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The Danger of Being an Optimist in Job Search

job search, optimist, danger, complacency, paint your wagonIn 1969, a movie was released called “Paint Your Wagon”.  It starred Clint Eastwood, Lee Marvin and Jean Seberg.  The movie is a classic but the theme song has me troubled.

How can I be troubled by a song in an old western?  You had to ask.  Because I started singing it in my head the other night and it hasn’t left me since.
So I decided to write about it tonight . . . when I should probably be sleeping.
Anyway, the chorus of the theme song goes like this:
“Where am I going, I don’t know.
When will I get there, I ain’t certain.
All I know is I am on my way!”
But I’ll tell you the real reason it troubled me.  Because it seems to be a song or a message floating through the minds of a lot of job seekers.  Especially folks who are early in their search or are searching for the first time in their career.
The positive side of this chorus is that it represents an eternal optimism.  An impulsive and uplifting attitude of “This shouldn’t be too hard!”.  A sense that all you need to do is hop on the horse and head out.
Now before I begin the process of tearing down a beautiful thing like optimism, please know that I am a positive and “can-do” person.  Really.  But when optimism gets in the way of productive fear, I get a bit concerned.
So, what is productive fear?  Productive fear is that sense of urgency you feel when you sense that perhaps you are behind or unprepared for something coming up in life that is really important to you. It is the realization that you have not taken the steps necessary to deliver your best work.
So, I dare say, optimism is the enemy of successful job search.
And productive fear drives action.  Action to create a strong job search strategy.  And action to seek out intelligent tools to help you succeed.
Optimism causes a number of critical mistakes and, made early on, they can severely hamper your effort.
1.  Assuming that your search will take 6-8 weeks.
Gosh, that would be great!  Does it happen?  Yes. Often?  No.  Please do not assume that your search will be quick.  After the 8 weeks are up and frustration kicks in, you will wish you had those 8 weeks back.
2.  Relying on recruiters.
Recruiters are a fantastic resource and a possible source of job opportunities. But recruiters cover only about 10% of the jobs out there.  Should you work to build long term relationships with recruiters?  Of course! Should you expect that your next job will come through one of their searches?  No.  It is unlikely and represents a false sense of security.
3.  Believing that your current network will be enough.
None of us know enough people.  If you think you know enough, you may think your work is done. Don’t let your mind go there.  In job search networking, breadth (the number of people you know), depth (the influence of that network) and education (the specifics job objectives you’ve shared) should be relied upon before hoping that your circle is already large enough.
4.  Placing all of your eggs in one basket.
Sometimes in job search, an early win appears on the horizon.  Boy that feels good.  It reinforces all of your optimistic views.  “See world!  No big deal!” Within a few weeks of your being out of work, a great opportunity comes along.  You are interviewed once, twice and now a third time.  All looks good. You begin to get comfortable in the possibilities of a short search and potentially the idea that you can “bank” some severance pay.  The problem comes when you don’t get the job.  Or the job gets put on hold or something else delays your passing “GO”.  Meanwhile you did not pursue other opportunities. You did not do any networking.  Whoops.
5.  Your brain writes checks that your body can’t cash.
Your psychology (and that of your spouse) gets a wake up call. The shift from optimism to panic happens pretty quick.  But its not abrupt or overt.  It manifests as a slight trickle of sweat on the brow. But inside it can progress quickly into a feeling that can freeze you rather than motivate you. Productive fear, discussed above, requires a conscious understanding that a day will come early on when its time to get serious.  Optimism can blind your ability to get the conscious signal.
So instead of optimism, here’s what I’ll suggest.
Starting day 1:
– Build a rock-solid job search strategy.
– Create fantastic marketing materials that position you as the person who can deliver a big impact.
– Network like crazy and don’t stop doing it.  Make it a lifelong hobby.
– Be a confident, memorable and interesting person.
– Don’t let one positive event slow your effort to create six more events.
Be positive, sure.  But optimism alone will only hurt you.  Job search is serious business.  It’s competitive.  And anything that suggests you can ease up on the throttle in the middle of the race, is unproductive.
I’d rather you be confident – knowing you have done everything possible to allow your hard work to intersect with good timing as soon as possible.
Are you an optimist?

Written by: Tim Tyrell-Smith
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Categories: Finding New Job

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