Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Job Search as Competition

I was driving in my car and heard the Police song, “I can’t Stand Losing You”.  I’m sure you remember it, there is a section where Sting repeats the line, “I can’t stand losing” about 20 times, might be 30.  Then talks about he’s going to kill himself because he “lost” his girlfriend. 

It got me thinking of how obsessed we have become as a society with “winning” and “losing”.  Everything we do is described in those terms, we even have TV shows that are contests about who can “win” the heart of another.  (Somebody has to watch The Bachelor). 
I have also long understood job search in terms of creating relationships such that the job seeker can reasonably assess whether this is a good situation for them….  A process that echoes courting our future life partners waayyy too closely;  simultaneously, we tend to think of a job interview in terms of “winning” or “losing”, rather than identifying a good “fit”. 

Two stories come to mind:  1)  One of the folks in NFJS was devastated recently because she didn’t even get an interview at a company she had previously worked with and from whom she had glowing reviews.  2)  A very senior resource who was in an interview at Boeing where she had been given the full “Inquisition” style interview.  There were five interviewers, each had specific questions and for this interview at least, there was no interaction allowed.  Every time the candidate asked a question that was even vaguely job related she was rebuked.   Not only was the question not answered, but she was genuinely scolded.  At the end of the interview, they asked, “Do you have any questions?” then, when she started to ask about the job, she was once again reprimanded!  Wow!
In both of these cases, there was this normal but weird mentality that missed a couple of core parts of what creates a good job:  The attraction has to be mutual and it’s not a contest.  Make no mistake, I’m as likely to compete as anyone.  I see something that looks like a fit on paper and I feel like a failure if I don’t get that job!  Never mind that the job description isn’t (or is) related to the actual job; I read 2 paragraphs on Craig’s List and I now “know” that this is “the” job for me!  In the cold light of day it seems pretty silly, kind of like knowing that your “soul mate” is someone you watched as they walked by the coffee shop you were sitting in.   

In his classic book, What Color is Your Parachute, Richard Bolles states that there are five questions that count for the employer and five questions that count for the employee.  Interestingly, only one question relates to skills and both the employer and the employee have the same five questions. 
Thinking about the two people mentioned earlier, the first person assumed the courtship was over because she had worked with them previously.  The second one has absolutely no idea if she would be successful in this Boeing role – actually, Boeing doesn’t either, no matter how proud of their system they might be.  At the end of their interview, there process will allow them to assess is the candidates technical skill set.  Of the five questions, it is the second and it is an exceptionally poor predictor of success. 

The point is that job search isn’t about winning and losing.  It’s about creating sustainable relationships based on several personal attributes as well as job skills.  Finding a good job is about understanding and evaluating those.  For both sides. 

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