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Job-Seekers, What is in Your Mystery Basket?

I have a confession to make. Sometimes, very late at night, I can feel the presence of Food Network host Ted Allen in my house. 

For the uninitiated, Allen is the ubiquitous host of “Chopped,” the Food Network reality game show in which four contestants compete for cash and prizes as they create appetizer, entrée and dessert courses from items provided in mystery baskets.

I’m pretty sure if my job-hunting experience were a TV reality show, Ted would be the host, and there would be plenty of chopping along the way.

The Appetizer Round

I’m must be hallucinating because I can almost hear Ted say, OK contestants, in the first round your mystery basket contains layoffs, frustrations and loss of self-esteem. He might as well have said beet juice, rice wine vinegar and WD-40.

You’ve got 20 minutes, good luck, I can hear old Ted saying, a sly smirk planted firmly on his face.

Think, think, think. What sort of appetizer can I make with these three items? Remember, nobody wants to be the first one chopped.

Let’s take the ingredients one by one – layoffs. The first thing to realize is that in this recession and the slowly recovering economy, layoffs are going to happen. And for the unfortunate they might come along more than once.

Just keep in mind, this ain’t your daddy’s job market. People aren’t losing jobs because they aren’t good at what they do. Often, they are losing jobs because the company is downsizing or outsourcing to save its life. The key is to not lose your identity in the process. Your skills are still there, they might just need a little tweaking so you can get on to the next opportunity.

Next is frustration. I have worked with this ingredient a lot. It tastes kind of sour going down and has a burning aftertaste that can linger for some time. For a job-seeker, frustration comes in many flavors including: nobody biting on your resume or application; coping with day-to-day life without an income; and my favorite, why did that person get hired and I didn’t?

It’s trite and cliché, but you’ve got to keep putting yourself out there. Use your network of business contacts and friends to find leads. Volunteer or do some activity you wouldn’t normally do. Reach out to experts to help hone your resume and elevator speech. Don’t let frustration run your life.

Self-esteem might be the hardest ingredient of all. Most of us base our identity on what we do for a living rather than who we are as people. When was the last time you described yourself as a husband, father and neighbor instead of bricklayer, basket weaver or rocket scientist?

Keep your sense of humor, it’s the only thing you can truly call your own. Keep reminding yourself being laid off isn’t about the job you did but the circumstances of the economy. It’s hard not to lose that kind of focus.

The Entrée Round

In this basket, Ted says you will find resume building, job hunting and social networking.

Cripes, what am I going to make of this mish-mash of ingredients?

Think gumbo. These three can be a concoction of the best items that you have on hand all mixed together.

The first thing you need to do is get that resume built, and be sure to put the finest point possible on it. Don’t listen to too many experts or you’ll find yourself in a no-man’s land of frustration not knowing what is right. People who do the hiring still want to know where you went to college; a list of your work experience and accomplishments, and who to call that will give them an honest assessment of your work.

Job hunting is a different ballgame than in the past. These days it’s a gumbo of word-of-mouth, job fairs, online listing boards and social networking.  Regardless of your field, you need to at least have a LinkedIn account with your basic resume, that’s where the hiring managers go out to play. It’s also where you can learn more about the companies.

Online job-listings are great. Almost every state has a job board as well as some of the big commercial listing sites like Simply Hired, CareerBuilder or Indeed. Posting your resume on these sites will help you build a two-way street with hiring managers. They can see you, and you can see their jobs. 

Don’t be afraid to use other social media like Facebook and Twitter, but if you do, keep it professional. In this economy, don’t be afraid to let your network of friends know you’re looking. Many, many, many jobs don’t make the job-listing boards, or someone might know about something coming up and give you a head start.

There are also job board blogs for your specific area of interest like MediaBistro for writers and The National Association of Independent Schools for teachers. These can be extremely helpful.

The Dessert Round.

So you’ve made it to the dessert round. Ted opens the basket and calls out cotton candy ice cream, chickpeas and drywall spackle. This time you’ve got 30 minutes, good luck, he says.

In the real “Chopped” championship of job hunting, the dessert round consists of interviews, tryouts and rejections.

So you’ve managed to survive being chopped thus far, but how are you going to sign in the final round so that Ted doesn’t put your head on the chopping block? Those chopped judges are ruthless when it comes to criticism, and the slightest error could send you packing. And it’s the same with job hunting.

Interviews are a lot like speed dating or what I imagine Match.com would be like. You see a job listing, float out your resume to the proper channels, and then hope the girl gives you a call. Of course, this being job hunting 101 that call is probably going to five or 10 others.

This is often followed by the tryout or in-house interview stage. A lot of places want to see what you can do, so they send you a project or a test. Others will follow a phone interview with a round or two of in-house interviews with the final two or three

Rejections are tough because to get to the final two or three in a job search, you begin to feel an attachment of sorts with the company. You start to visualize yourself doing the job and learning the routines. The feeling of earning a regular paycheck starts to feed our ego. You allow yourself to exhale.

Then you get the call. It’s almost like those breakup calls you get where the other person says it’s no you, it’s me. Usually it’s this was really tough and you’ve got great skills, but the other person had xyz that you don’t, and that’s a big part of the job.

This sort of frustration can have an accumulative effect. But you can’t let it. Even though you might go through several of these types of rejections along the path to your next job, keep in mind that for the business, it’s only one position. They don’t feel the accumulative effect that you do.

Well, Ted is here and he’s lifting the final cloche revealing that yes job applicant, you have been chopped.

For my fellow job-seekers, I’d like to add one last mystery basket of ingredients to your endeavors. When you open this basket, you will hope, pride, experience and perseverance – all the things you need to stay the course and become a “Chopped” champion.

My passion is blogging, so if you’d like to see more from my mystery basket of job-seeking, social media and digital technology, you can find a collection of my posts at Xogdog’s Blog. You might just find a $10,000 dessert in there somewhere.

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photo credit: South Carolina State Library via photopin cc

About G Peters

Life during the last five years has read a lot like a country song for Greg. Got laid off ­– got hired. Went to work, and then the new job expired. Went back on the street looking for work, but who’s going to hire somebody older than dirt? Worked the graveyard shift for a year or two, hoping against hope to find something new ­– and at long last did, working in communications for a university. Dream job is still blogger-in-residence for YourCompany.Com, but thankful every day to have a workplace to call home. Best advice: never stop believing in yourself. Check out Xogdog's blog at www.xogdog.wordpress.com/.