The WORST thing you can do if you’re looking for a job

looking for a job

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I’ll admit, a lot of what motivates me in my writing and coaching can be boiled down to something I’d call “professional outrage.”

I know I’m supposed to be non-judgy and infinitely patient. And I am with my clients because they’re cool people and they deserve that from me, always.

But there are some things that I straight up loathe. (As in, when I come across them, my eyes narrow and my nostrils flame and I acquire a Draco-Malfoy-worthy sneer.) And while there are many things I could hate on, for now I’m going to focus on only one.

When it comes to looking for a job, here’s a sampling of things that ruffle my professional feathers:

  • Career articles that purport to have the “5 best things to say” in your cover letter or résumé (or similarly phrased B.S. “list-icles” like this).
  • Well-meaning but inexperienced people who give you advice that’s more about what they’d do in your situation, not necessarily what you should do.
  • Bad career counselors who say they don’t know how to help you if you want to do something different than what you’re educated or “qualified” for.
  • Anyone who claims they know the “exact right things” to say in an interview to get the job.

Just writing this made me angry.

Because nowhere in that list — and I see these things happening to people over and over and over again — is anyone advocating for YOU.

So much conventional career advice is about you shape-shifting and manipulating who you are to “fit in” and become someone that other people want to hire.

I find every bit of mainstream career advice woefully freakin’ lackluster. And in my professional outrage, I refuse to let it stand as is.

I’ve got a pretty damn good case for why you should NEVER alter who you are to get a job.

LET’S BE CLEAR ABOUT WHERE THIS REALLY COMES FROM

So why do we buy into the lists, the bad advice, the “best” practices?

It’s certainly not because it feels good. In fact, I’d argue that in most cases it feels actively bad to mold yourself into what you believe other people want in a prospective employee.

Fear. It all boils down to fear.

We buy into all of it because …

  • We’re desperate for a job (any job, sometimes) and scared of being in a bad financial situation.
  • We’re afraid we’ll say the “wrong” thing and screw ourselves out of a great opportunity (and therefore miss the boat on other opportunities).
  • We don’t feel particularly “good” at the whole job search process, and we’re afraid to trust our own judgment over those of “experts.”
  • We’re not confident in our own talent and afraid people will see through our insecurity unless we “spin” ourselves just the right way.
  • We’re afraid of taking a non-traditional route or actively going against the advice of our friends and family out of fear of what they might say.
  • We’re afraid of looking like a failure, period.

I could probably go on, but I’m sure you can relate to at least one of those. The bottom line is that it’s easy to follow the mainstream advice when you’re being motivated by fear.

BUT WHAT HAPPENS WHEN THE MAINSTREAM {INEVITABLY} DOESN’T WORK FOR YOU?

I meet most people — clients, people in the PPVE, or even people who just randomly email us — directly because conventional advice has done absolutely nothing for them.

They’re frustrated. They did all the “right” things, they got the job … and it’s still not fulfilling.

I spoke to someone recently (I’ll call her Eva) who compared the job search process to this cartoon she used to watch when she was little. I’d never heard of it, but the premise involved shape-shifting creatures who could turn themselves into anything they wanted — chairs, cars, houses, whatever — and their subsequent adventures.

She told me, “I feel like one of those shape-shifters. I’m constantly trying to mold myself into what I think people want to hear or see, and I’m exhausted. I’m not hearing back from anyone, and I keep getting rejected … I’m not getting anywhere.”

Eva has become an expert, over the course of many years, at following mainstream advice. And it’s let her down.

SO I PROPOSED A NEW WAY OF DOING THINGS

My guidance boiled down to three words: Stop shape shifting.

twitter-bird If you’re shape-shifting in order to get a job, you’ll never experience real career fulfillment.

Instead, do something that feels pretty radical: Be yourself at every step of the job search process.

This felt scary to Eva. If she’s just being herself … then she’s probably going to get rejected a lot. She won’t be saying the “right” things. She can’t “control” the process anymore.

But it’s going to work for her, and here’s why:

