A friend of mine complained to me the other day that his job search was practically going backward.
He’d been looking for over a year and the few interviews he’d had came to nothing. He felt that one interviewer had been blatantly discriminatory to him as a middle-aged candidate.
My friend’s situation is hardly uncommon. Frustrating and stalled job searches happen to workers of all ages and in every industry. While each situation is different, there are some common causes of job search gridlock. And though it is true that some factors are out of your control, to get your search moving again you need to focus on what you can do instead.
4 Job Search Myths and Truths
Myth: No one will hire me because I am older, disabled, etc.
Truth: Ageism, ableism, racism, xenophobia, homophobia– phobias and -isms are out there, and they can affect the fairness of the search process. This reality must be acknowledged in order to address them and stamp them out. However, dwelling on them doesn’t help, and can prevent you from addressing other potential factors stalling your search.
The first step is to stand back and ask someone you trust–preferably someone objective–for feedback on your resume, cover letter, and interview skills. These are things you can fix.
The second step is to stare down any reasons you believe someone is discriminating against you. For example, if you’re afraid employers see candidates of a certain age as slow to learn, try to emphasize, in writing and in person, the new ideas and challenges you continually embrace. Take every negative stereotype and oppose it to your advantage. No, you won’t win over everyone. You might not even convince the majority of hiring managers. But you don’t have to. And if a company is that close-minded, would you want to work there anyway?
Myth: I don’t need to network because I have a great résumé.
Truth: When it comes to your network and résumé, one has little power without the other. I’ve heard clients say, “I’m not worried about my résumé because my network is my key to success,” and I’ve also heard the opposite. But the reality is that a résumé without a network will be sucked into the proverbial black hole and never get read, and the most helpful network in the world can fall short without a strong resume. The resume is your marketing document, and your network is the agent that shops it around to new contacts. You can only expect your network to sell you strongly once you hand over a résumé that clearly communicates your value offer, and you can only have a hope of getting your résumé read if you have a strong network.
Myth: I can do this without help.
Truth: Most of the time, job searching cannot be done in a vacuum. Sure, you can get lucky. But in most cases, a successful job search takes a village: your network, former colleagues, references, and potentially, professional resume writers or coaches. The people I’ve found that get the most discouraged have been those with the least support, often because they have relocated, are facing difficult personal circumstances, or simply are reluctant to reach out to their networks. Job searching, especially if you haven’t done it for a while, can be a road of unknowns and dead ends that can leave people feeling lonely and drained. The secret is to pull in others along the way for advice, support and, ideally, a good laugh. Don’t think of yourself as leaning unnecessarily on others—job search support, like any good turn, is something you can offer to your allies when their time comes.
Myth: I can’t get hired because I have done so many things or my skills are too broad.
Truth: “Everyone else in my industry fits a precise mold but me—what a disadvantage!” I’ve heard people say this time and time again. But don’t worry—you’re not alone if your career wasn’t shaped by a cookie cutter. Professional twists and turns are more common than you’d think, and there is no need to be panicked about this. The point is to focus your diverse skill set on a target job. Your experience may be varied, but if you round it up and focus it on your dream role, you won’t come across as a jack of all trades, but as a practitioner with that extraordinary something.