How to Stand Out in a Sea of Bland Job Seekers
I’ve begun this article 100’s of times and yet I always chicken out publishing it because, well, it’s brutally honest and most people don’t appreciate that.
I originally titled it “How to Be Smart in a Sea of Dumb Job Seekers” but I mellowed it out a bit because I don’t want my forthcoming points to get lost in the anger being called dumb creates. (Or to have to respond to the enraged comments that would inevitably follow)
The time is right for this article to finally meet the public, for one simple reason – I’m tired of getting emails from people blaming the system for their own shortcomings.
Finding a career that you love is not impossible, frankly it doesn't even have to be that hard, but it does take work, self-analysis and a desire to stop blaming and start changing.
Let’s start with the ground rules:
- Your troubles are not the fault of your college major
- Or applicant tracking systems
- Or your intern coordinator
- Or the stack of resumes you compete with
- Or the economy
- Or your age
Those are excuses, no matter how valid you believe them to be. People are getting hired every day for sports jobs despite the economy, applicant tracking systems or any other conceivable excuse – so what are they doing that you aren't?
Now there is the question we should be answering!
Compare these two emails that have come to me recently:
(Both parties agreed to inclusion in this article but wanted their names and companies kept out of it, which is fair)
Recent College Graduate with Multiple Job Offers:
Thanks for your advice on my interview with (name withheld), everything went great. But I have run into a bit of a problem. I was offered and accepted a Broadcast Associate position with (job #1), but have not submitted the contract yet. I unexpectedly heard from (company #2) yesterday telling me that they are offering me a Production Assistant position. I feel like backing out of (job #1) would not be smart, but I'm wondering if I'm crazy for rejecting (job #2)? I don’t want to not kill my chances at working at (job #2) in the future if (job #1) does not work out. Any ideas for how to handle this situation?
Sports Job Seeker Without Job Offers:
Your advice, while potentially useful, fails to address that it is not a “cure all solution” and is not wholly relevant to the market today. I went into college with these same strategies in mind, and followed them faithfully. Now after obtaining my B.S. I’m still living with my parents spending day after day sending out applications. I have applied only for entry-level positions that I was vastly overqualified for to make sure that my application wouldn't just get tossed in the under-qualified bin. And yet here I am, 9 months and more than 400 applications later. So tell me, if I did all of this that you advocate, have had my applications repeatedly reviewed by “experts” to make sure they would interest employers, and yet nobody is interested in hiring, what would you say?
One person asks – "how do I handle getting multiple offers?" …while the next one states, “nobody is interested in hiring” and is looking for someone else to provide their “cure all solution.”
Polar opposite experiences, while living in the same era with the same economy, up against the same stack of resumes.
I understand the frustration and I am by no means minimizing the self-doubt that creeps in or the easy road that blaming provides. But it does not help anything.
So what do you actually change? What do you do different? What buttons do you push that lead to success?
Quite possibly some painful ones.
1: Start Learning More
I’m going to pull a fast one on you.
You probably think from that subhead I’m going to advocate going back to school, taking an additional class or learning a trade online.
While those are good ideas, they aren't exactly ground-breaking and if you can’t figure out that to get sports jobs or frankly any jobs, you may need to learn more skills, well, we have bigger problems.
Nope, the learning I am talking about is from others. You need to start surrounding yourself with more successful people.
I’m stealing this quote from entrepreneur Jim Rohn (which I actually read on this fantastic blog as part of an inspiring article):
“You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with.”
It’s time to start spending time with the right people and by right people I mean people who have achieved what you want to achieve.
- Be humble – recognize you don’t know everything
- Search on LinkedIn for people in your desired industry
- Ask good questions, not too many or it is overwhelming
- Be open to learning new techniques
Let’s break these down a little more.
Be Humble – when I get emails from people asking for help or advice and they approach me in an honest manner – I help. When they get defensive, go on attack mode, or act as if they have all the answers – I don’t bother.
When you reach out to someone strip yourself down from everything that has burdened you. Leave your sob story behind, and only bring your honest desire to learn something new, something that has worked for them.
Use LinkedIn – Be purposeful, don’t target a bunch of people and spam out a mass email to randoms. Make a personal outreach to specific people you have identified that may have knowledge in your side of the sports industry.
- Maybe they are a recent graduate who has found work
- Maybe they are a hiring manager that can tell you what they are looking for during the job interview process
- Maybe they are a senior executive who may take an interest in mentoring you
- Maybe they are someone in their 40’s who has re-invented themselves and found work
Don’t just reach out to people you think can get you a job, reach out to people you can learn something from.
People will be more open if they don’t think there are strings attached.
Ask Good Questions – Don’t overdo it. If you make it too daunting or time consuming no one will respond to you. Craft 1-2 specific questions to get the ball rolling.
Do not ask general wide-open questions like, “So how do I get a job in sports?” ask specific questions like, “I hope to work in sports radio, possibly even on air someday, do you think it is better to start out behind the scenes and work my way up? Or should I just get on the air somewhere small?”
The latter question is easy for someone in the business to answer and surely it’s something they will have an opinion on. The specific question is way more likely to get a well-thought out, insightful, response.
