Guide to Finding Work in a Tough Job Market

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TITLE It’s Not You, It’s Your Strategy: The HIAPy Guide to Finding Work in a Tough Job Market by Hillary Rettig VERSION INFORMATION – Version 1.1 released 1/7/08 AUTHORSHIP This book is by Hillary Rettig, whose other books include The Lifelong Activist: How to Change the World Without Losing Your Way (Lantern Books, 2006) and The Little Guide To Beating Procrastination, Perfectionism, Fears and Blocks: A Guide for Artists, Academics, Activists, Entrepreneurs and Other Ambitious Dreamers (downloadable for free at I am a Boston-based coach who has helped hundreds of people around the country use their time better; overcome procrastination, perfectionism and blocks; and create more satisfying careers. For more information on me and my work, please visit my Website or email me at PREFACE – IT’S NOT YOU, IT’S YOUR STRATEGY Recently, a coffee date with a friend took a serious turn as he despondently narrated the saga of his latest failure to get hired, and then the whole story of his past two years of unemployment. It was a familiar story of resumes not acknowledged, telephone calls not returned, and some excruciating near misses where he had gotten to the final round of interviews but wasn’t hired.I need you to tell me what’s wrong with me,” he finally said, his face strained. “Why I’m not getting hired.” It was a brave request. Not many of us are willing to lay our failures out on the table for someone else to inspect and critique. So I grilled him on the details: what jobs he had applied for, how he had found out about them, what process he had used to apply, whom he had he used as references, etc. And this is what I concluded: there was nothing wrong with my friend. Nothing. There was, in fact, a lot right with him. He was a presentable, personable individual with solid credentials and a lot of interesting work experience. What was wrong was his strategy. He wasn’t applying for jobs effectively. He was making, in fact, a lot of the mistakes I discuss in this ebook. If he corrects those, and follows the strategy I outline in Part II, he should have a much better chance of getting hired moving forward. The odds are that, if you’ve been unemployed a while, you’re also walking around wondering what’s wrong with you – but there’s a good chance that, the same as with my friend, the problem isn’t with you, but your strategy. Strategies can be changed, so take heart and keep reading. This ebook focuses on the foundational activities and strategies underlying a successful job search, but does not include information on tactics (e.g., how to interview or write a resume), partly because that information is widely available elsewhere. If there’s sufficient interest, however, I’ll write the tactics book later on. Because a lot of this book focuses on mistakes you yourself might be making – on the premise that that is the most fruitful area of discussion, since your own performance is something you can control and improve – I want to be very clear that I do understand that the U.S. economy is in a very bad state and good jobs can be hard to find. And yet, the good jobs are often out there, but people sabotage their efforts to win them. That is the problem I focus on in this book, and that I hope to help you solve, but please do not think I underestimate the difficulties and pain of finding work in a weak economy. I wrote this ebook to help people, and also to promote my coaching and workshop business. If, after reading it, you believe you or someone else could benefit from my coaching, or you know of an organization that could host one of my workshops on, (1) finding work, (2) time management, (3) overcoming procrastination, or (4) entrepreneurship, please email me at and I’ll send you more information. And thanks! I welcome all comments on this book, and especially suggestions for improving the next edition. Please email them to me at . Hillary TEXT NOTES I use the words “candidate,” “applicant” and “job searcher” interchangeably to refer to the person looking for work. I use the word “hirer” mainly to refer to the person making the immediate decision on the candidate’s application – i.e., the person screening resumes, interviewing, or making the final hiring decision. And I use the word “employer” mainly to refer to the organization doing the hiring. Sometimes, however, I use the words “company” or “organization” to refer to the organization. Please note that, even when I use the word “company,” I am always referring to all types of employers, including small businesses, large businesses, nonprofit organizations and government agencies, unless I specify otherwise. I use the word “application” sometimes to refer to the form the hirer wants filled out, but more often to refer to the entire job-application process. I use the gender pronouns interchangeably and randomly. Footnotes and citations will be found at the end of each chapter. All personal and company names used in this book are fictitious, and I have changed identifying details on some case studies. WARRANTY The information in this book is presented without warranty of any kind. It has helped many people, and it is my sincere wish that it help you, but I obviously can’t accept responsibility for any negative result you feel you may have obtained from using it. If you are suffering from anxiety, depression, addiction or any other psychological or physical condition, please seek professional help before following the advice herein. LICENSE This book is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 license [], which means you are invited to copy, alter and distribute it noncommercially so long as you preserve the above Title, Version, Authorship, Preface, Text, and Warranty information, as well as this License statement. (I hope someone decides to translate it into other languages!) If you choose to distribute your altered version to others, you must permit them the same freedom to copy, alter and distribute noncommercially, and they must preserve the same required information. For more details see TABLE OF CONTENTS PART I. FOUNDATIONAL ACTIVITIES 1. How Unemployment Stinks: Let Me Count the Ways... 2. If You Need Help, Get Help 3. Practice Optimism 4. Yes, There are Good (or, at least, Okay) Jobs Out There 5. Negotiable and Optional Job “Requirements” 6. On Pickiness and Biases 7. On Fear, Procrastination, and Not Getting Stuck 8. When You Don't Like Your Options 9. Yes, You’re Employable 10. Invest in Lavish Self-Care 11. Create a Supportive Community 12. Create Time 13. Be Frugal PART II. A JOB-SEARCH STRATEGY THAT WORKS 14. 85% 15. Competing with the “Fab 15%” 16. HIAP vs. Willy-Nilly 17. Do it Like Dudley 18. HIAP + Enthusiasm = Safety 19. HIAP + Enthusiasm = a Few Good LAFS 20. HIAP + Enthusiasm = the Magic Wand 21. Do it Like Dudley (Part II) 22. Details Count – Incredibly! 