Posted July 23, 2013 by

Beyond Job-Seeking Materials – 5 Rules to Follow

James B. Huntington

James B. Huntington

As of May, 11.3 million Americans were officially unemployed, and over nine million more would work if they thought their chances were better.  Many books, articles, and other writings are intended to help you get out of that group.  How can you cut through their strengths and limitations to maximize your chances of not only working, but staying employed in the years and decades to come?

Most job-seeking help falls into two categories.  The first might be called personality career assessment; efforts in this area seek to connect the sort of person you are with a line of work.  What are you good at?  What do you like to do for fun?  What tasks do you finish off without real difficulty, and which do you always avoid?  They offer thinking exercises, list-making projects, questionnaires, and much more, and are usually quite informative.  What they will not do, unfortunately, is say what lines of work are viable for you, personally or generally, or which will be needed in the future.  Perhaps my aptitudes and disposition say that I should be a neurosurgeon, but at 56 with no medical training beyond Red Cross CPR, that simply isn’t going to happen.  Maybe I should become a computer operator, but those jobs are going away for almost all Americans.  Some opportunities attract more people than others, but that will often change between a book’s writing and publishing, let alone between writing, publishing, and going out of print.  Such sources aren’t even intended to show what positions will and won’t be in demand in a few years, not to mention the decade-plus most people have in mind for a career.  You should not be spending time and money training for something Americans soon won’t need to provide, whether it’s your dream job or not.

The second subject is the tactics and detailed strategies of job-seeking: where you should look, how you should act, how you should care for and feed hiring managers, and of course a cacophony of opinions on interviews and résumés.  That may sound harsh, but I have reasons for that.  Interview stratagems are hardly set in stone, and will sometimes work and sometimes not, depending on the interviewer.  Although there are many good ways of writing résumés, the sources disagree, often strongly, on the right things to do, and always have.  In the pre-email era, some experts thought résumés should be on plain white paper, while others said they should be almost any other color.  More recently, there has been a controversy about sending thank-you letters or messages to interviewers, with one side saying they are courteous and allow reinforcement of points you made before, and the other maintaining they are blatantly self-serving nuisances.  In the end, these sorts of things come down to the tastes of the people with whom you have interacted, and no fixed dogma will win every time.

Another information source is about mistakes a few applicants make.  Some books, along with articles and viral emails, give spectacular allegedly real-life examples of jobseeker gaffes: cover-letter statements about wanting to rule the world; applicants wearing X-rated T-shirts; people saying vile things about their former bosses; a man who openly and graphically lusted after a woman pictured on his interviewer’s desk and had to be removed by security; and so on.

Beware!  Before you put too much stock into any of these sources, understand five things:

First, when deciding among careers, consider which fields are not only suitable for you personally but will still be around and doing well after 10 to 20 more years of globalization, automation, and business efficiency.  Positions with primary tasks that can be done cheaper by foreign workers or machines, or that can be done in much less time than they are today, are usually poor choices.

Second, what you need most to get hired are specific, not general, experience, and being personally, not professionally, liked by the interviewer.  Information technology project managers, regardless of how deeply they understand their work, will rarely be hired for the same in construction.

Third, very few jobs are lost by choosing the wrong reasonable interview, résumé, or workplace behavior tactics.  It is all too easy for unsuccessful applicants to obsess about what they did wrong, and what they could have done differently that would have got them hired.  Unless you were obviously disastrous, don’t sweat that sort of thing.  In the huge majority of such cases, you probably, as cruel as it sounds, had no chance from the beginning.

Fourth, limiting your search to applying for widely advertised positions is unlikely to get you working, even if your résumé looks like Mark Zuckerberg’s and your interviewing skills resemble Oprah Winfrey’s.  Although electronic job boards have great value, applicants should seek out and pursue local and word-of-mouth opportunities as well.

Fifth, as before, avoiding massive blunders will only put you in a not-so-elite group of 99% of all jobseekers, most of whom are not being hired.  Being well-behaved and well-intentioned, along with your credentials, will often be enough to get you in the door, but after that, nearly all of your competition will match you on those counts.

Job-seeking materials are valuable – there is no real doubt about that.  But only when you realize their shortcomings will you make the most of your employment situation.


James B. Huntington, author, blogger, economist, and publisher, is the writer of Choosing a Lasting Career:  The Job-by-Job Outlook for Work’s New Age.  His previous book was the Independent Publisher Book Award (IPPY)-winning Work’s New Age:  The End of Full Employment and What It Means to You, from 2012.  His 2007 doctoral dissertation, Prospects for Increased Post-65 Career Employment for the Baby Boom Generation, is the only book ever published on that subject.  He is also the creator and keeper of the AJSN (American Job Shortage Number), the key economic indicator showing latent demand for jobs in the United States.  He hosts a weekly radio program, WORK SHIFT, on WJFF 90.5 FM, a PBS affiliate in Jeffersonville, New York, and writes the Work’s New Age blog at .  His letter on the jobs crisis being permanent and not going away with better economic times was the theme of the May 19, 2013 Sunday Dialogue in The New York Times.  He has a B.A. in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, an M.B.A. from the University of Phoenix, and a Ph.D. in Applied Management and Decision Sciences from Walden University.  He has spoken on jobs, careers, employment, and economic conditions on more than 130 American radio stations coast to coast.  He has also been a business professor, teacher, and professional speaker, and has written scholarly works on leadership, organizational change, and human development.  He is married and lives in Eldred, New York.  His website, with a great deal of information on the topics above, is

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