Resolving the job search “jigsaw puzzle”

Do you like doing jigsaw puzzles? For me, while I find that the early stages can be a bit frustrating, it is always a great pleasure when the picture has started to take shape and every new piece inserted adds a bit more clarity to the puzzle.

Now, imagine the same jigsaw puzzle, but this time there are just the puzzle pieces with no packing box, so there is no guiding picture to work from. Any progress we make here will have a lot of trial and error, and providing we don’t give up, we’ll eventually see a picture take shape. Frustratingly, we won’t have a clear idea of what we are building until we are much of the way through it.

Think of your current job search as a jigsaw puzzle. Do you have a clear picture of what you are aiming for – of what you are building? Do you know what the finished picture will actually look like? Can you describe that picture – in some detail – to your friends and acquaintances? If so, congratulations are in order as you are most likely well on your way to making your picture real.

If, however, we don’t have a clear picture of what we are building towards, we have a very frustrating time with job search. Without some guiding picture to work towards, we’re pretty much limited to wandering all over the place as we pursue all sorts of job postings that “might fit” or “sound interesting”. And as we wander about, we quite naturally get increasingly confused as to what we are looking for since we don’t have an “anchor” to guide and focus us and to test our actions against.  And because we don’t have a clear measure of progress being made, we get increasingly frustrated as time goes on. Confusion. Frustration. It doesn’t really sound like a recipe for success.

If you find yourself in or near this situation, join with me as we reconsider our “picture” for a moment. Any picture has two components – the main subject and the context that the subject exists in. As an example, the subject may be a sleek sailing boat, but the context could be an active, vibrant race; it might be the same boat in an otherwise empty ocean; or then again, it could be that boat pulled up on a rocky shore and abandoned. We can take the same subject and by changing the context we create a completely different picture that tells a very different story.

Clearly, in your job search, the subject of the picture is YOU. So in the middle of your jigsaw puzzle, envision yourself with a big smile on your face because you are now in your “perfect job”. Take a closer look – are you working with others, or on your own? Are you busy churning away on some activity, or contemplating some big idea? What kinds of routines and structure are supporting you in your role? Are you developing new initiatives, or managing existing functions?  As you develop clarity about yourself and re-discover your passions, this picture of you will come into sharper focus and can now serve as an effective anchor for a successful job search.

With a strong anchor to focus your search efforts, the next step is to design your “context” – that is, to identify appropriate surroundings in which you will be able to perform your “perfect job”. Similar to the sailboat example used earlier, you know that you might find a good fit in any number of different companies or even different industry sectors. So here your challenge is the equivalent of turning over various jigsaw puzzle pieces – one by one – and seeing if and how they might connect to your perfect job. In the world of job search, this activity is more generally referred to as “networking” and accessing the “hidden job market”.

With real clarity about what you are searching for, “networking” is transformed from a relatively fuzzy and uncomfortable activity to one that is very clear and has two specific objectives: (i) let them know what opportunities you are actively exploring, and (ii) ask them if they can help you in your quest by providing knowledge and insights from their own experience and suggesting other individuals that they think might be helpful to you.

Why would complete strangers want to help you? Interestingly, most people do want to help others, and are highly motivated to help when being approached as subject-matter authorities.  So the more clarity you can provide about how they can help you, the easier it is for them to help you. Every person you now meet and talk with is another puzzle piece turned over providing you a little more clarity about the context you are creating.

Now if you continue to follow this approach as your main job search strategy, the following things will naturally happen:

(i)      your clarity about what you are searching for will improve dramatically, and your comfort level in articulating what you are investigating will continually increase. You will become more confident in your approach, and more authentic in your delivery;

(ii)    you will gain a lot of useful information relevant to your “opportunity sought” as you meet and engage a whole host of interesting individuals;

(iii)   as you meet a lot of interesting people you will dramatically grow your own network;

(iv)  you will start to see real job opportunities come into focus before your eyes (the hidden job market) as general chaos theory** plays out in the network.

** Chaos theory, the order of all things in the universe, deserves another paper.


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