  • Shape-shifting is boring. Saying what you think people want to hear is a much bigger gamble than just being yourself. When you alter who you are to “fit in,” you end up blending in, not standing out. You become boring, someone who’s all too easily glossed over. (It also feels terrible … it’s a compromise of the soul that doesn’t sit well.)
  • Everyone else is trying to say the “right” thing, anyway. Thousands of other people are reading articles about the “top 5 best things to say in an interview,” or whatever. Desperate job-seekers everywhere are using the same washed-up strategies … and employers are probably tired of it. It comes across as disingenuous and unoriginal.
  • Rejection from the wrong people is a good thing. Yeah, if you’re not trying to “fit in,” you’re probably going to get rejected more. This is a VERY GOOD THING. Because what really sucks is getting hired based on who you were pretending to be in a job interview … then you have to keep pretending, forever. Which is a recipe for instant resentment. If you’re not pretending, you get to work with people who like and respect you, and whom you feel the same about in return. It’s a win-win.
  • You’re going to do less, and gain a lot more. When you’re shape-shifting, you’re applying to so many jobs hoping someone will notice you. When you decide you’d rather be yourself, you tend to only apply for things that genuinely excite you. Your focus is no longer quantity, it’s quality. When you’re all about quantity, you tend to get lazy and routine and say boring crap. (Be honest: How often are you copying and pasting cover letters and changing just a few words here and there? Do you think this is going to land you the job of your dreams?)

When you’re focused on quality, you’ll spend a LOT more time on just a FEW applications … but that effort is incredibly obvious to anyone on the receiving end.

So, are you bought in? How has shape-shifting failed you in the past? I’d love to hear, in the comments.

Much Love,

Rachel (& Kristen)


EPISODES TO CHECK OUT NEXT

A former recruiter tells all (& helps you get hired) with Emily Liou (September 2018)

How to negotiate anything (even if you’re a people-pleaser) with Devon Smiley (May 2019)

A master recruiter shares 40 years of job search wisdom with Susan Levine (July 2019)

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9 Comments // ADD COMMENT

9 comments

  • MIchael

    I was thinking about this mainstream advice epidemic recently myself. What I’d gotten really sick of was this attitude that there’s some “technology” to mastering life, like there’s a one-size-fits-all right way to do a specific thing. I’ve seen and heard people in life and on the Internet try to claim there’s a technology to happiness, to becoming a great athlete, to getting a person to fall in love with you, and so on and so on…

    And most of the time, this “here’s the secret, one size fits all tip” fails us, like you’ve mentioned. I’ve had following mainstream advice compromise tons of things for me for the worse, and have found that often, these people giving advice really didn’t know what they were talking about. They just got off on the idea that they were experts because either 1) they were scared of how uncertain and messy the world is, and thought being a know-it-all would make them feel more secure or 2) they had an agenda and wanted to sell people things, or wanted to get their article in a magazine, etc. so they did “what sells” – which brings us back to the mainstream-advice epidemic.

    What I’m finding is the one incontrovertible truth is what your own experiences on the real road of life teach you. It’d be insane to ask for advice traveling a part of the country from someone who’s only imagined and theorized what it’s like, and who then circulates the “secrets to doing it.” In the same way, it’s insane to lean on circulated advice that proposes models of life that the person speaking it found pleasing – rather than measuring the results of what happens to you when you live a certain way.

    Loved this article. 🙂

    • Rachel

      Thank you for really getting it, Michael. I’m so with you … there’s no way to “hack” life. And you’re right, the people who’d tell you that there *is* such a way are often too afraid of uncertainty to admit that there could be infinite ways to succeed and be happy, and so end up projecting their fear onto everyone else in the form of bad advice. Being really careful about who we take seriously is so important!

  • Hugues

    Yes! That cartoon was Les Barbapapas! YouTube it :).
    What a refreshing blog. I’m currently doing a job hunt in order to get out of the toxic environment I currently find myself in and your tips reflect the thoughts that have been going through my mind over the past few days. Your post comes at the perfect time and reinforces my belief that by simplifying and being myself will increase my chances to find something that is a perfect fit for me as opposed to having to morph into something I’m not. That’s simply not sustainable in the long run. Thanks for your refreshing blog!

    • Rachel

      You’re so welcome! I love when our blogs coincide perfectly with what’s going on in the lives of people who read them. 🙂 I think any quality job search will require more patience and faith than most people are comfortable with, but I’ve seen it happen SO many times that when you DO focus on a quality search, you’ll get really quality results. After all, what you put in to anything is exactly what you’ll get out of it.

  • Krista

    Seriously, your advice and articles are the best I have read….and I have read a lot! Such a great perspective! And the title….Clarity on Fire….Love It! The word clarity grabbed my attention. I followed the Link and read the article you mentioned….and it was fantastic! Thank you and keep up the great work!

  • Laurie

    I work in HR and this is spot on! An interview is just as much for the candidate to see if he/she wants to work for the company and manager as much as it is for the company to see if you are a good fit for them Don’t forget that part! We spend so many hours at work, so it is extremely important to choose a job, environment and co-workers (if applicable) that you enjoy.

    • Rachel

      Thank you so much for your perspective, Laurie! Coming from someone who works in HR, this is SO valuable!

  • Clarity on Fire

    […] this week, right after my (Rachel’s) blog post on Tuesday about the worst thing you can do if you’re looking for a job, we got a reply that went something […]