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Thursday, June 3, 2010

Job Hunter Survival Strategies

Dr. Gary Roberts
Robertson School of Government

I do not have to remind those who are looking for work that today’s labor market is the most competitive in decades. Recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that there are 5.6 applicants per job opening in March 2010 compared to only 1 per vacancy in 2000.

These odds are daunting in themselves, but they understate the level of competition for the desirable living wage jobs. A recent New York Times article on the teaching job market detailed numerous disheartening scenarios with outrageous and depressing applicant to position opening ratios of 430 to 1. Given this reality, what is the logical and appropriate response to the applicant facing such numbers?

One of the key survival strategies is to recognize that the battle is lost or won in our mind and how we respond to the stressful situation. The first survival strategy is to commit to an attitude of hope. Without hope, we lose the ability to resist the negative voices in our internal dialogue and the natural discouragement produced by the logical conclusion that the job market mountain is steep, dangerous and impassable. Hope is the foundational response that keeps concentration camp survivors, the seriously ill, and those in other dire circumstances moving forward. The vast majority of job seekers will find a position within time, if one refuses to weary in their efforts.

A second important principle is to develop a realistic definition of success during the job search. If we expect a job offer after the first few interviews, we lay the foundation for disappointment which will gradually metastasizes into skepticism, cynicism, bitterness, anger and despair with repeated rejections. A baseball analogy is helpful here. An excellent hitter is successful only 3 of 10 times. In the job market, the success ratio will be much less. Hence, we need to develop a realistic definition of achievement that includes personal satisfaction for the important life and character lessons learned during the job search process. For example, we need to celebrate and reward ourselves for our good-faith efforts and learning to persist as we “pound the literal or cyberspace pavement.”

Third, it is critical to reject equating personal worth, value and identity with the success of the job search. The ultimate form of “identify theft” is to assume that our significance, dignity and purpose are solely related to what we earn and produce. It is very tempting to equate each rejected resume and unsuccessful interview as a commentary and a repudiation of who we are as a person. This frame of mind will allow arbitrary employer decisions to control and manipulate your emotions. The proper response is to recognize that we possess inherent and eternal dignity, meaning and worth irrespective of our employment condition. A job is simply another life domain in which we display our God-given gifts and talents.

A final recommendation is “know thyself” and your respective strengths and weaknesses. It is essential to apply to positions that match and reinforce your gifts, talents and abilities and avoid those that are ill-suited (being a round peg in a square hole). This reduces the number of applicants that employers must consider and enables you to practice Golden Rule love to your fellow job seekers by increasing their chance of finding a job matched to their interests. The job market is a “jungle” in many ways, but we can protect ourselves from becoming a meal and a casualty to the “tigers” of the dark emotions of our minds.

1 comment:

  1. Dr. Roberts,

    As a year-long job hunter myself, I wanted to thank you for your encouraging words as I continue what is the employment adventure equivalent of the "Romaning the Stone." I certainly know what it's like to tread the waters of dispair to find you are heading over the waterfall in a financial freefall.

    If there are words I have hung onto during this challenging time, it has been that God would carry me through on a "Wave of Hope."

    I hope to write back about the "success" He brings.