5 Job Search Clichés Due for an Overhaul

In writing these articles, I’ll admit, sometimes I just go where inspiration takes me.  Today, I caught myself contemplating some of the common clichés that have circulated around the world of job hunting and career counseling for decades.  In my opinion, all of these sayings are a bit in need of a makeover and some modernization.  Or were never really all that accurate in the first place.  So for whatever it’s worth, here the top five pithy statements I see routed around out there in terms of the “conventional wisdom” people hear about the job search process — and my take on each of them.

1. Looking for a job is a full-time job

Unless you’re currently working full-time, that is.  Or your situation isn’t all that urgent.  Or you’d turn into a worthless, frazzled zombie if you concentrated on aggressively looking for work for eight hours straight each day.  While the overall spirit of this quote has merit, in the sense that job hunting is hard work and many people should take the challenge more seriously, I disagree that it needs to (or should) be a 40-hours-per-week routine.  Many people will get farther, faster, by working through the process in short sprints or in a part-time capacity.  Especially if they already have other important commitments on their plate.  And exactly how a person invests their job hunting time is a critical question worth considering, too.  In other words, I’d bet on somebody doing two hours of the right stuff each day, compared to a person who spends eight hours just surfing the web or working on the wrong stuff!

2.  It takes one month to find work for every $10,000 a person makes in salary

This guideline has been around for as long as I remember, going back 20 years or so.  And grossly oversimplifies things, in my opinion.  Sure, it’s generally true that it takes longer to find a high-paying, executive-level position than an entry-level one.  That would be hard to deny.  But to imply (as the saying sort of does) that there’s a predictable linear equation one can count on, in terms of the length a job hunt will take, is neither wise nor accurate.  Look around, and you’ll find plenty of six-figure professionals who are able to turn up multiple job offers within only a few weeks of looking for work, just as you’ll find plenty of modestly-paid people out there on the hunt for a great many months.  The length a job hunt will take, I find, is based far more on a person’s specific credentials, flexibility, level of effort, and the current supply/demand in their field than on salary alone.  So again, this old cliché might contain a tiny residual grain of truth, but I’d suggest that job hunters avoid getting too worked up about it or treating it like it has any real predictive power.

3.  Do what you love and you’ll never work another day in your life

Ah, such an uplifting thought.  And I honestly wish we lived in a world where such situations were universal.   But where I believe Confucius (to whom this quote is usually attributed) got things slightly wrong relates to the other practical realities that also must be considered in picking an ideal employment path.   Sure, if somebody is lucky enough to know exactly what they love to do, is truly talented in performing it, and the “thing” in question is in strong enough market demand to generate adequate compensation, you’ll probably find the person trundling off to work each day with a spit-eating grin on their face.  Realistically, though, not everybody is going to develop a passion (see article here) strong enough to leverage in a career context.  And many of the most “fun” or “creative” jobs people usually consider tend to pay far less than one needs to live comfortably in a major metro area like Seattle.  So don’t get me wrong, I’m all for people scouting for ways to integrate their hobbies and passions into their working identity.  And I encourage people to not let their own doubts, fears, and self-limiting behaviors impede the exploration of this possibility.  But at the same time, I don’t think “doing what you love” is the norm — or even the ideal career state — for a great many individuals.

4.  Do what you love and the money will follow

Ummm, how much?  How soon?  And will my landlord wait until this happens?  Again, while there’s nothing inherently wrong with looking for synergy between your outside interests and your professional path, the mantra to focus on “doing what you love” at all costs ignores some of the grown-up realities involved in career choice.  One of my favorite articles on this subject was written a few years back by Penelope Trunk.  It’s a tiny bit racy, but if you’re not easily offended, give it a read here and see what you think.

5.  It’s not what you know, it’s who you know

Well, yes.  Sort of.  Always has been.  But the small wrinkle this tidbit fails to take into account is that having all the contacts in the world will be of little help to you if you 1) don’t know what you want to do and 2) refuse to actually engage the people around you for useful assistance.  So while I’d definitely bet on somebody with a large Rolodex to find a job faster than somebody with a smaller one, the idea that just “knowing people” will get you anywhere isn’t very accurate.  You’ve got to leverage your relationship assets appropriately.  And trust me, I still encounter plenty of job seekers who stubbornly resist the idea of networking and refuse to tap into their circle of contacts for fear of seeking weak, desperate, or needy.  For these people, this saying is going to ring pretty hollow.

So there you have it.  Just a few musings on some classic pieces of advice that have swirled around the career counseling world for as long as I can remember.  Obviously some of my comments are intended to be tongue-in-cheek — and I’m also not blind to the poetic and inspirational qualities  some of these old chestnuts represent.  But for anybody wondering whether these statements are still 100% true in terms of the modern marketplace, and should be treated as infallible dogma, think twice!

2 Responses to “5 Job Search Clichés Due for an Overhaul”

  1. Price: Thanks for chiming in and in terms of your last paragraph, no question about it, I see many people spend the entirety of their unemployment period consumed by guilt — and worry — plagued by the feeling that they must be doing something wrong or just not trying hard enough to find work. Spouses, friends, and family members can sometimes reinforce this feeling, too, in both overt and subtle ways. And yet, this state of mind usually doesn’t lead to ideal results because it can come across to people as anxious, desperate, and lacking confidence. So again, while I definitely think people need to make a SERIOUS effort to find their next engagement, I don’t think it has to be an all-consuming effort that blots out all other aspects of life or some of the other creative, important things people might want to attend to during a period of professional transition. Hence, the statement that looking for a job is always a “full-time job” is a bit questionable, to me, and that kind of thinking is what contributes to some of the feelings you’ve cited, I think. Again, thanks for sharing your experience!

  2. Matt, your last line senteance reminded me of the old joke “my karma ran over my dogma.” Ba dum chuck.

    There are a couple of instances over the course of my career when I have been very lucky and landed a position without much competition. Then there are instances when I was put through a long and sometimes tortuous interviewing process that took weeks or a couple of months only to learn that the prospective employer really liked me, but the offer was extended to someone else. The general explanation (if given) is that the other candidate has “x and y” more experience or expertise than I did. In one instance, the expertise cited wasn’t even in the job description!

    So to come full circle back to karma – it does exist and sometimes there are people who don’t get a break. I feel I’ve been on both sides of the good and bad karma.

    Finally, I must say something about your #1 cliche. I totally agree with you and “get it.” However, it is very, very difficult to go do something else to clear your mind without nagging thoughts of “I guess I should be looking for work now” instead of working out, going to the grocery store or even taking several days off.

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