In Shakespeare's Hamlet, Polonius tells Hamlet, “to thine own self be true.” In the movie Mulan, Stevie Wonder and 98 Degrees sings that you must be “true to your heart.” In life, whether we are searching for a lover or a job, we must recognize and give credence to who we really are and what we really want. The challenge in job searching then is to honour our truest ourselves while searching for a job that will not divorce us from ourselves, to find a job that resonates with who we are as human beings, as opposed to one that serves as an affront to our integrity.
Finding a job is a little like dating. Questions like “do they like me?”, “Should I call them?”, or “How do I show interest without sounding desperate?” are not only reserved for dating. However, the strategies of success that are often employed to navigate dating quagmires can be applied to help anyone searching in the employment context.
Are you detail-oriented or do you see the forest before you see the trees? Are you a leader? Do a skills inventory or self-assessment of your abilities. You don’t have to do a Meyers-Brigg personality test, although one may be helpful. What moves you? What makes you angry? What are you passionate about?
Jot down your interests, strengths, weaknesses and abilities. You must be honest with yourself. The work you do should make you, at least on most days, get out of bed with excitement. It should draw upon your strengths and abilities. It should challenge you. It should resonate with you. You need to know yourself and be in touch with yourself in order to be true to yourself.
Know Your Priorities
Do you value work-life balance? Do you honour integrity and professionalism? Do you want a career in which promotion is a possibility and mentorship is guaranteed? Make a list of your priorities and your goals – both short term and long term. Begin with the end in mind.
If you know you want to one day become partner at your law firm, you know that in the short term, you should apply to work at a firm that favours the promotion of their associate lawyers. If you know you want to be home to eat dinner with your family and read your children a bed time story, you know not to apply for a demanding medical residency. You need to know what you want before you go out looking for it.
Imagine Your Dream Day
Speaking of knowing what you want, what do you want your day to look like? In her book, Live the Life You Love, Dr. Susan Biali suggests that we should imagine our dream day – no matter how wacky or inaccessible or unrealistic it may be. If you dream of waking up late, having brunch by the seaside, making headway on the manuscript for your novel, attending a cocktail with film producers and ending your day with a candlelight dinner with your partner, strive for the lifestyle you imagine.
If your dream day sounds like that of an entrepreneur or a novelist, why are you applying for internships in computer science? Why are you a camp counsellor? Your actions and “forward movement” should be related to your ultimate goals.
Don’t Limit Yourself
Apply to all of the jobs that you want even if you feel you may not have all of the qualifications. Studies have shown that men tend to apply for jobs when they meet 60 percent of the criteria, whereas women tend to only apply for jobs if they meet all of the criteria. Don’t underestimate yourself. By underestimating yourself, you could be denying yourself the opportunity to be stretched and challenged in an exciting new job. Feel free to overreach, and, if granted an interview, demonstrate your willingness to learn and adapt.
The key is to apply to the jobs that you actually want and to accept only the positions for which you feel passion or offer the possibility to develop passion. If you don’t see anything that interests you, feel free to hold out for the best. Don’t accept anything out of desperation. You are not desperate.
One of the biggest mistakes a person can make in love, life, and in their careers is to believe the myth of scarcity (i.e. “it’s now or never,” “this is the best that there is,” “if I don’t take this there will be nothing else down the line,” “this is my last chance” etc.).
Yes, you may need a job to pay the bills and tide you over, but few things are worse than working in a job that you hate but you applied for because you needed it as opposed to you wanted it. You may be unemployed for longer than you had hoped, but this frees you up to explore opportunities that actually suit your interests and goals. Good things come to those who wait.
Know Your Worth
Tied to the idea of desperation is the power of knowing your worth. Whether or not you have the educational background, tell yourself that you are a hard-working individual and possess the potential to be a great employee. You would be an asset to any company. Walk into your interviews buoyed by the confidence of your worth.
That said, there is a fine line between confidence and arrogance. You must be humbly confident and realistic. Arrogance says, “I am better than everyone else.” Confidence says, “There are many talented candidates. I too have something to offer your company.” Convince your prospective employer that they need you in order to move forward and be innovative.
If you know your worth, you won’t settle for paltry salaries beneath your expertise and education. You won’t sit by the phone waiting for an employer to call. You won’t feel too jilted by rejection e-mails because you know that it is their loss. Believe in yourself and don’t sell yourself short.