Monthly Archives: January 2014

The Jobhunting Mindset

Here It Is, The Big Secret

Last week I promised I’d give you the core secret from my upcoming book, The Job Replacement Guide. It absolutely cracked me up how many of you actuallybelieved me! Then I realized that the same number of you would absolutely lynch me if I didn’t make good, so I decided to go ahead and spill the beans.

I need to set this up a little bit, because it’s so simple you’re not going to believe me. After I wrote the previous post, I told four or five people what the secret was and not one of them “got it”. They either said “Huh” or they did that thing where you tilt your head and kind of scrunch your nose like you’re either squinting at something or you smell something bad. Giving a more detailed explanation didn’t help, but fortunately demonstrating the application of the idea did help several people.

So I’m gonna tell you the secret, and it’s going to sound dumb. But stay with me, okay? Because I’m going to demonstrate a completely unexpected application of it and it’s going to be awesome.

Ready? Okay. The big secret to my jobhunting success is this:

It’s not about you. It’s all about them.

Or, if you prefer,

Don’t make it about you. Make it all about them.

Pretty simple, right? And kind of stupid?

Yep. That Was Dumb.

I know, I know, but wait! Stick around. Let’s talk about this for a minute! This really will change the way you get leads and write resumes and conduct interviews.

See, the thing is, you’re thinking about persuasion, or communication, right? Or maybe you’ve had a little sales training, and you know that it is much more effective to appeal to another person’s self-interest than to their sympathy.

But you’ve got it all wrong. Well, actually you’re totally right, but you’re still missing my point. This is the “weird trick” that I figured out on accident, and have been able to jobhunt successfully ever since. It’s not about persuasion, or communication, or even another person’s self-interest. The specific application of this concept is, paradoxically, all about you.

It’s All About Being Unstoppable

It’s all about power. When you are interested in another person, you sort of become unstoppable. You can’t stop thinking about how things look from their perspective, or of reasons to talk to them, or things to do for them, or ways to help them. And they can’t stop you, either. You have all the power. When you make it about them, you control the beginning and the end of the interaction, and if you want another interaction, and another and another, as long as you are genuinely making it about them, they’ll not only let you, they’ll eagerly welcome you.

When you make it about you, they might give you some sympathy or try to find a way to help you, but either way, you have given them control over the interaction. In the absolute best case, they give you some great help–and now that they’ve helped you, they’re done. They end the interaction. It’s not intentionally harmful; in fact it’s often done with the most noble of intentions. But it’s still death to your jobsearch effort.

This really is one of the trickiest ideas I’ve tried to pull out of the warped recesses of my mind, so I hope I’m making sense here: when you make it all about them, they can’t stop you. If something doesn’t work, you find another avenue of approach. You never get shut down. You keep all the power.

Let’s talk through some examples just to make it clear. As we go through them, pay attention to who is in control of your energy and your efforts.

What A Powerless Jobsearch Looks Like

A powerless jobsearch follows all of the rules you were taught in Career Ed in high school: Dress neatly, go in and fill out an application, and hope you get picked. Format your resume to exactly two pages with an Objective, Education, and Experience section; mail off ten copies a day and hope you get picked. Arrive at the interview 5 minutes early, dressed one step nicer than the average employee; be eager–but not too eager–and make sure you follow up any negative answer with a positive statement so you don’t look bad. Then go home and hope you get picked.

I’m hammering it home with no subtlety at all here: the dominant theme of a typical jobsearch is hoping you get picked. By which I mean sitting quietly, waiting politely, for your turn. And maybe your job.

You call a friend and ask who’s hiring. He says he doesn’t know off the top of his head, but if he hears anything he’ll let you know. You walk up to the receptionist and inquire about employment, and she says they’re not hiring, but you can drop off your resume. You reach the end of the interview and the interviewer asks if you have any questions for her.

The last one is subtle, but all of these are bad situations. And you got into them because you made it all about you, and you let them have your power.

A powerless jobsearch is a numbers game. It looks like this: you do everything right, and you do it as hard as you can, and you hope you eventually get lucky. You send out 1,000 resumes and get 10 interviews. You go to 10 interviews and get 3 callbacks. You go to 3 callbacks and get 1 job offer.

