being in the right place at the right time. When you were not successful, you blamed bad luck, waited to see if your luck would change, and when it didn’t, set about the chore of job hunting. And what a chore you made it! You laboriously typed application letters, sent out hundreds of resumes, spent hours scanning classified ads in the newspapers, and underwent interviews with potential employers to demonstrate your dedication to the Great American Work Ethic.
Let’s take a closer look at the first part, the “I was lucky” statement, often used to interpret a previous job-seeking experience.
After Eileen’s children completed their schooling, she decided to re-enter the workforce. Because she had not been in a paid job for twenty years, she didn’t know where to begin looking. While at the beauty salon, she sought the advice of her hairdresser and asked if she knew of anyone looking for part-time help. “It just so happened” that the director of placement at a local college had confided to the hairdresser that she was “terribly busy—her assistant had just left.” The hairdresser made a personal reference to the director. Eileen followed this up with a telephone call and her resume and got the job. Later, the job was made into a full-time assistant director’s position. Eileen feels she was lucky in getting the job.
Was it just “lucky” that Eileen stepped into her new career as a function of her visit to the hairdresser? Or was she smart enough to take advantage of a natural referral network that exists simply because people are curious about each other and enjoy passing information around? What would have happened to Eileen if she had followed only formal channels in her efforts to find work? Only her hairdresser knows for sure.
Bob wanted a job with a youth recreation group, so he hung around and helped out the local YMCA with its basketball games, its field trips, and anything else. He got to know Jane, one of the leaders, pretty well and showed her how the program could be expanded to include kids in his neighborhood. One day Jane invited him to a staff meeting; after the meeting, there was a picnic. One thing led to another; a man was there from out of town who needed an assistant leader in his recreation center. Jane mentioned Bob’s name, and he was hired a few weeks later.
“All in all,” Bob said, “I was pretty lucky.”
Lucky, my foot. The young man in this example practiced naturally many of the skills you need in a job search. He found the target employer, asserted himself to become involved in its activities, used a personal referral to learn about a job opportunity, did informational interviews with staff people, and observed the activities of the center. No doubt he also used many self-assessment skills to decide that the YMCA was a good target employer and used many communication skills in talking with the staff there.
People meet their lovers and employers in the strangest places. Exactly what implications does this have for you? It means simply that all your life activity can contribute to your work search. It means that your typical ways of getting together with people can be turned to your advantage. It means you can have your fun and profit from it too.6 Key Job Search Assumptions by Granted Contributor