25 February 2006

Notes on job-hunting: It’s not over until you win.

[This is part one in a series. Part two is here.]

Several friends of mine are looking for work these days. Some are without a job, some are leaving jobs, some are in jobs they hate. All have the same objective: something better than this. If this sounds familiar to you, keep reading.

The common thread among most of these job-seekers is that they don’t have a bone in their body oriented toward sales. They’re writers, artists, thinkers--damn smart ones, too--but they are not self-promoters, or at least not natural self-promoters. One of the toughest things about the process of finding a new job is that it asks people like this to turn into super-sellers for as long as it takes to land something new. In and of itself, this stinks. It’s one of those tough realities of life that you just have to face and surmount as serenely as you can. The good news, though, is that you’re selling something great: you!

Starting with this post, I’m going to offer some guidelines about how to find better work. These tips are not hypothetical. I have used them, and they work. In fact, they are working for me now--even though I have no plans to leave my company--because they are helping me redefine my working role. I hope they are helpful to you. Please share your own best career-improvement tips in the comments section.

Rule #1. It’s not over until you win. This is the cardinal rule, the unbreakable rule for successful career change. Finding a new job or reaching a level of enduring satisfaction in your career is not something you snap your fingers to achieve. The biggest mistake that I’ve made in my own job searches, and by far the biggest mistake that I’ve seen others make, is to form in advance some sort of mental picture about a “reasonable” amount of time and effort to put into the search. Abandon that illusion! There is no “reasonable” amount of time. If you have to temp for six months while you find or create the right position, so be it. If it’s year, it’s a year. It all depends on who you are, where you are in your career, and what you’re trying to do now.

Note that seemingly long delays in finding the right job may have nothing to do with you. The job market is notorious for the friction it contains. Information doesn’t flow freely. Employers seeking new workers and workers seeking new employers often aren’t able to find each other. There might be a great job waiting for you in a great department at a great company . . . except that the company’s H.R. department can’t get its act together. The list could go on, but my point is this: Don’t beat yourself up over the market or the opportunities that fail to materialize for you. Don’t indulge your fantasies of how the market should work. Just deal with it as it is, frictions and all.

So how do you push ahead to winning? Above all, define your outcomes in advance: Are you just looking to pay the rent for now? Do you want a great job that pays at least $N per year? Do you seek to exercise benevolent global hegemony? Or maybe you just want an honorable, low-stress, decent day job so you can write poetry evenings and weekends? Any one of these goals is fine. In fact, you ought to have more than one: the immediate need to fill now (sanity, rent money), a bigger goal for a year from now ($N per year, maybe a promotion), and a long-term ideal for where you’re headed in the future (making a living writing poetry, becoming a partner in your firm, retiring at age 50). But whatever you do, write down your goals in advance of your job search. If you don’t know what winning looks like, you can’t figure out what to do to get there.

Now comes the hard part: Acknowledge the reality that your efforts must be open-ended until you reach your goal. It’s not a matter of sending out a hundred resumes (not a great strategy anyway, according to many experts) and waiting. It’s not a matter of looking really hard for a week and then waiting. It’s not a matter of contacting ten friends and then waiting. There is no waiting. You work full-time until you achieve your goal--at which point, you’ll switch over to working full-time at your new job. The point is that the amount of your work doesn’t change just because you don’t have an employer right now: you keep putting in full days. In fact, you may have to work overtime if you’re hunting for a new job at the same time that you’re working at an old one. Don’t complain to me about it: I’m just describing the weather of the working world.

This is going to mean more work than you want to do. It's going to mean more grief than you think is reasonable to sustain. It could mean dozens or scores or hundreds of e-mails, resumes, and so on that don't go anywhere. Get Zen with it: it's just so. But you don't have to do it alone! Because you're going to . . .

Rule #2. Get help. You need skillz, baby. Many people stumble through job-hunting because they think they know what’s involved with it: you send out resumes, you fill out applications, you wait for a call. But this conventional wisdom for job hunting is actually no wisdom at all. In fact, the traditional way of job-hunting is a pretty lousy way to land a job you want.

Fortunately, what with this new “Internet” thing to go along with the old “public library” thing, help is close at hand. A great place to start is David Lorenzo’s Career Intensity blog, which is connected to his forthcoming book of the same title. Even though I’m not looking for a job, I check it out every day for great tips on how to create better situations for myself in the working world. Even if you don’t share the level of emotional “intensity” Lorenzo is talking about, you can benefit from his posts, which blend his own rich experience with a lot of sound common sense. Best of all, he’s full of energy and often posts several times per day.

Lorenzo and I are both regular readers of Keith Ferrazzi, the go-to guy for business networking. Ferrazzi (whom I’ve written about before) hates the kind of backslapping that gives “networking” a bad name; he’s all about building real human relationships in a business context. His blog and book are well worth your time.

Finally, there’s a good reason What Color is Your Parachute? has sold so many copies: it works. Dick Bolles offers gentle advice--sometimes abstract, sometimes quite specific--for those seeking change in their careers. You won’t get the intensity or drive embodied in Lorenzo’s or Ferrazzi’s work, but you will find much of value on his site.

In the next installment of this series, I’ll address cynicism--the biggest enemy of any effective job search.


Blogger Ethan Casey said...

Thanks, Tim! Looking forward to the next installment. Great advice. I especially appreciated the "three dangers of resumes" link. - Ethan

2:41 AM  

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