Tuesday, February 4, 2014

8 Philosophical Observations About Job Search and Career Development

As I’ve explored myriad job and career options over the past three decades, I’ve cultivated a philosophy that has served me well and informs my current work with graduate students.  I offer it here for your avid consideration and comment.   

1. Work hard every day to take specific actions to move your career exploration/job search forward. There is no magic pill you can take, or savior you can reach out to, who can offer any shortcuts.  Believe me, if there were I would have found him or her already and would gladly share the fruits of such labor. 

2. At the same time, I recognize that being a student, combined with work and family responsibilities, leaves many individuals feeling they have little time or energy to consider next steps in their careers.  I respond to this concern by suggesting that the reason one attends school is to move forward in one's life (and, by extension, one's career). That means that while it's important to do one's best in classes, a bigger, broader perspective challenges you to consider what happens as a result of this education.  So it's not necessarily what grade you get in a specific class, but what you do with that knowledge and insight. Moreover, taking a hour or two normally reserved for studying for an exam to conduct an informational interview might be more valuable for your career--assuming, of course, that you can accept any consequences of this decision for your exam grade.  

3. While introspection, planning, and the like are critical in job search, there is no substitute for action. So rather than endlessly thinking about your career, taking time to complete one self-assessment after another, or revising your resume until it's "just right," reach out to someone who might be able to help you gain relevant information and insight. Attend an event focusing on an area of interest. Then, reflect on what you've learned, make any quick revisions to your resume, LinkedIn profile, and other documents, and proceed with the next sequence of actions to help you get to where you want to go.  

4. I'm not saying you shouldn't engage in self-reflection and assessment, nor do I believe in jettisoning the resume or other critical career-related communications. They all are important. My point is that focusing on any or all of these in excess won't help you find a job. Only by reaching out to connect with individuals who may be in a position to hire you, or can refer you to those who can, will you generate suitable opportunities.  

5. Recognize that what other people do or don't do in their careers doesn't matter. Your path truly is unique, and you're exactly where you are supposed to be personally and professionally. 

6. Recognize the state of the job market doesn't matter. It is what it is. In the overwhelming majority of cases I've observed, there have been few discernible excuses or justifications for the inability to find a job. You are able to find a job, or you aren't. If it's the latter, you'll want to explore why (e.g., poor interview skills, unrealistic salary expectations, inadequate experience) and take corrective action (to the extent that you can). Remember, no response (i.e., failure to land interviews) is a response that demands your careful consideration. 

7. There is no set time frame for how long it should take you to find a job.  It might take three months, a year, or longer. You decide what's acceptable and meaningful based on the entirety of your life circumstances. If you've been offered a position after three months of looking and it's not quite ideal but you need the money (and the salary is sufficient to meet your needs), then you'd best take the job. Perhaps you're willing to wait longer until a more suitable position becomes available while living off of savings.  It's your decision. The bottom line here is that there no one right answer. 

8. Grasp and internalize the fact that career transition and personal reinvention are ongoing.  Thus, it's best to develop a long-term perspective on one's career and all related to it.  In line with this perspective, consider the person you meet today as a potential future employer, client, or business partner. Develop a strategy for staying in touch. Dedicate yourself enthusiastically to your work and all other endeavors, while continuing to explore new fields, polishing current skills, and cultivating new ones. 

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