After speaking to and counseling nearly 10,000 job seekers
since 1996, I've witnessed many successes. I've seen people sail
smoothly from one position to the next, in good times and in
Unfortunately, I've seen many failures, too. Some folks spin
their wheels and struggle for months to land a job, no matter what
the economy is doing.
That's just life -- failure is more common than success. But
it need not be common for you, if you’re willing to learn
With that in mind, I've done some thinking and found that
unsuccessful job seekers have three habits in common.
Avoid them if you want to find work fast …
Ineffective Habit 1) Begin with no specific job in
Many people, thrust into the labor market, immediately turn to
the job listings (online or in the newspaper) and start looking for
Which job? Any job will do -- they have no clear idea of what
their target position or ideal employer look like.
As a result, everything about these people is unclear: their
resume, cover letters, networking conversations, how you can help
them find work, etc.
Here’s a test: Show your resume to three friends and ask
them what job you’re looking for. If any of your friends --
someone who knows you -- gets the wrong idea after reading your
resume, how can you expect employers to know?
Solution: Get specific about the job you want, right down to
It’s not enough to say, “I’m looking for
anything in retail.” Anything means nothing. Instead, say,
“I’m looking for a position as a retail store
Ineffective Habit 2) Fail to
But it’s not enough to know what you want. You have to
stand out from the crowd.
Pop quiz: Which of the following people would you
- a Business Consultant, or an Efficiency Expert who saved $2.3
million in 2008?
- an Administrative Assistant, or an Office Manager who reduced
training time 16% and makes managers look good?
- an IT manager, or a Disaster Recovery Expert who saved $4.1
million by setting up a recovery plan?
It’s no contest. The person who makes a specific,
measurable promise to employers is the one who gets called for an
If you call yourself something like a Business Consultant or
Administrative Assistant, you’re failing to set yourself
apart from the thousands of other people saying exactly the same
Don’t have one more networking conversation or write
another cover letter until you do two things to differentiate
Tell people what you really do.
Instead of saying you’re a Sales Manager, Customer Service
Rep, or Accountant, use more-vivid descriptions, like Profit
Producer, Guest Happiness Agent, or Numbers Cruncher.
If you describe yourself creatively, you’d better back it up
with specific proof, like this: “Guest Happiness Agent who
delivered 98% customer satisfaction, ranking #2 among 34 personnel
Use this two-part method to create a vivid, memorable
description of what you can do.
Then start using it in your email signature file, your online
profiles, your blog, your networking conversations -- anywhere,
anytime you talk to anyone.
Ineffective Habit 3) Take only comfortable
To get a job you’ve never had before, you must do
something you’ve never done before. Which may make you feel
For example, you may need to make a networking phone call to a
manager you’ve never met before who works at your target
And taking new actions involves the possibility of
Like the first time you tried walking and crashed headlong
into the coffee table. Nobody likes failure (or smashed-up
furniture) but did you or your parents give up? No. Failure was
simply a stop along the way. Giving up was not an option.
If the fear of failure is keeping you from making networking
phone calls to strangers, that’s your inner two-year-old
trying to protect your ego.
But the longer you avoid taking uncomfortable actions in your
job search, the more likely you will experience serious problems,
like bankruptcy or a stress-induced illness.
Put differently, the rejection you feel if someone hangs up on
you is fleeting and intangible. But the pain of losing your home
after the unemployment checks run out will be long lasting and very
In light of that, wouldn’t it be better to make just one
more phone call today than you did yesterday?
If you’re stuck on how to network, pick up the phone,
call the 5 most-connected people you know, and ask them how the
found their last three jobs. Be ready to tell them what job
you’re looking for (see Habit 1 above). And ask them whom
they would call if they were in your shoes.
This exercise will give you 15 job-search success stories, in
addition to a couple more names to call. Repeat as necessary.
Now, go out and make your own luck!