by David Marwick, 08.09.20

Searching for a job can be a lonely, frustrating, and lengthy process. To develop a constructive attitude for your job search, it’s vital to understand what you can’t control and, more importantly, what you can control.

You can’t control the state of the economy—nationally or locally. You can’t control which positions are open. And you can’t control who else is applying for those positions.

However, there is much that you can control. It may be challenging, but you can control how you react to what you can’t control. We believe that the following seven attitudes can help you succeed:

1. Take a long-run perspective

A career is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a succession of jobs and even careers. In fact, changing jobs and even careers is increasingly common.

Therefore, keep in mind that your first job will, almost certainly, be the first of many. Therefore, a “bad” first job does not doom your career.

2.  Understand that it’s not (only) about you

You want a job to provide income and satisfaction. Employers want to hire someone to fill a specific need in their organization. How can you meet that need?

To use a sports analogy, if the Washington Nationals need a new third baseman, they will limit their search to highly competent third basemen. You may be an excellent outfielder, but you’re not what they’re looking for.

That means that what you offer does not mesh with what the employer needs. But it’s only when you are the “square peg” to fill the employer’s “square hole” that you will be hired.

3. Be flexible

You may have had specific expectations for your first (or next) job, in terms of the employer, the city, and the role. However, especially when jobs are scarce, you may need to adjust your expectations.

If you can’t find your “dream” job, or even something close to it, you may need to adjust your expectations even more. Three types of jobs warrant your consideration:

“Survival” or “gap” jobs. You are overqualified for these jobs, but such jobs may be the best you can do—at least right now. (When jobs are plentiful, taking such a job might raise questions in an employer’s mind, but when jobs are scarce, it will not seem odd.)

Temp jobs. These jobs exist in all sectorsof the economy, and many companies recruit workers to fill such jobs. Kelly Services, Manpower, and Ranstad are among the more prominent firms. Employers may need temporary employees to meet a surge in orders or to fill in for someone on vacation or out sick.

Volunteer jobs. Many non-profit organizations seek volunteers to help them provide their services, all the more so when budgets are tight.

All three alternatives can provide a solid entry for your resume. Also, they can help you keep your skills sharp and perhaps even learn new skills. Moreover, they may provide an opportunity to meet people for networking purposes. Finally, they may constitute an “audition” with a prospective employer, where the employer gets to see whether you would be a good long-term fit. “Survival” or “gap” jobs and temp jobs can also provide income that can pay the bills. Volunteer jobs can provide “psychic” income..

4. Be mentally tough

Michael Barone coined the terms “soft” and “hard” environments. Here’s an extract from a summary of his book, Hard American, Soft America:

A peculiar feature of our country today…is that we seem to produce incompetent eighteen-year-olds but remarkably competent thirty-year-olds. Indeed, American students lag behind their peers in other nations, but America remains on the leading edge economically, scientifically, technologically, and militarily.

The reason for this paradox…is that “from ages six to eighteen Americans live mostly in what I call Soft America–the parts of our country where there is little competition and accountability. But from ages eighteen to thirty Americans live mostly in Hard America–the parts of American life subject to competition and accountability.” While Soft America coddles, Hard America plays for keeps.

As he notes, schools are generally a soft environment. They are client- (that is, student-) oriented. Deadlines may be flexible. Professors are generally available for discussion.

Workplaces are generally a hard environment. Deadlines are deadlines. For example, if a court filing needs to be submitted at 12:00 midnight, it will not be accepted if it is submitted at 12:01AM—and no one will be interested in your excuse for why it’s late.

A hard attitude will be manifested in how you are treated by prospective employers and recruiters—and may come as a shock to a recent college graduate. If you apply for a job and don’t get an interview, you won’t be able to get anyone to tell you why not. If you do well at the first interview and are invited for a second interview but don’t get the job, again don’t expect anyone to tell you why. This is called “ghosting.” You can learn more in our article about “ghosting.” [link]

Therefore, be prepared for rejection, especially when there’s lots of competition, but try not to be discouraged. The articles listed below may help.

5. Know your strengths

Whether you’re a new college graduate or have been working for a while, you have a lot of accomplishments. It’s important to inventory them and appreciate them.

These may include academic degrees and awards, paid and volunteer jobs, and community activities.

Moreover, you have specific skills. “Hard” skills include analytical approaches, computer languages, and foreign languages. “Soft” skills include leadership and working with a group.

Think about your more challenging and more satisfying accomplishments. What specific factors made them so challenging? What specific outcomes made them so satisfying? Well-developed stories about these accomplishments will serve you well in interviews.

6. Manage your time

Searching for a job in any economy can take a long time. Therefore, it is critical to manage your time and your job-search activities.

It may be helpful to set goals for each week and each day of the week and to devote specific blocks of time to your job search.

Your job-search activities should include reading, listening to podcasts about various aspects of a job search, researching companies where you might like to work, and networking.

It is vital that you track your job-search activities, including whom you contacted and when, when they are supposed to get back to you, and what you promised to deliver to whom and by when. Here’s one tool for doing so, from JobLink Chicago, https://joblinkchicago.org/resources-for-job-seekers/

7. Don’t go it alone

Finally, searching for a job can be a lonely undertaking, but you need not go it alone.

One option is a job-search buddy (a form of accountability buddy or partner). This is someone you would check in with regularly (typically, once a week) to set goals one week and review them the next week. (To learn more, please see our article on the “job-search buddy” concept.) [link]

A second alternative is a job-search group. A group of friends from college, for example, can get together regularly, virtually or in-person, to compare notes about their progress, the barriers they’ve encountered, and how they dealt with the barriers. Celebrating even small successes can help lift everyone’s spirits.

For further reading

“College grads: navigating the job market during coronavirus,” by Catherine Guiles

“This is how to become mentally tough in a crisis,” by LaRae Quy

“Dealing with the 5 stages of career grief during COVID-19,” by Roy Maurer

“5 ways to stay motivated in a frustrating job hunt,” by Julia Corbett

“10 questions you must ask when you’re laid off” (8-minute video), by J. T. O’Donnell,

“Laid off and looking—6 steps for bouncing back after being let go” (55-minute video), by J. T. O’Donnell and Ariella Coombs

“Laid off: 4 options to help you add value and move forward” (12-minute video), J. T. O’Donnell

“How to stay motivated with your job search,” by Diana YK Chan, 07.28.20