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Most Job Applicants Are Focused On The Wrong Thing

Unemployment rates are sitting at record-lows in both Canada and the United States. But for you, a university student or recent graduate looking for work, it does not mean it gets easier. With the supply and demand imbalance in entry-level jobs, it remains extremely hard to land a job, not to mention one that you love.

Even worse, most entry-level job applicants are focused on the wrong thing.

What do I mean by that?

Instead of focusing on what will get them a job first, they often prioritize things that (they think) will help them do well at a job.

As a job applicant, your number one goal is to get a job, not to do well at a job.

Let me repeat: as a job applicant, your number one goal is to get a job, not to do well at a job.

It’s equivalent to you are hungry and want to have some fried rice, but instead of buying some rice first, you are spending all day researching fried rice recipes.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not suggesting you to not excel at work. It is definitely helpful to improve skills related to your future job. But that is based on the (often wrong) assumption that you will be getting the job.

Until you master the skills that help you find a job first, you are wasting your time doing anything else.

Let me tell you a real story that happened recently. During a resume editing session, one of my students at 36paths (a recent graduate) confessed to me that he has been so busy studying Excel VBA and Canadian Securities Course (CSC) that he has not updated his resume for over a year. On one hand, I am delighted that he is trying really hard to improve his odds. On the other hand, I feel sorry for him, as he could have focused on way more important things in the job hunting process. And he is certainly not alone. Throughout the years, I have seen many job applicants fail to prioritize things that matter. This prompts me to think why.

From my experience helping hundreds of students land a job, two main reasons emerge:

  1. They simply don’t know what to focus on during the job hunting process

  2. They know what to focus on but fail to do it consistently

In this day and age where everyone is constantly bombarded with contradictory information, it’s difficult to distinguish signal from noise. Some job descriptions will say VBA is an asset and your career centre may tell you learning French will set you apart. Therefore, many job applicants end up getting lost and fail to identify the top 3 things to focus on that will best position themselves in the job market. Although your focus depends on your unique situation (i.e. still at school vs. recent graduate, finance vs. accounting), you will be much better off by staying focused on the three things below:

  1. Apply to as many jobs as possible

  2. Improve your interview skills

  3. Develop a professional network

I know what you are thinking:

“I know this.”

“Boring stuff.”

“I am (kind of) doing it already.”

But trust me, this “boring” list works because it forces you to stay ruthlessly focused.

Are there other things you can do to help you get a job? Absolutely!

Will learning French help? Yep.

Will getting CSC licensed help? Most likely.

Will VBA knowledge help? I think so.

In fact, I can probably name 100+ things that you can do today to improve your candidate profile. But that is not how you get a job. You need to take a page from Warren Buffett’s 5/25 Rule and only focus on the top 3 (or 5) things that truly matter and spend absolutely no time on everything else. Those “nice-to-have” things are not that important and should be completely eliminated if you want to get a job in the shortest time possible.

For those of you who already know what to focus on but fail to do it consistently, I have three tips for you:

  1. Write down on a piece of paper why you think it’s difficult and uncomfortable to work on it consistently. A lot of times, you will have a hard time listing more than three reasons, because those tasks are just difficult and uncomfortable in your head.

  2. Create a plan that breaks down the seemingly insurmountable goal into daily tasks that are easier to accomplish. For example, apply to 20 jobs a day, reach out to 10 industry professionals a day etc. With a clear plan (ideally put on the wall), it becomes easier to hold yourself accountable and measure your progress, thereby increasing your confidence.

  3. Even with the first two tips, you will likely still experience tough times. The third tip is to leverage power of thoughts: visualize the exciting end result and understand those failures are only temporary. Embrace the fact that everything worthwhile in life needs to be earned. And those setbacks are just what it takes to achieve your end goal. After all, that which does not kill us, makes us stronger.

Time is a precious commodity, particularly in the job hunting process. The reality is: the longer you stay unemployed, the harder it is for you to find a job.