I sure hope it was at the company you wanted to work at.

What An Empowered Jobsearch Looks Like

An empowered jobsearch feels very different. For one thing, it doesn’t really feel like a jobsearch. It feels more like… well, talking to people and listening to them. And then getting offered a job.

You call your friend, and instead of asking him who’s hiring, you ask him who’s working in Ruby. You ask him what companies are doing financial processing. You ask him who sponsors the local Ruby meetup. Your friend is more than happy to oblige, and disgorges a long list of companies. He even knows people at those companies that you could talk to, and he’d be happy to introduce you. “I’m not sure they’re hiring, though,” he warns. You smile. “That’s fine, I just want to find out what they’re doing.”

Your friend introduces you to a programmer doing health insurance work at InterestingCorp. You hit it off, and you joke and say “I bet you’re having fun with the new HIPPA stuff….” “I know!” he replies. “You wouldn’t believe the stuff they have us doing!” You invite him to lunch sometime to chat about financial processing. He says sure.

A week later you’re having lunch with the programmer. You ask him about what kinds of financial processing stuff, they do, and he happily launches into the cooler things they’re doing. He asks you what you’re up to, and you mention that you’re between jobs, but you used to do financial processing. You notice one of the cool things InterestingCorp does solves a very hard problem. “So how did you get around the problem with…” At the end of lunch, he says “You should apply at InterestingCorp. We just finished a round of hiring, but we could really use you.” “That sounds like fun, who should I talk to?”

Your friend gushes to the hiring manager, and then introduces you via email. You ask her some questions about team dynamics in a financial processing environment. You speak on the phone and ask some piercing questions about how the team works and the trickier bits of financial processing. She says “you know what, you should stop by and meet some of the other programmers. Do you have a resume you could email me?”

During this time you’ve met half a dozen other programmers and talked to them about their companies and their problems. None of their companies are hiring, but all of them are interested in talking to you more. And of course, InterestingCorp isn’t hiring either. But that’s just a decision some manager made, and decisions get unmade when the right reason comes along.

That’s you, by the way.

You meet with the team and hit it off. Afterwards, you have a private interview with the hiring manager. She tells you about the company benefits and the atmosphere and the dress code and why it’s awesome to work at InterestingCorp. There’s a manila envelope on her desk, and that’s when it hits you: she’s sellingyou on coming to work for them. And not only do you realize that the envelope contain your offer letter, but that the letter was on her desk before you came in to meet the team. Of course she’d have pretended it never existed if the team hadn’t liked you. But when they did… well, there’s no sense wasting time, is there?

Empowered Jobsearches Feel Totally Natural

Empowered jobsearches feel totally natural. In fact, I’d almost say they feel unconscious, or kind of accidental. You don’t really feel like you’re jobhunting. You’re just stumbling on great jobs. That’s why it took me so long to realize that I was actually doing something to cause it to happen: for years I thought I was just extraordinarily lucky. Here are some of the conditions under which I have landed jobs:

  • I called an ex-coworker and told him I was quitting my job, and he excitedly told me his brother-in-law had just called him to beg him to quit and come work for him, he didn’t want to go, but he’d be happy to introduce me.
  • I was using a piece of software, and it crashed. I called the company that made it. “I’m calling to report a bug, but I’d like to talk to the programmer because I actually know exactly which version of which compiler you’re using to write this software, and which setting you need to change to fix it.” One week later I was the other programmer working on the product.
  • I wrote a CMS for webcomics and managed the web hosting for Schlock Mercenary for several years. The cartoonist, Howard Tayler, was a manager at Novell. I asked him for leads (“who do you know that’s doing web programming work?”) and he introduced me to his friend, who told me about his brother, who was a huge fan of Howard’s comic and worked at a company that did websites. As the Executive Vice President. Getting an interview wasn’t a problem.
  • I turned the entire interview process into a foregone conclusion at one company by finding out that the CEO was an old friend of mine. I got a call from the hiring manager, who began the call by saying “So, um, the CEO of my company asked me to call you…” Mind you, I still had to make friends with the team, which included smoothing the feathers of the hiring manager that I had just pulled rank on. But once I showed them my sincerity and interest in their technical challenges, they realized I wasn’t the CEO’s crony and that they actually wanted me on board.

