Have people told you never to quit your job until you find another one? Did you believe them? If so, you may have been mislead into keeping a position you truly despise, while depriving yourself of career satisfaction and sufficient time to look for what you really want.
While the need to keep your current job until you find another is a myth, it sounds reasonable, so people buy it. In fact, our culture has perpetuated a number of job-search myths, which may be true in isolated cases, but generally don't apply to the majority of candidates and employers. Unfortunately, these "old professionals' tales" aren't laughable. They are insidious untruths, which can easily become self-fulfilling prophecies if you let them.
Below are six myths which sabotage job-searchers daily:
- Employers only hire people who are currently working
- Interviewers are only interested in my specialized knowledge, not my transferable skills
- I can't network because I don't have any contacts
- Knowing how to ask for help
- Expanding your contacts beyond friends and relatives
- People who tell me I'm overqualified really think I'm too old
This statement does tend to be true of executive search firms which prefer to pluck people from one company and place them in another. But for most employers, this mind-set is outmoded. How many of your friends, relatives or former co-workers have been caught in a corporate downsizing recently? Almost everyone, including potential employers, knows someone whose job has gone away through no fault of his own. Hiring managers can empathize with unemployed candidates because they've either been in a similar position themselves or know someone who has.
If your finances permit you to quit working and look for another position full time, don't let this myth get in your way. Aside from having increased sympathy for the unemployed, interviewers also respect a professional who says he has voluntarily left a job because he didn't want to be conducting a job search on a former employer's time.
Very technical professions do tend to concentrate on work-content skills. None of us wants a brain surgeon who doesn't have plenty of experience operating on brains. Yet most jobs require using transferable skills as much or more than special knowledge. As they say at JCPenney, "If you can buy panty hose, you can buy pots and pans." It's the buying process, not specific product knowledge that determines success.
If you are considering changing careers, focus on the skills that come naturally. If you believe these talents will be useful to an employer and you can cite relevant examples, your interviewer will respond positively. Confidence is contagious.
Everyone has contacts. The dilemma is knowing how to use them. Most people don't want to impose on their friends, let alone strangers. They forget that asking someone for help is a sincere compliment.
The keys to effective networking are:
When you're looking for work, approach people for information, not a job. If you ask them to tell you about their career, company or industry, they will enjoy doing it and admire your thoughtful questions. Once they know you, they will gladly supply names of friends, relatives, colleagues, etc., who can offer added insights.
Begin your research by making a list of the people you know from work, church, aerobics, the softball team (yours and your child's), professional organizations, volunteer group, etc, to ask for help. You'll get good information and strengthen your relationships simultaneously.
While it's true there are a few bigots who don't want to hire older workers, most employers are primarily concerned with finding the best candidate for the job. If they are looking for someone with three to five years experience and you have twenty, you're too advanced for the position. If they want a line supervisor and you've been a VP, they will seriously question your willingness to take a large cut in status and salary.
Unfortunately, many job seekers assume pursuing lower-level positions will produce faster offers. But if they put themselves into an employer's shoes, they'll understand why this is faulty reasoning. Interviewers want to hire people who will be enthusiastic about their new job and want to stay long term. An employer may justifiably assume that a candidate who applies for a position beneath her level doesn't really want it. He worries that, after a few months, she will get bored and frustrated and start looking for something better.
If you genuinely want to downgrade your responsibility, be prepared to strongly defend your reasons. Otherwise, your motives will be suspect.