The Secret of Keeping Hope Alive

Author: Dick Bolles

If you are job-hunting, the most important thing you need to do is to keep hope alive. That is not always easy. . Day after day of sending out resumes, with not a single answer, day after day of searching employers" ads, here or on the Internet, without a single nibble. It is easy to get discouraged. Yet hope is everything. Hope will keep you going, against all odds. Therefore we must understand the rules for keeping hope alive. 

Having studied successful job-hunters for over forty years, I have discovered that their most important secret for keeping Hope alive is that from the beginning, the successful ones always have chosen at least two alternatives for every step of their job-hunt: 

People who are not good at job-hunting tend to fixate on just one way of doing things.

  1. In describing what they can do, they use a job-title. Period. ("I'm an engineer.")  
  2. In describing where they want to work, they use a field-title. Period. ("In the computer field.")
  3. In describing their target, they name large organizations. Period. ("I want to work for GE, or Google, or Apple.")
  4. In describing how they choose particular places, it's always places with known vacancies. Period. ("I'm studying all the ads and job postings on the Internet.")
  5. In describing how they get into organizations, they use one way only. Period. ("I'm sending them my resume.")

On the other hand, people who are good at job-hunting figure out alternatives to each of the above. And have them ready at hand. You could call it "their fall-back position," or "Plan B."

  1. Instead of just job-titles, they can name their individual skills.
  2. Instead of just field-titles, they can describe their favorite interests.
  3. Instead of just large organizations, they target small organizations also.
  4. Instead of just going after vacancies, they go after any place that interests them.
  5. Instead of just approaching organizations through resumes, they approach them through their personal contacts, or as I call them, "bridge people"  (they know you and they know them, so they form a bridge between you and them).

There is magic in having alternatives. The reason is simple. If you have only one way - - one process, one field, one job, one target, and so forth - - and that one way doesn"t work, you have no backup strategy to save you, and so Hope dies. 

But you can keep Hope alive if you are obsessed with the idea of always having alternatives - - as a backup plan and strategy.   Backups — in case!

During good economic times, people who are good at job-hunting (or career-changing)  may stick to the strategies that require the least work: resumes, agencies, and ads or job postings.

But during hard times, or if the above didn't work, they change their strategy, and pursue job-hunting methods that require a lot more work. They spend lots of time doing homework on themselves, researching organizations in detail, doing informational interviewing, building their contacts, and other methods that require work. In other words, like species that survive best in nature, people who are good at job-hunting deliberately adapt to a changing landscape.

People who are bad at job-hunting usually don't. They tend to stay with the same strategies during bad times and good. Namely: resumes, agencies, and ads. When this doesn't work, they usually just do more of it. (Everyone's favorite definition of insanity.) So, if haunting "job boards" for 30 days doesn't get them a job, they spend thirty more days searching the job boards.. It does not occur to them to change their strategy altogether, because economic conditions have changed, particularly since the 2008 great recession.  

Alternatives and Hope are married together.   I can illustrate this with many examples. But this striking survey result is as compelling as any: It was discovered that in the U.S. one third to one half of all job-hunters simply give up, by the second month. Yikes!

Okay, now the interesting question: why is that? 

It turns out the "why" is related to the number of job-hunting methods they used. There are many job-hunting methods to choose from: Answering ads (here or on the Internet); sending out resumes, via the Internet or by direct mail; visiting the Federal/state employment agency; asking family or friends for "leads"; asking friends for vacancies where they work; going to your high school or college placement office; placing an ad on the Internet or in your local paper, as a job-hunter; etc. 

A study of 100 job-hunters who were using only one method of job-search, found that 51 of them abandoned their search, by the second month. 

By contrast, a study of 100 job-hunters who were using several job-search methods, found that only 31 abandoned their search, by the second month. 

I don"t think it"s hard to figure out why this is. As I just said, if you use only one job-hunting strategy - - say, resumes - - and then that strategy doesn"t turn up anything very quickly, you tend to lose Hope. You staked everything on that one strategy. If it doesn"t work, you"re finished.

On the other hand, if you are using two, or more methods, your Hope tends to stay alive - - because, when one method doesn"t work for you, you think to yourself, well surely one of these other methods will pay off - - and so, you keep on going. You keep Hope alive. 

How many job-hunting avenues should you use, in order to keep hope alive? Well, it looks as though logically the answer should be: the more job-hunting methods you use, the greater your success will be, at finding a job. No limit. 

But, actually it turns out there is a limit. One study revealed that the likelihood of your uncovering those jobs that are out there increases with each additional method that you use, up to four. However, if you use more than four methods, your likelihood of uncovering those jobs that are out there, starts to decrease

I have pondered this strange finding, and concluded that the reason for this is that if you try to do more than four methods you will end up only taking a stab at each one, rather than giving each the time and thoroughness that it deserves and needs, in order to be effective. 

So, by all means add a second alternative (besides, let us say, resumes) to your job-hunting strategies, but do it carefully and thoroughly. And only after investing the appropriate amount of time in that, should you consider adding a third, or - - at most - - a fourth alternative. 

When should you go on to another alternative? Basically, it"s when you"ve tried the old method, and it just doesn"t work. Our tendency, altogether too often, is to just do more of it. This is insanity.

So, if you answer ads in the newspapers, if you answer job-postings on the Internet, if you send out your resume everywhere, if you sign up with agencies in vain, and nothing is working, don"t just do more of it. And don"t give up. Change your tactics.

Thus will you keep Hope alive. And that is everything to someone who is out of work, and hunting. Wise job-hunters know from the beginning that they are hunting secondly for a job but first of all for Hope.