Job Search Myths
Have you seen Elvis
lately? Even though he's been dead many years, people keep spotting him.
Have people told you
never to quit your job until you find another one? Did you believe them?
If so, you may have been mislead into keeping a position you truly
despise, while depriving yourself of career satisfaction and sufficient
time to look for what you really want.
While the need to
keep your current job until you find another is a myth just like the
Elvis sightings, it sounds reasonable, so people buy it. In fact, our
culture has perpetuated a number of job search myths, which may be true
in isolated cases, but generally don't apply to the majority of job
market candidates and employers. Unfortunately, these "old
professionals' tales" aren't laughable. They are insidious untruths
which can easily become self-fulfilling prophecies, if you let them.
Below are a dozen
myths which sabotage job-searchers daily:
1. Employers only
hire people who are currently working.
This statement does tend to be true of executive search firms who prefer
to pluck people from one company and place them in another. But for most
employers, this mind-set is outmoded. How many of your friends,
relatives or former co-workers have been caught in a corporate
downsizing in the last few years? Almost everyone, including potential
employers, knows someone whose job has gone away through no fault of his
own. Hiring managers can empathize with unemployed candidates because
they've either been in a similar position themselves or know someone who
If your finances permit you to quit working and look for another
position full time, don't let this myth get in your way. Aside from
having increased sympathy for the unemployed, interviewers also respect
a professional who says he has voluntarily left a job because he didn't
want to be conducting a job search on a former employer's time.
are only interested in my specialized knowledges, not my transferable
Very technical professions do tend to
concentrate on work content skills. None of us want a brain surgeon who
doesn't have plenty of experience operating on brains. Yet most jobs
require using transferable skills as much or more than special
knowledges. As they say at JCPenney, "If you can buy panty hose, you can
buy pots and pans." It's the buying process, not specific product
knowledge which determines success.
If you are considering changing careers, focus on the skills that come
naturally. If you believe these talents will be useful to an employer
and you can sight relevant examples, your interviewer will respond
positively. Confidence is contagious.
3. I can't network
because I don't have any contacts.
Everyone has contacts. The dilemma is knowing how to use them. Most
people don't want to impose on their friends, let alone strangers. They
forget that asking someone for help is a sincere compliment.
The keys to effective networking are:
- Knowing how to
ask for help
- Expanding your
contacts beyond friends and relatives
When you are looking
for work, approach people for information, not a job. If you ask them to
tell you about their career, company or industry, they will enjoy doing
it and admire your thoughtful questions. Once they know you, they will
gladly supply names of friends, relatives, colleagues, etc. who can
offer added insights.
Begin your research by making a list of the people you know from work,
church, aerobics, the softball team, (yours and your child's),
professional organizations, volunteer group, etc, to ask for help.
You'll get good information and strengthen your relationships
4. People who tell
me I'm overqualified really think I'm too old.
While it's true there are a few bigots who don't want to hire older
workers, most employers are primarily concerned with finding the best
candidate for the job. If they are looking for someone with three to
five years experience and you have twenty, you are too experienced for
the position. If they want a first line supervisor and you've been a
V.P., they will seriously question your willingness to take a large cut
in status and salary.
Unfortunately, many job seekers assume pursuing lower level positions
will produce faster offers. But if they put themselves into an
employer's shoes, they'll understand why this is fallacious reasoning.
Interviewers want to hire people who will be enthusiastic about their
new job and want to stay long term. An employer may justifiably assume
that a candidate who applies for a position beneath her level can't
really want it. He worries that, after a few months, she will get bored
and frustrated and start looking for something better.
If you genuinely want to downgrade your responsibility, be prepared to
strongly defend your reasons. Otherwise, your motives will be suspect.
5. Without a
degree I can't get a professional job.
Many Fortune 500 companies do require a
Bachelors degree for most exempt positions, but they represent a
relatively small percent of employment opportunities. Even they are
questioning the need to hire MBA's according to a recent article in
Business Week. Small to mid-sized businesses on the other hand, are more
interested in what you can do rather than your educational credentials.
Because many degrees don't prepare their graduates for the real world
and others obsolesce in a few years, on-the-job training is often more
valuable than classroom experience.
To identify employers who will appreciate your real world expertise, ask
a variety of them what they look for in an ideal employee. If you do
this in an information interview, (networking appointment), you won't be
stymied by the typical qualifications listed on an ad. Once you've built
some rapport and told them about your experience, paper credentials will
decline in importance from some, but not all. For the best job search
results, focus on the open-minded companies where your ability,
enthusiasm and practical experience will be the most important
ingredients in securing a position.
Males/females/minorities/singles/married people have a better chance of
finding a job than I do.
Almost everyone has experienced discrimination at one time or another,
yet blaming your sex, race, marital status, ethnicity, etc. can be a
cop-out, which limits your options and hides the real reason people
aren't hiring you. While you can't change your sex or color, you can
concentrate on seeking those employers who value diversity in their
employees. The vast majority of enthusiastic, committed workers can find
satisfying positions by looking in the right places. Those most likely
to feel like victims of discrimination often use ineffective job search
techniques, have chips on their shoulders or offer few marketable skills
that employers really need.
7. Once a person
turns 40, s/he is too old to change companies, let alone careers.
Tell that to the thousands of men and women who start their own
businesses each year. See if it will fly with the millions who are going
back to school each year to train for new jobs in a different field.
Every day these people are taking the risk to start new careers by
trusting in themselves and their transferable skills. Self-fulfilling
prophesies can be positive or negative. If you believe age is
irrelevant, potential employers will tend to follow your lead. If you
think being over 40 is a major obstacle, interviewers will zero in on
your unspoken concern and begin to worry about it too.
Experience almost always supersedes untested talent, if maturity is
coupled with flexibility and enthusiasm. Years of living provide older
professionals with a reliable framework for prioritizing, problem
solving and communicating that few young people can match. Savvy
employers know this and take advantage of it when they can.
8. Being fired or
laid off is a terrible stigma.
See myth #1.
Also consider that most professionals have found themselves at one time
Working with a
colleague or manager whose personality drives them nuts and vice versa.
- Working for a
company absorbed by a merger or hostile takeover, whose new
management no longer requires their services.
- Working with
someone who's sexual harassment has become unbearable.
- Working in a
seamy situation where they blow the whistle, rather than compromise
- Working for a
company whose philosophy clashes with their own.
They realize it can
be easier for the company to banish the dissenter than deal with the
problem internally. While there are people terminated for just cause,
the majority of firings and lay offs happen because of job and
personality mismatches, downsizing and political power plays. Most
interviewers are sensitive to this and generally will not hold a
termination against you unless you beat them over the head with it.
Before you begin interviewing, decide what you will say about leaving
your last position. Keep your explanation short and factual. If you
don't dwell on the gory details, your interviewer probably won't either.
Also find out in advance what your former employer plans to say about
your termination. Most companies, fearing slander suits, give only your
job title and dates of employment. If they go beyond that, they will
probably offer a carefully worded positive reference. Only a truly
vindictive person assassinates a former employee's character.