Thanks to a lot of hard work and a healthy dose of good luck, I’ve never really personally struggled with unemployment. Being a firsthand witness to a long job hunt, though, has definitely got me sympathising. These are the worst things about job hunting, as observed by me.
Please call in order for us to reject you
I can’t believe there are people/companies that will leave a message asking you to call back – only for them to tell you that you were unsuccessful, once you return the call. Just leave a voicemail, or send an email. Seriously.
Radio silence after in-person interviews
There’s a special place in hell for those who don’t get back to you after interviews. I get that some industries don’t screen much and often interview a lot of people in person, but I do think it’s a courtesy once you’ve brought someone in. (Personally I don’t think rejections are needed if you don’t get to interview stage, and actually prefer it this way, but I know a lot of people disagree. As a job hunter, I don’t expect any acknowledgement of receipt, just like I wouldn’t if I was a PR rep pitching a journalist – editors are busy and we’ll ignore pitches we’re not interested in.)
Super scammy sales roles
There are always SO many entry-level sales/promotion type roles promising a fast track to success for hard workers. The thing is, these sales roles are usually pretty dodgy – shady insurance companies and the like – and often just door to door marketing. If it sounds too good to be true…
The weird thing about job hunting is that you’ve got to totally amp yourself up for interviews and really commit to imagining yourself in a particular job. Then you’ve got to completely disengage and do your best to forget about it, since odds are high you won’t make it any further.
We all know that famous Steve Jobs speech from Stanford – the one where everyone seized on the palatable, soundbitable angle:
Love your work. Don’t settle.
As Cal Newport writes in the early pages of his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love, our generation is rather obsessed with ‘following our passions’. But ironically, that’s not at all what Jobs actually did. Had he done that, Newport says, Jobs would probably have wound up as a teacher at the Los Altos Zen Center. Apple was the result of a lucky break, a small-time scheme that took off, albeit one that Jobs no doubt eventually became passionate about later.
What’s actually more important and more telling about that Stanford speech is what Jobs says about joining the dots in retrospect:
You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.
Having just finished the book, I’ve got a few thoughts to put into words. Bear with me!
The dark side of the ‘passion’ mindset
Chasing passion is often unrealistic and in many cases only leads to disappointment. Newport cites a few studies to back up this argument:
One surveyed a group of students and found the vast majority did not have passions that mapped to work/career paths – most were instead related to leisure or hobbies.
Another found that among employees who all held the same administrative role with nearly identical duties, there was a fairly even split between those who saw their work as a job vs those who saw it as a career or even a calling – and those most likely to think of it as a calling were the ones with the most years on the job.
And yet another found that job satisfaction numbers have been trending downwards over time. “The more we focused on loving what we do, the less we ended up loving it,” he writes.
Give, and you shall receive?
What I took away from the book is that mastering your craft – which we should all aspire to – is its own kind of reward. Get so good that people can’t ignore you and will pay you accordingly … and job satisfaction follows.
It’s the same philosophy Newport has outlined on his blog; the book is his attempt to flesh this out with living examples and further depth.
It’s a pragmatic approach that no doubt most of us know deep down holds a lot of truth:
Focus on what you can offer the world, instead of what the world can offer you.
Derek Sivers, ostensibly a guy of many passions who’s done a bunch of different things, is one of the ‘masters’ in the book and is quoted thusly: “I have this principle about money that overrides my other life rules: Do what people are willing to pay for.”
The law of financial viability, then, is one to bear in mind. I’ll never forget a conversation that went down in our dorm room in Grindelwald, Switzerland. Four of us were sitting around talking: me, T, a ditzy girl from Connecticut and an intense Southern guy who travelled all over the world organising and running races (marathons and ultras). We were discusing how he managed to scrape together a living doing this (he definitely wasn’t doing it for the money) and inevitably, the “passion” word came up.
“So, do what you love and the money will follow?” Ditzy Girl piped up eagerly, obviously waiting for a high five and rah-rah chirpy confirmation.
But rather than immediately jumping to affirm this, Running Guy paused.
“More like, do what you love and figure out a way to make money from it,” he said seriously.
The missing piece of the puzzle
The biggest thing I felt was missing from So Good They Can’t Ignore You was that vital first step. What do you do if you have NO idea what you want to do? (This is the ongoing problem in our household, specifically on T’s side.) How do you get started? Do you just try to get a foot in the door somewhere, assuming the basic elements are bearable – that there’s some room to grow, you don’t actively hate the industry, and you don’t hate the people – and stick with it, beavering away on the quest to achieve mastery and become a highly valuable professional?
