Life is full of “Ah-ha” moments…
One day in 1941, George de Mestral returned with his dog from a hunting trip in the Swiss Alps. On a whim he decided to take a close look at the burrs and seeds that snagged themselves on his clothes and on his dog’s fur. Under a microscope, George noticed that the seeds had little hooked ends — and it was these hooks that caught on the fibers of his clothes. This gave him the idea to create a fabric like no other, with hooks on one side and curled fiber on the other.
You and I know his invention today… as Velcro.
In 1968, a scientist at the 3M Corporation was working to create a super-adhesive glue. What he made instead was the opposite – an adhesive that didn’t stick well, but that could be applied, removed and re-applied. His creation found little use until a colleague found that the low-stick adhesive, applied to a piece of paper could be used for bookmarks in his hymn book. After some trial-and-error, the combination of glue and paper came to market in 1980.
Look around your desk for a moment. I bet you have Post-it Notes stuck to something near you.
History is full of these idea-out-of-nowhere stories, where someone finds themselves in a situation where the proverbial light bulb turns on. Sometimes the revelation results in a product. Other times it’s a life or career change.
During a job search, we sometimes find ourselves feeling stuck. We send resume after resume with no reply. Or we trudge to work every day, knowing we face eight (or more) hours of boredom in a job we don’t like, in a career that isn’t for us. Perhaps because we become used to the monotony, we fail to create solutions to the problem right in front of us.
If you find yourself feeling stuck in your job search or career, here’s a three-step process that will enable you to change direction and get moving toward not only a solution, but also your “Ah-ha!” moment:
Step 1: Make an “Action Inventory”
“Inventory” usually refers to tangible products. In this case, however, the word refers to your actions. Let’s call it an “action inventory”. Specifically: what actions do you take each day that keep you stuck in your present situation?
This first step is sometimes difficult because it requires you to take a very hard and honest look at your situation.
No excuses. No victim statements. No blaming outside forces (recruiters, your boss, the economy, etc.)
And this step will take some work… you’ll need to set aside time to carefully consider, and then write down, actions holding you back from where you want to be. Then, perhaps with the aid of a mentor or advisor, you should figure what actions are missing from your inventory.
For example, as a job seeker your list may include:
- Sent a resume to 10 job openings this week
- Looked for jobs on job boards
- Started a LinkedIn profile
Missing from Action Inventory
- Hmmmmm… no networking this week?
- Were cover letters sent with each resume?
- Did I take the time to target my resume specifically to the job postings?
- Is 10 applications per week enough?
- Besides job boards, where else can I look for opportunities?
- Started a LinkedIn profile… but didn’t finish. What does it still need to be complete?
Once we objectively compare what we could do to get further ahead in our job search, solutions usually present themselves… sometimes many at a time.
Step 2: Identify and Implement Solutions
In our example list we identified several key points – and possible solutions.
Now what? Fortunately, there’s an almost infinite number of resources to turn to for help. Again, using our example list, you could:
- Network, daily | Join career and industry-related Twitter chats and LinkedIn groups; commit 5 hours per week so you may participate regularly
- Look outside the job boards | Job boards are one tool to use, for sure. But you have so many more options available… alumni resources from your school, local networking groups, friends, mentors and colleagues from past jobs or professors with whom you built relationships in school are just some ideas
- Commit to customizing every application | You can’t throw an “http://anything” without hitting at least 50 blog posts about improving your resume and cover letter. This information is incredibly accessible, available 24/7 and it’s free! Read, learn and greatly improve your chances of getting an interview with each submission
- Is “number of applications” the right metric? | This number is what most job seekers track. However, maybe a better set of data points is the number of companies added to your target list, number of contacts made at those companies and how many informational interviews scheduled. Once you start tracking what really matters, and focusing on the companies you’d really like to work for, job boards seem far less significant.
- Complete that LinkedIn profile | Do this in baby steps if you’d like… but commit to having your LinkedIn profile done in the next 72 hours. Again, all kinds of advice is available online, including tutorials by LinkedIn itself.
Step 3: Set Measurable Goals
Now, with your Action Inventory completed and solutions in hand, it’s time to set some measureable goals. For instance:
- Focus on what really matters | Instead of counting how many applications you’ve sent, you’ll commit, each week, to adding 3 viable companies to your target list, 10 new social media contacts to your personal network and scheduling two informational interviews
- Build relationships, online | Set a goal to make contact with at least 10 influencers per week. Do more than say “Hi! I want to connect” and move on; build a long-lasting, mutually-beneficial relationship
- Network, offline | Find at least two local networking groups and/or meet-ups and attend regularly
- Read! | Each day, absorb the advice contained in 10 job search-related blog posts
- Find a mentor | Or more than one! Mentors hold many keys to success in your career. They help mitigate the rough times… and help you keep good times in perspective
“The difference between try and triumph is a little umph.” – Author Unknown
Your out-of-nowhere “Ah-ha!”, although maybe not quite as grand as Velcro and Post-it notes, is out there. Change the way you do things now. Try a different – and perhaps more positive – approach. Follow these three steps… and work hard and smarter.
Your “Ah-ha” moment (and if you’re lucky, the first of many such moments in your career) will soon follow.