23. Zip to It! 24. Scanners (and Emailers and Faxers) Live in Vain: Why Technology Isn’t Necessarily Your Friend 25. “Technical Skills” <= “Soft Skills” + Business Savvy 26. Don’t Commoditize Yourself 27. The Crucial Importance of Framing Epilogue APPENDIX I. Article on Coping with Rejection APPENDIX II. Article on Finding, and Working With, Mentors APPENDIX III. Article on Solving Problems vs. Dithering And away we go... PART I. FOUNDATIONAL ACTIVITIES 1. How Unemployment Stinks: Let Me Count the Ways... Unemployment is almost always a horrible experience: demoralizing, depressing and disorienting. We tend to punish ourselves harshly for our “failure,” feeling lots of shame and guilt, and sometimes others – even family and friends – punish us as well. G.J. Meyer’s fantastic book Executive Blues: Down and Out in Corporate America (Franklin Square Press, 1995) offers the best narrative I’ve read of what it’s like to be unemployed and struggling to find work. He says he experienced shock, resentment, fear, envy, self-pity and shame during a several-year span of intermittent unemployment: a dreadful list. Here’s what he says about the shock, envy and shame: Shock. “Bone-rattling shock at finding myself, for the first time since the week I graduated from grade school, without a place in the world of work…I walked the streets in an almost trancelike state, feeling like I was walking on the bottom of the sea, cut off from everything around me and not like other people any more.” Envy. “If envy caused cancer I’d be dead by Sunday.” Shame. “I’m ashamed in two ways. On a simple level I’m ashamed of myself for being out of work, for getting my family into such a fix…I’m ashamed of myself for losing. When I hear the guy next door start his car in the morning and drive away, I’m ashamed to still be in bed. I’m ashamed to rake leaves on weekday afternoons because everyone in the neighborhood will see – as if they didn’t already know – that I don’t have an office to go to anymore. “The other shame is deeper, and, I think, more important…In some ways this second shame comes perilously close to self-loathing. Ask yourself: how are we supposed to react when bad things happen? Everybody knows the answer. The good and the strong react calmly, cheerfully, confidently, bravely…so, what’s wrong with me?” Adding to the burden of Meyer and other unemployed people is the fact that – due to overwork, or plain old uncaring or incivility – lots of hirers treat unemployed people badly. Meyer describes the garden-variety snubs, like not getting calls returned or resumes acknowledged, which individually may not be so significant but which really wear you down after dozens or hundreds of repetitions. And he also describes some truly callous and hurtful behavior, such as the time a hirer had him fly out to New York for a job interview, then stood him up. Writes Meyer: “In Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream, a solitary, empty-eyed figure stands in a roadway clutching its head, mouth open wide. I hope that’s not what I look like as I walk the streets of Manhattan during the next several hours, seeing and hearing nothing, waiting for it to be time to return to LaGuardia. But it’s how I feel. Without making a sound I scream all the way back to Wisconsin.” ***Your first job as an unemployed person is not to look for work, but to learn to cope with unemployment.*** That’s because: (1) you deserve to feel peace and self-respect even when unemployed; and (2) depression, discouragement, anger, anxiety, fear, shame, guilt and other negative emotions can undermine your job search. If unemployment is bringing you down, even way down, don’t waste time feeling bad about that – such feelings are entirely understandable – but follow the advice offered in Chapters 2 – 13 about seeking help and taking care of yourself. It’s also important to understand *all* the causes of your unemployment so you don’t feel undeserved shame or guilt. In my experience, few people get laid off or fired entirely, or even largely, due to their own fault. As I write this, the government has finally acknowledged – at least a year late – that the U.S. economy is in a recession.1 In such an economy you could be a fabulous worker and still lose your job. Even assuming you were laid off or fired for more personal reasons, however, you still need to go easy on yourself. Sure, you may have screwed up: that’s part of being human and fallible. If you’re like many good people, however, you’re probably taking way too much of the blame on yourself. Chances are, there were elements in your work situation that were beyond your control and made success difficult, if not impossible. Chapter 2 discusses those, and the proper course of action. NOTE 1. 2. If You Need Help, Get Help As G.J. Meyer eloquently expresses, unemployment is a hugely stressful and demoralizing experience that can undermine even strong and confident people. If you’re experiencing depression or serious discouragement, anger, fear or another debilitating emotion, or if your unemployment is damaging your relationships or encouraging an addiction, please seek prompt help from a therapist, counselor or other trained mental health professional. It is not a sign of weakness to do so, but a sign of strength and wisdom. If you need help, get help – as quickly as possible. (Why put off feeling better?) And if you’re “on the fence” about whether to go to therapy, you probably need it. Go out and get a few sessions. If the first (or second or third...) therapist you consult is a dud, keep looking until you find one who’s a good fit. A good therapist can make all the difference not just in your mood, but in your ability to find work, so it’s worth working to find one. If you can’t afford a therapist, ask about a sliding scale discount or cheaper group sessions. (If you have health insurance, remember that many policies do now cover some therapy.) If not, call some nonprofit agencies and see if they offer free or cheap counseling. Generally speaking, however, I would suggest cutting back on other things if at all possible and seeing the best therapist you can. About Abusive Workplaces Also seek prompt help if your last work situation ended badly. One thing I’ve learned from years of coaching is that even many ordinary-looking work environments are psychologically damaging, and even traumatizing. Having to tolerate stress, pressure, chaos, disempowerment, or harsh or unfair treatment for 40 hours (or even 30 or 20 or 10) each week can really undermine you, particularly if the situation goes on for years. Ditto for routinely having your important needs ignored: “Sorry your kid is sick, but we still need you to come in today.” We tend to discount these stressors because they are so common and seem intrinsic to worklife, but we shouldn’t. (And, by the way, there are plenty of workplaces that aren’t stressful, pressured, chaotic, uncaring, etc.) Many people carry around a huge burden of shame about some incident in their work history. Maybe they didn’t finish a project, didn’t handle a conflict well, missed an opportunity, or were fired. Often the shame and guilt persist years and even decades after the incident itself, eroding the person’s self-confidence and compromising his ability to build a strong career. When I review and analyze such negative experiences with people, however, it almost always becomes clear that they struggled heroically to succeed in a situation where success was impossible. Maybe they weren’t given the resources they needed, or there were conflicting goals, or there was chaos, or their work and home responsibilities were incompatible. But the failure was inevitably blamed on them: “inevitably” because abusive workplaces almost always blame the victim. If such a bad episode is haunting your work history and eroding your self-confidence, please work to analyze it objectively and compassionately. Possibly you didn’t do your very best, but are you exaggerating your role in the failure? (And perhaps the scope and seriousness of the failure itself?) Did others assign you more blame than you really deserve? You may be able to do this analysis yourself via journaling, but it is better to do it with an objective and compassionate therapist, mentor or friend. Of course, if you’ve been in a really abusive workplace, with emotional abuse, verbal abuse, sexual harassment, discrimination, etc., then you really need to seek therapy as soon as possible. (And maybe legal help.) I’m not saying all workplaces are harmful or abusive – only that many more are than people think. ***And it’s often the best people – those who care most, try hardest to maintain an ethical standard, and work hardest to balance their work and home responsibilities – who wind up suffering and blaming themselves most.