Why You Must Fine-Tune Your Job Hunt

June 2003


Randall Scasny

Ah, the summer. Finally!

Living in Chicago, I long for the summer. The drab, cold Chicago winters sometimes get me down. And there's nothing better than a sunny summer day to cheer me up.

Every summer, I have this goal: I promise myself that I will go fishing!

Before I went on my trip this year, I got two emails from readers. Both are vets with a lot of computer experience and both have been frustrated by this year's job market.

While Alan had been hunting for a job over a year, sending out hundreds of resumes and garnering only a few interviews, Arthur just flat out quit his high-paying job because he was "burnt out" on computer work; he wanted a management job but wasn't having much success, either.

Both readers stuck in my mind for days. I'm not sure why. Perhaps because they were so much alike yet so very different. While cleaning out my tackle box in my hobby shed, I reflected on their job hunting travails.

Both had significant computer experience. Both told me their resumes were getting them few if any interviews. Both just kept on plugging away, using the same old resume and job hunt strategy over and over again.

I paused to look down at a ball of fishing line and a few flies stuck on some foam padding in the belly of my tackle box. I smiled. Then I said to myself, "they're both using the wrong bait."

As I thought about their problems, I realized job hunting is a lot like fishing.

To be a successful fisherman, you have to be aware of where you are fishing, what kind of fish you want to catch, what's biting (or not), and what bait to use. Basically, you have to fine-tune your fishing strategy, and make the necessary adjustments if you want to succeed.

You need make adjustments if you want to be a successful job hunter as well.

Alan was repeatedly "fishing" for a job with the same resume. Now, if you were fishing and not getting any results, would you keep on doing the same thing? Of course not. He needed to rewrite his resume or try a different approach.

Arthur had a slightly different problem. He knew what kind of resume to use to snag a computer job. However, he changed fishing holes! He was no longer fishing for computer jobs; he wanted to "catch" a management job. But he didn't change his bait, either. He was using a technical expert's resume for a managerial position. Are you surprised he wasn't getting any interviews? I'm not.

Getting hired (even in a good job market) is not as simple as it looks. But it can be done if you fish (job hunt) with the right bait (resume/cover letters) in a pond (point of contact: online, newspapers, personal contacts, networking) where there are fish (employers).

I wrote them back with a little feedback. (Nothing earth shattering, mind you.) A few days later they wrote back to me. Alan stopped sending out that soggy old resume; he created a new one and began passing it around at professional seminars he began attending (networking) at my suggestion. After my trip, he happily reported back to me that he was getting more interviews.

Arthur told me right before I departed that he should have known better than to use his old resume. Instead of emphasizing his technical expertise, he rewrote it to highlight the bottom-line impacts he provided to the organizations he worked for. These impacts would give tell tale information to a hiring manager of what kind of boss Alan would be.

Ironically, Alan and Arthur know how to fish for a job, despite their "fine tuning" problems. Unfortunately, the "most challenged" job hunters don't.

"Wait a minute," you're thinking, "anyone can fish!"

One would like to think so.

But I remember the summer I turned 10 years old and spent it bicycling to a small lake near Hartford, Wisconsin almost every day to go fishing. I fished in the same place everyday--a small channel off the lake proper where my buddy's family had a little cottage.

Believe it or not, I didn't catch a fish all summer!

As the weeks wore on, I became more and more discouraged. It wasn't until my buddy's older brother stopped by and listened to my complaints. Sitting in his '67 Ford Mustang, with the engine revving, he told me, "You ain't going to catch any fish there! You gotta go over there, boy."

I remember him getting out of his car, looking cocky like James Dean, and showed me where I had to go on the channel to catch a fish, and what bait to use. He corrected my casting technique, too.

On Labor Day weekend, I caught my one and only fish that summer. I can still feel the tug and struggle it gave me!

Needless to say, that summer I wasn't too much of a fisherman. But I learned.

Job hunting, like fishing, is part-Art, part-Science but requires one to learn the skills to succeed.

Had I fine-tuned my fishing strategy by moving 50 yards down the bank, like my buddy's brother told me, I would have been pan frying a few trout over a campfire much earlier in the summer.

Not knowing how to job hunt is a common problem among veterans. Too often I think they approach job hunting as if they are being inducted into the service all over again. The two have very little in common.

Joining the service has limited competition, while civilian job hunting has extensive competition. Career paths in the military are defined and structured, while in the private sector they are quite the opposite.

This all means that vets need to understand the job hunt game if they want to succeed.

If you don't know how to fish for a job, you can learn the basics from continuing education courses, mentors, friends, family, colleagues, etc. Beyond the basics is the art of fine-tuning your job hunt.

If you form a weekly plan, you can embed your fine-tuning into a structure. Here's an example of a structured job hunting plan:

If you implement a structured weekly plan, you will soon realize what adjustments are needed. Very quickly, you'll get the hang of it. It simply requires practice.

But to learn how to fish for a job, you have to know what you want in a post-military career. This is a much larger problem for many military veterans. You cannot even begin your job hunt until you have determined what you want.

This problem arises when either a vet's military experience is not easily transferable to the civilian business world and is compelled to find a new career; or, when a vet simply has changed and needs to move on to something new.

This is okay. It's a healthy career stage (although a bit unsettling). Some vets find it unsettling because they are so used to structure and certainty. The military's career structure rarely allow for experimenting, exploring and self-discovery, and that is precisely what your non-military contemporaries have done to succeed in their present careers.

Why is career experimentation or exploration important?

Civilian employers are seeking people who really know what they want and who love what they do. These people tend to stick around and put in the effort to make the business a winner. Hiring managers want to hire people who will bring that extra something to open positions. Happy employees are usually star performers.

The best way to find out what you want is to give yourself some time, be honest with yourself and choose a career direction that will make you happy. Then you're ready to fish for a job.

Seeking what you love to do will show up in your cover letters and your interviews. Hiring managers and fellow employees will know it and they will want to work with you.

You may be without a job right now. But don't brood away the summer. Take a vacation (perhaps even going a fishing trip). Reflect upon what you want to do with the rest of your life. Ask yourself where you want to be in 1, 5, 10 years down the road. Ask yourself what you really, really, are "itching" to do.

If you answer these questions honestly, you may find that you have been fishing for a job in the wrong pond with the wrong bait, using the wrong technique.

After taking some time off, get back to your "job" of job hunting. You will soon find yourself the perfect job.

Well, it's time for me to go fishing (again).

Best of luck in your job search.

All opinions, advice, statements or other information expressed in this article are solely the author's and do not necessarily express the opinions of MilitaryHire.com or the publisher.

Copyright 2003 Randall Scasny. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten, or redistributed.