The Principle-Based Job Search

Warning: this turned out to be a harshly-worded rant.  I would tone it down, but I’m passionate about the message.

In my speaking and my writing I’ve been known to refer to a “principle-based job search.”

Every once in a while someone asks what the heck I’m talking about.  I’ll tell you 🙂

When I was in my job search I did what I thought was right.  I spent time on my resume (doing it wrong), I spent tons of time applying to jobs online, I spent time avoiding networking events, because I was too good for that (I was convinced my resume would show how amazing I was).

My job search was NOT principle-based.  It was based on assumptions, and whims, and outdated information.

Eventually, I went to a two-day job search workshop, and I learned about the principles involved in a job search.

And my entire job search, and my efforts, changed.  It was a much-needed change.  It was principle-based, goal-oriented (not “get a job,” but daily and weekly goals that moved me in the right direction).

I think one of the biggest reasons job seekers are not finding jobs (or, alternative income streams) is because they are doing the EASY stuff:

  • “I applied to 20 jobs this week and heard nothing!” Dude, seriously, isn’t everyone telling you to NOT use the job boards?
  • “I don’t have time to go to a networking meeting.” Of course you don’t  You are focusing 90% of your time on what works for 5% of people (like I did.  Look how that turned out for me.).
  • “I don’t need help – I know what I’m doing.” Yep.  Just like I did.  For weeks I was spinning wheels.
  • “To get unemployment insurance I only need to meet two new companies a week.  The state says that’s a job search, so I’m doing alright.” No, you are just playing the game to get the crappy little pittance the state gives out to those who apply.  You are telling me you will blame the state, and their standard, for your prolonged job search?

I’m reminded of Staple’s “Easy Button” campaign.

I see too many job seekers who I want it easy. They don’t want to spend too much time. They don’t want to get out of their comfort zone.  They don’t want to do something hard or unusual (book recommendation: Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters).  They don’t want to accept much responsibility for their actions or reactions (instead focusing blame on things outside their control, like THE ECONOMY!).

Let me put it this way.



Get over the easy button idea.

Get to work!  Roll up your sleeves!  Brush your teeth and put on nice clothes and get out of the freaking house, and go to networking events!  Pick up the phone!  You are not allergic to making phone calls!  Get informational interviews!


And then, get better at it.

Get better at networking.

Get better at communicating.

Get better at informational interviews.

Get better at picking up the phone.

I got news for you: This is the new normal.  Even after you land your dream job, you need to continue most of the job search stuff you are doing now, because your next transition could be right around the corner.

So get good at it, and get serious about it.

This, my friends, is called career management.

You’ll know you have “arrived” when you actually enjoy doing it.


15 thoughts on “The Principle-Based Job Search”

  1. Jason,

    Probably not harsh enough. I tell people to spend 20-30 minutes in the morning – quick perusal of a job board/craiglist or two – and then out the door with 50, 100, 150 cover-letter/resumes in hand.

    Don’t wait for a “job posting” – instead find “career coincidences”. That is when you walk into enough local companies in a short period of time that you run into a strange coincidence.. like walking into a conversation about a topic you are an expert in…

    Or walking into a place and discovering someone you knew 5 years prior, who likes you, is sitting behind the desk, etc.

    Both of those happened to me in Phoenix. When an executive director for a law-firm that hired me said, “Kind of a coincidence that you walked into the office while we were having that particular conversation.”

    I replied, “If you visit 300 companies in 4 weeks, you are bound to have a coincidence or two.”

    Good post!

  2. Oh, how I wish everyone would take your message to heart, Jason. Our default method appears to be “the easy button” (love that phrase), which NEVER leads to satisfying, fulfilling, gainful employment. It’s the entitlement mindset that gets people stuck and stalled in their job search. No effort = no results. Nothing worth having in life is ever handed to us. We have to be proactive and go after it…whether its a job, a promotion, an award, recognition, and so on.

  3. Jason, it is good to rant along with you. Just what we career coaches need to do every so often. It’s funny that when employed most of us do spend 40+ hours working. Why can’t the same be true when we are out of work and worried about making the mortgage payment, among other countless financial obligations?

  4. Matt: You walk into a company unsolicited with a resume and — what? Tell the receptionist you’d like to meet with John Smith, that you don’t have an appointment; and if John’s busy, you drop your resume? Is that effective?

  5. Ari,

    Absolutely! Assuming John Smith is the person’s name. In fact, I recommend job seekers act like they are in sales – of a highly valuable commodity that can dramatically help a company (themselves).

    Personally, I’ve never found an opportunity through a job board or by waiting for an RFP. I am either referred or I generate the opportunity.

    I’ve coached hundreds of job seekers over the past couple years to do the same.

    It does a few things:
    1) It lets me define my geographic working area. I dictate where I will work.

    2) Most jobs are never posted online – the job posting is a frightening experience for employers – very random. If your resume and cover letter (and personality) can make an impact, prior to them posting a job online, you are the only name in the game. Competing against.. you!

    3) Makes me proactive. I am not inclined to want to wait to see what jobs show up every day.

    People, for some reason, believe it is weird to go into a company and ask if they are hiring or simply introduce themselves and say they would love to find out more about the company and opportunities.

    Consider this… if you show up, drop your resume, and they give it a once over, it may prompt them to create a position that would have NEVER been posted.

    I consider it the most effective way to find work.. not simply another option to try.

  6. Timely discussion, Jason and I particularly agree with “showing up,”–Matt Moran’s suggestion–it has worked for me personally and does work for clients who are willing to try. Taking a smart risk usually pays off.