*** So, please: if you think you need to see a therapist or counselor, do so. This advice also applies to other relevant professionals. If you need a career coach or resume writer – or even if you think you do – then please see one. If you can’t afford one, see if you qualify for free or cheap services via a local nonprofit, or try bartering. (If you don’t have anyone to barter with, try advertising on or Whether you pay, barter or receive free services, please work to find the best help you can. As I mentioned in Preface 2, there’s a lot of bad advice out there, and that bad advice can really screw you up. Top quality advice and support, in contrast, can often help you get a good job faster and more easily than you might have believed possible. 3. Practice Optimism I know I’m asking a lot, especially if you’ve been a “glass half empty” person your whole life. But pessimism is going to hurt your chances of getting a job. A pessimist encounters an obstacle during his job search and immediately thinks: “This can’t be solved.” An optimist encounters an obstacle and immediately thinks, “There must be a solution. Let’s look for it.” The problem with the pessimist’s attitude is that there are usually lots of obstacles – lots of confusion, false leads, discouragement, rejection, etc. – in a job search. If you overreact to them, you really diminish your odds of success. Another way to put it is that pessimists turns molehills into mountains, while optimists turn molehills into anthills. And, guess what: the optimist is almost always right, in a job-search context and many others. If you can avoid panicking, the molehills often do reveal themselves to be small and easily overcome. As my teacher Jerry Weinberg says, “The problem isn’t the problem. The problem is your reaction to the problem.” Pessimism and optimism tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies. Pessimists not only assume problems are unsolvable; they tend to see the world as a harsh place devoid of help, and thus they don’t seek help. Optimists, on the other hand, know that problems are solvable and that people generally want to help. And so they go out looking for help – on Websites, at meetings, through relatives, or while on line at the supermarket – and often find it. The pessimist learns of someone who might help him in his job search and thinks, “Why would that person talk to me? What do I have to offer her?” And, “She probably doesn’t have the information I need, anyway: it would be a waste of time to contact her.” The optimist assumes that, not only is there a good chance that the person will help him, but that she also has at least some useful information to share – which, again, is usually the case. In the last chapter, I advised you to get therapy if you need it to cope with the stresses of unemployment. A pessimist might read that chapter and say, “I have no money, and therapy is just a waste of time, anyway.” An optimist, in contrast, might say, “Well, I have no money, and I’m a bit skeptical, but what do I have to lose? Besides, my friend Tom said that therapy really helped him when he was unemployed. Okay, I guess I’ll call up Tom’s therapist and see if he offers a sliding scale or can recommend someone who does.” Even if you’re not by nature an optimistic person, at least try to act optimistically during your job search. By doing so, you might even start to feel optimistic, especially once you learn that many people really are willing to help. Here, from a fantastic New York Times article entitled The Language of Loss for the Jobless2, is optimism in practice: “‘I understand you’re sorry, so am I, but that doesn’t do me any good,’ Mr. Adler, who starts paying college tuition this fall, is telling those offering condolences. ‘If you really want to help, tell me what you think I do well, who you know, and where you think my skills fit best. And they were grateful for being given that option and I was glad I could redirect the nature of the conversation pretty much on a dime.’” Pessimists often think they are being realistic and grounded in their world view, but they’re not: they’re being too negative. Many are also unconsciously acting out their own fears and insecurities: they’re afraid to ask for help, and so they don’t, using the excuse that asking is futile. Some think it’s a sign of weakness to ask for help, but optimists know it’s a sign of strength and wisdom, and they also know that many people in the business world and elsewhere subscribe to the laws of reciprocity and karma: I help you today; you (or someone else) helps me tomorrow. So, please cultivate an optimistic attitude, or at least some optimistic behaviors. And please try to hang around mainly, or entirely, with optimistic people, since doing so will catalyze your own optimism and make your job search easier and pleasanter. You should also severely limit your interactions with pessimists, even if they happen to be related to you. Pessimists can drag you down and reinforce your pessimistic attitudes. Does it make sense to be optimistic even in the face of the awful economy we’re in? Absolutely – as I discuss in the next chapter. NOTE 2. 4. Yes, There are Good (or, At Least, Okay) Jobs Out There I want to caution you against one form of pessimism in particular: the idea that “there are no good jobs out there.” Yes, I know: the economy is terrible. There are many areas of the country where the job pool has been devastated, and also many industries that have been devastated, including automobiles, manufacturing, textiles, airlines, media and information technology. I also know that many of the jobs that have been created in recent years are much worse than those that have been lost, offering lower pay, less security and fewer (or no) benefits.3 And so I know that there are people out there who can legitimately claim that, “there are no good jobs out there.” I would be very remiss, however, if I didn’t point out that every time someone has ever said that to me, he or she was wrong. Every time. This is probably at least partly due to the fact that I live in a big city and have mainly coached other big-city residents. In a big city, if one employer or industry dries up, there are usually others. That may not be the case in rural areas, or towns with one dominant employer. But I also think many people believe that “there are no good jobs out there” when it simply isn’t true. If you are one of them, we need to correct that misperception fast, because there is no faster way to torpedo a job search, or any other search, than to say that the thing you’re looking for doesn’t exist. Even if the difficult truth is that there are FEW good jobs out there, that’s a far cry from there being NO good jobs. In my experience, there are three main reasons people say “there are no good jobs out there” when it isn’t true: 1) They are using a flawed job-search strategy, so the jobs are out there, but they’re not finding them. 2) They are being too picky or biased. And, 3) They are discouraged and/or demoralized, and want to take a break from job hunting, but can’t admit that to themselves or others, so instead claim it’s useless to look. I examine those reasons individually in this and the following chapters. Let’s begin with “flawed strategy.” Many people look for work ineffectively. As I discuss in Chapter 24, for