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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 has.

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.

2. Interviewers are only interested in my specialized knowledges, not my transferable skills.
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 simultaneously.

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.

6. 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 or another:

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 their ethics.
  • 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.

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