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The Most Harmful Job Market Fictions

Three Job Market Fictions
By Peter Weddle
Courtesy Weddle's Newsletter

It's hard enough to look for a job in today's tight economy. Doing it with a fictionalized view of the job market can dramatically degrade your chances of success. What are such fictions? They are pipe dreams and urban legends, to be sure, but increasingly, they are also misinterpretations of conventional wisdom. They begin with the right idea, but come to the wrong conclusion. Here are three of the most harmful.

Fiction #1: A job search is an interruption in your career.

The conventional wisdom is that a job search creates a gap in your record. And, gaps drain your perceived value as a new hire. Rightly or wrongly, recruiters believe that a gap is evidence that you're out of date in your field and out of touch with the latest challenges at work.

Gaps come in all sizes, of course, but the larger the gap, the more explaining you have to do to employers. Why have you been unable to land a job? What's kept you from being hired by other employers? Is there something that's not on your resume that we should know about?

Gaps signal a break in your career progression, and employers seek candidates who have a steady record of progress in their work. It's a misinterpretation, however, to think that job searches create gaps. They don't. In fact, gaps exist only if we permit them to. A break in your growth as a high-value performer occurs only with your permission.

How can you avoid a gap? The minute you find yourself in an active job search, enroll in a training program or academic course that will sharpen your skills and add to your perceived value as a candidate. Then, feature that development on your resume. Show employers that you're determined to remain a high value contributor even while you look for a new employment opportunity. You'll not only impress them with your initiative, but you'll eliminate the doubt a gap in your record creates.

Fiction #2: The best place to find a job is on a social networking site.

The conventional wisdom is that social networking sites are now the single best way to find a new or better job. According to pundits, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter have eclipsed if not replaced job boards, traditional face-to-face networking, print publications and career fairs as viable job search resources.

While such hyperbole gets media attention, it is a misinterpretation to think that these sites are all you need to find a job. Social networking is indeed a valuable job search tactic, but it is not the sole technique for conducting a job search or even the most effective. Indeed, for every person who has successfully found a job on a social media site, there are literally hundreds of others who have found employment using other tools.

In my "2010 Source of Employment" survey, for example, we had almost 1,900 people tell us that the single best way to find a job was by using a job board. Answering a job posting or archiving a resume on such a site was selected by more than 28 percent of the respondents. The second highest response was a tip from a friend at 9.6 percent, followed by a newspaper ad at 8.4 percent, a call from a headhunter at 7.1 percent and a referral by an employee of the company at 6.4 percent.

Does that mean you should ignore social media sites? Absolutely not. But, take the chatter about the power of these sites with a grain of salt and use all of the tools at your disposal. Today's job market is the toughest in years, and you simply don't know which resource will end up working best for you. The key to success, therefore, is to play the odds and use every single one of them.

Fiction #3: There are no jobs to be found in the job market.

The conventional wisdom is that the stuttering U.S. economy is simply not creating new jobs. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, there was a net loss of 93,000 jobs in September 2010, leaving behind an entirely new kind of job market. If we had a "jobless recovery" after the 2001 recession, we are now enduring a "less jobs recovery." Employers are simultaneously seeing their revenue and profits rise and shedding jobs from their structure.

While a lot of job seekers have been disillusioned by this situation, it is a misinterpretation to think that the job market is bereft of opportunity. In fact, the private sector actually created 64,000 jobs in September. And, there are other openings being created by voluntary separation. That's right, people are actually quitting in this economy to look for something better. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more people resigned (2 million) between February and April of this year than were laid off (1.7 million).

Does that mean it's now easy to find employment? I'm afraid not. But, it would be a tragic mistake to give up because you don't think there are any openings available. The jobs are out there, but it does take more than simply sending in a application to land one.

The key to success is not to shotgun an application out to every job you could conceivably perform, but instead, to focus on the smaller number of positions where you perfectly fit the stated requirements. Then, do everything you can to stand out. Network online and off to find a person in the organization you know who would be willing to refer you to the recruiter with the opening. And, look for professional blogs and other discussion forums online where employees of the organization tend to hang out and add substantively to their conversation. In short, make it your job to convince employers they can't succeed without you.

The conventional wisdom can clearly be helpful when you're looking for a new or better job, but make sure that you draw the right conclusions. Misinterpretations of even the best insights or most accurate data create fictions that can undermine and even derail your ultimate success.