instance, if you’re over-relying on postings on the big job boards, or even on company Websites, that’s an ineffective strategy. Many people submit dozens or hundreds or resumes that way, with little result – and then, instead of questioning their strategy, conclude that “there are no good jobs out there.” Relying on “help wanted” ads in local newspapers can be similarly futile – your resume is likely to sit, unread, in a stack. Plus, there’s an additional problem, as this article entitled “The Invisible Job Market” in The Berkshire Eagle4 discusses: Only 32% of the population of Berkshire County has earned a post secondary degree or higher...The most recent Job Vacancy Report shows that of the nearly 2200 current vacant jobs, 48% require a post secondary degree and advanced training. This means that much of the local talent base does not have the education level and/or training that many employers seek. Because of this disconnect, employers are going outside the area to recruit. They use national job boards, industry publications or recruiters (or a combination thereof) to find their new employees. Jobs with less education and training requirements tend to be advertised locally, while those requiring more education tend to not be. So when a resident looks at the area websites and classified ads, they see only a part of the picture and the most robust portion of the job market is then fairly ‘invisible.’” This mismatch between employer needs and the local labor pool is actually pretty common. The article’s author, Tyler Fairbank, recommends that job seekers in this situation get more education – and I totally agree. But education takes time, and in the meantime I suggest you go after some likely-looking jobs even if you don’t happen to meet every single requirement listed in the ad. Obviously, this won’t work if a requirement is essential, but many aren’t, and many are more negotiable than you might think, as I discuss in the next chapter. NOTES 3. 4. 5. Negotiable and Optional Job “Requirements” A common, serious mistake many job searchers make is to assume that the requirements posted in job ads or job descriptions are set in stone. Believing that, they don’t apply for jobs that aren’t a “100% fit ,” or apply only half-heartedly because they think their application is doomed. Either way, they are severely limiting their options – which can, of course, contribute to the “there are no good jobs out there” mindset. As it turns out, however, many “requirements” are negotiable or even entirely optional; and, if you lack them, many hirers will be satisfied if you can show equivalent experience or skills. A college degree is often such an optional requirement, for example. Employers ask for it because, in theory, it shows you have a breadth of knowledge and can finish big projects. (I say “in theory” because, (a) we all know people whose college major was brewskies, and (b) many employers ask for it reflexively, without really knowing why.) If you lack a degree, however, you can always show how you obtained equivalent or even better knowledge and experience elsewhere – say, through your work history or foreign travel. For many employers, that will be just fine. In fact, if you’re a good “framer” (see Chapter 27), you can probably even show how your “real-world” experience beats classroom experience hands down. ***As I explain in Chapter 7, the core problem is often not how hirers see your qualifications and credentials, but how you yourself see them.*** I know plenty of dynamic, energetic and accomplished people whose lack of a college degree hasn’t held them back one bit – and I know plenty of others who are so ashamed of their lack of a degree that it’s hard for them to sell themselves effectively despite their many other accomplishments. Another example is how people react to a firing or other career “failure.” Some people keep it in perspective (as discussed in Chapter 2) and don’t let it define them, while others see it as a fatal blot. Either way, your perspective will probably color the way you present yourself, and the way hirers see you. That’s why, although it may not be easy to change your perspective on such incidents, you should work hard, and seek out help, to do so. This kind of negativity is a self-esteem issue, usually, and there’s usually also a perfectionist element to it. Perfectionists tend to overestimate their challenges while underestimating their abilities to meet those challenges: a pernicious combination.5 Talk to your mentors to make sure you’re not doing this, and also remember that there is no such thing as a “perfect” job candidate, and that every candidate has strong and weak points relative to any given job. Although smart candidates do work hard to mitigate their shortcomings by taking classes, reading books, doing strategic volunteer work, etc., they try not to worry too much about those shortcomings when applying for work. Instead, they focus more productively on how to present their strengths, skills and experience in the strongest possible way. (That framing thing, again.) They also work to come up with effective “equivalents” for their weak areas: Someone lacking an MBA: “I ran my own business for several years and have taken several professional development courses in management and finance.” Someone whose current position is not supervisory: “I have supervised people in the past, and currently supervise a dozen people for a volunteer community project I’m involved with.” Someone lacking experience in telephone customer support: “When I did retail sales, we were very busy, but were expected to treat every customer with great patience and respect – and we also took a lot of telephone orders.” Smart candidates also don’t assume a job requirement is vital, or rigorous, without asking. Candidate (nervously): “How much Excel experience are you looking for?” Hirer (blithely): “Oh, just someone who can create a simple spreadsheet. No complex formulas or anything.” Candidate (thinking, relieved): “Whew!” The Emotional Component to Hiring Candidates who see job requirements as rigid also often don’t understand that there’s a large emotional component to most hiring decisions, even if those decisions seem purely rational. As I’ll discuss in Chapter 18, if a hirer feels safe hiring you, he will probably be less rigid about his requirements. Two of the best ways to elicit that feeling of safety are to: (1) have someone he trusts recommend you (hence, the vital role of networking in getting a job); and (2) convince him that you really, really want the particular job in question. Many people who transition to new fields do this: they often lack many of the credentials and experience that someone already in that field has, but more than make up for it with their recommendations and enthusiasm – and so hirers are inclined to give them benefit of the doubt. Sure, many requirements are non-negotiable, and for good reason: you don’t want an unqualified doctor or engineer, for instance. And, of course, some employers are more “sticklers” than others. But a good rule of thumb is that if there’s a job you really want, you should go for it even if you’re not a 100% fit, unless you know for a fact that a requirement is actually required. Of course, you have to do a fabulous job with your application: if you don’t, then that combined with your weak areas will mean that there’s little reason a hirer should consider you. Note: 5. For more on perfectionism, negativity, and other fear-based antiproductive habits, download my free ebook The Little Guide To Beating Procrastination, Perfectionism, Fears and Blocks at 6. On Pickiness and Biases If there’s only one salary, job title, type