One of Newport’s examples, Pardis Sabeti, touches on this: “I think you do need passion to be happy. It’s just that we don’t know what that passion is. If you ask someone, they’ll tell you what they think they’re passionate about, but they probably have it wrong.” From that, Newport concludes that it’s a “fool’s errand” to try figure out in advance what work will lead to that passion. Alas, that point isn’t taken any further.
Yes, he demonstrates that many of his example ‘masters’ took awhile to find their exact direction, but they generally started down the right sort of track early on; it was just a matter of honing in from there over time. It’s not super clear how they found that track to start with. Newport does acknowledge at one point that it’s very hard to start from the bottom in a new field, so if you’re genuinely floundering, maybe the key is simply finding a field that you can tolerably devote yourself to.
Finally, I don’t think that the ‘craftsman’ approach and the ‘passion’ approach are mutually exclusive. They can actually play in quite well together, which I don’t think Newport adequately acknowledges. Passion, or at least interest, was definitely an element for many – though not ALL – of the examples of happy ‘masters’ cited in the book. Take the screenwriter, the archaeologist, the geneticist. One does not complete a master’s/PhD without at least some interest in their subject! In an effort to draw clear lines and take a strong, controversial stance that sells books, passion gets thrown totally under the truck.
In closing: If you read his blog Study Hacks, you probably won’t glean much more meat from the book. He also gives a good overview in this 99U talk.
While I think I almost always knew roughly what kind of career path I’d take, there were definitely times during my teens when I wavered, torn between some of my other interests.
Luckily, I saw sense and stuck with the area where I had the most talent – and thus, potential to succeed. Believe it or not, here’s some of the other professions I briefly entertained:
Some things I enjoy giving advice on. Some of those things, I even might be good at – like the more practical things in life. But I’m not really equipped to deal with emotional issues. Lord knows I have my own stuff to handle. I’m fascinated by people and what makes us tick but I’m better observing from the sidelines rather than wading in.
Late nights for work? Leaving gigs early to write up reviews ASAP? Taking flak from armchair critics? Needing to form opinions about entire albums in a pinch? Not for me. I’m no great shakes as a songwriter, certainly not as a performer, and don’t have the personality to do music PR. And while pegging hit songs is one skill I do have, it takes a lot more than that to become an A&R rep, if those even still exist these days.
I enjoy fooling around with images for the blog and for work but I’d be terrible at any real design work. I lack visual flair and don’t have a style of my own (just scroll through my archives and you’ll quickly see what I mean).
I don’t think I’m the only PF blogger who’s briefly considered this. Thing is, I’m really only interested in the lower level, psychological aspects, not the serious finance stuff. I don’t think I’d ever feel comfortable advising anyone on how to invest their money, and there’s no money in helping struggling people learn to budget.
Getting paid to essentially try and break stuff? Sweet! This wasn’t ever really a job I wanted to do myself, but it did cross my mind this might be up T’s alley. Then I started having to do the odd bit of testing as part of my job … and quickly realised how tedious it gets. It’s repetitive and painstaking work that would drive either of us up the wall.
One thing that stuck with me from my recent training session on mentoring high school students was the strengths based approach.
It seems so logical. Focus on your strengths, rather than solely on tackling your weaknesses. Yet I realised I have not been doing this at all.
I don’t have the patience, I don’t have the natural bent, and I don’t have the desire, since there are no obvious benefits. I’m confident in tweaking code – poking around and figuring out what pieces to change in order to get elements doing what I want them to do. Writing code from scratch – not so much. Getting to the stage where I’d be good enough to do it in my professional life is beyond my capability – and it’s probably not going to be hugely helpful to me. Even if I want to go down the full stack marketing route later on, heavier back end coding skills beyond basic HTML/CSS are not going to be as important as commercial nous and/or analytics. If there is talent besides programmers that we are crying out for in today’s work world, it’s digital analysts! (Seriously, we’re hiring right now.)
I feel like I’ve gotten a lot of clarity about my immediate career path lately (this is my third job, and I finally feel like I’ve found my ‘story’ – a cue for me to tweak my LinkedIn profile soon, actually) and the way forward is not to try be something I’m not. My strengths are in content, not design or development. Focusing on that – particularly content strategy, building on my production and management base – is the obvious move.
