Being a Good One

One of my favorite quotes of all time is from Abraham Lincoln: “Whatever you are, be a good one.”Abraham Lincoln

Most people who feel they’re struggling in the job search are having difficulty deciding what they want to do. With all the upheaval in the world of work in the last couple of decades, there’s no longer any such thing as a permanent job or a lifelong career, and sometimes we’re left wondering “What’s next?” Our career search plans and expectations haven’t necessarily kept up with the times.

Here’s what I hear every week: “I’ll do anything.” “I’m open to any kind of work.” “I just want to get my foot in the door.”

If we were really honest with ourselves – and not speaking from fear and anxiety – we’d admit that not every job is equally appealing. People love to use the example “I can’t even get a job at McDonald’s!” – they forget that hiring decisions are business decisions. If the manager at that McDonald’s hires the first person who is capable of running the register or cooking the burgers, s/he has solved a problem or filled a need (at least for the moment). But if that new employee is already on the lookout for something better, a few months later that manager is going to be in the same position of looking for another employee. That manager has a responsibility to find someone who wants that job, not just wants it until something better comes along. If you’re going to do something – be a good one. Be all in.

We’ve become so used to thinking about the job search in terms of what we don’t have, it can be easy to forget that we actually do have skills to offer the right employer. It’s our responsibility as job seekers to articulate the value we bring – and this starts with self-knowledge. Have you recently considered:

  •  What kind of work setting brings out the best version of you? If you really love working with people, a job sitting in front of a computer in a cubicle somewhere is going to suck the life out of you. If being with people exhausts you, don’t pursue jobs that require constant contact with others. It’s easier to be “a good one” when you like where you work.
  • What do you absolutely NOT want to do? Just because you’ve done something in the past doesn’t mean you’re stuck doing it in the future. While you may take a “survival job” in the short term, your job search is also an opportunity to consider where you want to go and start taking the steps needed to get there.
  • Remember that it’s not the employers’ responsibility to guess what you want to do or understand what your skills are. If you can’t explain what you would bring to this new job, don’t expect someone else to do it for you. This is the foundation of your career search, your resume, your networking conversations, your interview answers – take the time to understand yourself and help your next employer see what you’ll contribute.
  • Get the word “just” out of your vocabulary. “I was just a waitress.” “I was just a mom.” “I was just a driver.” You have to believe you have something to offer before anyone else can believe it. Whatever you were, you were a good one – and you can be good at the next thing you do, too.
  • Know your audience. If you want to work in a particular industry or company, go into those conversations armed with better reasons than “I want a job with a pension” or “I know the industry.” Like people, employers want to feel special – why did you choose this company over a competitor? What is appealing about this industry? How well do you understand the day-to-day tasks? Going into a job search without knowledge of what you want and why you want it is like going on a blind date and telling your date, “I’ll go out with you until someone I’m actually interested in comes along.” Focus your attention on the job you want and you’re more likely to find an opportunity to do it – and be a good one.

In a tough economy, it can be easy to fall into the trap of chasing after a job you don’t really want, just to be employed again. Think about quality over quantity – focus on the things you’re good at, the things you’re interested in, the things you want for yourself – and you’re on the way to being “a good one,” whatever it is.

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