Why Every Job-Hunter Needs a Plan B

When we are out of work, we don’t just need to know what our options are—what different methods of job-hunting are available to us. We need to have a plan. An overall plan of attack on the problem of how to not only find work, but meaningful work.

All plans of attack basically break down to just two broad categories. Here is both the explanation, and the contrast between them:

The Traditional Approach The Creative Approach
What you are looking for A job. A “dream job”: one which uses your favorite skills and favorite fields or knowledges.
How you see yourself As a “job beggar.” You will be lucky to get them. As a “resource.” They will be lucky to get you.
Your basic plan Figure out how to “sell” yourself, before you go out hunting. Figure out what kind of job you’d die to do, before you go out hunting.
Your preparation Do research to find out what the job-market wants. “Fitting in” will carry the day! Do homework on yourself, to figure out what you do best, AND most love to do. Enthusiasm will carry the day!
How you figure out which employers to approach You wait for them to identify they have a vacancy. Doing “informational interviews,” you figure out which organizations most interest you—in light of your homework—even if they do not have a known vacancy at the time.
How you contact them Through your resume. Through a “bridge person” (someone who knows you and also knows them). Use
LinkedIn to find them.
What the purpose of your resume is To sell them on why you should be hired there. To get an interview with them.
What your main goal is if you get an interview To sell them on why you should be hired there. To get another interview there.
What do you talk about in the interview Yourself, your assets, your experience. 50% of the time you let them ask the questions. 50% of the time you ask them the things you want to know about the place, and the job there.
What you’re trying to
find out
Do they want me? Do I want them? (as well as “Do they want me?”)
How you end the final interview there You ask them: “When may I hope to hear from you?” (You are leaving things hanging.) If you decide you do want to work there, you ask them: “I believe I could be a real asset to you. Given all that we’ve talked about, can you offer me this job?” (You are seeking closure.)
What to do after getting the job, but before you start Rest. Keep on job-hunting. (The offer may still fall through before you start, due to unforeseen circumstances there.)

So, which plan of attack should you adopt if you’re out of work? Well, that’s up to you. Job-hunters typically begin with the so-called Traditional Approach. Most of us know how to do it, or can quickly learn. It doesn’t demand much time. Slap together a resume. Post it. Wait to see if you get any responses. Do the interviews. Get the job.

If it works, great! The problem is: increasingly, it doesn’t work. So, when we are unemployed we stay unemployed. For weeks. For months. Or sometimes for years. The traditional approach doesn’t work, but it is the only approach we know. We have no Plan B.

Every Job-Hunter Needs a Plan B

When we set out we need a plan. But, to keep hope alive we need an alternative plan as well. Fortunately, there is a Plan B. If you try The Traditional Approach and it just doesn’t work for you, try the Creative Approach (outlined in the right-hand column of the previous chart). It’s harder than The Traditional Approach. It’s more work. It takes longer. It asks you to do more thinking. But that is precisely its value. It forces you to think about your whole life, and what you want out of life. You get to deal with Life’s major issues, namely these four life questions:

First: how do I figure out what’s happening?

Second: how do I ensure that I will survive?

Third: once I know how to survive, how do I make my life have meaning or some sense of mission?

And, finally: once I’ve decided what my mission in life is, how can I be more effective at achieving the goals I’ve set for myself?

If you’re going to use the interruptions in life to do some hard thinking, these are the issues worth thinking about. So, where do you begin?

Who Are You?

You begin by doing homework on yourself. Why on yourself? Well, think of life as a journey. And recall what travel experts teach about taking a journey (unless it’s on a shoestring): they say—before you go—lay out on your bed two piles. In one pile, put all the clothes (plus toiletries, and stuff) that you think you’ll need to take. In the other pile, put all the money you think you’ll need to take.

Then, they say, pack only half the clothes, but twice the money.

A parallel ratio occurs in the journey we are all taking, called Life. For this part of that journey, you are going to need only half the information you initially thought you would need about the job-market, but twice the amount of information you initially thought you would need about yourself.