    I like the “principle-based” concept because it gives you a value based framework to create success opportunities. The reality is getting the offer is only the tip of the iceberg — you still have to do more of what you learned during your search to establish credibility–so that if/when you are in transition again, it doesn’t paralyze you like it did the first time around.

    Thanks as always for these conversations, Jason.

  7. What do you do if you are still working but HIGHLY unhappy in your current job? How do you make time to drop in to employers/call etc?

  8. One of your best posts, Jason! You are getting to the heart at why people are so frustrated in their job search – they choose one piece of the puzzle instead of trying to build a job search strategy with all the critical pieces. Bravo – well-written, passionate, and just what people in career transition need to hear!

  9. Jason, I’m flattered that my question at Susan Whitcomb’s The Academies page led to your valuable post!

    I agree, and some of the Principles might be:

    – Networking is not about asking people if they know of any *job openings.* Much smarter to have conversations about *companies* you’re interested in, what their needs are / will be, how they hire, who to talk to, etc.

    – By the time an opening is posted, you’re a latecomer to it. Somebody else has already made themself a “known candidate.”

    – Networking doesn’t just mean schmoozing at big meetings. It often means quiet, one-on-one conversations as described above. (Good news for introverts like me!)

    – “Winging it” in communications (elevator introductions, interviews, cover letters) is a loser’s game.

    – Even if you write your own resume, etc., you need others’ perspectives on what you wrote. (Marketing people know this, that’s where they use focus groups.)

    – There’s nothing inauthentic about being well prepared and strategic in all your communications.

    – Job search is an art, maybe even a science – but it’s definitely not something we’re born knowing how to do!

  10. I have a question then….

    For someone with a hearing disability who has a hard time communicating on the phone and has to get past the stigma of that disability, how do you propose communicating with others while job searching?

    I have networked. I have walked into many different places. I have talked with many people. But, something is not working for me.

    I am always looking for constructive criticism. My problem is finding a career that my hearing disability will allow me to do. I keep hitting dead ends. I could use some other suggestions if anyone has any?

  11. Joy:

    I recently worked with a client with a speech impediment–here is what worked for him–we practiced (many many times), he always had a script always in front of him for phone conversations. One idea that finally got him past the disability to have an actual conversation on the phone was to prepare the person via email–we wrote out a script for him to send to the person before he made the call–7/10 the person on the other side was approachable with this idea. This helped my client begin the conversation without having to explain why he sounded “different” on the phone.

    With any disability, the critical question is to assess when would be the right time to disclose, how critical might an accomodation be for an employer/you to make to be successful at the job you are considering and how can you offer a proactive solution so that the focus of the conversation is on what you bring to the employer.

    Without knowing whether you use a hearing aid or what specifically you are running into, my comments might be broad. However, I am happy to respond via email or even a conversation, should you wish to talk further.

    I can tell that you are open to suggestions–because you wrote it your question. Bravo!

    Good Luck.

  12. Hi Sunitha,

    Thank you for your comment.

    I am going to start by saying that I am not your typical hearing impaired person. At first meet, you would think that I was just a normal hearing person until you turn your head and look away from me and that is when the conversation starts going downhill. I have worked really hard with my personal people skills and I take great pride in that. Groups are not easy for me, because I can only follow one conversation at a time. What might surprise you, I do not know sign language but I read lips and body language very well.

    I wear a hearing aid. I am severely hearing impaired. I have to use a relay in order to have a phone conversation and to be honest with you, I really hate that accommodation because sometimes I don’t have the patience for it and most of the time the other person on the other end doesn’t either and I can see that with the transcriptions.

    I get the feeling that when I am looking for a company to hire me, they seem reluctant to due to my disability. I cannot get away with it in an interview, because I do have to tell them they need to look at me when they speak otherwise I will miss the question or misunderstand the question. However, I do try to show that my disability is not necessarily a negative and that I highlight other strengths that many people do not have such as my attention to detail, my analytical thought processes and my ability to empathize and see the big picture.

    I have not given up yet in my job search. I must admit though that it can get discouraging because I know I have so much to offer.

    I do not mind making this a conversation if it will help someone else in the same position as me.


  13. You’re right, that so much of the job hunt and career management is not easy. It’s particularly tough for people who’ve gotten great grades and followed the rules, only to be rejected when it counts the most, i.e., landing a job.

    Yet some of those who make the hiring decisions have gotten every job fairly smoothly. They would never comprehend someone having hardships in getting hired. No, they actually make matters worse because they proclaim that qualified employees are hard to find. (And that belief is never challenged, that’s one of those lies repeated 1,000 times it’s become truth.)

    Nevertheless, to provide some alternate perspectives to your reality regarding the struggles of job search, I’d like to recommend a book that’s helped me quite a bit. Actually, I’ll recommend 2 since they’re related. They are:
    1. The Path of Least Resistance by Robert Fritz
    2. Effortless Mastery by Kenny Werner

    Many great artists and performers don’t struggle, they actually operate quite naturally. They just go with the flow.

    Sometimes, the problem is job hunters care too much, and no employer nor hiring manager will ever recognize that. Some people I’ve seen who land jobs actually didn’t put as much effort nor dedication as employers claim they want.

    I hope one day employers and candidates develop that fluency in finding each other, in terms of or in spite of modern technology.

  14. I live a block away from the public library and I enjoy checking out books (though usually they sit and are returned unread) but since you recommend them, I just reserved them. Thanks Glenn.

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