In the next few weeks I’m going to have to create a development plan as part of annual reviews at work (a totally new process to me), so now I’ve really got to think about what kinds of specific goals to commit to and how I can get there.
When I interviewed for this job, I was pretty confident I had the skills required. I was mostly concerned with how to figure out whether it would be a good fit for me.
Rather than rehearsing answers, I spent a lot of time thinking about what kinds of questions I could ask to pinpoint whether this would be the right move and what the culture was like. I was quite conflicted about whether I should even be interviewing for it.
Did I mention I’m not experienced at interviewing at all? My last job was a warm lead; I already knew them well so the interview was informal and there were no reference checks. My first job grew from a part-time job, which in turn grew out of an internship. So I’d never been through an actual structured interview before.
Some of the questions I struggled with:
Discussing projects and my role in pulling them off
I don’t come from a project-based background. The nature of my workflow means that it’s pretty constant. I suppose on a micro level, you could say I go through a lot of mini projects – every newsletter, every piece of writing, every photo shoot I coordinate. Luckily, I have gotten to work on a couple of initiatives over the past years – the joys of a lean team – that were often a pain in the ass but provided valuable work experience.
What I said: Rambled a little about one initiative I was a part of, struggled to quantify my contributions.
What I should’ve said: Next time I’d prepare and practice with one or two examples and try to put some numbers or specifics to it. My workflow will be much more project-based going forward so I plan to keep notes along the way for my own records.
Describing my communication style
What I said: I described my communication style as collaborative – I’m good at taking on board and weighing up various perspectives.
What I should’ve said: In hindsight, and after doing a little research, in the future I’d also add that I listen more than I talk, am stronger in written communication, and while I value input from others I often do my best work alone.
Describing my ideal manager’s style
What I said: My ideal manager provides clear guidance/objectives upfront, offers support when asked for and when they sense it’s needed, and champions their team and their team’s work. (The best bosses are the ones who trust you to get the job done and leave you alone to do it, IMO.)
What I should’ve said: I’m still thinking on this one. I feel there’s plenty of room for improvement, but not sure how specifically. Any thoughts?
Describing the kinds of people I get along best with – and the ones I don’t
What I said: I get along with most people. I am not a fan of close-minded types who are always convinced they’re right and aren’t open to other viewpoints.
What I should’ve said: A better answer in the future, especially in a professional context, would probably be that I take issue with the type of person who is a talker and not a doer, a ‘not my job’ type, who isn’t committed to going the extra mile when needed. In short, people who don’t share my work ethic. Coming from a background where resources are always thin and passion plays a big part, I expect the same sort of standards from others. I’m big on work-life balance, but when you’re at work, I think it’s important to do what it takes to get the job done.
What kinds of interview questions do you struggle with? Any thoughts on answering some of these?
In reading back over some of my very first blog posts, it’s clear just how much things have changed in my life.
In particular, how many times I’ve changed my mind about the kind of work I’d like to have. It’s not just a case of me being fickle, I promise – my chosen career field is a rapidly changing one.
When I first graduated I thought I wanted to be a subeditor. Thing is, there are fewer and fewer of those jobs these days – it’s a dying art – and the hours are often crappy. It wasn’t long before I ditched that idea.
Then social media took off. Everyone and their dog was becoming a social media manager or consultant. I loved that I got to play with social networks as part of my job, but the more I did it at work, the less I wanted to do it for fun, and I quickly learned that I would want to be more than just a ‘Twitter monkey‘. (I had to laugh when someone I follow locally on Twitter, who’s been a social media champion from the early days, tweeted that she is now looking to do a project as far removed from social as possible.)
I’ve always been a doer. I wasn’t into the top-level stuff – I’m a details person, not a visionary. I like that this, at times, allows me the flexibility to work from anywhere, since all I need most of the time is a computer and internet. But I don’t love staring at a screen all day – and I don’t think it’s been great for my health. Fortunately, as I’ve gained more experience I’ve also become more interested in the strategy behind the doing and being involved in how/why things are done. I still have zero desire to manage people but increasingly I’m thinking I’d like to learn more about doing things more strategically and getting involved at a higher level.
It’s great to love your work. It’s also great to be able to afford the kind of life you want, and to have the kind of job that allows you to have that life outside of your working hours. As much fun as my work has been so far, I knew I had to be realistic about the long-term opportunities. Publishers are struggling to make money – but on the flipside, all other kinds of organisations are investing in content.