of organization, benefits package, location, commute, office setup, etc., that will make you happy, the problem may not be that “there are no good jobs out there,” but that you are being too picky. That’s a bad idea in any job market, but particularly a weak one. You need to choose the two or three criteria that are most important, and relax as much as possible on all the others. Prioritizing can be difficult, so it’s helpful to examine the thoughts and feelings underlying your choices. Do you need a certain title or salary because you really need it, or because you would feel like a failure without it, or because someone else will be disappointed if you don’t get it, or for another reason? Often, just characterizing a need is enough to defuse it: “I want my own office because I had one in my last job, and because it seems right for someone at my career stage. And, of course, the privacy is great. But still, I guess it’s not as important as a good salary and benefits package, and a short commute.” Know thyself, Socrates said, and that’s particularly good advice for job searchers. By knowing yourself, you create options (see Chapter 8), make better choices, and can achieve the best possible outcome even from a difficult situation. Ask yourself whether you are biased against certain types of employers. Many people who have worked in big companies are often biased against smaller ones – and vice versa! And many who have built careers in government, business or the nonprofit sector are biased against the other two sectors. You could, in fact, have a perfectly good reason for your bias, but if your reasons aren’t solid, then it would be better to keep an open mind. One thing that almost always helps is information: there’s an enormous diversity in most fields or industries, and so if one type of job or employer doesn’t suit you, there could well be another that does. I saw such an example of bias in a client with a background in advertising. After having been unemployed for a long time, she was finally offered a good job in her field – but the catch, from her standpoint, was that it was with the federal government. She had a very negative bias against government work that almost kept her from taking the job, but she did take it and it worked out much better than she had anticipated. Also think about whether you are biased against yourself – or, to put it another way, whether you may be underestimating your hireability. I discuss this common problem at length in Chapter 9, but let me just say now that if there’s a job you’d like but don’t think you’re qualified for, reread the previous chapter on negotiable “requirements” and then ask someone knowledgeable if you really are underqualified – or just go out and apply. Often, we underestimate our worth on the job market, or our hireability in a new field. Recently, for instance, I worked with a salesperson whose career selling expensive jewelry faltered after 9/11. She wanted to start a new career in the nonprofit world, but thought her experience wasn’t transferable. In fact, her sales background and expertise selling to the affluent made her an ideal candidate for a development job (i.e., raising money), which is one of the best nonprofit fields of all. Two common biases against self are, by the way: (1) Thinking the competition are all better than you, so that you don’t stand a chance. The reality, as I discuss in Chapter 14, is that the competition are often much weaker than you realize. And, (2) Thinking you’re better than all the competition. People often think this because they overvalue one skill (say, a technical skill like programming) and undervalue others (say, teamwork or communications). This bias is dangerous because it can lead to arrogance and sloppiness when applying, as discussed in Chapter 25. When job hunting, you want as clear and objective a vision of yourself, your competition, and the job market as possible. That’s not always easy to attain, which is a key reason you should work hard to examine your priorities and biases, and also seek feedback from others. I know, I know: all this prioritization and self-analysis sounds like a lot of work – and don’t you have enough to do already? But it’s vital work, because, ***in many cases of long-term unemployment I’ve seen, the person was being too picky, biased or narrowly focused.*** Of course, they *thought* they were being flexible – and, perhaps pre-recession they would have been flexible enough. But these days you have to be extra-flexible. Please note that, in advising you to broaden the range of positions you consider acceptable, I am NOT telling you to settle for a bad job. I would never say that, partly because it’s horrible to spend eight hours a day in a bad situation, but also because it’s not a good strategy, since it’s hard to succeed in those circumstances. Our goal is not to get you a job, any job, but to get you a job you can be reasonably happy at, succeed at, and use to help build a strong and fulfilling career. ***The bottom line is that, in a tight job market, you might have to cast your net a little wider than you would ordinarily, look for work a little more creatively than you would ordinarily, and “push” a little harder for a job than you would ordinarily – oh, and take a few more risks. That all may not add up to your ideal situation, but it’s a far cry from, and a far better situation than, “there are no good jobs out there.”*** 7. On Fear, Procrastination and Not Getting Stuck People procrastinate, usually, because they’re afraid of the consequences of moving forward. Someone might be desperate to get a new job, but if she is more desperate to avoid rejection, or winding up in a bad job, then she may procrastinate to avoid those outcomes. More specifically, someone could truly believe that “there are no good jobs out there,” or she could be telling herself that to excuse herself from looking and facing the worse outcome. People tend to procrastinate in three ways: 1) Escapist activities such as mindless television, Web surfing, shopping or video games. 2) Good works for family, friends or the community. I am not against good works! But you have to set a limit on it and make sure it doesn’t interfere with your other important goals, including finding work. See Chapter 12 for more on this topic. And, finally, 3) Activities that seem like productive work, but aren’t. This is the sneakiest and most insidious form of procrastination because often we’re not even aware that we’re procrastinating. It’s exemplified by the many people trying to write a book or thesis who do endless research but never get around to actually writing; or the many people who compulsively houseclean instead of using their time to pursue goals they hold meaningful, such as relationships, art, activism or professional success. (See the blog at for an article on how to minimize housework without living like a slob.) In a job search, this form of procrastination often entails submitting endless resumes online, but never getting around to the much more effective tactic of networking. Or, it could prevent you from consulting experts or others who could tell you how to improve your strategy: you just stubbornly, and ineffectually, keep plugging along. Don’t be ashamed of your procrastination problem, and don’t be afraid to tackle it, either: procrastination is not a character flaw or moral shortcoming, but merely a bad habit and understandable response to fear. A little procrastination can be okay, if it helps you get through a bad day. A lot of procrastination, however, will eventually leave you unhappy and bitter at lost possibilities. Better to tackle your fears, if only a little at a time. For more information on procrastination and how to overcome it, check out Appendix III of this ebook, and also my OTHER free ebook The Little Guide To Beating Procrastination, Perfectionism, Fears and Blocks at . 