After an unsuccessful nine-month job search, Darlene Dawson, a former vice-president of a bank mortgage department, knew she was stuck. Darlene lost her job in the midst of a take-over. She opted against outplacement assistance because she was sure she'd be hired quickly elsewhere. Now she feels angry, frustrated, and pessimistic about her options.
Bob Jones, a training manager for a healthcare company, felt over managed and plateaued in his job. He had also looked for a new position for six months and berated himself for not finding one.
Both professionals (not their real names) finally sought career coaching. They soon realized that they had committed the seven "deadly sins of job-hunting" – all guaranteed to prolong the agony of the search. By dramatically changing their strategies, both found jobs in four months. You can learn from their experiences and slash your search time by learning how to avoid these sins yourself.
Deadly Sin #1: Staying overly attached to your present or previous job
Stunned by her job loss, Darlene was unable to mobilize her energy in a new direction. Bob's ambivalence about leaving his employer fueled his unrealistic wish for "things to get better", even though his proposals for change were never acknowledged or implemented.
Most job searches never truly begin until you've grieved and let go of the past. To seem confident and convincing to prospective employers, you must embrace change and your future. How do you let go? Confront the anger, pain, and disappointment directly. Write a hate letter to your former employer (but don't send it), tell your tale to a tape recorder (and destroy the tape), talk with a trusted friend, counselor or support group, but release your negative feelings. Both Darlene and Bob were seething with emotions that sabotaged how they presented themselves in interviews.
It also helps to list those aspects of your former job that you're delighted to leave behind. Darlene acknowledged that she didn't like the big bank's bureaucracy, and preferred the idea of a senior position at a start-up firm, which would allow her input into company decisions. Bob felt burned out from the demands of health care and wanted to explore a more upbeat work environment. These revelations helped them look ahead with anticipation, not regret.
Deadly Sin #2: Declining job-hunting support services offered to you
Darlene was foolish to decline outplacement assistance, especially since she wanted to change direction. She could have benefited from a comprehensive career assessment and interview coaching early on. She ended up hiring a career counselor in private practice and paying for it herself.
Bob declined support for word processing and resume rewrites as well as contacts suggested by family and friends because he felt he could manage his job campaign on his own. Since he wasted valuable time trying to manage these tasks himself and not networking, he did not meet his goals.
Take advantage of every professional and community resource available to you and ask for help when you hit a dead end. Job hunting in today's marketplace is very challenging and you need every advantage.
Deadly Sin #3: Resisting clearly defining your skills, interests, and strengths before beginning a job search
Before contacting employers, know what you're marketing and to whom. To determine your direction, thoroughly assess your skill set, accomplishments, and determine a profile of the kind of organization and position that can best utilize your assets. Most job hunters who have extended searches have bypassed or shortcut their assessments. Don't underestimate the importance of this step.
There are some excellent books in the career section of any library or bookstore to help you with your career assessment. Both Darlene and Bob also worked with me to identify their transferable skills and career aspirations. Bob's assessment showed a desire for adventure and freedom from supervisory responsibilities, as well as strong interests in teaching, travel, and hotel management. One of his training specialties was client/customer services, which he could repackage and sell to the hotel field. He considered self-employment, but ultimately decided to seek a position with a national training company that specializes in service businesses, thereby gaining more experience first.
Darlene's assessment confirmed her preference for small businesses and knack for accuracy, investigations, and interviewing people. She also likes to work independently, much like a consultant. She decided to target a growing industry that offers diverse future opportunities, so switched to financial planning.
Deadly Sin #4: Failing to carefully investigate the job market in your field
Both Bob and Darlene had wasted valuable time because they were uninformed. Banks are in transition and health care has become very competitive and demanding. Career management is your responsibility so be sure to stay abreast of the hot issues and trends in your profession and industry. Various computer programs such as Infotrak as well as the Internet can help you locate articles in your field. Select as least one professional organization to belong to and actively join a committee or a project so you can network with your peers. Due to the long hours that most professionals are working these days, people are not networked outside of their organization which becomes a problem when the winds of change are upon you. Actively seeking a mentor is also a very wise move.
Deadly Sin #5: Ignoring time management tools/strategies that can speed your search
Job hunting demands managing an abundance of information, leads, and contacts. Staying organized is key to your success. Many professionals who are used to having a secretary or office manager manage their data are stunned by the myriad of data that need to be organized in a job campaign. Set up a home office if you don't have an outplacement office and take advantage of every computer shortcut you can learn. If you don't have a computer, buy or rent one. If you are not computer literate, take a class or hire a tutor. All professional jobs currently or will demand computer literacy, so get your skills up to speed while you have the time.
It may make sense to hire an assistant a few hours a week to help with filing and letters so you can be on the phone, interviewing, or networking in your field. Your priority is to be talking or meeting with as many potential employers or good contacts as possible, not at home filing during the day. If you do your own paperwork, do it on the week-end or during non-business hours.
Get yourself on a regular work-day schedule and beware of the dangers of working at home and all of its distractions. Get an answering machine or voicemail and have your message sound professional and inviting. Alert other family members about answering the phone or disturbing you in the middle of an important call. Set daily and weekly goals and stay focused and productive.
Deadly Sin #6: Procrastinating on critical job search tasks
Darlene waited too long to send a follow-up letter after an interview while Bob was shy about calling potential contacts. If procrastination is a problem for you, ask yourself the following questions:
- What goal/task am I avoiding?
- Why is this goal important?
- Why am I stuck? Do I need new skills or self-confidence or time, etc.?
- Am I committed to this goal? If not, delegate it or cancel it. If so, then identify the problem behind the procrastination.
- List five action steps to resolve the procrastination and get back on track.
- If you're really stuck, brainstorm with a friend or counselor and identify some solutions.
Bob discovered that he hesitated making calls because he feared that people would reject him as a career changer, for his lack of experience outside of the health care field. Using a telephone script and attending industry conferences where he could meet new people, he mastered his fear. Darlene didn't realize that post-interview follow-up letters were another opportunity to highlight her unique skills and how she could benefit a potential employer. Once she got clear, she hired a teenager to help her with the mailing.
Deadly Sin #7: Prematurely ruling out potential job possibilities before you've fully explored them
Many job seekers miss great opportunities because they aren't flexible enough to think creatively about them. Even if you're unclear about whether you want this particular job, present your best self in the interview because you may discover a related job at that company or the interviewer may be able to connect you to a colleague at another company that has the perfect job. Early in his job search, Bob was approached by a prestigious international training company. However, he was ambivalent and disinterested during his initial phone call with them as he was unfamiliar with them. Later, when he recontacted them, it was very difficult to undo their first impression of him.
Darlene declined a job on the phone without exploring it further only to later learn that the company was developing a financial planning division that she potentially could have transition into.
However, within four months of employing job hunting campaigns free of these seven deadly sins, both Darlene and Bob landed excellent positions in alignment with their redefined career goals and lifestyle preferences. Both of them lost precious time and income during the previous months of searching without a vision and clear understanding of what they wanted and could offer a company. They both declare that they will continue to keep their network strong and reevaluate their goals on a regular basis. By conquering these seven sins, both Darlene and Bob are now empowered to proactively manage their own careers.