I know you’re probably going to protest that you’ve lived with yourself all your life, and you don’t need any deeper knowledge. Well, maybe. But my experience over the past forty years, with literally millions of job-hunters, is that usually we just don’t understand who we are, and what we have to offer the world. Not the fullness of it. Not the richness of it.

The solution is: a fresh inventory of what you have to offer the world. And I mean all that you have to offer, not just part of it. You already know part of it. The problem is that is only part. You need to know it all. You have to do the homework on yourself to fully understand your true value, and what will give your life meaning and purpose.

I’m Not Sure I Really Need to Do This Homework

Well, maybe not. But let’s test that.

1.     Take ten sheets of blank paper. Write, at the top of each one, just these three words: Who Am I?

2.     Then write, on each sheet in turn, just one (and only one) answer to that question. Incidentally, don’t put down negative stuff, like “I am a procrastinator,” or “I am a messy person.” This is a vocational exercise, and what we’re most concerned with is, “What is there about me that would attract an employer?” It is really “roles” we are looking for, and the different hats you wear. In my own case, I am . . . husband, father, advisor, writer, teacher, counselor, friend, etc.

3.     When you’re done, go back over all ten sheets and expand upon what you have written on each sheet. Looking at each answer, write below it, why you said that, and what turns you on about that answer.

4.     When finished with all ten sheets, go back over them and arrange them in order of priority. That is, which identity is the most important to you? That page goes on top. Then, which is next? That goes immediately underneath the top one. Continue arranging the rest of the sheets in order, until what you think is your least important identity is at the bottom of the pile.

5.     Finally, go back over the ten sheets, in order, and look at your answers concerning What Turns Me On About This? See if there are any common denominators, or themes, among the ten answers you gave. If so, jot them down on a separate piece of paper. Voilà! You have begun to put your finger on Who You Are, with some things you need to keep in mind if you are to feel truly excited, fulfilled, useful, and effective, and operating at the height of your powers.

If this exercise was easy for you, then you have a very good start in defining who you are. But if it was harder than you thought it would be, then there is work to be done.

You need to know more about You. Do some hard thinking and, above all, have fun. You have talent. You have special gifts and skills. You must be sure you own up to what those gifts are. Unemployment is a perfect time. True, it seems to come as an interruption in most of our lives. But Martin Luther King Jr. had something to say about that: “The major problem of life is learning how to handle the costly interruptions. The door that slams shut, the plan that got sidetracked, the marriage that failed. Or that lovely poem that didn’t get written because someone knocked on the door.”

Interruptions are opportunities. To pause. To think. To assess where we really want to go from here with our lives. The Creative Approach, with its demand that you do homework on yourself before you set out on your search for (meaningful) work, helps you take advantage of the opportunity that the interruption of being out of work offers.

Use the opportunity. Make this time of your life not only a hunt for a job, but a hunt for a life. A deeper life. A life you’re proud of. A victorious life. The world is filled with workers whose weeklong question is, “When is the weekend going to be here?” And, then, “Thank God it’s Friday!” Their work puts bread on the table but . . . they are bored out of their minds. They’ve never taken the time to think out what they uniquely have to offer the world.

So, do the homework. Dream a little. Dream a lot. The best parts of this world were fashioned by those who dared to look hard at their wishes and then gave them horses to ride.

Reprinted with Permission from What Color Is Your Parachute? 2013: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career Changers by Richard N. Bolles (Ten Speed Press, 2012)

About the Author: Richard N. Bolles is author of the world’s best-selling job-hunting book What Color Is Your Parachute?, and has led the career development field for more than forty years. A member of Mensa and the Society for Human Resource Management, he has been the keynote speaker at hundreds of conferences. Bolles lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife, Marci. Visit www.jobhuntersbible.com. The What Color Is Your Parachute? Job-Hunter’s Workbook Tablet Edition, a new digital version of the core self-inventory exercise that has made What Color Is Your Parachute? a household name, is now available in iTunes and the NOOK Store.


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