In thinking about what I might want to do next, I narrowed it down to a few areas I would ideally like to work in:
a) the travel and tourism space
b) the personal finance space (a cool bank, or, say, at sorted.org.nz)
c) an awesome startup (though arguably my last job was pretty close to a startup job)
Amazingly, I found a role that perfectly marries my writing chops, digital skills and love of travel. It’ll be my job to help extol all the virtues of New Zealand as a place to visit – a dream gig, really.
So far, I anticipate a lot more collaboration, a lot more meetings, a workload that ebbs and flows – more facilitation, planning and strategy alongside the nitty gritty production stuff rather than a constant cycle with very tangible daily outputs.
Overall, will I love it just as much as I did my old work? I think it’s highly likely. Time will tell; I haven’t gotten too much into the ‘doing’ yet. I dig the atmospherical aspects and am pretty sure the workload will be less relentless. All things considered, higher pay, the chance to hone new skills and better long-term earning potential don’t hurt, and are definitely factors that play into professional satisfaction.
Maybe further down the track I may have to make a stark choice between money and satisfaction, but not just yet. Phew.
When it comes to job hunting, I always tell people there’s no harm in trying. What’s the worst that could happen? You get ignored, like you almost always do anyway? You’ve got to be in to win, and there’s absolutely nothing to lose by sending your application out to a faceless (and often nameless) person.
Yet I almost didn’t take my own advice. When I first came across the listing for my new job, I shook my head and sighed. It sounded like the perfect role in every way … but the timing wasn’t right. I wasn’t planning on leaving until later in the year! I know positions like this don’t come along everyday, but I decided to shelve it anyway and put it out of my mind.
And then …
Without going into any detail, let’s just say something happened to remind me that business is business. Your only loyalty should be to yourself, first and foremost. Never forget that. —-> SIGN 1
I decided to do a little more research and put in an application. And what do you know: a Google search revealed that the position would be reporting to someone who worked at my previous employer, who I had actually had a couple of dealings with. —-> SIGN 2
They called me right away, and although I’d just had my wisdom teeth out and was a bit sore, I wasn’t in too much pain and didn’t want to put off the interview. It went well, and I had a second interview a week later.
A few days after that, my (super awesome) boss announced her resignation. —-> SIGN 3
Handily, this also freed me up to ask her for a reference, and in keeping with the theme so far, that very same day I was asked for reference contacts by the HR consultant.
In a strange twist, as it turns out, we both ended up joining and leaving the company at almost exactly the same time.
I am a bit bummed to bail out before winning an industry award. But then again, I was sad to leave my last job before getting assigned a travel feature – and then I got to do a couple of sweet trips at this one.
Because of the way Easter and Anzac holidays shook down this year, I wound up with 10 days off in between. Add in the fact T didn’t have work to go to either, after getting very close to a very cool sounding job (final 2 candidates) and I took this as a sign that we should make the most of this time and take a trip somewhere. Call it an early anniversary celebration.
So we took off to the Great Barrier Reef for a few days of relaxation. (Recaps to come.)
And funnily enough, on our last night over there I learned through Twitter that my bank’s social media team will soon be hiring – another ideal opportunity that I had been hoping might manifest. It’s still on my career bucket list.
I’ve found a new hobby. And nerdy as it sounds, that hobby is writing cover letters.
Job hunting is so much easier when you have a passion for an industry. Helping T do cover letters is super enjoyable because it’s a breeze to communicate that – and those letters are getting responses, because that passion shines through and stands out.
Still, time has flown; it’s been about a month already with no solid leads. Obviously it’d be great if he could score a dream job doing what he was doing, now that he’s had a taste of it … but with limited experience, that’s a long shot.
How long, then, do you hold out for the ideal job? Money is money and at some point bringing in an income becomes top priority. (You can always keep looking, and they do say a lot of employers prefer to hire people who already have jobs…) And I think we’re shifting into that mode now.
One option would be to keep going down the sales path – there’s never any shortage of sales jobs out there, many of which are happy to train people up. If you can sell, you’ve got a pretty versatile skill that’ll never go out of demand, and your earning potential is massive. But he rocked car sales because he loves cars, and it’s doubtful that he’ll find the same level of a) enjoyment and therefore b) success selling insurance or water coolers or whatever.