8. When You Don’t Like Your Options People also often procrastinate when they’re not happy with their perceived options. Someone who really wants a particular type of job but doesn’t think he can get it, for instance, might procrastinate on looking for any new job. I’m talking about something different, here, than the pickiness problem discussed in Chapter 6. The problem there was having too long a list of requirements; here, it’s having contradictory requirements, or a conflict between your work requirements and other areas of your life. Some examples: *Someone who wants a high-paying job that’s also easy and low stress. (A rare combination.) *Someone who wants to get paid to do his passion – for instance, art or activism – but is unwilling to compromise on the job’s location (paid jobs in these fields tend to be few and far between) or other factors (e.g., salary). *Someone who wants to live in a certain region – perhaps because she grew up there, has family there, or feels another deep connection to it – but doesn’t think she can find work there. *Someone who wants to spend a lot of time with his children, or on another important priority, but needs to work full-time. The main things to do, in such situations, are: 1) Journal around your thoughts and feelings to get as clear a view as possible of them. Many people aren’t fully aware they have a conflict, and so it just stays in the back of their thoughts, muddying everything and causing fear and procrastination. Making your conflict explicit may, however, be all it takes for you to prioritize and get moving again. 2) Talk with friends, mentors or others. This is important because it’s hard to see ourselves objectively, particularly when under stress. As I discuss in Chapter 11, the best problem-solving is done in community. 3) Consult coaches or other experts to make sure you’re really seeing all your options. Your friends can help you understand yourself, but unless they are well informed and savvy about the job market and career strategy, they can’t give you the best strategic advice. All of this advice is particularly important if you’ve mainly held one kind of job, or worked for one employer. In that case, you might have a kind of “tunnel vision,” and really need to consult people outside your field. Remember: information frequently leads to employment. 4) Go for it! Even if none of the currently available jobs is your dream job, don’t wait around for one of those dream jobs to open up: instead, go ahead and apply for whichever of the available jobs best meet your needs. Waiting around for a dream job is often a form of procrastination, but if you focus on doing well at whatever job you’re doing, and building a good career over the long term, the dream jobs often come to you – and quicker than you might imagine. 5) Work to create more options for yourself for the future. If you want to spend more time at home with your kids, for instance, start researching family-friendly companies – and start building your credentials and network so you can get hired by one of them as soon as possible. And if you want to move to a different region, start making plans for that. ***Whenever you think you have no options, or only one or two bad ones, in your job search or elsewhere, you’re probably wrong.*** Fear tends to cause us to see things in black-and-white, all-or-nothing terms, but few situations in life are really that way. Most of the time, the situation has shades of gray, and the best outcomes can usually be found in that gray area. So, the person who wants to spend more time at home with his kids, or live in a certain region of the country, might find that telecommuting, flex-time or job-sharing helps him achieve at least part of that goal. If someone else came to him with that problem, he’d no doubt come up with those solutions in a snap. But we typically have a greater level of fear when facing our own problems, and that fear impedes our problem solving. How to Change Fields Perhaps the most frightening “bad option” situation is when you are employed in a declining field or industry. Then you face the choice of either staying and watching your job prospects dwindle, or taking the difficult and scary step of moving to a new field. That decision can be particularly tough if you’ve been in your current field a long time, and/or have a large investment in education or tools. But staying could ultimately lead to a dead end. (Chances are it will, or you wouldn’t seriously be considering leaving.) While transitioning is difficult, it is usually not as difficult as people imagine it will be, and nearly every transitioner, in my experience, eventually winds up being very happy he or she made the change. But no one really knows whether that will be their outcome – and it’s hard to envision, in any case – so it’s hard to overcome the fear and get started. The keys to successfully changing fields are to: (1) resist the (understandable) urge to procrastinate, and (2) have loads of support and mentors. Also, recognize that most people, these days, will be called on to transition at some point in their careers. This isn’t our granddad’s job market, where you could get a job at IBM, Kodak or another big corporation and be set for life. The good news is that, whereas a couple of generations ago switching fields was considered weird, nowadays it’s normal and even hip. (The New York Times recently reported that, “more than five million Americans who are 44 to 70 are already engaged in a stage of work after their first careers that has a social impact, mainly in education, health care, government and other nonprofit organizations.”6) You may even find that your skills and experience are more valued in your new field than they were in the old one. In fact, many people discover that starting a second or third career is not just fascinating and rewarding, but rejuvenating – even if they initially went into that new career reluctantly. (That includes me, by the way.) It makes sense, after all, that moving from a declining industry filled with frightened people, to a growing one filled with more secure and optimistic ones, will improve your outlook, especially if your new colleagues appreciate you more than your old ones did. NOTE 6. 9. Yes, You’re Employable Another form of pessimism I frequently encounter is the idea that many job seekers have that, due to some gap or weakness in their background or skills, no employer will ever hire them. People who think they’re unemployable are almost always wrong. I say “almost” because there are definitely people out there who face serious discrimination. Most people are not in that situation, however, and so we’re back to that self-esteem/perfectionism problem I discussed in Chapter 5. Part II will teach you simple things you can do that should significantly boost your odds of getting hired – and not only SHOULD you do those things, you MUST do them. If you don’t, then the reason you’re not getting offers is probably not that you’re unemployable or being discriminated against, but that you are screwing up the search and application process. There are several specific groups of applicants who are prone to feeling unhireable, including: Artists who are broke or burned out and need to get a “mainstream” job. Activists in the same situation. Anyone switching industries or jobs, including veterans trying to transition into civilian jobs; government workers trying to transition into the private sector (or