A Conversation With Myself and Other Job Hunters

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.”
–Winston Churchill

Let’s get confessional, ducklings.

Here’s the horrible, smug truth – I’ve been offered every job I’ve seriously applied for since I was 16. Yes, some of those opportunities came through connections, dumb luck, and even parental urging, but the fact remains that I have been very luckily in work. I know it and acknowledge it. I’ve been grateful for my good fortune, but I’m also now getting to go through a crash course in the program. Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

You will get frustrated. Frustration is fine, but it does not entitle you to complain or get cranky. After a lot of frankly easy good fortune, it is no fun at all to come up against disappointment and difficulty, but you will. Deal with it with humor and dignity. Because…

You’re not special. In a place as varied as London, my skills are not unique and I have a lot of competition for positions. It is nothing personal when I don’t get them. On the other hand…

You have something special to offer. Just because I have the same practical skills as the next girl does not mean we combine them and our personality strengths in the same ways. I am a creative problem solver who is good at making existing systems and programs work better and coming up with solutions when issues arise. Someone else will be an organizer who is able to spot new opportunities and exploit them. Someone else will be team leader who is good at finding the right person to fix certain problems. We all could potentially have the same practical skills and work history, but our strengths are different.

You will make stupid mistakes that will make you cringe. A very kind person recently went out of their way to help me on my job hunt. I thought I had sent a thank you note after a meeting and an extremely thoughtful email, only to discover five days later that I might have written it but I hadn’t clearly sent it when they followed up with me. I was badly embarrassed to have made such a rookie error as to not have doubled checked I sent the damn thing before I closed a page! Double check everything, but know you’re going to make mistakes. Don’t beat yourself up too badly when it happens (she says after thunking her head on the desk she felt so stupid), apologize if you can and keep on trucking.

You will feel overwhelmed. I’m effectively trying to make a career change. That means I’m starting from the bottom in a new city, on a new continent up against scary smart competition who are both sharp and local. Forget finding opportunities, I’m having to locate the sites and forums where opportunities are even posted! I’ve been lucky to have been pointed in some good directions, but it’s still a daunting prospect. It’s fine to feel out of your depth, it generally means you’re trying something foreign.

You will be rejected until you’re not. That’s nearly a 100% failure rate. Know that’s what you’re going into and be ready for it. It makes the word “No,” so much less scary than we often give it credit for. Hearing no, and often hearing nothing, has been less than enjoyable to adjust to, but knowing that it’s going to be the norm makes it much easier to deal with.

Again, it’s not personal. Frankly the people I’m applying to don’t know me, therefore it’s not possible for them to dislike me. Ergo, not choosing me for a position isn’t an insult, a slight, or even an opportunity to be mean or hurt my feelings. It’s just a “No, thank you.”

There are some of the lessons I’ve learned or had to relearn. Minion who have or are job hunting, share your wisdom! What did you figure out about job hunting that you didn’t know before hand?

6 thoughts on “A Conversation With Myself and Other Job Hunters”

  1. It is really one of the most stressful things in the world and esp. in a huge place where no one went to school(s) with you or your sibs or your parents. So much of finding a good job is networking — so that the people who consider you worth hiring know you’ve been vetted by the people they like and trust.

    I moved to NY in June 1989 just at the start of a vicious recession in journalism. I cold-called more than 150 people for months — none of whom knew me and were too busy helping all their friends. After six fruitless months, I found my first NYC job through an ad in the NYT — thanks to my skills in French and Spanish. You have to find some skill that few(er) people have to stand out from the crowd.

  2. Your fellows can serve as a network. It can’t be quantified and it is often difficult to make a direct connection but, as you know, by small and simple things are great things brought to pass.

  3. As someone who is currently in the process of hiring in my department, let me tell you the top three mistakes I’ve seen so far as I review resumes (and I’m actually fairly certain that you aren’t making any of these, but, it’s still happening far too often).

    1) PROOF READ YOUR RESUME. I can’t emphasize this enough. I got resumes with “Customer” spelled Customor and “Summary” spelled Summery. If spell check would have caught it – there’s no reason for me to see it on your resume and I’ve immediately lost interest.

    2) Update your resume for each job. I’m really happy for you if you were really great at your previous job and your closed all your PTCs and HRMs but, those acronyms mean nothing to me. Please tell me how your experience is relevant to the job for which you are applying. I’m not interested in scouring your resume for applicable skills. Put them front and center for me. I’m probably going to give your resume 30-60 seconds on my first review. That means if your first 3-5 resume items aren’t relevant, I’m moving on.

    3) Keep it simple. A half page resume is too short. A 6 page resume is too long. 2 pages are okay as long as you’re keeping the skills and experience in line with the job.

    Good luck to all you hunters out there!

    Okay – one more. Generic cover letters are the worst. I’d rather you include no cover letter than “This position with your company sounds like a good fit for my skills and experience.” Please take 5 seconds to at least type the position and company name into your letter. Please.

    1. This is GREAT advice! One of the most time consuming things for me has been developing different versions of my resume for different kinds of work – and even then I edit the pertinent version for every position I apply for. It’s time consuming, but it’s also helped me identify and articulate skills for myself that I was not previously drawing attention to. Very useful.

      And confession: I have to use spell check here, not because of misspellings, but to change American words into their British counterparts. Lots of additional letters or alternate endings to re-familiarize myself with!

  4. I probably said most of this in one of my rambling e-mails, but:

    -Never consider yourself overqualified. You might have to start lower than you’d like and work your way up.

    -But never consider yourself underqualified, either. Last winter I was job-hunting, and very nearly didn’t apply for the position I ended up getting. It was a step up from several positions that hadn’t panned out.

    -Tailor your resume for every new application. Be truthful, obviously–but highlight what is relevant and minimize or remove things that aren’t.

    -Stay professional in your cover letter and your interviews, but don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through. You want a job that wants YOU, not the person you’re pretending to be but would be miserable to have to continue pretending to be. For example, I tend to dress standard business at first interviews: tailored pants, black pumps, black shell, hair back…but instead of a black jacket, I’ll wear coral or purple or something. If it’s a place that won’t hire a girl in a purple jacket, it’s a place I wouldn’t be happy working–and it can underline what I perceive as a personal strength of mine (assertiveness and not being afraid to be authentic to myself). There are definitely ways to capitalize on your strengths, whatever they are, and this will mean a better match eventually.

    -In the time you are waiting, stay busy. It will help you fend off the inevitable frustration and depression, and it will also give you something to talk about when interviewers ask about the gap on your resume. It’s even possible that a volunteer opportunity could lead to a paid position or a connection to someone who’s hiring.

    -Never underestimate the power of strong writing.

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