Sunday, September 06, 2009

Four Common Job Hunting Mistakes

****2013 UPDATE  -- The New York Times writer Michael Winerip wrote a July 2013 follow up piece to the 2009 article on Michael Blattman (Link to acticle).  Blattman was a 58-year-old professional who was laid off and hit hard by the recession.  The 2013 piece shows what became of him since the original article (the original article spurred my blog post).  I am thrilled that Mr. Blattman is happy with his career today.  I know personally that success is not about the money, as much as it is about satisfaction in a job.  However, I stand by my advice on this post from four years ago-- and I believe the suggestions hold strong for anyone else facing career transition!!!  


I got a note from a reader of this blog with a link to the story of an unemployed job seeker in New York City whose plight was profiled last week in the New York Times.

The subject of the article is 58 years old man who was laid off from a financial services job eighteen months ago. The reporter did a good job of covering this man's tough story, which made me feel sorry for this guy. While he is having a rough time, the problem with the article is that it tossed out the details of his saga as "the way it has to be" for someone over fifty who got that pink slip.

The article is filled with red flags of mistakes that the man made along the way. Not just in his post lay-off time, but also throughout his career. It was clear that while he was very successful, he had not built a strong enough network of professional contacts and did not establish the long lasting mutually beneficial friendships. There is also no advice for him, or others, on ways to improve employment chances.

My intent of this blog post is not to pick on this guy, I hope that his situation turns around and he finds the right job, but I also hope he reads this post, as I think it has some good suggestions to help anyone who is out of work and looking for a job.

Before you read the below, read the article that sparked my post.

Four Common Job Hunting Mistakes:

1. Pride Kills Opportunities. Never be afraid to reach out to your network. If you have properly invested in establishing real "mutually beneficial" relationships with others, they will be there to help you in your hour of need.

After being laid off in January 2008 the gentleman in the article decided to move from Florida to New York City. His assumption was that there would be more job opportunities in the Big Apple. He had not lived in Florida very long, having moved there from Maryland following a divorce. The article pointed out that he "couldn’t go back to Maryland, tail between [his] legs".... but that might have been the better move.

The financial services industry hemorrhaged jobs in New York soon after he arrived, and since he had spent many years raising his family in Maryland, that is where his strongest network connections would have been located. Worried about the "tail between his legs" was probably more in his head than the reality of how his friends would have judged him. Real friends would have been glad to have him home and happy to help him in his time of need. Strangers in a strange town have no history, and thus it is harder to establish those referral connections that come with a long term friendship.

2. Blindly sending resumes does not work. No matter how good you are, a blind inquiry will most likely not produce interviews.

The man stated that he mailed 600 resumes and only got 3 interviews (two by phone). He also thought it was rude that most companies did not even acknowledge receipt of his information and he was disappointed that recruiters were not helpful (and not returning his calls).

The reality is that companies are getting thousands of resumes for every open job. They cannot talk to everyone. Recruiters spend their time with people who are marketable. They make their money by placing people in jobs, so if they do not see you as marketable, they move on.

Those who are getting the interviews are the candidates who have found a way of standing out from the pack or have strong industry connections and reputations. Those people who spent years networking and helping others consistently are the ones who got hired first.

This is not an employment issue.. it is a personal marketing and branding issue. I wonder if the guy in the article is making himself seem unique and valuable or if he is seen as another laid off worker in need of a job? Having not seen his specific efforts I cannot judge, but my guess is that he has not positioned himself as a "must have" product.

3. A bad attitude will keep you unemployed. How you think about your own situation will have an impact on your success.

He is quoted in the article saying that describing his skill set and experience is impossible... adding - “I’m a sales guy, I can sell ice to Eskimos. My problem is, I have no credential. I’m not a lawyer or doctor, not in pharmaceuticals, not an expert in women’s fashion. I have no broker’s license or insurance certificate.”

This is BS. Lots of people who have HUGE career successes in any economy have no degrees. This guy has an MBA, so he is just grasping at straws on this quote.

He seems to have a complex that he does not have the "right" experience for a series of different industries. Well nobody has all the things needed for any job. I once knew a woman who had the perfect resume and experience for a job. She even knew the hiring manager personally. The position went to someone else who had no industry experience, but had the right skill sets and the attitude the company wanted. Details can be taught, attitude cannot.

Job seekers need to look to how their experience translates into any job. Companies often hire people from outside industry because smart managers know that an outside point of view can often be more successful than someone who is just like everyone else on the team. View your lack of direct experience as a positive trait that makes you stand out from other candidates and, just maybe, the decision maker will agree.

He adds, “Here’s the reality, I used to be somebody, I had a job. Not anymore. Everything ground to a halt. No sense of purpose. No self-esteem.” --- That attitude will kill all chances of getting hired. Who wants to bring that negativity onto their team? Even if you feel that your self-worth is tied to your career... never say it out loud (we are all much more than the title on our business card!). Own your attitude and know that there is always opportunity. Your beliefs will help create your reality.