vice versa); corporate workers seeking nonprofit work (or vice versa); and people from downsized industries seeking to make a fresh start. Entrepreneurs whose businesses have “failed”7 and now need to get a job. Homemakers reentering the workforce, and others with gaps in their professional history. People with one or two weaknesses – for instance, someone who doesn’t speak or write perfect English, or who doesn’t know how to use a popular software program. People whose recent job experiences undermined their self-esteem and self-confidence, as discussed in Chapter 2. Most of these people’s concerns can be traced to either: (1) the perfectionist misconception that having one or two weak elements in your background, skills or experience will doom your application; and (2) an inability or unwillingness to picture oneself in a new line of work. The “one negative thing dooms my application” mistake often happens when you compare yourself to an illusory ideal candidate with no weaknesses or gaps in her resume. In real life, however, no such candidate exists. As discussed in Chapter 5, the proper response to one’s weaknesses is not to give up hope, but to frame your experience and skills so that you’re the strongest possible candidate, and so that your strengths compensate for – or, better yet, render meaningless – your weaknesses. See Chapter 27 for more on framing. The “inability to visualize oneself in a new type of work” problem isn’t a shortcoming so much as a common human trait. Some people are just naturally better visualizers than others, and most of us aren’t very good at it, especially when we’re scared and/or overwhelmed. The trick to overcoming this problem is to stop seeing yourself as a role (an “artist,” “entrepreneur,” or “reentering homemaker”), and start seeing yourself as a collection of talents, skills and experiences that can be flexibly deployed in many work situations. Then, you should work with a really sharp coach, mentor or colleague to match your skills and experience against the current job market and figure out which jobs to apply for. (Then you need to frame.) It’s important to do this work with another person because most of us have trouble viewing ourselves objectively, and tend, in fact, to devalue ourselves and our accomplishments. As it happens, many hirers value the kinds of candidates mentioned above: They value entrepreneurs (including professional artists) for their market savvy, operations savvy, customer relations skills, creativity, and abilities to manage, problem-solve and take risks. They value veterans for their discipline and leadership. They value activists and community organizers for their knowledge of the local community, organizational skills, managerial skills, and communications skills. ***The core problem, as stated in Chapter 5, is often not how hirers see your qualifications and credentials, but how YOU see them.*** If you start from the standpoint that you’re deficient, it’s going to be hard to convince an employer otherwise. But if you start from the standpoint that your skills and experience are valuable, then you’re going to be much more likely to convince an employer of the same. Of course, you should do what you can to bolster your credentials and fill in the gaps in your experience and skills. (A meaningful volunteer gig in your new field can work wonders.) And, of course, there will probably always be candidates out there who are objectively more qualified than you. But, as I discuss in Part II, there are powerful, relatively easy techniques you can use to compete against even more qualified applicants. And frame, baby, frame. NOTE 7. I put the word “failed” in quotes because there’s rarely such a thing as a total failure. This is yet another topic I discuss in my companion ebook, The Little Guide To Beating Procrastination, Perfectionism, Fears and Blocks, downloadable at 10. Invest in Lavish Self-Care Looking for work is not for the faint-hearted. You’ve got to stay strong, focused and resilient in a process that is practically designed to undermine you. So it’s not simply feel-good advice to tell you to take care of yourself: it is very pragmatic advice. So, eat well and make sure you get plenty of sleep. Exercise, and also take time for recreation. Try to relax in ways that engage and fulfill you – as opposed to, say, escapist television that ultimately winds up boring or depressing you. Find heroes (personal, contemporary, historical, and even fictional) whose courage in the face of adversity inspires and strengthens you, and spend time pondering their example. Resist any temptation you might have to think, “I don’t deserve leisure or self-care because I’m unemployed.” That’s an irrational, not to mention inhumane, viewpoint. And any time you’ve been rejected, or feel like you’ve been diminished by the process, take quick steps to bolster your ego and self-confidence. See Appendix I for some ideas. Give yourself treats – lavish ones, if possible. Money is probably tight, right now, but try not to eliminate all pleasures. And you can always treat yourself lavishly in free or cheap ways, like sitting with a fragrant cup of tea, or listening to some nice music, or going on a fun walk with your kids or dogs. It is very easy, while job searching, to descend into a shame spiral where you feel bad, stop taking care of yourself, and then feel worse...and it keeps going. It may be too much to ask for a reverse “pride spiral,” but it is quite possible to at least keep things on a relatively even keel. When you do something nice for yourself after you’ve been rejected or ignored, it sends a powerful message to your subconscious that, “This rejection happened to me, but it doesn’t diminish me as a person, or make me any less worthy of love and respect.” It’s a message most of us can’t hear often enough, in or out of work. 11. Build a Supportive Community Many of us tend to isolate ourselves when we have a problem, but that’s exactly the wrong approach, since most problems are best solved in community. Just as it takes a village to raise a child, it takes one to help you find a new job. In fact, the more help you enlist for this difficult project, the faster you’ll probably succeed. Your supportive “village” should include: *Professionals, including not just job coaches, headhunters and resume writers, but therapists, doctors, nutritionists and others as needed. *Mentors who can advise you on different aspects of your career and search. Preferably lots of them. Some mentors are strategic mentors who are in your field and can give advice regarding the opportunities that are out there and how to get them. These mentors also often have connections, which can actually be more important than the information itself. (Some mentors can get you a job with a single phone call.) There are also tactical mentors who can advise you on some element of the process: resume writing, interviewing, what to wear to interviews, how to use the Internet, etc. Appendix II tells you how to find and keep mentors. *You also want at least one job-search “buddy” – an understanding person whom you can call up when you’re having a bad (or good!) day, and just talk. Often, it’s another unemployed person – you serve as buddies for each other – and, of course, you can have more than one. A buddy should be a thoughtful, honest and optimistic person who will listen patiently to your thoughts, ideas and feelings, and offer not just friendship and empathy, but constructive and compassionate feedback. In other words, he should be neither a harsh judge nor an enabler who will agree with all your darkest thoughts about how the world sucks and the odds are stacked against