Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Finding your best practices Plan B when your job search isn’t working – part 2, self-assessment

Posted in job search and career development by Timothy Platt on April 16, 2010

I rarely if ever post to the same series on consecutive days in this blog, but I have decided to make an exception and immediately post my second installment in my job search Plan B series now. Yesterday I posted a brief orienting note on what this series is to cover and what motivates it. Today I will begin to delve into the details.

There are two core issues that anyone going into a search should consider, and that anyone who has been searching long term, without success absolutely has to do. One of them is a careful assessment of what you really want to do next, that would meet your needs. That is where you will be able to search with real enthusiasm and it is where you will most effectively present yourself as that best candidate for that job. I am going to focus on this type of self-assessment today. My next posting will focus on a preparatory stage to developing a Plan B that should in large part overlap with this one – making as objective as possible a reality check on what you have been doing in your career up to now, so you more accurately know what of it may even be a realistic possibility for your search and for your career moving forward.

It is extraordinarily difficult to systematically search for a next long term position if you are focusing on possible positions that would drive you crazy and fail to meet your needs or those of your family. Even if you did get an interview, it would be very hard for you to convincingly present yourself as the best candidate if your heart was in no way in this. If you were to get that job, you would still run the gauntlet of your probationary period too, where you would have to walk the talk and on what would seem to be a permanent, ongoing basis.

If you simply need to get a job to meet your basic needs and the only ones available are not ones you would find in any way satisfying or fulfilling, go for it and apply and make that extra effort. But your chances of success in getting hired to a job are always going to be higher if you really want it for doing that job itself too and not just for salary and benefits it brings.

Where at all possible, search for jobs that you could follow through on long term as involving and rewarding. Go for the jobs you could really find a sense of happiness in. This is a core quality of life matter and how you address it will affect your happiness and health and that of your family too.

If you are simply looking for a short term opportunity to hold you over financially while you look for a longer term position – an umbrella job that can help keep the rain off, go for the salary and benefits and keep looking. But if you are looking longer term, do a self-assessment and search from there.

I am going to focus here on two self-assessment exercises that I have found of value in developing my own career, and that have been vitally helpful to me in times of career transition. I will start out by acknowledging their source in The Five O’Clock Club and in their books, which you can find on their web site.

The Seven Stories Exercise:

This is one of the most fundamental self-assessment exercises you can do and it is one of the most enlightening steps you can take in restarting a search with your Plan B. First of all, take your time doing this. Don’t simply try to burn through it as quickly as you can write to get it out of the way. If you just rush through your self-assessment you will probably just write a job description of stuff you have recently been doing and you will gain nothing from this. Get a pad and a pen or pencil or set up a Word of other document on your computer and add to your assessment and stop and think, set it aside for a few hours or until the next day and go back to it again and add some more. Keep this an open, ongoing exercise for a while as you search too, using it as a reality check on what you are doing there. And now the exercise itself:

• Start out by jotting down as labels to jog your memory, as many points from your past as you can come up with. Look for the things you have done and been actively involved in that have given you a real sense of satisfaction and fulfillment.
• Include events and situations you have dealt with from work but be sure to look for and include non-work entries too, as the features of these experiences that make them stand out often include qualities and skills that could be crucially important to workplace situations and jobs too. That might mean really enjoying teaching and mentoring, or otherwise using your interpersonal skills, it may mean situations where your analytical skills and ability to creatively solve problems are key to their being included. Your stories may highlight a love for participating in an area or field that you have never worked in for salary (e.g. music or the arts if you have always found yourself working in a field like accounting.)
• Be open and inclusive here, as you only want to start filtering as you develop a significant enough list of possible entries, to have included the ones you would really want to keep. Ideally you would have up to 40 or more potential stories here, each with a single sentence or so accompanying them to make sure you remember precisely which story is which.
• The name of this exercise suggests seven stories from your past and/or present but my suggestion is to pick at least seven and no fewer than six. Pick ten or more if that many really jump out at you. Think about your list and pick the ones that stand out as holding highest value to you, and don’t filter here by prejudging them as to whether you can think of a specific job that would closely enough match them. That is not what this exercise is about, at least at this stage.
• Write out your stories in a few paragraphs for each, and if you find it more helpful to write longer on some do so. This helps you really think them through and bring them into focus, as to how and why they stand out for you. That front of the mind, focused understanding will help you identify aspects to what made these stories and experiences special for you that you might find transferable into what would be your ideal job description.
• After you have written out your stories on your selected subset from your initial list set that original list aside but keep it handy for later use. Focus on the ones you developed in more detail and look for patterns from your hobby and volunteer work and paid professional experience and any other sources – whichever types of stories you have written about. Look for patterns that help you identify what you find most rewarding to do and write them down.
• You might take that initial list and reread it to see how many of your other potential stories also connect into the pattern of values you have identified.