If I look at any one of those jobs, I could blame it on luck. I could almost say that I don’t really have a system at all… except for the fact that I know I’m going to get lucky every single time I go looking. Because I’ve learned to make it all about them, and yes, this helps me persuade them and yes, it appeals to their self-interest. But mostly it keeps me from ever letting anybody or anything stop me.

Except an offer letter, that is. When you make it all about them, they make sure you stick around.

I’m Writing A Book About This

If you want to keep your power in the jobhunting process, The Job Replacement Guide is a collection of techniques I’ve learned over the years to apply this mindset to every phase of the jobhunting process. From getting people to give you leads to calming your nerves in an interview to negotiating a better salary, knowing why–and exactly how–to apply the “make it all about them” principle is the secret to “accidentally getting lucky” every single time you jobhunt.

If you would like updates on the book’s progress, including advance content from the book and extra content that won’t be making the final cut, sign up for the mailing list. You’ll be the first to know when it’s published, and I’ll throw in a discount for those of you who were with me all the way from the beginning.

See? All about you.


The Job Replacement Guide

Learn how to replace your job with a better one in record time. Whether you’re unemployed, hate your job, or just wonder what you could accomplish at work if you were utterly fearless, this guide will give you the confidence that comes from being “unemployment-proof”.

Coming Soon!
Click here to sign up for the mailing list to get updates, advance content, and a discount on launch day.

The Job Replacement Guide: Why I Have To Write This Book

I have to write a book. This is the story of why.

I’ve never told this story–the “before” part, anyway–except in parts here and there to my closest friends. If you don’t care about stories, but you are interested in a book with a completely unorthodox approach to jobhunting, sign up for the mailing list.

See, I’ve helped thousands of people jobhunt over the years. I tune resumes. I coach interviewees. I help people find out who’s hiring and how to get in touch with them. I’ve never charged or anything, it’s just something I do to help friends.

And I am really, really good at this.

I wasn’t born this way, though, and the way I am now is the happy, helpful, “after” part of the story.

I’ll tell you right now, the way I learned was not pleasant. Trigger words: divorce, chronic illness, depression. You’ve been warned.

For me, it’s all in the distant past, and I’m fine now. I like to fantasize that this is sort of my “Superhero Origin Story”, only with me ending up with a freakish personnel management skill instead of a superpower.

But yeah. This is a story I’ve never told all at once before, but now I need to–for the same reason I need to write this book: Some of you out there need it right now in the worst way, and most of us will need it in the next year or two. So… I guess this is for you. Here you go.

Act I: In Which The Hero Is Kind Of Whiny And Pitiful

In my early 20’s, I was… well, I was a mess. I had a positive attitude, a ton of self-entitlement, and absolutely no clue how the real world worked. I was newly married, freshly dropped out of college, and rocking a pretty severe case of undiagnosed ADHD. I wasn’t really sure how I was going to make ends meet, get back into school and graduate, or just keep things from falling apart generally. But I had unsinkable optimism and a can-do attitude, and I just knew that if I worked hard enough everything would be okay.

And then I got sick.

I got so sick I couldn’t work, and I lost my job. I went to the doctor, got a prescription, rested up, got feeling a little better, and went out and got myself a new job.

And then I got sick again.

I saw the doctor again, got another prescription, rested up, got feeling better, and went out and got a new job.

And then I got sick again. And again. And again. I had a chronic illness that wasn’t well-understood at the time.

I switched doctors. We tried antibiotics, then antivirals. I switched doctors again. We tried radical dietary changes: no artificial food colors, no additives, no gluten, no corn. The next doctor suggested it was in my head, and could I just try not being sick? When I tried just going to work and pushing through it, and became even sicker, he suggested I go the other way and take it easy. I took a month off to REALLY rest up and get better. To be fair, it helped: I lasted maybe an extra week at the next job. I tried chiropractic and megavitamins and massage therapy. I was desperate to find anything that worked. Nothing ever did. One doctor literally told me that the only thing left to try was divine intervention. He suggested that I talk to my church leader and get an ecclesiastical blessing.

