In job search, it’s best to trust yourself most

When you’re involved in a process as confusing as a job search or career change, it’s very tempting to give experts too much credence. For most of us, the more convoluted a situation is, the more we just want someone else to tell us what to do.

This principle is so universal, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that it’s actually planned into some products. Think about it: Are cars computer-operated because that makes them better, or because it creates a dependency on the dealer’s repair shop?

And what about phones? I don’t remember ever needing an instruction manual with the phones I grew up using. They didn’t have cameras, but then, there wasn’t much on the end of that curly wire that I wanted a picture of. And, magic of all magic, when I dialed a number, I was provided with a clear signal and the opportunity to finish the conversation without being cut off.

I appreciate most of my modern tools, despite the frustration they cause. But I do wonder about our seeming willingness to give over control of what used to be well-understood processes. The processes themselves aren’t simple anymore, and the feeling of being overwhelmed triggers our human desire to let someone else take the reins.

On the surface, you’d think I’d be all over this phenomenon. As a job search counselor, I should enjoy the fact that job seekers have become nearly paralyzed with anxiety over the so-called rules of job search. The more confused everyone is, the more my expertise is needed.

Well, if it was always my advice being dispensed, maybe I could enjoy the situation more. But even then, I’d have to say, it’s dangerous to put yourself entirely in someone else’s hands. Not only do you have to account for that person’s biases, but also the possibility that they could be mistaken. Nor can you dismiss the fact that some professionals try to incite confusion for the very purpose of swooping in to rescue you — for a fee, of course.

Sadly, the career counseling profession has had its share of these fallen angels. In the old days, some firms would insist that theirs was the only job search system that worked. Acquiescent clients would leave the office with their heads in a spin over all the ways they had been doing this job search wrong. They’d be thousands of dollars lighter, but newly gifted with thick wads of mimeographed pages bearing the names and numbers of local companies – “secret” information that they now had inside access to.

These days you might laugh at a scheme that involves paying money for a list of names. That’s what the Internet is for, after all. But you might find yourself falling instead for a free résumé critique offered online. There’s no upfront cost for this service, so what have you got to lose?

Invariably, you will receive a two- or three-page response to your e-mailed résumé, and somewhere in the first paragraph will be the sentence, “I hope you don’t mind if I am blunt.” I’ve seen these from a dozen different groups, and they all lead with the idea that it’s only by hurting you a little that they’re going to help you a lot. It’s like they all bought the same “scare the potential client” letter-writing kit.

So off come the gloves, and by the time your free critique has ended, you’re feeling about 2 feet tall. How embarrassing for you that so many people have seen this résumé! Luckily, they have a solution, and it will only involve a little money on your part. For the most part, the money is not an enormous sum, which somehow makes the whole thing feel more legitimate.

And indeed, they do write you a new résumé, so you’ve gotten something for your money. Everyone wins. Except that there may not have been that much wrong with your first résumé, and if that’s the case, then changing it up is the job search equivalent of bandaging a kid’s not-so-serious owie.

The bottom line? Trust yourself, and trust your process. If you set some benchmarks for yourself and work to meet them, you will have something to evaluate. But if you’re simply sending out résumés with no plan, you will have no way of knowing what’s not working and why. And remember – without enough outreach, you will have no data to evaluate. Pick up your pace for a while, and you may be able to see for yourself what needs fixing.

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

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