Three Habits of Highly Effective Job Seekers

  • Article by: KEVIN DONLIN , Star Tribune Sales and Marketing
  • Updated: February 9, 2009 - 9:41 AM

After speaking and writing to more than 20,000 job seekers since 1996, I've met hundreds of folks who seem to sail smoothly from one position to the next, in good times and in bad.

What do they do differently from average job seekers, who take 19.7 weeks to get hired, according to Dec. 2008 figures from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics?

Several important things. Three of them, actually. And they do them habitually.

Would you like to know what those three habits of highly effective job seekers are?

1) Begin with clarity
This habit comes first because it’s the most important. It’s also the most difficult for many people, because it requires you to do two very difficult things: think and say no.

You must first think and get clear about the job you want and the employers you want to do it for. This stymies many, because, as Henry James wrote, “A great many people think they are thinking when they are merely rearranging their prejudices.”

Second, you must say no to a huge number of potential jobs and employers, so you can focus your efforts on the “vital few” areas where you could get hired fastest.

This is difficult, because our instincts are to avoid closing the door on any possibility for work.

Thus, instead of telling folks that we’re looking for a position as an office manager with a mid-size law firm in Chicago, for example, we say we’re looking for something in administration or human resources at any company … and then we wonder why the phone doesn’t ring.

To achieve success in your job search, narrow your focus. You can always change jobs or careers later, after you’re hired. But to get hired, you must do the thinking for employers and tell them how everything you’ve done before qualifies you for that one, specific job you want to do next.

And it all starts with clarity.

2) Take immediate, intelligent, massive action
I know of no more accurate predictor of success in job hunting (and in life) than a person’s habit of taking action on new ideas quickly, analyzing and improving those actions, and continuing to move ahead until they achieve their goal.

This is immediate, intelligent, massive action.

By immediate, I mean now. As in “Do it now,” the motto of W. Clement Stone, who founded the Combined Insurance Company in 1919 and built it to more than $1 billion in assets. Some of Stone’s greatest successes came selling insurance door-to-door in the 1930s. (If you want to know what works in a recession, emulate people who succeeded in the Depression.)

By intelligent, I mean you should ask yourself three questions every Friday or Saturday, to review your prior week’s efforts and continually improve:

  1. What’s working to produce job interviews? (Do more of that.)
  2. What’s not working? (Change or stop doing that.)
  3. What’s next? (Plan the upcoming week.)

By massive, I mean you must spend at least 40 hours a week looking for work if you’re unemployed. According to Jason Alba (JibberJobber.com) and Orville Pierson (Lee Hecht Harrison), the average job seeker spends just 10 hours a week on their search. If that’s true, it’s no wonder most people are struggling to find work.

3) Leave your comfort zone
All growth comes after you do new, uncomfortable things. Think of a baby learning to walk or a butterfly leaving its chrysalis.

How many uncomfortable actions are you willing to take each day in your job search? That number will largely predict how fast you find work.

Example: I’ve met hundreds of job seekers who struggle for months to get hired because they do only what is comfortable. Usually this involves surfing employment Web sites and emailing resumes into the ether. As a result, their careers are literally in a state of arrested development.

Instead, you should welcome feelings of discomfort in your job search, like calling a friend of a friend to arrange an informational interview, or attending a chamber of commerce meeting to find leading local businesses and meet people who can hire you.

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