The Marks of A Natural Born Job-Hunter

Author: Dick Bolles

The Skills It Takes to Successfully Job-Hunt (or Change Careers)

Some people are just naturally good at job-hunting, or changing careers.

It's no mystery why. As Howard Figler points out in his book, The Complete Job-Search Handbook, the job-hunt requires four families of skills: skills at selling themselves, communication skills, self-assessment skills, and detective skills. Now, since some people have jobs that demand those very same skills, if they are good at their job, they will be good at job-hunting. Same skills required, in both places.

Natural-born job-hunters have a head start on the rest of us; but of course, the rest of us can always learn those skills – selling, communication, self-assessment, and detective work – that those others already possess.  

If you aren't a natural-born job-hunter (or career-changer) in the beginning,  you can sure learn how to be.  The tools are at hand.  All you need is the determination to master them!   

How do you begin?  You can begin to learn selling yourself skills from such articles as

You can begin to learn communication skills from such articles as, or 

You can begin to learn sell-assessment skills by doing (not just "reading")  chapter 7 of What Color Is Your Parachute? 2015 edition.

And you can begin to learn  detective skills (detective work in this technological age, especially) from such articles  as 

And there you have it. 

Now, some additional thoughts I'd like to share about that last group—detective skills..  

I always thought it fascinating that my original mentor in this field,  John C. Crystal, was a major in economics (from Columbia University) and a former American spy, who operated behind enemy lines in Italy during the second World War. His job was intelligence; to find out as much as he could.  I found it interesting that, as an expert in the job-hunt, he not only had great knowledge of economics (which one would expect) but also detective skills.  That. upon reflection, started to make a lot of sense to me.

Let me explain.

Places Will Often Hire You Because You Are the Solution to One of Their Problems

If the job you are applying for involves delivering packages,  or working in gardens,  you probably won't need detective skills very much, at least to get hired.  But if the job is more complex, or the organization is,  they will hire you because they not only believe you are capable, but more specifically because they believe you can help them solve one of the problems they were wrestling with, before you ever walked in the door.  

Therefore, and especially where you are competing with nineteen other equally qualified candidates, you will want to have some idea of what that organization's problems, challenges, needs, etc. are,  before you go in there for an interview with that all-important person (there) —: the person-who-has-the-power-to-hire-you-for-the-job-you-are-interested-in. That may take some detective work.  If you have detective skills, you will be way ahead of the bunch.  Bingo!

So, here are a couple of thoughts, about using those skills.   When job-hunting for complex jobs in complex organizations.

1.  In most cases,  your task in the interview is not that of educating your prospective employer about a problem they didn't know they had;   rather it involves your finding out what need or challenge or problem they are already well-aware of.  And bothered by.

Your job is more akin to mind-reading —their minds — than it is to educating them. Sure, if you're real good at finding out stuff, you may have uncovered – during your research – some problem that the-person-who-has-the-power-to-hire-you is absolutely unaware of. For example, in your research you may have uncovered the fact that, "Gosh, this firm has a huge public relations problem; I'll have to show them that I could put together a whole crash P.R. program." 

That's the problem that you think the-person-who-has-the-power-to-hire-you ought to be concerned about. And you may be convinced that this problem is so crucial that for you even to mention it will instantly win you their undying gratitude. 

Maybe. But don't bet on it. My files are filled with sad testimonies like the following: 

"I met with the VP, Marketing, in a major local bank, on the recommendation of an officer, and discussed with him a program I devised to reach the female segment of his market, which would not require any new services, except education, enlightenment, and encouragement. His comment at the end of the discussion was that the bank president had been after him for three years to develop a program for women, and he wasn't about to do it because the only reason, in his mind, for the president's request was reputation enhancement on the president's part ... " 

Interoffice politics, as in this case, or other considerations may prevent your prospective employer from being at all receptive to Your Bright Idea..  Your detective work has got to be devoted rather to finding out what already has motivated them to decide to hire someone for the position you are interested in. What problem is bugging them so much that they decided they need help.

2. Your detective skills don't need to discover the huge overarching problem that organization is wrestling with.  That's probably beyond the scope of one man or one woman.  You only need to discover the problem or problems that are bugging this person who has the ultimate power to decide whether to hire you or not. 

Conscientious job-hunters always bite off more than they can chew. If they're going to try for a job at the Telephone Company, or IBM or the Federal Government or General Motors or – like that – they assume they've got to find out the problems facing that whole organization. Forget it! Your task, fortunately, is much more manageable. Find out what problems are bugging, bothering, concerning, perplexing, gnawing at, the-person-who-has-the-power-to-hire-you. This assumes, of course, that you have first identified who that person is. Once you have identified her, or him, find out everything you can about them. The directories will help. So will the clippings, at your local library. So will any speeches they have given (ask their organization for copies, of same). If it's a committee of sorts that actually has the responsibility (and therefore the power) to hire you, you will need to figure out who that one individual is (or two) who sways the others. You know, the one whose judgment the others respect. How do you find that out? By using your contacts, of course. Someone will know someone who knows that whole committee, and can tell you who their real leader is. It's not necessarily the one who got elected as Chairperson. 

Often what's bothering this person is the day-to-day friction he or she had with the people they had (or have) to work with. If the job you are aiming at was previously filled by someone (i.e., the one who, if you get hired, will be referred to as "your predecessor"), the problems that are bothering the-person-who-has-the-power-to-hire-you may be uncovered simply by finding out through your contacts what bugged your prospective boss about your predecessor. 


"They were never to work on time, took long lunch breaks, and were out sick too often"; OR

"They were good at typing, but had lousy skills over the telephone"; OR

"They handled older people well, but just couldn't relate to the young"; OR

"I never could get them to keep me informed about what they were doing"; etc.

Sometimes, it's as simple as that. You may think they should be bothered by much larger issues. But, in actual fact, what they may be mainly concerned about is whether (unlike your predecessor) you're going to get to work on time, take assigned lunch breaks, and not be out sick too often. Don't overlook the Small, Simple, and Obvious Problems which bug almost every employer. Then demonstrate, in every way you can, that you are one who is free of those kinds of problems or knows how to solve those kinds of problems.

By the way, most of the-people-who-have-the-power-to-hire-you for the position you want, do not like the word "problems." It reminds them that they are mortal, have hang-ups, haven't solved something yet, or that they overlooked something, etc. "Smartass" is the street-word normally reserved for someone who comes in and shows them up. (This isn't true of every employer or manager, but it's true of altogether too many.) Since you're trying to use their language, you should probably speak of "an area you probably are planning to move into" or "a concern of yours" or "a challenge currently facing you" or anything except: "By the way, I've uncovered a problem you have." Use the word problems in your own head, but don't blurt it out during the interview with your prospective employer, unless you hear them use it first.  

Postscript:  In the interview,  your job is to express your skills, experience, and knowledge, in terms of the problems they are bugged by.   That is, if you want to be the one person being interviewed there,  who stands out from all the rest.

Good luck!