Secrets to Success, Job Seekers Edition: Think Like a Job Seeker All the Time

Apr 8, 2009 by

Flickr photo by Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library

Flickr photo by Topeka & Shawnee County Public Library

I have big news that I’ve been sharing intermittently all around the interwebs. Now it’s time to bring it here: I have a new job!

After a few months of searching, I recently accepted a position with Smart Growth America. SGA is “is a nationwide coalition promoting a better way to grow: one that protects farmland and open space, revitalizes neighborhoods, keeps housing affordable, and provides more transportation choices.” Directly from their website:

“We believe that the asphalt-intensive sprawl that dominates our landscape is no one’s idea of the American Dream. By paving over prime farmland and open space; subsidizing new greenfield development on the urban fringe, and promoting disinvestment in downtowns and main streets, sprawl continues to undermine America’s environment, economy and social fabric. Paradoxically, while advertised as providing greater freedom, much of this development has in reality limited our choices. We believe that smart growth provides more – and better – choices for our communities: better choices in where we live, what kind of home we live in, and how we get around.”

Quite simply, awesome! I’m really excited about their work and the work that I’ll be doing for them.

Now that the search is completed and I have some time to reflect back, I want to try to distill some of the key elements that made it successful. I’m hoping that by sharing a few tips that have worked for me, I can help others in their search. This is the first post, but stay tuned for others on networking, tools to help you in your search, personalizing everything and more.*

It’s kind of amazing how much a job search and then getting a new gig can change the way you think. When you are essentially trying to sell yourself, you do things a little differently. You start to think more broadly about the connections you have in your field, you mentally rehearse answers to the most common interview questions, you may even dress differently (if you’re like me and don’t usually wear a suit to work).

In some ways, this can be a good thing. There’s a lot to be said for being able to identify and articulate your key strengths on command or having an updated resume available in case of new opportunities. Of course, after a while this ‘selling’ mindset can take a toll. I’m sure we’ve all seen stories of discouraged job seekers (particularly in this job market) that lose confidence after a long search and just stop trying.

So how do we avoid ‘selling fatigue’ and job searching fear/dread? Start thinking like a job seeker all the time. Ok, so this tip really has to do with what happens before you even begin looking for a job (or after you finally find one), but it’s just as important as the others.

At any given moment in your professional life, you should be able to explain to someone what your professional goals are, what your strengths and weaknesses are, what you are doing to build on those strengths and shore up those weaknesses and how you can help his or her organization succeed. I’m not even talking about someone outside of your organization. You should be able to explain this to your boss and your coworkers without a problem. Maybe you’ve never been asked these questions at your current job; honestly, it doesn’t really matter – you should be able to answer them anyway.

Funding has never been a certainty for nonprofits. But nowadays with foundations cutting their grants, private donations sinking and the government unable to make payments to its nonprofit contractors, it seems more certain that your organization will have a funding shortfall rather than meeting its goals. You need to be ready! You need to be able to prove to your employer that you are a valuable employee and that you can help the organization survive. And if there is no other choice and your organization has to let you go, you need to be ready to make your case to anyone else that you would be an excellent asset to their organization.

I strongly suggest setting aside a few hours to think through your goals, strengths and weaknesses, whether you’re looking for a new job or not. Come up with some concrete examples of how you’ve addressed problems, raised or saved money and helped your coworkers work through a difficult project. Develop a short elevator pitch that you can give to anyone who asks about your priorities and goals. Write all of this information down on paper. Maybe most importantly, keep coming back to this piece of paper regularly (every three to six months if you’re not actively looking, at least once a month if you are) to make sure it’s still accurate.

If you do this all the time, you will be more mentally ready to jump into the job search at a moment’s notice. You won’t freeze up when someone asks you where you want to be in 10 years (personally I hate that question, but interviewers love to ask it). You’ll be thinking like a job seeker and consequently more likely to be a job keeper.

*I am borrowing/stealing the idea of a blog series from my good friend and fellow blogger Rosetta Thurman. She is amazing and so is her blog. I read it, bookmark it and comment regularly and so should you.

To keep up to date on the rest of the posts in this series, make sure to bookmark this page or subscribe to the RSS feed.

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