I had already talked to him and gotten a blessing. Divine intervention seemed to be in agreement with medical science: No cures, no fixes. The only thing that could help me was lots and lots of rest, and then only for a little while.

It seems odd in retrospect, but the one thing that never occurred to me or my wife or any of my doctors this entire time was that I was, in fact, very sick. I secretly wondered if I was just lazy or somehow unfit to be a grownup. All we really knew was that I couldn’t hold down a job for more than 2 or 3 weeks at a time… and whenever I felt too physically ill to work, I was tormented by the guilt that I wasn’t supporting my wife like a husband should.

Over the next 18 months I worked at, and lost, 24 jobs.

My illness got worse. Our finances became unbearable. The combination of money, health problems and other stresses became too much for my wife. When she left me I was devastated. We had an amicable divorce because we couldn’t afford any other kind. There was nothing to split up but our debt.

I moved back in with my parents and spiraled into a deep, dark depression.

Act II: In Which The Hero Goes Off To A Monastery And Learns Kung-Fu

Technically this is true, if by “a monastery” you understand me to mean “my parents’ house”, and by “learns kung-fu” you understand me to mean “sits around moping and feeling sorry for himself, but at least has plenty of time on his hands to read and think and stuff”.

I did a lot of soul-searching, in every way I knew how. I read self-help books, I meditated, I saw a therapist, I took antidepressants, I sought spiritual counseling, I fasted and prayed to my God, and above all I spent a lot of time just thinking. I really felt like I was one of God’s “special screwups”, and that the only thing I was really good for was to serve as a bad example to other people. Any time I wished I could move back out on my own, I’d realize that I needed a job, and I’d remember that I’d lost more jobs than I was years old.

Transition: That Moment When The Hero Takes A Long Walk In The Rain Alone

One day I happened across a quote by Patrick Overton:

“When you walk to the edge of all the light you have and take that first step into the darkness of the unknown, you must believe that one of two things will happen. There will be something solid for you to stand upon or you will be taught to fly.”

Something about that quote resonated with me, which is why I still remember it. I felt like I had no light at all, and that any step in any direction was into the darkness. But I felt very strongly that if this quote was true then it should be true of any kind of the darkness; I should be able step in any direction and find solid ground–or a pair of wings.

I remember thinking about my job history, and laughing ruefully at myself, and saying aloud, “24 jobs in 18 months. That’s not solid ground. So how is that going to teach me how to fly?”

And that’s when it hit me:

In order to lose 24 jobs in 18 months, I had to search for, find, interview for, and get hired for 24 jobs! Even at the end, when I had to explain to interviewers why I had had dozens of jobs before them, I had no trouble convincing them to hire me. What on Earth was I doing to get these people to hire me? I had no clue. I didn’t know what I was doing; all I knew was that I could.

Act III: When The Hero Decides To Confront His Nemesis

I decided to move out of my parents’ house, and put my life back together. They say that when the student is ready the master will appear, that fortune favors the bold, and that the whole world steps aside for the man who knows where he’s going. There must be a good reason for these sayings to exist, because as soon as I started moving, miracles started happening.

Some friends from the city called me and said they felt inspired to ask if there was anything–anything–they could do to help me. I took them at their word: “Um, actually… yes. Can I come live in your basement for a year or two?” They didn’t even hesitate before saying “Yes.”

So I moved back to the city. With no rent, I was free to work when I could and not worry about eviction when I needed the rest. I got a job working the electronics counter at a big box store. I decided to take charge of my health proactively, and sought out a doctor while I was still healthy. I described my health history, and the doctor blinked in astonishment. He had just heard about my peculiar combination of symptoms. The treatment was simple and life-changing.

On the way to work one day I heard about some symptoms affecting millions of people called Attention Deficit Disorder. It described me to a T. Two weeks later I had an official diagnosis and a prescription that I still take today. I love to joke around about it, but honestly the best way to describe it is like my brain is now able to put on glasses when it needs to see more clearly. More importantly, I learned that I was not learning disabled, but rather had some specific constraints to my learning style. I stopped trying to get back into school and started buying textbooks to read on my own for fun. You know, as one does.

I began programming again in my spare time. Three months after I’d started working again, I heard about a company hiring not-quite-entry-level tech support people. Turns out that just dropping out of a top-ranked CS program was enough of a qualification to land the job.