The other obvious path is to look for something else in the auto industry. Now that T’s found an area he really likes, it’s a no-brainer. Even if it doesn’t pay a ton, as long as it pays enough, is steady, not too physically taxing, and doesn’t trigger Sunday night blues – that’s pretty good in my books. We’ve been doing this to some extent but it’s probably time to really ramp that up and expand the search.
This is where I think I need to play cheerleader a little. Sometimes he’s a bit narrow-minded about his skillset and will write off postings because he doesn’t fit all the criteria; I find myself having to persuade him that his experience applies just fine to roles that don’t bear the exact same title or description, and that there’s nothing to lose by applying for jobs that are a little bit of a stretch if you don’t tick every single box. (This is no time to fall prey to impostor syndrome…)
There’s something really exciting about all the potential, all the opportunity that comes with the job hunt – imagining yourself doing various jobs that sound particularly awesome and what your future might look like. But conversely, it’s also a bit depressing seeing how mundane and poorly paid many jobs out there are – it makes me feel really privileged to be able to do work I enjoy that I am decently compensated for.
How long would you keep hunting for the dream job? On a scale of 1-10, how perfect is your job?
I actually get to do what I love all day – write and edit. If I were freelance I would have to spend the majority of my time marketing. Ugh.
(I can’t lie – when full-time freelancers I know post links to their projects, I click out of interest, and some of the work they do makes me wince. I get to write about inspiring people and companies all day; the thought of doing marketing copy about curtains and joinery makes me die a little inside, even if that stuff commands a higher hourly rate. Of course, when you’re at the top of your game you get a lot more choice – I’m sure superstar designer Jessica Hische has her pick of projects – but that’s not the reality for most.)
I get to work autonomously. My days are mostly self-directed, which is freaking sweet. I always forget how rare this is when I talk to people who work at other organisations…
I work with cool people and in a reasonably nice environment. It ain’t Google or Facebook, but it’s not an underground bunker (as a colleague essentially described her former TV workplace).
I have flexibility. I occasionally work from home and I don’t have anyone breathing down my neck; we’re trusted to get the job done and things like the odd weekday appointment would not be a drama at all. I’m also not totally chained to my computer – I have occasion to get out of the office and mix things up.
I get a lot of random freebies. I’m not gonna lie, it’s a nice perk. Event invites, free lunches, vouchers, and all kinds of products.
I don’t suffer a terrible commute, nightmare coworkers or feeling stuck. (A lack of room to move up seems to be a common complaint out there, but in my field you don’t really move up, you just move around.) Really, my only complaint might be a lack of resourcing – but it’s hard to find someone who isn’t stretched these days. Oh, and you know, a little more money would never go amiss 🙂
I’ve been really fortunate so far despite graduating right into the GFC. Steadily employed, and in jobs that I like, to boot.
It’s easy to forget this – you do get complacent with anything good in life – but overall, I am stupidly lucky. With T on the job hunt, I’m extra aware of that right now.
One of my fears about taking half of 2013 off to travel was that my fill-in at work would totally outshine me.
Fortunately it did the opposite – highlighting how much I juggle every day and how well I do it. It wasn’t just the people I work with every day who noticed but people externally who noticed the difference. That really struck home for me when I was chatting to someone – a person I don’t have much personal, frequent contact with but really respect – who went as far as to say our team had been obviously “screwed” in my absence.
His validation, as an outsider, was the key to altering how I see myself. That marked a real turning point for me.
I’ve always had a strange thing about self-confidence. I love what I write, at least until I hand it over, at which point I immediately start to hate it. Until very recently, I couldn’t ever stand to read my own work once published. I’ve always gotten good feedback about my work, but my own self-belief has always been patchy. There has never been a solid foundation underpinning it. Hello impostor syndrome!
This is only my second full-time job (although I have learned so very, very much over the past couple years) and I’ve basically always been the most junior on the team. I’m naturally reserved, I’m quiet in meetings not just because of shyness but because I don’t feel I have anything to contribute.
But I’m firmly mid-20s now. I’m not necessarily always the junior person, or even if I am, I now do increasingly have things to contribute. It’s expected of me – and I shouldn’t hold myself back because of how I feel inside. It’s time to adjust this mental perception I hold about who I am. I’m not 18 and clueless anymore.
I look older than I am, which I think has helped people take me seriously up till now. And I need to take myself seriously too, and not sell myself short.
At what point did you realise you had outgrown the ‘junior’ card and couldn’t play it anymore? Have you ever had a random incident change how you perceived yourself and your professional worth?