Job hunting? Don’t just focus on your resume – focus on yourself

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Kick your feet up and read; it'll be great for your career. (Photo credit: Gael Martin, Creative Commons/Flickr)

As any job seeker knows, a wealth of information exists about how to write a resume, how to network, how to interview. A component of the job search process not nearly so well-documented — though it truly rests at the heart of any successful search — is how to match your personality with your work. If you don’t know yourself, how can you search for the jobs you’ll find most satisfying? Too many job seekers are shooting in the dark.

Start with self-reflection and research

I know because I was one of them (along with many of my friends). As a true generalist, I always find myself attracted to a variety of interests. In daily life, this orientation is generally a plus, as it keeps me picking up new hobbies, trying new restaurants, and meeting new people. But ten years after graduating college, it started to meddle with my working life: I had been going from job to job, trying and enjoying new things, but not doing much building toward a particular greater end. As I started to want more meaningful work I could really sink my teeth into, I realized I didn’t know where to start looking, because I wasn’t sure what would satisfy me.

So I decided to try beginning from the beginning: 1) who am I?, and 2) what kinds of jobs do people like me enjoy? I cast a wide net at first, trying all of the following:

- Reading “life manual” books. Books such as What Color Is Your Parachute? and Do What You Are can help you clarify and define the aspects of your personality that are the most important to keep in mind as you look for work. For example, personality type testing revealed to me that I am a strong extrovert; I derive my energy largely from other people, rather than feeling drained by social interaction. Acknowledging that fact enabled me to cross job titles like Forester off my list, because although I love trees and conservation, realistically, being alone in the woods all day would soon drive me batty. Solid personal understandings like this are the cornerstones of sensible and efficient job seeking.

- Conducting informational interviews. Aside from the connections you stand to make, it’s illuminating what you can learn about yourself by asking other people about what they do. When I interviewed a psychologist, I realized that, though the communicative and helpful nature of the work appealed to me, running my own private practice would be difficult — I knew I’d miss the more social “water cooler” environment of a job with coworkers. After talking with an urban planner, I determined I didn’t have a strong enough drive for the work to carry me through the higher education degree(s) I’d have to earn to get a good job in the field. Reflecting on conversations with foundation program officers, I understood that I don’t have the academic tenacity to thoughtfully read proposal after proposal, day in and day out; I would need something more collaborative. And on and on.

- Enlisting professional help. When I felt ready to step up my personal-research game, I got a referral from a friend to a great career counselor who really helped me understand my job quest (and myself in the process!). If no one you know can recommend a pro, the National Career Development Association’s Find A Counselor resource explains why career counseling is helpful to many people, and how to go about finding a counselor you like in your neck of the woods. Though I found it to be worth every penny, counseling can be expensive, so if you’re on a tight budget, shop around for counselors who offer sliding scale rates based on your income, discounts for students or the currently unemployed, or who will meet with you the first time free of charge, so you can at least get a sense of your compatibility before plunking down any dough. Colleges and universities with counseling programs can be great for this — like the Center for Educational and Psychological Services at Columbia in New York — and, happily, some practitioners make offering affordable services part of their pitch. In line with the holistic approach, look for a counselor whose aim is not so much to help you refine your resume or soup up your Linkedin profile as it is to help you bring to the fore the aspects of your unique personality that will be most critical to match to your work.

An ongoing journey

The most intense period of my job-and-self finding odyssey lasted about six months. It was a job in itself — lots of reading, lots of note taking, lots of reflection. And it’s an ongoing process, in the never-stop-learning sense. But the knowledge I uncovered in that time, about the ways I operate best and what I really value, will stay with me from here on, and I know it will help me make job (and other life) decisions more quickly and accurately than before.

What role do reflection and self-awareness play in your job search?

Need to do a little more soul searching before applying for jobs? Check out this career mapping exercise in our Career Center.

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Comments (8)


  1. saint writes:
    July 9, 2012 at 1:11 pm

    Thanks for the link to the career development consultation links, I will try that as my last ditch since nothing else is working; if that does not work, I will quit job hunting, I don’t even know if I am going to advice anyone of studying anymore. IT is not what you know, just who you know, and that is it.

    I know we are supposed to work on the things that we can control, ourselves. Yet, I can assure you that the biggest problem in this current times is the attitude of employers not job seekers. I have lost hope in the goodness of people or in expecting professional common courtesy.

    The whole process is going in circles, even networking is not achieving much


  2. April Greene writes:
    July 9, 2012 at 4:03 pm

    Hi Saint,

    Thanks for writing. Searching for a job is hard work indeed, and can be discouraging, but Rome wasn’t built in a day (or even a year), so take heart!