you. The best buddies are optimistic realists. Sometimes a mentor can be a buddy, but be careful about mixing those roles. Many mentors don’t see it as their role to support you emotionally, and may feel uncomfortable with being asked to do so. That doesn’t mean you should deny your feelings or pretend that everything is hunky-dory; it just means you should keep the conversation focused on getting work, rather than on how miserable unemployment is making you feel. You can use a family member as a buddy, but since one of things you will probably need support around is the impact of your unemployment on your family, it’s a good idea to have some non-family members as buddies as well. Buddies can also serve as document proofreaders and interview rehearsal partners, key support roles. *Networking contacts. As I’ll discuss in Chapter 24, most experts believe that networking is key to getting a job. One of your most important tasks will therefore be to build as big a network as possible, and use it effectively. How big? Naïve or unsuccessful candidates frequently think they’re networking like mad when they’ve contacted a dozen people. Successful candidates, in contrast, often contact dozens or even hundreds of people. Although that’s a lot of work – and hard work, too, particularly if you’re an introvert – it’s a much better use of your time than sending out hundreds of “cold” resumes to strangers, particularly if you combine it with an effective strategy like the one I offer in Part II. One trick successful candidates use, of course, is that they don’t wait until they’re unemployed to network, but network constantly, as part of their daily routine, even while they’re happily employed. There’s lots of benefits to that approach, including that it’s relatively low stress; you learn about opportunities early on; and that you’re saved from having to apply “cold,” without a personal contact. (See Chapter 23 for more on the importance of that kind of speed and proactivity.) Regarding the correct use of networks, the example I cited in Chapter 3 is worth repeating: “‘I understand you’re sorry, so am I, but that doesn’t do me any good,’ Mr. Adler, who starts paying college tuition this fall, is telling those offering condolences. ‘If you really want to help, tell me what you think I do well, who you know, and where you think my skills fit best. And they were grateful for being given that option and I was glad I could redirect the nature of the conversation pretty much on a dime.’” Note the specificity of Adler’s instructions. People often really want to help you, but don’t know how: if you tell them precisely what you need, you’ll often get a much better result. You can also join networking groups, both online and in the “real world.” Just remember not to over-rely on the online stuff: you’ve got to get out and actually meet people, and (more importantly) let them meet you. Also, try to avoid a key mistake many unemployed people make: spending too much time around other unemployed people. The way to find a job is to network with employed people. When networking, remember that people are more willing and able to help if they can easily visualize you in the role to which you aspire. So, dress appropriately, have your 2 minute “elevator speech” and other dialog well rehearsed, and have copies of your business card and resume available to hand out. Be professional and prepared, in other words. 12. Create Time It’s a full-time job to find work. Okay, that’s a cliché. But it also happens to be true. Are you on board with that? And, just as importantly, are your family and friends? It means that you should be spending around 40 hours a week looking for work. And that means you probably shouldn’t be doing any more housework, chores or favors than you did when you were employed – ideally, in fact, you should be doing less, since looking for work is usually harder and more stressful than holding down a job, and so you need more recuperation time. Often, it doesn’t work that way, though. People see that you’re unemployed and assume you’re free for extra childcare, household chores and even volunteer work. And, let’s face it: it’s tempting to do those things, just to help people out and feel productive and keep your mind off your troubles. But you need to be careful not to let random activities – even kind ones – distract you from your mission, or deplete your energies so that you can’t do it effectively. I don’t want you to skimp on your self-care, either. I’d like to see a minimum of an hour a day of “me” time and recreation, and two hours is better. In fact, if you only have 40 hours total to spend on both looking for work and self-care, I’d rather see 30 looking and 10 self-care than 40 looking and 0 self-care. As discussed in Chapter 10, self-care strengthens and supports you so that you can get more done in the 30 hours: it’s a good investment. The best way to manage your time is to create a weekly schedule in which looking for work and self-care are the centerpiece of your days the way working will be once you’re employed again. If possible, share that schedule with your family and friends, and ask for their support and cooperation in sticking to it. Too often, we make the mistake of assuming no one will help us – that pessimism thing, again! – when the reality is that our loved ones would love to help us, but don’t know how. Tell them how – and also tell them why, so that they understand the context behind your needs and requests. That will help them feel more involved and committed, and they may also have some useful feedback. Of course, there’s always the chance that your family and friends won’t be supportive. That’s a bitter pill, but in that case, it’s up to you to protect and defend your schedule. And lack of support at home makes it all the more crucial that you follow the advice in the previous chapter and create a supportive, success-focused community around yourself. 13. Be Frugal Why a chapter on frugality in a book on how to get a job? Because frugality creates freedom – for instance, the freedom to choose an interesting job that pays less over a boring one that pays more. Or, the freedom of not having to remain in a crappy or abusive job just for the paycheck. Or, of not having to endure a long, expensive, stressful commute for that same paycheck. Or, of not having to work 40 or more hours a week when you’d rather spend some of that time with your loved ones, art, activism, or another important priority. Frugality = freedom. Some people remember when our society was much less commercial than it is now. They can remember, for instance, when non-toy companies did not advertise directly to children, the way Gap, Nike, Apple and many others do now, on Nickelodeon and elsewhere. When there weren’t advertisements on schoolbooks, toll booths, and just about everywhere else. The pressure to consume begins early, and it is intense. Resist it. Start downsizing your lifestyle even if you don’t feel the immediate need to do so. Google “living simply” and “frugality” for some tips, or take out a book on those topics from the library. (Don’t buy it!) You’ll find a whole, hip community out there to support you, as well as services such as and (for cheap or free furniture and housewares), (for barter services), (for ride-sharing), and even (for free accommodations when traveling!). “Be frugal” is not new or radical advice, of course. Nearly 2,500 years ago, the Spartan king Agesilaus said, “By sowing frugality we reap liberty, a golden harvest.” It was good advice then, and remains so. Okay, we’re done with the Part I. Now onto your job search strategy!

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