4. Don't just focus on yourself. Help others. Even when you are having a tough time, finding ways to helps others can make you feel good and bring good karma.

There was no talk in the details of his daily schedule that he was actively volunteering or participating in job seekers support groups. He eats at a diner, writes fiction, and seems to go to museums a lot, but his time would be better spend seeking ways to help his fellow man. Many non-profits and churches have very vibrant job groups where members meet to share information, ideas, and moral support with each other. If he worked to help others improve their job search activities, he would be pleased with how many people would then be looking out for him as well.

There are countless charities that need volunteers. In just a few hours a week he could find some of that self-esteem that he said he has misplaced by making a difference for those in need.

Additionally, when hiring managers ask him what he has done during his time off from work, it is much more impressive to list how you have tried to make a positive impact on the world rather than just being self-focused. Sitting in a diner writing fiction does not excite potential hiring managers.

As I mentioned, I don't want to pick on the guy who was profiled in the New York Times. Instead I wanted to help him. I reached out to him and offered to send him free copies of my books "Some Assembly Required: How to Make, Grow and Keep Your Business Relationships" (New Year Publishing, 2007) and "Batteries Not Included: 66 Tips to Energize Your Career" (New Year Publishing, 2009). Both books are full of ideas that would be ideal for a job seeker who needs to tap into their network, and beyond, for help them find their next opportunity. (***Update... I never heard from him).

Have A Great Day.



Barry Deutsch said...


Excellent advice. I just blogged about this very issue from the WSJ Laid Off and Looking Blog.

The major mistake was ignoring the need to continually develop and nuture a strong network through-out a career. The time to build a network is not when you need it in a job search. I tell executive candidates that an effective network capable of generating an abundance of job leads and referrals can take 9-12 months in this economy.

Companies will continue to layoff over the next 6-18 months. If you become a victim of a layoff (everyone is at risk), don't lament the fact that your job search takes 18 months due to not having worked on your network before you need it.

Barry Deutsch
IMPACT Hiring Solutions

Clara James said...

Opportunity never knocks on the door,you have to knock on opportunity's door and they are all around you"

I can give you an example.A person who has 10 years of experience in one organisation and the other individual who had only one year of experience in the same organisation, will be having the same knowledge about the work.

Now the other thing is don't wait for a similar job with higher designation,more salary from the previous job.Enter into a small role and start building the career.Past is past.

Stephen McCusker said...

Opportunity indeed. I see that you have not missed this opportunity to use this story to plug your own book, and let others know how smart you are.
Yes, this guy could have done many things differently, and your points are generally correct.
Perhaps if everyone bought your book, then no-one would be unemployed.

thomsinger said...


thanks for you comment, but I try not to let negativity just sit out there (directed at me or anyone else) without addressing it.

1. As for plugging my book on my blog. Guilty as charged. I do want to sell books, as it is part of what I do for a living. Does the company you work for do anything to promote its products or services?

2. As for letting others know how smart I am. Ummm, I never say I am smarter than ANYONE. I am just a guy with experiences and some opinions. I write about lots of things that inspire me to think. This article in the NY Times did that.... I am not sure why doing that on my blog inspired the snarky comment.

3. Perhaps if everyone bough my book, there would be no-one unemployed. Ummm, not necessarily true. But lets try that. I would love seeing the results of such an experiment: EVERYONE on the planet buy my book, and then lets see how the unemployment rate shifts. :)

Aruni said...

Good advice Thom. It's often hard to see how to do things differently when you are in the middle of a very hard time in your life. Hopefully this guy will start seeing things from a different point of view!

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Tim Homan said...

Good advice. Also, great idea to offer help to mentor someone. They have no idea the value of that offer!
Proud of you brother.

Joan Schramm said...

Excellent analysis of what this particular job seeker did wrong, with specific quotes from the story to back up your position. I feel the same way when I read articles about someone's unsuccessful job search -- it can be pretty clear to a dispassionate observer what the challenges are and how the person could have responded in a more positive way.

Several times, I've been on the verge of writing to the newspaper and offering my coaching services pro bono to the person in the article. It is great to see that you took the actual step of doing so. You've inspired me to take action the next time I think I can be of benefit to someone who's having a difficult time in a job search.


Cindy Kraft, the CFO-Coach said...

The reality is that job searching is tough. Even tougher when you have to react to your situation rather than proactively managing your career.

A prospective candidate holds the MOST power while still employed. The moment he is on the outside looking in ... regardless of his great severance package ... his marketability has taken a huge hit.

Anonymous said...

If you find yourself in a similar situation as far as not having maintained a network and you are desperately in need of fixing it quickly, what do you do? I do not have months to build the network. How do you figure out what value you can offer to someone you contact?