    Aside from great “outward” steps you can take to stay proactive and positive — like career counseling or linking up with a job search support group (http://www.idealist.org/blog/en/idea-file-start-a-job-search-support-group/) — some of the best advice I’ve gotten is to take good care of yourself as you search. Stay on top of your job-getting tasks so you can feel productive and make progress, but also build in time to relax, chat with a friend on the phone, have a snack, read a fun magazine… I agree that “who you know” is important — and the most important “who” is you!

    All the best for your search.


  3. MT writes:
    July 9, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    “What role do reflection and self-awareness play in your job search?”

    A huge role. I’m having to discipline myself now to allow time and energy for reflection toward clarity and what the article calls self-awareness.

    My experience with most things is that there is an easy way to get things done and a hard way. For me, given how I’m built, the easy way comes when I have a high level of clarity about what I am doing and why. A few carefully placed actions can yield substantial outcomes when I am in this space of clarity.

    On the flip side, the hard way happens when I don’t have clarity and am just doing things to “do.” It feels like flailing around and it has a very high ratio of energy expended versus results.

    The difficulty for me is that I can’t stand being unemployed. It stresses me out at a lot of levels, and out of that stress comes a push from within, “Do something! Do something! Anything!” And reflection doesn’t seem like the kind of doing that that push desires.

    Acting from that “Do something! Anything!” space is for me a recipe for flailing around and doing things the hard way. But it’s very loud and hard to ignore – even as I do know that what works for me is acting from a space of clarity, which requires time and energy for reflection as part of the process.


  4. Saint writes:
    July 9, 2012 at 4:37 pm

    Hi,

    Thanks for your reply. I understood your point well and it is a good point to focus one’s self. What I highlight is that even then, the obstacle is not the focused applicant, it is the unfocused recipient/evaluator for the most part. There is not much left for me to focus upon, if I did it anymore, I would practically have a very narrow list of choices. Even then, the choices will not be under my control since it is not a buffet I am choosing from, it is something that has to go through electronic filters that don’t care about me or what I have focused upon.

    I also understand the point of knowing myself en route to be able to presenting myself, but do people really care about “me” when evaluating ? no. Do they really humanize my situation? I stopped thinking so. Is it about my merit, only as an exclusionary factor.

    I do try movies and books but that has a limit, same as loved ones and friends. It is a temporary pain killer from the pressing thought “I should not have gotten a master’s” and “I should not have gotten to one of the top ranked school”, I have become a disposable piece of paper to others. I either have to become a sycophant or a liar and I can not do it.

    I am discouraged and on the 90′th percentile of quitting soon, I can be in tune with myself all I want, if I want others to hire me, they have to bother reading my application like professional not hiding behind their electronic firewall.


  5. Ann writes:
    July 9, 2012 at 4:42 pm

    Hi April,

    I agree – I think reflection and self-awareness are so important in the job search process. And just like you, I’ve been bouncing from job to job without much clarity of what I really want, just knowing that I need to pay the bills and also having a variety of broad interests, like spirituality. Now I’ve become more ‘career-focused’ and am beginning to look for jobs that will allow me to move up. I actually would love to do freelance writing work and wanted to ask you – how did you come upon writing articles for idealist.org? That’s something I’m interested in on the side. Thank you!


  6. April Greene writes:
    July 10, 2012 at 10:07 am

    Hi Ann,

    It’s nice to meet a kindred spirit!

    I work at Idealist, and writing comes with my job’s territory, but there are always good freelance gigs to be had. If you haven’t done a ton of writing yet, consider volunteering to draft articles for a neighborhood newspaper to get some clips, or start a blog so you’ll have at least a small portfolio to shop around. With a little more experience, you can experiment with marketplace sites like Elance (https://www.elance.com/) that link up freelancers of many kinds with businesses and other potential clients who want to hire them.

    There are as many routes to getting published as there are articles to be written — my advice is to Google around and start typing! Good luck :)


  7. Richard Domke writes:
    July 16, 2012 at 12:08 pm

    April, I appreciate your perspective and attitude; it’s certainly difficult to maintain a positive outlook about the condition of society within in the circumstances (stranglehold) that government, economics and commerce seems to exercise upon our lives. I’m trying to apply some of the methods you addressed and I’m in the “post-self-assessment”phase of my own life-redefinition. It is so critical to find people with whom you share (life) values while engaging the trials and tribulations of this plane of existence. I’m counting upon the derivatives of our actions in this live to set the tone for what’s ahead for each of us. And I hope that those who have lived lives of predation, greed and abuse earn their just-rewards as well. I take heart in what Christian theology advises about “storing up treasures upon this world”. Best Regard to you.


  8. jhon barg writes:
    July 28, 2012 at 10:38 am

    This is a wonderful post! Thanks for sharing your knowledge with us! I hope to read more of your post which is very informative and useful to all the readers. I salute writers like you for doing a great job!Top resume tips for choosing a resume format, selecting a resume font, customizing your resume, using resume keywords, explaining employment gaps, and more tips for writing winning resumes.


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