Need to Find a Job? Stop Looking So Hard

Many of our clients have heard us say this to them, but this article says it so well that I wanted to share it with you.

This article is from Harvard Business Publishing
by Peter Bregman
Published: February 6, 2009

Do you know anyone who tried for years to have a baby but couldn’t? Then, after giving up, maybe after adopting, suddenly, surprisingly, got pregnant?

Or someone who was dying to be in a relationship? Dated all the time, but never met the right person. Then, after accepting he would be alone, started focusing on other things and, lo and behold, met someone and got married?

How about someone who lost her job? Maybe she spent the next year working on her resumé, perusing job sites, devoting all her energy to getting work. All to no avail. Then, after deciding to stop looking so hard, out of the blue, came a great job offer?

What is that? A karmic journey? A miracle? Statistical aberration? Pure random chance? Perhaps it never really happens; perhaps we remember those stories precisely because they are so unusual?

Or, perhaps, it’s a really great strategy.

I just heard a story from a friend of mine. She knows a guy who’s been out of a job for over a year. He spent the year working on his resumé and sending it out. He’s on Internet job sites every day. He tries to meet with people when there’s the opportunity but there aren’t a lot of opportunities these days. And he’s getting more and more depressed. It’s hard to get out of bed but he does. He puts on a suit and tie, sits at his computer, and looks. Eventually, he figures, he’ll find a job. I’m sure he’s right.

But probably no time soon. The sad truth is that there aren’t many jobs out there. And, just last week in the U.S., 200,000 more people started looking for them. Call me a pessimist. But I don’t know a single company who is hiring. (I’m in New York, where things are particularly bad.) If you’re the kind of person who likes to play the odds, then you’ll admit that, chances are, you’ll be out of a job for a while.

The same applies to companies who have lost clients, whose revenues are down, who are scrambling for business. It’s a scary economic environment out there.

I was talking about this with a close friend of mine who holds a senior position at a large consulting firm. He sounded down–not depressed–but uninspired. We were commiserating about the environment when he said, “We’re going after anything that’s out there. This is not the time to be choosy. It’s not fun.”

But I do think there’s another way to go through these times with less pain and more success. A way to increase your chances of getting that job. Of winning a new client. And maybe even enjoying it.

Give up.

Not completely. But mostly. Stop trying so hard. At most, spend 1-2 hours a day on it. Here are a few rules:

Write your resume quickly and efficiently. Get the basic point across and then let it go. Same with a cover letter. Your resumé is not going to get you a job. If you’re a company, the same holds true for your marketing materials. I’m sure they’re already good enough.

Don’t spend time on job sites. It’s highly unlikely, with all the people who are looking, that someone will hire someone they don’t already know (or someone they know doesn’t already know). Same goes for companies: don’t respond to RFPs unless you already have the relationship.

Spend all your hunting time with people: at lunch, on the phone, going for walks. Finding a job or new clients is all about human relationships.
If you’re only going to spend 1-2 hours a day on this, what should you do with your other 12 hours? If you aren’t going to spend your days looking for work, how will you find it?

Here’s my recipe:

Make a list of all the things you love doing or things that intrigue you that you’d like to try doing. This is brainstorming so don’t limit the list or judge it; write down everything you can think of.

Separate the activities you do with people from the activities you do alone. For example, gardening, reading, meditating, and writing are alone activities. Volunteering to run a fundraiser is with people.

Look at the activities you do alone and figure out if you can (and want to) do them in a way that includes other people. For example, join a garden club. Or a reading or meditation group. Or write something that other people read (a blog counts). If you can (and want to) make them activities that include other people, keep them on the list. If not, then cross them off the list.

Now’s the fun part: Spend 90% of your time doing things you love (or have always wanted to try) with other people who also love doing those things. If possible, take a leadership role.
A good friend of mine has recently gotten involved in a church she adores. She loves all the pastors; she came to our house for dinner the other day and couldn’t stop talking about them. So she met with them and offered to help in whatever way they needed. She’s now leading a monthly strategy breakfast with the pastors and lay leaders of the church. I’ve never seen her so excited.

Another friend is training for a triathalon with a group of 15 others. He’s in the best shape of his life and can’t stop talking about it.

A company I know is doing pro bono work for charities and the government. Everyone working on those projects is energized.

Another company I know has given all their people writing time; they’ve been told to put their ideas on paper and get them out there. Somewhere. Anywhere.

Why does this work? Woody Allen once said that eighty percent of success is just showing up. When I first started my business, a great mentor of mine told me to join the boards of not-for-profits and do what I do best for them. Other board members will then see the results and want to hire my company to do the same for them and their companies. That’s the obvious reason.

Here’s the more subtle reason this works. Nobody wants to hire someone (or a company) who needs to be hired to survive. Depressed is not attractive. People want to hire energized people who are passionate and excited about what they’re doing. Jobs come from being engaged in the world and building human connections.

And an even more subtle reason. If you’re passionate about what you’re doing, and you’re doing it with other people who are passionate about what they’re doing, then chances are the work you eventually find will be more in line with the stuff you love to do. And then . . . then your life changes (not to be too dramatic but it’s true). No longer are you, like my consulting friend said, “going after anything that’s out there.” You’re using this crisis as an opportunity to do work you love, at which you excel, with people you enjoy. You can’t help but succeed.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking: that’s a fine strategy if you’re independently wealthy, getting that nice fat trust fund check every week to pay for your gym membership (or mortgage or kid’s tuition). But what about the rest of us? Our inability to pay the monthly bills might actually intrude on our ability to “enjoy” unemployment. I know how scary it is to be without an income.

And that fear is what you have to manage because here’s the kicker. It won’t take longer to find a job even though you’re spending less time looking. It’ll take you less time.

Pursuing things you love doing with people you enjoy will position you better to get a job; other people will notice your commitment, passion, skill, and personality and they’ll want to either hire you or help you get hired.

Also, actively pursuing other activities while looking for a job will make you more qualified for a job–because you’ll end up a more interesting person. When you finally get that job interview, you’ll be able to recount all the many things you’ve been doing (and will probably have a good time relating them) instead of saying that the only thing you’ve been doing for the past three years is looking (unsuccessfully so far) for a job.

The same holds true if you’re a company looking for business. Spend your time doing things that will make you a more interesting company to hire when the business comes back.

And even if it took the same amount of time to find a job, wouldn’t you rather spend your time doing things that are interesting with people you enjoy?

I just heard the story of a woman who decided to do work she didn’t enjoy for a few years in order to make a lot of money. Three years later the company went bankrupt. That could happen to anyone. Bad luck. But here’s what she said that I found the most depressing: “It’s as though I didn’t work for the last three years–it’s all gone. And what’s worse, I worked like a dog and hated it. I just wasted three years of my life.”

Don’t waste this time. The job search. The client search. Do it. But do it in a way that excites you. That teaches you new things. That introduces you to new people who see you at your natural, most excited, most powerful best. Use and develop your strengths. The things at which you excel. The things you love.

It’s well known that people have a harder time getting pregnant when they’re stressed about getting pregnant. And it’s unlikely you’ll get into a relationship if all you think about is getting into a relationship. The same holds true for finding a job (or, for a company, finding new business). However hard it may be, force yourself to do things you love with other people. Let the work find you.

What do you think?