My career in technology

Is it good advice?

I had a slightly humbling moment this week. 

I’m on the mailing list of Catherine Jewell, a career coach.  I saw her last year at LaunchPad Job Club (if I am remembering the timing correctly), and her presentation was good.  I’ve gotten her e-mails, and, aside from the fact that she wants the readers to buy her services (naturally, that’s the point of a business newsletter), I’ve found it to contain good advice and interesting tidbits.

Well, this month’s newsletter came in, and she led off with a great anecdote that makes her point really well, that practice makes perfect more than acute attention to detail.  Do the same thing a lot of times and you produce better consistent results than by spending a lot of time doing it a few times and making sure each is “just right”.

But then she used that to make a point that I disagreed with strongly. 

Is perfectionism holding you back in your job search? Are you looking for the perfect opportunity and passing on the so-so option that might turn into something else? Do you endlessly ponder whether your resume is perfect, and spend very little time networking? Are you so concerned about all the advice you’ve received that you are afraid to make a move? It’s important to realize that job seeking-like any human endeavour-is messy. You might issue a few emails with (gasp!) a typo. You might be on the phone when the prospective employer calls. You might forget to follow up, and then wonder if you’ve waited too long. Or, like the proverbial teenage boy, you might be so afraid that you never pick up the phone! You might see a job ad, be missing just one requirement and tell yourself “I can’t apply for that job.”

4. Follow lots of leads–try not to get too focused on one opportunity and get your heart set on it. Just like the pot-throwing class, you will become better at job seeking if you do more job seeking activities.

5. Open up to the possibilities–put away those thoughts of “I’ll never do THAT again.” The bad experiences you may have had in the past won’t necessarily repeat. Be curious when you hear about opportunities. Remember that it’s expensive to advertising jobs [sic]. Behind the job that’s “almost right” could be one even better for you.

I agree with a few of those points:  that people get mired so deeply in the idea of perfection that they are unable to act, or are spending time fiddling with their resume when there are other, often more effective (and rewarding) activities that could be done, or get so invested in a particular opportunity that, when it fails to work out, they become crushed, or they have a “prima donna” attitude when financial and employment circumstances require practicality… all of these are good points, and are modes of thinking and acting that are not productive.  But…

The implication is to apply for everything you might have some of the qualifications for, and to forget about the things that drive you (which is odd coming from “The Career Passion Coach”).  That quantity is more important that quality.  Throw a lot of stuff at the wall and see if anything sticks.

I did things that way for a while, trying to apply for every job that mentioned a skill that I had, regardless of how good a match the job was to my skillset or my interests.  It didn’t work.  I ended up with a job I was unhappy with, an experience that ended badly.

On the other hand, when I focused solely on what I was truly interested in doing, I had more time to do a better job of presenting myself to employers, and by only applying to things I was actually fully qualified for and had a passion for, I ended up with the right job a lot more quickly. 

Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle – Michelangelo

There is no reason not to strive to do your best, and seek out the best.

But… (here comes the humbling moment)

So there I was, in a huff and chomping at the bit to write a blog post about the bad advice.  But my schedule didn’t allow me to get to sit down and write it out, giving me time to mull over what she said and what I wanted to say.

And in that time I realized several things.  First, I realized that there was a lot more of what she said that I agreed with than what I disagreed with, and a lot of what I disagreed with was implied, not stated.  But more importantly, I realized that my advice comes from my own experience, but a lot of that has to do with who I am and where I was.  While what I learned worked for me, I’m not you, and what worked for me may not work for you.  Your mileage, as they say, may vary. 

I am not a career counsleor, or an HR professional.  I’m a techie who has been “lucky” enough to have spent a considerable amount of time over the last decade trying to keep my career from being totally derailed, and have spent a lot of time working with other people in similar situations. 

I hope that the things I have learned along the way have been helpful to you, but if not, remember that there are other voices out there that might have something else to say that works better for you.  In my opinion, it is important to be focused on what you really want to do, and not let yourself get distracted with things you might be able to get (if the person looking at your resume fails to notice you don’t have experience in X, or that you only have 2 years experience when they want 3), or that would make you unhappy if you got it.  I think you’ll be more effective at getting the job if the job you are after is the job that you want and you’ve done everything you can to be the right person for them (you have all the skills and experience and you’ve said all the right things), and you have a better shot at managing that if you have the time to focus on that particular type of job.

But…

…if you’ve taken my advice and it isn’t working for you, try something different.  Or if you have taken someone else’s advice and it isn’t working for you, take mine out for a test drive, and see how it feels.

 The question isn’t “Is it good advice?”  It is “Is it good advice for you?”

P.S.:  Here is your Recommended Daily Allowance of Irony – By not rushing off to immediately say what I thought, I think that what I wrote turned out to be more thoughtful, and probably more useful to everyone.  Which proves my point.  But it also gave me time to figure out that I agree with her more than I disagree with her.  That makes my head hurt…

Jim Adcock is Vice President of Launch Pad Job Club, an organization in Austin, Texas, whose mission is help people who have lost their jobs to get the skills they need to land their next job, and to help them cope with the interim between jobs. Check out other career-related entries.

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Comments on: "Is it good advice?" (5)

  1. Christine Morton said:

    That was very well written. Both viewpoints have much merit, and I hope to read and re-read this as a reminder of keeping on track in the job hunt.

  2. Ruthann Panipinto said:

    I agree wholeheartedly with what you wrote.
    I’d say the ONE thing about her article that bothered ME the most was the one that says,”put away those thoughts of “I’ll never do THAT again.” The bad experiences you may have had in the past won’t necessarily repeat.”
    I’ve done exactly that more times than I can count and it ended messily every time. Now my resume makes me look like a “job jumper” because of it.
    The type of industry and the personalities were bascially the same in each instance and I should have listend to myself at each interview and done something new as a result instead of beating my head against the wall each time and thinking that “This time it would be different.”

  3. I eagerly read every post you make, Jim, but this time, I followed the email link to the entire post with every intention of disagreeing with you and defending Catherine — I really liked her advice — and you took the wind out of my sails beautifully. Just as you started out thinking one thing and then ended up somewhere else, I started out disagreeing with you and ended up with the urge to echo and amplify your point. How often do we react and respond before the words have time to sink in?

    Keep up the good work! Your thoughtful essays inspire the rest of us to think a little more, too.

  4. Maureen said:

    One of those “ah-ha” moments? If we are thinking while seeking the next career step I believe we will wrestle with these views, beliefs, and advice.
    Don’t close all the windows even if the door to a certain path is not what we want…or shall I open the door over there when invited?

    I appreciate the message and humor 😀

  5. […] I did not present the other side of the argument on this one. While I don’t agree with her, I can see the merits of Catherine Jewell’s contrary point of view. But I still think you are better off being focused and […]

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