I’d rather approach this from a positive point of view–eight things you can do right, right now. However, unless you see these from the negative side, I’m not sure you can appreciate the problem. So here they are–the eight big things that can undermine your best efforts to make a good match in the job market.
- Too many narratives. Just who the heck are you anyway? It is fine to evolve, to have many interests, and to give in to the occasional impulse, but it’s important to establish and maintain your personal brand. Your narrative isn’t just what you put into the world. It guides how you think about your choices and how you can explain them to yourself as well. When you think “Hmm, that was not like me at all” it usually means you were careless or not deliberate or intentional. The common problem is known as trying to be “all things to all people.”
- Mistaking an execution error for a tactical or strategic error. Let’s say you go to a networking event and you are unprepared, dressed inappropriately, in a bad mood, or just having an off night. It doesn’t mean that your strategy is all wrong. If it was an event for accountants, it doesn’t mean that you should not be an accountant, or that accountants are not good networkers. It only means you need some practice. A strategic error is a big one–like becoming an accountant when you are sure you should have been a charter boat captain. That kind of error requires a segue instead of more practice, advice, or preparing better next time..
- Overemphasizing resume, cover letters, writing samples, thank you notes, and even job postings responses. Your materials are not you, and your crafting and redrafting of them is not a great use of your time and effort. Get out from behind the computer and meet new people, make new friends, join other people, collaborate, and air out your brain. Your tribe–your inner circle–can help you more than that resume, so you should spend time with them and treat them extremely well. And never, ever, complain to them. You do have to have a basic resume and to be familiar with the standards for a good cover letter, but thinking these will ever be perfect or that they will get you a job is to exaggerate their importance.
- Administrative shortfall. Keep up with the administration of your life–paying bills, planning, maintenance on the equipment, your health, and all of the other things that go into keeping you on the straight and narrow. Doing so builds and sustains your confidence in your choices and in your self. That confidence provides you with space to make good decisions and allows you to be resilient when you are rejected or don’t get what you want.
- Debating feedback. You don’t have to accept all feedback, but you should not debate it or be defensive when you get it or hear it. If the feedback is objective–a score, count, deadline, or other measure, it’s easy to re-do and check the accuracy. No debate required. If it is someone’s opinion, it’s an opinion. Thank them. Move on. No need to defend the castle; it’s yours and owner-occupied.
- Not defining your purpose and your core competencies and leading with your strengths and purpose at all times. We like to think we are good at many things, and usually we are. but core strengths are what fuels the rocket and purpose is what makes the destination clear. This could not be more important–the ability to assess yourself against criteria that you establish is a foundational career skill and you begin to learn it by simply doing it. Many of us become known for many things, but are not always sure how they fit together or help us get better at what we want to do.
- Undervaluing personal traits, appearance, or language. We either think no one is looking, no one cares, or that everyone is looking and that everyone cares. Neither is true–it just matters when it matters, so you have to be prepared for the times when it does. that means good habits but not excessive self-consciousness.
- Accepting innumeracy as a thing that is okay. It isn’t. If you say you aren’t good with numbers you will believe it and then you won’t be. If you aren’t, you need to practice and get better at quantifying accurately. It’s important.