Don’t get lax in your job search standards

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul, Minn. She can be reached at or at 626 Armstrong Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102.

Sometimes the people in a workshop I’m teaching make me laugh out loud. The other day, one participant sneezed quite loudly and with something of a flourish in the sound effects department. Which caused her neighbor to say in a good-natured way, “Geez. Cleanup in aisle seven. And eight … and nine and 21.”

It made me bust a gut in class, and she was a good sport to laugh along. As I was driving home in a car that is filled with the debris from too many fast-food meals, I was thinking, “Clean up in this aisle” and wishing I had someone with a big broom to do just that.

One thought led to another as I lurched through evening traffic, bringing to mind a self-assessment I’ve sometimes used with job seekers to encourage reflection about their job search process and what might need a bit of cleanup.

My premise is that when we get too comfortable in a process — if you can apply that word to job search — our standards can slip. Or maybe the culprit isn’t comfort but a sense of despair, as if the higher standards we kept in the past aren’t worth the trouble anymore.

Here’s that assessment. It’s organized in five categories. Check all that apply by finishing this sentence: “In the past week, have I …”

Time Management / Commitments: In the past week, have I…

… arrived late to any meetings or obligations?

… canceled anything at the last minute or not shown up at all?

… taken on last-minute requests (giving rides, running errands, etc.) from someone who could have managed without me – and thus delayed my own job search?

… stayed up too late, gotten up too late, and spent the day feeling sluggish?

Organization: In the past week, have I …

… spent more than a few minutes searching for something that should have been in its place, such as keys or job search papers?

… had to guess when (or if) I followed up with an employer, because I haven’t been keeping records?

… arrived to a meeting only to realize I’d left the paperwork at home?

… left behind notebooks, coats or umbrellas when leaving a meeting?

Personal Image: In the past week, have I …

… skipped taking a daily shower or bath?

… worn clothing with spots or tears — in public — when I had better options?

… attended meetings in less than “business casual”?

… sniffed clothes rather than just washing them?

Job Search: In the past week, have I …

… started any days without a clear plan of steps or goals for the job search?

… ended any days without reviewing my productivity and setting the next day’s goals?

… failed to meet job search goals I had set for myself? If so, had I been involved in a major car accident or emergency medical procedure? (Y or N)

Attitude: In the past week, have I …

… complained that there were no jobs or that the economy is the problem?

… felt as if things were not in my control and that job search is futile?

… forgotten to hold myself accountable for my efforts, and to problem-solve situations?

There’s a lot of judgment embedded in these questions, and I apologize for that. I don’t mean to imply that job seekers are on a downward spiral if their minds occasionally turn to worst-case thinking about the economy or that you should wear a suit to retrieve the paper from your front stoop.

But on the other hand, you know yourself best, so here’s my question: Have you let any of your personal standards slip since you started your search? If so, I’m going to put in a bid for you to tighten the reins a bit. I think our self-esteem, and thus our confidence — and thus our ultimate success in our endeavors — is connected to the standards we keep in all the categories in this assessment.

If you can clean things up a bit, you will be controlling the things you can and diminishing your focus on the things you can’t. One job seeker I came to know quite well put it this way: “Losing my job took a lot from me, but I won’t let it take my dignity. It won’t touch my spirit or who I am.” He did persist and get a job, and he carried that attitude into the workplace with him, which I’m certain was a benefit to the employer as well.