The idea here is to find what most strongly and positively motivates you, whether it is in exercising analytical or interpersonal skills, or teaching or whatever. This may also highlight that there are certain industries you would be happiest at and that you would be able to most effectively market to, or certain organizational types. Or you may find you should really be looking for positions in an area like nonprofits that you have never actively pursued before. Be open here to new possibilities.

Remember in this context that specific job skills are only one of several areas a hiring manager will select by. Interpersonal skills and attitude, enthusiasm and likely ability to participate in the manager’s team are very important too, and finding and applying to positions that mesh with the patterns you find here will make meeting and excelling at those criteria a lot easier. And this will both increase your chances that any new job lasts, and that you will find it rewarding and want it to.

The Career Pattern Exercise:

I originally ran into this self-assessment exercise as the forty year exercise and the idea was to think through where you wanted to be in your career in steps and stages, leading out beyond the immediate here and now – for 40 years. That timeframe would probably not be fully realistic even for a candidate in their twenties as it is not usually possible to see that far ahead, and it certainly would not make sense as a fixed number for someone in their mid-fifties who does not plan on working into their mid-nineties. I have also seen this called a 20 year or a 15 year plan but I prefer not to focus on any given set number with this. I take a much more flexible approach as to how far out you should look, but I do recommend that you push this well past your immediately visible working time horizon and out beyond you’re here-and-now focus.

• The idea here is to clearly distinguish between what you have to do now, that may mean looking for short term umbrella positions, and what you really want to do in building a longer term career.
• And really think this through as to what you want to achieve longer term and what steps you see as necessary to achieve these longer term goals.
• The more clearly you can articulate where you want to go and what you have to do to get there the more likely you will succeed at it.
• This exercise can also help you think through and reality check what you are looking for as a best fit. It is, after all, less likely you are looking in the right places or for the right types of career for you if you draw a blank on where you would start in pursuing it. You may be considering the wrong possible career path if you cannot characterize or articulate possible best fit jobs you would have to work your way through in reaching for those career goals.

These two core exercises are not about identifying specific jobs to apply for, though they may help you spot them as special for you if you see them. This is about helping you bring your longer term and career oriented search into focus, and in that it can also help you in deciding what types of umbrella jobs might help you better position yourself for moving forward too. And as a final pointer, if the patterns of what you do well at and enjoy doing connect into the needs and requirements of a hiring manager and their job descriptions they send out, you are preparing yourself to connect with them as a great candidate for those job opportunities too.

My next posting in this series is going to closely connect with these self-assessment exercises, and you might want to work on both coordinately with the exercise I will cover next even if you start on the above two exercises first. That posting will be a reality check exercise that is particularly important for anyone who has been going through a longer search without success, and will help you in building a foundation to a Plan B that you can succeed with.

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  1. […] Posted in job search and career development by Timothy Platt on April 18, 2010 At the end of Part 2 – Self Assessment in this series on job search Plan B, I said that this posting would include a reality check […]

  2. […] and your career, at the marketplace and for potential routes to advancement. And I go back to the self-assessment exercises of posting 2 in this series. Every year and any time you find yourself facing a potential transition point of any real […]


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