Job-Hunting Realities: What 'No' Really Means
You've probably read plenty of job-hunting articles. And they're all the same.
A so-called expert will advise you to develop a plan, broaden your skills, and network. On résumés, they will counsel you to customize, use keywords, and quantify your accomplishments. If you land an interview, they will remind you to mind your body language, ask good questions, and convey confidence and enthusiasm.
This isn't one of those articles.
These are troubled times. We hear the horror stories daily. Unemployment swelling. Nest eggs dissolving. Prices rising. Businesses failing. Debts mounting. Workloads crushing. Politicians squawking. We live at the mercy of larger forces; anxious about the lives we know; wondering what will happen next. For most, this is not the time to switch companies…or lose a job. But many will be forced to, through no fault of their own.
Even worse, a job hunt is often a demeaning process. The rejection can leave you demoralized. You'll jump through countless hoops and operate on other people's terms. In the end, you'll still hear, "You're not quite what we're looking for" (if you hear anything at all).
In today's economy, a job hunt requires more time, sweat, and money than ever. You'll follow the fundamentals and still have little to show for it. At some point, it is only natural to ask yourself, "What's wrong with me?"
Maybe nothing. Maybe it's them.
So when your fruitless search fills you with angst and self-doubt, always remember the following truths about job hunting:
• Job Hunting is Unfair
The best person isn't always picked—and the playing field is rarely even. The cliché, "it's not what you know, but who you know" is extremely relevant.
There are so many ways to get passed over—and many reasons for it. A company may already have a candidate in mind, such as a proven internal applicant who represents little risk. They may hire someone who struck a chord, whose pop and polish masked his deficits. It could come down to a gut feeling. There could be political, quid pro quo considerations too.
Bottom line: Companies want to deal with people they know. They want to hire people they like and implicitly trust. Like all of us, their judgment is sometimes faulty. Don't view it as an indictment of you as a person.
• Decision-Makers Aren't Always on Target
Many times, screeners are far removed from the front lines. Don't assume they are aware of industry developments. Don't assume they study what works outside their company. Most important, don't assume they are well-versed in a position's daily responsibilities and requirements.
Even more, employers don't always apply the right formula in hiring decisions. They may apply a successful organization's methodology without taking underlying variables like stage of growth into account. They may mine the company history for specific traits and success stories, without examining how positions evolve. Worst of all, they may evaluate candidates based on the values they preach, not the ones they actually practice (or vice versa).
Sometimes, hiring efforts get off track. Often, it is the candidates themselves who expose flawed suppositions during the interview process. In the end, all you can do is research, network, and be yourself. The rest takes care of itself.
• You May Not Fit the Real Culture
Most companies want to keep things the way they are. They are creatures of habit; they crave stability and predictability. Sure, they attempt to interpret market forces and anticipate customer demands. Unfortunately, they rarely reshape established processes and hardened attitudes at the speed of change.
This tendency seeps into hiring. At ground zero, they still want to fit you into a neat pigeonhole. They want you to be one of them. That's why experienced mediocrity almost always trumps talent every time.
If you want to succeed, set your sights higher. Tap into those intangibles that make you special. And don't settle for just a job. Identify organizations that truly live up to their ideals, top-to-bottom. Seek out employers who stay steady and calm in uncertain times. Anything less, you are setting your sights too low.
• Employers Don't Always Act Like Professionals
Employers can be sloppy during the recruiting process. They can bring you in and string you out. Sometimes, they won't follow up after an interview—or they will miss their self-imposed deadlines. Too often, they take for granted that you sacrificed pay, even risked your current job, to meet with them.
Here's a dirty little secret: There are different rules for screeners and managers. They can treat you in ways they wouldn't dare resort to with peers or customers. Why? Job hunters are the lowest sect in the corporate caste system. They are outsiders, the lowest priority, disposable and quickly forgotten. And management's defenses—lack of resources, work loads, communication gaffes—are the same excuses they would never accept from their own reports.
The truth is, you will be judged at times by lightweights. These decision-makers will be less talented, capable, accomplished, and driven than you are. They will hold you to standards that neither they nor their existing team can meet. And they will still carry themselves as if they are superior to you.
It is a hard truth: You will always face those pockets of small-mindedness, no matter where you go. There is nothing you can do about it. You can only hope to get your foot in the door, prove yourself, and move past them.
• Employers Have Prejudices Too
In our personal lives, we often make assumptions about others. We take a quirk—a moment of weakness—and blow it out of proportion. We collect puzzle pieces, connect fragmented images, and formulate the "story" behind someone, however incomplete.
Employers are no different with you. In some interviews, your counterparts will quickly size you up, right or wrong. They will look to reinforce their initial impressions. They will make assumptions about your experience and expectations.
It can be any factor. They may see you as too old. Too young. Too smart. Too expensive. Too pretty. Too plain. Too fat. Too short. Too bald. Too flashy. Too quiet. Too female. Too male. And too much like your predecessor. There are no hard and fast rules. And it may have little to do with the real you. It happens.
• Employers Have Limited Resources
Employers want experience—they just prefer that someone else provides it. Today, companies face pressing financial pressures and skill gaps. Many times, they truly need someone who can hit the ground running. Fair or not, many talented candidates don't get the luxury of starting slow and building momentum. Some employers simply can't afford a long onboarding or hiring mistake, simple as that.
• Employers Are People Too
Face it, accidents happen. Résumés get lost in the shuffle. People honestly forget to call. Your references may inadvertently raise red flags. You cannot control these situations.
Plus, believe it or not, rejection is hard on employers, too. It is uncomfortable, even painful, to tell candidates they chose someone else. They are worried about their jobs, too…and those jobs are on the line with the people they hire. They are naturally going to be risk-averse. Most decisions are close calls—and there are doubts. You just never see them.
• There Is Always Hope
It is easy to feel sorry for yourself in a job hunt. Despite this temptation, you need to put on a smile and reach out. Tune everything else out and press on, even when you feel you are going nowhere. There will be times when you are cheated. There will be times when employers won't see past their blinders. Keep your spirits up. Don't dwell on the call that never comes. Let it harden your resolve. Let it force you to evaluate yourself. A career is never an uninterrupted string of successes. Eventually, you will find a fit and a place to call home.
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