Notes on job-hunting: Fight cynicism.

1 March 2006

Covered in the first installment:
Rule #1. It’s not over until you win.
Rule #2. Get help.

Rule #3. Fight cynicism at every turn. The one thing above all others that will undermine your adherence to Rule #1 is the cynicism that often arises during a job search. If you’ve been in the working world for a while, you know the value you bring through your work. It doesn’t matter if you wait tables or edit books or build bookcases: you have skills that you have employed successfully in the past, you have a will to work, . . . and yet no one returns your calls. After enough repetition of this, you can become convinced that the deck is stacked against you.

This may be tougher the longer you’ve been working. You have more years of evidence that you’re worth something. You have more skills that have been useful in the past. If it’s been a long time since you were on the work market, you may have rusty job-hunting skills. And you may also face the bias–sometimes real, sometimes only perceived–that some employers hold against older workers.

Then again, it’s no picnic if you’re looking for your first job out of school, either. Maybe you haven’t looked for a “real” job before. You might not have built up good connections or an impressive resume yet. It’s easy to wonder at that point what the use was for all that fancy education.

But here’s the fact that you need to keep in mind, with as much clarity as any Stoic philosopher or Zen master: The market isn’t about you. It doesn’t care about you, and it doesn’t need to care about you. It is disembodied and incapable of caring. I’m not saying that this is a good or a bad thing in itself. Maybe in an ideal world, we would get to conduct our careers in a community that already knows us. We wouldn’t face the alienation of applications to previously unknown employers and of interviews with strangers. (This is an excellent reason to build your personal network before you need it, a topic I’ll explore in a later installment.) But that’s not the world we live in.

The good news is that the market can’t go out of its way to frustrate you, either. Maybe that sounds obvious, but exasperated job hunters often end up talking about the job-hunting experience as though the world is out to get them. It’s not out to get you; the process of landing a job can be hard, but the difficulty is not aimed at you personally. That might seem like a trivial observation , but it’s worth keeping in the back of your mind.

Keep this at the front of your mind: for as long as you’re looking for a job, your full-time job is to work like a farmer. Get up early, work all day. Sow and cultivate steadily until the harvest comes in. Your job isn’t over until the harvest comes in–that is, until you land the job you’re looking for.

Farmers often bring in extra hands to help them, especially at key times in the growing cycle. In the prior installment of this series, I said you should seek out those who can help you with the skills necessary to hunt for a job effectively. But you should also reach out to your friends and loved ones for help with the emotional tasks of keeping your spirits up, fighting cynicism, and returning day after day to the work of finding new work. You must be implacable in your efforts, and this will be much easier if you have a squad of cheerleaders rooting you on.

Rule #4. Improve something. This is the greatest antidote to cynicism. Recruiting cheerleaders will help you, as will acknowledging market reality. But you have to live with the doubts and fears inside you. My own experience tells me that when I work hard toward a clear purpose, I feel good inside. When I don’t work hard or toward a clear purpose, I don’t feel good. Success or failure in terms of outcome is not as important to my sense of well-being as the feeling of achievement that comes when I do my level best. Trying hard feels good.

Trying hard feels twice as good when the effort is aimed at bringing beneficial change into your life. When you can, this ought to mean making big changes to big things. I think that during a job hunt is the perfect time to re-tool your habits. Now would be a great time to lose weight, to take up running, or to give up TV and start learning a foreign language. You could learn a new academic subject. It would be the perfect time to shift the way you organize your time and your stuff. But even if you’re not ready, or somehow not able, to make big changes to big things, you can always make small changes to small things. Go over your resume and improve the format. Read a good blog or two about career-building strategies. Go through your e-mail archives and get in touch with two old friends you haven’t talked to in a while. Even better, send two e-mails before lunch and two after lunch. But no matter what, bring some form of beneficial change to some thing in your life.

Whatever you do, don’t sit on your butt waiting for the world to come to you. You’ve got to pick up the phone, fire up the e-mail, or walk out the door to engage the world on its own turf. You’ll feel better about yourself–and not just incidentally, you’ll make yourself much more likely to land a good job sooner.

Next time: Keeping up your energy level.


One Response to “Notes on job-hunting: Fight cynicism.”

  1. Dave Lorenzo Says:

    TW – Thanks for the support and for the great work on your blog.

    It’s on my daily reading list.–>

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