Career Transitions

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5 Urban Legends of the Job Search

What you think is true might hurt you in your job search.

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I like urban legends and folklore. Who can resist the great creepy story about the babysitter and the man upstairs? Or the rumor that Walt Disney was cryogenically frozen?

For that reason, one of my favorite websites is Snopes and it's the first place I go when one of my friends posts a "you won't believe this is true" story on Facebook. Snopes takes a story we have all heard (alligators in the New York City sewer system anyone?) and tells us the real story. Each legend receives a green (true), red (false), green/red (partially true) or yellow (can't be determined) light based on the veracity of the tale.

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Not surprisingly, the job search has its own urban myths and legends and here are five of the most popular. Like Snopes, I will give them a light rating.

1. I should move to the city that’s been ranked #1 for jobs.

Red/green light.

You and a few thousand others will believe this. Those articles about the “top 10 cities for jobs” are fun to read. They give us hope—if we’ve exhausted our opportunities in our home location, maybe we’d have better luck by moving to one of the cities that is hiring. The key word is “maybe.” It’s a gamble because those statistics are based on broad figures or trends often influenced by a particular industry. It’s true that when a big tech firm opens up there will a lot of tech jobs. But the non-tech positions in that company will not be as plentiful. And there will be some jobs created outside the company (an influx of new people might mean the cable company hires more installers…) but before you pick up and move, you need to do more research. Why is that city #1? What industries are driving it? Can you work in those industries? For instance, in my field of higher education, it’s much smarter for me to look where the colleges are, not in a generic city that has lots of jobs. I had a great stable job for many years at Dickinson College, but I suspect the town of Carlisle, PA will never make a list of top places for jobs. Focus on your field of expertise and learn where those jobs are likely to be located rather than follow the trend to the #1 city.

2. College recruiting is the best job resource for college students.

Red/green light.

It depends. College recruiting is often looked upon as this great panacea to the college student job search dilemma; what could be better than a mass of companies coming to one location for the sole purpose of hiring college students? They’re practically handing out their jobs, right? Wrong. College recruiting is dominated by large companies and specific industries (primarily business, finance, and technical fields). While colleges do their best to bring in consulting firms, government agencies and nonprofit organizations, those organizations seldom hire at the level of the business and tech firms, and recruiting is generally dominated by and designed for large corporate hiring. For students whose degrees match those companies and want to work in the positions they are offering, recruiting is wonderful. Other students, because of their career interests, are better off using their career services office to develop their independent job search.

That said, recruiting programs can provide great value to college students, even if they don’t plan to work for any of the companies recruiting on campus. The simple act of applying for and interviewing for jobs through recruiting is a valuable learning experience. Career fairs are a great way to practice your "elevator pitch" even if you don't want to work at the companies attending the fair. Just don’t judge the “success” of a recruiting program based on the number of hires.

3. The more resumes and cover letters I send out, the better my chances are for getting a job. It’s a numbers game, right?

Red light.

While you will feel wildly productive sending out lots of resumes and cover letters, the results will likely be disappointing. Targeting is the name of the game: you must target your resume and cover letter to specifically fit the position you are seeking. You need to use keywords for that industry, address the cover letter to a real person (not “to whom it may concern”) and otherwise demonstrate that you have done your research and are applying for a position for which you are qualified. Scattershot “I’ll just apply for every entry level job at this company” approaches seldom work.

4. If I create a great LinkedIn profile, employers will seek me out.

Red/green light.

There is an element of truth in this: many individuals, particularly those with high tech skills or strong sales experience, have been contacted for job opportunities via LinkedIn. Some recruiters use LinkedIn exclusively to find candidates for jobs, but unless your particular skills and knowledge are scarce and in high-demand, it is likely that you will need to do more than just create a great LinkedIn profile. That said, create one anyway. Your LinkedIn profile is the best way to create a positive online presence and you can refer employers to it for more information about you.

5. No one is hiring during a recession.

Red light.

This is a particularly destructive urban legend because it is demoralizing and will keep people from even trying. The truth is companies and organizations are always hiring, even during recessions. They may not hire at the rate they did in better times, and they might not have the same variety of positions, but even at the height of a recession, jobs are available. You will need to analyze what is out there and what skills you need to develop to apply for and qualify for various jobs, but that’s true in good times as well. You can also use a recessionary period to continue your education, develop skills employers are seeking, strengthen your networking skills, try out careers in a field you hadn’t considered, or even develop your own business.

Much as I enjoy a good urban legend, I don’t like them in the job search. They misguide people and cause them to waste time and maybe even lose out on job opportunities. So be careful that you don’t fall prey to myths and misconceptions. Do your research, learn as much as you can about the field you’re interested in and the way hiring works in that field, and then go for it.

 ©2014 Katharine S. Brooks. All rights reserved. Find me on Facebook and Twitter.

Photo credit: Martin Sutherland, Flickr Creative Commons

Katharine Brooks, Ed.D., is the Executive Director of the Office of Personal and Career Development at Wake Forest University. She is the author of You Majored in What?

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