Job Search Strategies

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Some clients will choose to seek employment immediately rather than elect to acquire additional preparation. Several reasons for such action are immediately obvious. Some individuals will have identified salable skills in the self-study process, others will see that they prefer the immediate gratification of holding a job rather than accepting the delay that comes with a preparatory program, and still others will feel that financial pressures, the need for independence, a desire for accomplishment, or other compelling reasons necessitate going to work as soon as possible.

Occasional periods of high economic activity with accompanying demand for workers tend to mislead many people into believing that the job-getting process is a very simple one of announcing one's availability and then sorting through the numerous offers to select that perfect position. Such situations make nice fairy tales, but rarely reflect reality. Even in periods that economists label as "full employment" millions are unemployed, most of whom are seeking a job. Periods of technological change and industrial readjustment produce additional stress by both reducing the number of job opportunities and increasing the number of competitors for each position.

Much attention has been given in recent years to the increased pressure encountered in the job-search process. Several books have appeared that specifically address the problems encountered in this search and how one can deal with those difficulties; representative of such publications are those by Bolles (1978), Crystal and Bolles (1974), Figler (1979), Irish (1978), Kiesel (1980), and Klingner and Davis (1980). The last two use a workbook format that assists the user step-by-step in preparing for and conducting a job-search campaign. Each of the books listed, as well as many others, provides a great deal of specific information and advice including what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and how to follow up. In general, these volumes are directed toward individuals who have postsecondary education and/or some previous work experience. Several publishers of high school textbooks have similar volumes that are designed for upper high school students who are not contemplating further education. Typical of this type of booklet are those by Blackledge, Blackledge and Keily (1975), Kushner and Keily (1975), and Zedlitz (1981).

Counselors working with individual clients may find that an appropriate self-help book such as one of the above can provide a useful basis for encouraging and developing client initiative. When the counselor, or counseling center, has several clients who are approaching or in the job-seeking stage, a group approach offers many advantages to both clients and counselors. One useful reference for organizing and operating an effective job club is the handbook by Azrin and Besadel (1979). This volume describes techniques for helping job-seeking clients help themselves and fellow club members in the process.

The job-search process, like career counseling generally, starts with developing and clarifying self-understanding. Many of the self-help books start with some form of self-inventory that typically includes identification of personal skills, prior work experience, job-related training or education, personal characteristics and preferences, values, desired lifestyle, goals, degree of mobility, and similar factors.

Zunker (1981), for example, discusses skill identification using client self-estimates. He suggests that work skills can be classified as functional, adaptive, or technical. Functional skills include those general work-related skills that may be applicable to a number of different positions, such as administrative, analytical, judgmental, planning, and writing skills. Adaptive skills reflect ability to relate to the work environment or work associates, tolerate stress, or work compatibly with others, including such personal traits as being aggressive, courteous, imaginative, and persistent. Technical skills are specific job- or task-oriented competencies and are generalizable or transferable only to other jobs requiring the same specific skill. Bolles (1978) proposes a "Quick Job-Hunting Map" based on Holland's typology that an individual can use to identify functional skills. Often clients, particularly those with little or no significant work experience, overlook many functional skills they may have developed in non-work settings such as the classroom, the home, or leisure and volunteer activities. Similarly, they often overlook the adaptive or interpersonal skills in which they may be highly proficient.

The second phase of the job-search process, according to several of the above-listed authors, is identification of the individual's own "job market." This usually incorporates consideration of such general factors as geographic items, size and type of community, mobility factors, kind of employer preferred, and kind of work preferred/able/willing to perform. In addition, this stage includes efforts to help the client broaden his or her scope of what is available by teaching how to use resources that previously may have been overlooked, such as recognizing existing contacts or establishing new ones, using a networking system, evaluating special resources for which one may qualify, using agencies and advertisements, and learning about the hidden job market of unlisted vacancies that can be created for the client.

The third phase focuses on helping the client to sell himself or herself to prospective employers. Major attention is usually given to building skill in writing job-search letters, preparing resumes, conducting interviews, asking appropriate questions, answering the interviewer's questions, and following up on post-interview actions. The appropriateness of these various activities depends largely on the type of position being sought. Professional, technical, and administrative positions may involve all of these steps while production, retail sales, and service positions are likely to require only a brief application form and a brief interview.

Preparing useful resumes is often a worrisome task for job applicants. The client who reports difficulty in accomplishing this task can be helped by using one of the job-search handbooks mentioned earlier. Bolles (1978) and Irish (1978) include very specific suggestions on structure and content, while emphasizing the limited usefulness of the resume. Bolles, for example, states that there are only four functions served by a resume, namely: a self-inventory, an extended calling card, an agenda for an interview, and, its most useful purpose, a "memory jogger" for the employer after the interview. Similarly, Irish distinguishes between the functional resume that describes what the applicant wants in a position and has in the way of skills and the descriptive resume that elaborates on the applicant's chronology of experiences.

Many clients are equally uncertain about preparing for an interview. The content of the interview varies according to the type of position involved, particularly in relation to the degree of responsibility, amount of initiative or independent judgment, and level of complexity involved in the position. Zunker (1981) includes a list of fifty questions frequently asked by employers interviewing college seniors and another list of negative factors often looked for in an interview. Both lists can be helpful in preparing nervous applicants for their first interviews.

Bolles (1978) also puts the situation in perspective by emphasizing that the purpose of the interview is to answer the questions of the applicant and of the employer, and that both parties have three basic questions or concerns. The applicant wants to make three proposals:
  1. Help me understand the job completely and thoroughly.

  2. Then, let me tell you if I think my skills truly match the job.

  3. If they do, I will try to persuade you to hire me. (p. 165)
The employer has three questions in mind, namely:
  1. Why are you here?