I worked continuously for a straight year. I started dating again, and got engaged. The day the company announced they were closing their Utah offices in a month, I felt the strangest thing: absolutely nothing. My coworkers began scrambling frantically to find new jobs, but I didn’t. They thought I was crazy, and I thanked them for their concern, but I just shrugged and said I wanted to stay focused on my current job until they locked the doors. Later, my manager would give me a glowing review for my professional behavior in the last days of our team. On our last day I walked out into the bright afternoon sun.

I was getting married in three months. I had to find an apartment and pay first and last months’ rent. I had furniture to buy. I still had debt to pay off from my previous marriage. But above all, I had to show my fiancee (now my sweet wife of 17 years and counting) that I could support her financially without the slightest trace of worry.

I inhaled the warm summer air, and smiled. I had no job, no leads, and no idea where my next paycheck would come from.

And I knew exactly what to do.

Epilogue: In Which The Hero Realizes He Should Write This Stuff Down

It’s been eighteen years, now. I’ve always had work whenever I wanted it. I’ve been laid off, I’ve quit, I’ve been outright fired. Through it all, I’ve never missed a mortgage payment and I’ve never missed a meal. I’ve also never missed a wink of sleep wondering if I should quit my job.

All those years ago, back when I was a complete mess, I stumbled on an approach to jobhunting that makes the whole process simple, obvious, and easy. Maybe it’s the sort of thing I should save for the book, but I feel like I need to get it out there. I can’t explain it in one or two paragraphs, though, so you’ll have to wait for my next blog post on Monday.

There are three reasons I’m going to explain the whole thing on my blog. The first is that, even though it’s a simple idea, almost everyone looks right at it and doesn’t see it. (It took me several years to figure out what the actual idea itself was, even though I was acting it out unconsciously.) The second is that the reason people look right at it and don’t see it is because they’re afraid. And I can’t stand that anymore.

They’re afraid because they’ve just been fired or caught in a layoff. Or they’ve got a job but they’re afraid of losing it. Sometimes I even see people hate their jobs so much they wish they’d get fired, but they don’t quit… because they’re afraid.

Last year, a weird coincidence happened to me that made me sick to my very soul. I saw hundreds of people change jobs, no different than any other year, really. But just out of coincidence, four different people said the exact same sentence to me, and it’s a sentence that stabs my heart with ice:

“I just don’t know what I’m gonna do.”

I can’t stand leaving that question lying around unanswered, and I’m writing a whole book to answer it: Here’s what you’re gonna do. What I’m going to explain in the next post is the core principle, the why of what you’re gonna do. That’ll be here waiting for you on Monday.

The third reason I’m willing to explain the whole thing is that it’s taken me 18 years of applying that core principle to learn all the tricks I’m putting in the book. A few of them are original, but most of them are tips and tricks I’ve picked up from others along the way. Things that I’ve read or seen and thought, “Yes, that matches my core principle of how to do this.” But you don’t need the book if you’re willing to read my next post and then be me for twenty-odd years.

So… I’m writing all those tricks down. I love helping people with their careers, to take risks at work and learn and grow. But that’s hard to do if you are terrified of being let go.

That fear, that terror. That’s why I have to write this book. Not just the despair you feel when you’re out of work and laying awake worrying about feeding your family. I’m talking when you’re at work and that brief flutter in your stomach stops you from telling your boss that bad news she really needs to know about. Or that qualm that keeps you from speaking up in a meeting because the CEO might not like your suggestion. Or that seeping dread that makes you say, no matter how bad your boss is, you should be grateful to have work.

That fear. That terror. THAT is why I have to write this book. I hope you love it when it’s done and that you and a million friends all buy it. But even if it only sells one copy (thanks, Mom!), I can’t let this book live silently in my head any longer.

So, yeah. Coming Soon:


The Job Replacement Guide

Learn how to replace your job with a better one in record time. Whether you’re unemployed, hate your job, or just wonder what you could accomplish at work if you were utterly fearless, this guide will give you the confidence that comes from being “unemployment-proof”.

Coming Soon!
Click here to sign up for the mailing list to get updates, advance content, and a discount on launch day.