Be Open to New Techniques – If you are searching for a ‘Hail Mary’ cure all from each conversation you embark on you are going to be disappointed.
What works for one person may not work for you.
What worked for one person may be something you've tried before and had no luck with.
Neither of those results are reasons to go deaf and stop listening to others.
Keep talking, keep asking, stay open-minded to subtle differences and continue to seek out information and truth. The unintended side-effect of making these new acquaintances is that if you do it right, like we outline above, you will have a new advocate too.
2: Cut Down Your Bitching Time
Complaining is part of the human condition, it is as if we are all wired to express our contempt for something way more often than our pleasure.
There is a study that says if you have a positive experience you are likely to share it with five people, but if you have a negative experience you are likely to share it with 17. I have to imagine this study was completed pre-Facebook because now I’d say the average complaint goes out to 500+ and more often than ever.
If someone can explain to me why that is true, I am all ears because I don’t get it.
It’s a waste. Of time. Of Energy. Of Purpose.
Do you think it will improve anything? Does the catharsis really improve your outlook?
Before people start jumping down my throat and thinking I’m naïve - I’m not expressing the idea that you should never be able to complain – I do it too, I’m not above it. I just try really hard to keep it in control.
I don’t pretend to read Psychology Today, but a friend sent me this snippet a few years back and it changed my manner of processing my negative reaction to things:
If you vocalize your negativity, or even slightly frown when you say “no,” more stress chemicals will be released, not only in your brain, but in the listener’s brain as well. The listener will experience increased anxiety and irritability, thus undermining cooperation and trust. In fact, just hanging around negative people will make you more prejudiced toward others!
Any form of negative rumination—for example, worrying about your financial future or health—will stimulate the release of destructive neurochemicals. And the same holds true for children: the more negative thoughts they have, the more likely they are to experience emotional turmoil. But if you teach them to think positively, you can turn their lives around.
Negative thinking is also self-perpetuating, and the more you engage in negative dialogue—at home or at work—the more difficult it becomes to stop.
If that doesn't freak you out just a bit you are crazier than Paul George’s stylist.
Here’s the deal, there are things to be learned in negative experiences and if your first instinct is to head to Facebook and post that you got rejected for a job, I’m telling you to stop, and instead spend your time analyzing what went wrong.
Do you think when Peyton Manning has a terrible Super Bowl performance he sits around bitching and complaining about the refs or his teammates? Nope. He watches film, he studies his mistakes, he tries to learn from the situations he was in so that he can do better the next time around when faced with similar experiences. (Not that he has! (I couldn't resist, low blow from a Patriots fan))
Stop spending so much energy bitching and spend a little more time analyzing what went wrong and what you need to change.
3: The ‘Most Likely To Be Hired’ Have Made Better Use of Their Time Than You Have
A job seeker I have been mentoring got hired right after graduating in the spring. In preparation for this article I asked him point blank, “Why do you think you were hired?”
His answer isn’t some mind-blowing out-of-the-box technique where he bought Google ad space to promote himself or made a video of himself running up the stairs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and celebrating like Rocky (I actually received that along with a resume once).
It’s a fundamentally sound response, rooted in maximizing your time and getting the most out of each experience:
“My current employer told me during my interview how impressed they were with the amount of experience I had while at school, including my involvement on-campus and the amount of internships I did. I came off as someone who was going to do whatever it takes to break into this field. I was far from the most talented broadcast journalism student at my university, but I'd argue my resume was one of the best of my graduating class due to how much experience I gained through internships and on-campus involvement.”
This person did five internships while in school. That is five segments of a resume where you can showcase results you have achieved in the real world.
This person worked at the campus radio station and TV stations.
They learned video editing, audio editing, marketing, sales, camera work, writing and reporting and they did it all outside of the classroom in a true working environment.
Employers want people with skills gained outside of the classroom, that is often the differentiator for many who find work post-graduation.
I also have mentored some people undergoing a career change in their 40’s who have found jobs. I asked one of them the same question “Why do you think you got hired?” and their response followed a similar theme:
"It took me three months to get hired, so there was definitely some frustration mounting on my part, but the feedback I got from my eventual employer made it clear I made the right moves leading up to the job. They told me they were impressed I kept learning (I took online classes that focused on particular skills I needed to develop) that I volunteered in my desired field, and that I framed my previous work experience in a manner that highlighted my leadership, attention to detail and willingness to do whatever it took. I think the final reason they hired me is because I spent so much time researching this job opportunity and had multiple, well thought out questions at the end of the interview that led to a really great dialogue between myself and my interviewee. We went from hiring manager and interview subject, to two people talking about the business – I can’t begin to explain how helpful that was in the impression I left them with.”
The last point I believe is a very strong one.
Researching and understanding the job you are interviewing for leads to smart questions you can ask at the end of the interview (since every single interview ends with “Do you have any questions for me?). When you start asking smart questions, you grab the attention of the interviewer, show you have really put some thought, time and energy into understanding their role, and leave a memorable impression.
That may be just the step you need to take.
The tone of this article isn’t meant to be dismissive of anyone’s pain at all – but I know some of you will take it that way and flame me in the comments.
Truth is, if you are feeling that way right now you should go back and read point #2 again. Blaming me won’t help you; being open to the changes we outline here just might.
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