Why You Can’t Find a Job

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Robby Slaughter Robby Slaughter

According to the experts, the recession is over. But talk to job seekers and the picture isn’t quite as rosy. If you’ve been searching for a job for months or even for more than a year, you have my sympathies. Yet I believe there may be one factor that’s inhibiting your success more than anything else. The greatest challenge in landing a new gig is making a tremendous shift in perspective.

Years ago, job hunting was a well-defined activity. Polish your résumé, browse the classified ads, follow up with old colleagues and attend a few career fairs. Getting hired was like washing your hands: lather, rinse, repeat. Eventually you’d squeak your way into an interview and end up with an offer.

Today, however, these methods seem tired and obsolete. For a sobering experience, try conducting a social experiment. Play the role of hiring manager and post a fictitious position on a free job board. Within a week, your inbox will overflow with hundreds of applicants.  Imagine trying to filter through that list to determine which candidates are actually qualified. Is it any wonder that the old system of entering through the front door feels woefully inadequate? The toughest way in is to directly apply.

Nevertheless, submitting a résumé is more complex than ever. Longtime jobseekers understand the importance of tailoring their application to match the position. If the candidate appears underqualified they will be dismissed in favor of stronger potentials, but if they appear overqualified they may be passed over out of fear that they will simply leave when the economy recovers. Older workers often try to mask their age by omitting key dates or early work history, out of a concern that hiring managers may assume they are unaffordable. Younger candidates will sometimes deemphasize their education, even if it was recent. Job hunters consciously and ruthlessly self-edit in the hopes of winning an interview. Getting an actual offer seems too remote to even consider.

The hardest part of finding a job, however, may be learning to think differently. Employers will assemble job descriptions that have a dozen ridiculously specialized requirements, ensuring that the ideal candidate  does not actually exist. Jobseekers will flood the applicant tracking systems with nearly indistinguishable résumés. Too many interviews will consist of the same boring questions and rehearsed answers that you’ve seen countless times. Your challenge is to break free of this monotony.

Instead of merely applying through the front door, network your way in colleagues and visit prospective coworkers in their offices. Instead of talking about your expertise, prove your value by doing some useful work and sending it in. Instead of waiting for the phone to ring, set up your own consulting business. Instead of reading the news, make your own news by starting a blog or joining a social network.

The reason you can’t get a job is not merely a mismatch between your qualifications and what is available. It’s more likely that compared to all the rest of the people applying, you’re too difficult to differentiate. Control your personal brand. Reinvent yourself. Present a candidate that gives hiring managers a reason to scratch their chin and schedule you for an interview. Be distinctive to win.

Robby Slaughter is a Speaker and Consultant with AccelaWork.

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