A job search is an exercise in analysis. You must analyze yourself and also the employer you hope will hire you. Ask not what the employer can do for you; ask what you can do for the employer. Keep that thought in mind throughout your job search, especially during interviews.
The better you know yourself, the easier it will be to figure out what’s right for you. A useful piece of advice comes from a man who managed to make a successful career in theater and never had to resort to waiting tables:
This above all, to thine own self be true, Shakespeare told his many readers. This advice is great, except he left out one step.
The first order of business is to find out what your “own self” is. How can you be true to something if you don’t quite know what that something is?
To find the answer, you have to ask some questions. What are you really like? What do you hate? What do you really like? Where have you been happy? Where have you been miserable, bored, or stressed? Where have you dreaded going into work or couldn’t wait to leave?
Give some thought to those questions. You might start with a bit of personal history, a look at the places you’ve been and what they’ve meant to you. This is not just about past jobs. If you’re still in school, consider classes you’ve taken and projects you’ve done. We want to figure out the characteristics that have made one situation good and another bad. We want to understand what the good ones had in common and what made the bad ones bad.
Then you need to get into the heads of the employers and interviewers.
One shortcut to the interviewers’ psyche is to put yourself in their shoes. Picture this: You’re running a business that has one employee, one product, and only one goal. In this exercise, you’re the employee. You’re also the product, and the sole goal of the business is to mount a job search that ends in an offer.
So far, then, we’re talking about a situation that’s not hypothetical in the least, but we’ll add one further circumstance. After some efforts at searching on your own, you’ve decided to get some help. You’re going to hire someone to take charge of this operation.
You’ve advertised, describing the job and asking for resumes. You’ve narrowed the field to three, and you’re going to meet with each one before making a decision.
Obviously, you want to hire the person most likely to give you the most help. They all look good on paper. How will you decide?
Here are a few things you, the interviewer, may want to know:
• Where, if at all, do paper and reality diverge? This person looks very successful on paper, but he’s probably making himself look as good as possible and leaving out his less successful moments. How does he cope when things aren’t going well?
• Regardless of the success this person has had on behalf of others, how do I know he’ll do the job for me? My one-man company is a special company. It’s not like the others. It has its own culture. Will this candidate’s success translate to this unique environment?
• What if the search drags on? Will he be there for the long haul, or will he ditch me in a heartbeat if a better offer comes along?
• Does this person seem to have the knowledge I need? Does he know what makes a good resume? Is he well-versed in the different styles of interviews? Does he understand what aspects of my background I should emphasize in the search?
• Does he seem to get the idea that the point of all this is to get me hired? Is he looking hard at helping me reach my goals? Has he come prepared with workable strategies?
• What would it be like working with him on a project of such great personal importance?
We bring our own inner natures to the search, and some of us are more naturally resilient or optimistic than others. The job search is grueling for almost everyone, but the fault lies in the process and has nothing to do with you personally.