  2. Precisely what can you do for me?

  3. How much is it going to cost me? (p. 165)
Bolles emphasizes that the applicant should be sure that both sets of questions are satisfactorily addressed during the interview. He also points out the importance of personal appearance, including appropriate dress and hair care and personal deportment.

The job-search process is a nerve-wracking experience for many individuals, filled with uncertainties, periods of self-doubt, discouragement, and depression. The counselor can help the client to build and use support systems like those described by Azrin and Besadel (1979) or consisting of friends and family. The counselor, almost inevitably, becomes a key part of the client's support system.

Planning for Change

Clients sometimes ask "What if, after all this careful study and planning, this proposal has to be changed?" The obvious answer is "Of course, it's almost inevitable that you will have to make some changes." Although the likelihood of further adjustment is disconcerting to many clients, reality necessitates an honest answer. A little reflection usually leads the client to recognize that he or she is constantly encountering change, even on short-term plans. Whether the question is verbalized or not, clients deserve an opportunity to explore alternative or fall-back options.

Remer and O'Neill (1980) recognize with the following statement the overwhelming likelihood of change after a tentative plan has been developed:

The counselor, emphasizing the tentative nature of the choice, stresses that the person and the environment will change. The emphasis is on clients becoming committed to the "best" alternatives for them right now.

Because planning an alternative for every eventuality would be a futile process, the counselor's concern is primarily to help the client accept the unavoidable likelihood of some modification, recognize appropriate ways of accommodating to that necessity, and have confidence in his or her ability to deal intelligently with that need as it arises. Often a brief discussion will suffice to determine the degree of flexibility possessed by the client. The total time needed for consideration of this topic is probably roughly related inversely to the amount of self-confidence and flexibility demonstrated by the client.

Within a short time frame after tentative choices have been made, realignment of plans should be relatively easy because logical alternatives should be apparent within the range of options that existed in the final phases of the narrowing process. Certainly those two to four finalists would be worthy of review if the factors necessitating reconsideration are basically related to the original final choice-for example, all available training programs are closed for a longer time than the client feels he or she can wait or available preparatory programs are too costly in time and funds for the client.

The value of unchosen final alternatives as second-round choices, if the first preference becomes inoperative, diminishes with time and changing circumstances. It is very unlikely that those other options will still be viable a year or two after a decision is made. Similarly, any major change in important self-oriented or externally oriented factors may also invalidate secondary alternatives because their appropriateness was based on conditions existing before the major change occurred. Clients who have considered, during the counseling process, the possible impact of changing circumstances are usually prepared to deal with such contingencies when they occur and to do so without panic or anxiety.

Taking the First Step

We have been discussing those matters that must be dealt with in the interval between making a choice and beginning to implement that choice. The client has identified the space (measured in terms of preparation, skills and knowledge, experience, time, effort, and money) between his or her present situation and the desired goal. He or she has determined what is needed to traverse that distance in those same terms and has chosen the most suitable alternative among the various options available. He or she has also evaluated the influence of this choice on self and others and has considered how to deal with minor and major adjustments that can be expected. Finally, he or she has modified the developing plan to provide the best fit to his or her individual circumstances as they appear to exist.

One of the products of this planning period can be the development of a time chart consisting of the sequential steps necessary to reach the goal. The degree of specificity will vary according to the complexity of the task facing the client. The objective is simply one of determining what must be done first and, within the client's time frame, when that step should be accomplished. At least two advantages accrue from actually setting down a tentative time schedule; first, important steps are less likely to be overlooked or missed and, second, many clients are less likely to procrastinate or postpone action if they have developed a time chart for which they feel responsible.

Primary responsibility for developing and using the time chart rests with the client. The counselor can help the client to see the advantage of such a simple device and to accept it as a demonstration of his or her responsibility for planning and organizing paths that lead to accepted goals. Often, first steps can be taken immediately. The counselor, after evaluating client self-responsibility, self-confidence, and independence can determine whether any monitoring of these early steps is necessary before terminating counseling.

Final Step

The final step in the career counseling process is to assist the client in understanding how to evaluate the appropriateness of the selected goal and his or her progress toward it, and how to generalize the skills acquired in the career counseling process to the solution of other problems. Although the actual application of these activities lies in the future, consideration of both is appropriate within the counseling process and logically occurs just prior to termination of the counseling relationship.

We discussed the inevitability of change. Because decisions are made on the basis of the best available data-sometimes imprecise and always incomplete-they must be subject to review and modification as new data become available to the client. That continuous or intermittent review is the evaluation with which we are concerned. Recognizing the tentativeness of all decisions related to career, the client should expect regularly to ask him- or herself, "Is this goal still appropriate and desirable?" An affirmative response, either total or general, should result in a continuing commitment to the adopted plan. An uncertain or negative response should lead the client to review carefully the plan with the intent of either making some adjustment or completely replacing it. Unfortunately, clients are sometimes inclined unnecessarily to feel guilt, frustration, or failure when new information or changing conditions make previous plans obsolete. Recognition of this possibility of change, and confidence in one's ability to make necessary adjustments, should lead to greater acceptance when change is encountered.

The primary goal of career counseling, obviously, is to assist the client to identify an appropriate, attainable, and satisfying career goal and develop plans for preparing for and entering that field. Another product of the process should be to teach the client the decision-making process so that he or she can use that technique with future problems, both career-related and non-career-related. Clients sometimes are so involved in the various steps that they fail to grasp the overall sequence in the total process. The counselor can resolve this myopic view by helping the client review the system step-by-step and relate it to hypothetical problems that are likely to be encountered in the near and distant future.
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