Job Search: Practice Redefined

For almost any career issue I examine, the importance of “practice, practice, practice” is a common theme. It clearly relates to interviews – but I also see connections to preparing a resume, or a cover letter, or a LinkedIn profile. Some recent articles have challenged, or minimized, the role of practice in terms of achieving top performance. It is an interesting topic that raises a simple fear. Will job seekers use these new arguments to ignore the importance of practice as part of their career search? I hope not and intend to strengthen the argument for practice in the following paragraphs. RELATED: Need some job search advice? Watch these resume tutorials!

Practicing The Right Things

In studies on the impact of practice, particularly those coming from the sports world, the core tenant of “talent” has been raised. A peak performing tennis player, or a top professional race car driver, often spends more time in daily “practice” than they spend in the actual match or race. Key performers in some Broadway shows spend time daily in rehearsals even though they perform in the show multiple times a week. But these peak performers have something else, a key element, TALENT! This is not the time to debate the origin of “talent.” In the professional athletes and performers I’ve interviewed, it seems to have elements of DNA, passion, and almost always, years of learning and practice. I’ve used an example of a Broadway performer, a friend, who was required to sing the same song for an entire semester in college, in three completely different style, basically “until he got it right.” So the questions for job seekers are:
  1. Do you have a natural talent, learned and developed, for interviewing, writing a resume, creating a LinkedIn profile?
  2. When you practice your career skills, are you practicing the right things?
    • You might be rehearsing answers to interview questions, but are you rehearsing strong answers that really make a difference?
    • Are you rewriting – and rewriting -- elements of your resume effectively – or just rewriting what you think best describes your accomplishments?
Unfortunately, in the majority of resumes I see on a daily basis, the answer to that last question is clearly no. I’ve also conducted multiple experiments asking job seekers to offer their answer to a general interview question. Again, an overwhelming majority of the answers are weak. So the answers to most of these questions range from “I don’t know” to just “No.” A key element from the latest research on practice suggests that, certainly for athletes and performers, when a top performers starts practicing is a key factor. The link here is clear for job seekers. Most do not see this as something that’s a regular part of their lives. Many find themselves in mid-life facing their first real challenges in finding a new job or a new career.

Motivation And Expectations

Drawing insights into performance from other areas, motivation and expectations also appear to play significant parts. While it may appear easy to assume that any job seeker is highly motivated to get a job, it may not be a solid assumption for some job seekers. It might be as simple as “I have to get a job” versus “I really want to get a job.” One of the elements discovered in multiple studies of peak performers, often from sports or the performing arts – but equally from examples in all fields – is “passion.” If an individual has strong passion for his or her work, it will increase the drive to do whatever is necessary to pursue a new position. I am working with several people in different situations right now. Two of them are motivated to almost daily check in on their progress, whether it’s looking for a new challenge in starting out as a consultant or getting a completely new resume in place. On the other hand, there are two other people who are clearly struggling with just some basic effort to get their resumes revised. It ties back somewhat to the issue of talent – not knowing what to do – but the motivational factor is equally clear. There have been some excellent studies on the power of expectations, from multiple sources including both education and the workplace. One conclusion is clear: if an individual has a high expectation for success, the results will be significantly better. In today’s work environment, there are clearly people who are actively looking for jobs – the dynamics of the situation are impacting their expectations of being able to easily secure a position. Here are just a few of the factors I’ve heard personally:
  • I just graduated; I have no experience…
  • I’m a veteran in transition; my experiences don’t fit anything in the civilian workforce.
  • I’m in my 50’s. When I got laid off, I knew I’d have no chance to…
  • Nobody’s hiring people in my field anymore.
  • How can I possibly get an interview when I know that 100’s of people have applied for…
I know a person very well, who as a young boy quit his job as a news carrier, spent six weeks described by his mother as the “worst six weeks of his young life.” But he also bugged the manager of a neighborhood grocery store almost every day for a job – until the manager finally referred him to a different store over fifteen miles away. He worked at the store for almost seven years, providing not only funding for high school and college, but changed his motivation and focus for a career that is still strong today – decades later.

Elements Of Success

A successful job search is not just practice – but practice still matters – if you practice the right things. It takes talent, which may mean in some cases admitting that you do not know how to create a strong resume or prepare good interview answers and then finding someone who has the talent. Finally, that practice needs to be driven by a passion and the expectation that your efforts are worth it. Write a great resume in 15 minutes!

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About the author

Jim Schreier is a management consultant with a focus on management, leadership, including performance-based hiring and interviewing skills. Visit his website at     Disclosure: This post is sponsored by a CAREEREALISM-approved expert. You can learn more about expert posts here. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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