4 Tips to Get You Out of Job Search Quicksand

Katy Montgomery

Katy currently serves as the Global Director of the Career Development Centre at INSEAD where she manages career services professionals across three campuses: Abu Dhabi, Fontainebleau, and Singapore. Katy previously served as the Associate Dean for Student Development at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School.

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David Bowie’s song Quicksand was featured on his 1971 album, Hunky Dory. David Bowie passed earlier this year, and in addition to some great music, he left behind his love of innovation, his ability to embrace the weird, and a talent for always being completely authentic. In his New York Times obituary, he was described as, “the infinitely changeable, fiercely forward-looking songwriter who taught generations of musicians about the power of drama, images, and personas.” The lyrics of Quicksand are quirky and make reference to Nietzsche and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn.

I particularly love the following two lines of the song:

I’m not a prophet or a stone-age man
Just a mortal with the potential of a superman

When talking to job seekers, I often find that most are not in the “stone age”—they have some idea of what they want to do for a career or at least what they don’t want to do. However, few tend to be prophets when it comes to forecasting their careers. It is rare to meet a job seeker who knows exactly what they want in terms of a job search, specifically, but not limited to industry, function, organization culture, values, and long-term goals. This lack of knowing everything when it comes to their careers sends most job seekers into a situation where they totally overlook their potential. Panic, anxiety, and self-doubt take over and before they know it some are paralyzed and thus the path to “superman” becomes very rocky.

Such feelings intensify when in school and especially for larger graduate programs like law and master of business administration programs. Soon, one person having a job becomes “everyone is employed, but me.” Or two students in a cohort can articulate their industry and function focus along with a list of target companies and suddenly you start to hear a chorus of “I am the only person in my class who has no idea what I am doing!”

What should you do as a job seeker if you start forgetting your potential? Here are a few steps to get you out of job search quicksand:

  1. Talk to someone not involved in your job search and get a fresh perspective. Sometimes you just need a different viewpoint to get focused. The key is talking to someone who is not part of the job search struggle, which usually means not talking to your classmates, significant others, or parents. Talking to your career services office staff or a mentor can give you the clarity you need to get back to the work of job searching.
  2. Stop and try to really define who is “everyone.” When I ask job seekers to actually give me names when they make an “everyone statement,” the list is actually rather short. Often I ask a follow-up question: “So, the list you have given me represents what percentage of your class?” This works when I hear first-year MBA students tell me that “everyone” in the second-year class is saying XYZ. It gives me the opportunity to demonstrate that they haven’t actually engaged with most of their fellow upper class students across programs.
  3. Reframe. Rather than seeing the lack of a current job as a problem, or not knowing exactly what you want to do, try seeing it as a blessing. This is an opportunity to explore, learn more about yourself, and uncover what may be your lifelong passion.
  4. Take my mom’s advice. If she asked me once, she asked me a million times, “If everyone was jumping off the roof of the building, would you jump, too?” Remember you are an original (and hopefully like David Bowie, 100% authentic). Every person has their own unique set of strengths, interests, and career goals. No two job searches are identical.

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