5 things you can learn from Thanksgiving to help you in your job search

Dr. Joseph Barber

1)      Don’t use pepper spray…, ever. No matter how much you want a job – pepper spraying the other candidates will not help you get it. You might have heard about the Wal-Mart incident. There will always be highly qualified candidates applying for the job you want, but it is not worth thinking about these people too much. You can’t do anything to about their qualifications and experiences; you can only maximize the effectiveness of your own. Make sure the way you describe your experiences speaks to the requirements of the position. If you want more information on this, then read some of these posts.

2)      Keep your focus. Who knows why this newscaster did what she did – but she assumed that the camera was not watching and that her gesture would go unnoticed. Whether you are attending a social function during an on-campus interview, or chatting with friends in a café after meeting with recruiters as part of OCR, don’t let your professional guard down. Read this post for more on this.

3)      Ignore silly names and labels. After Thanksgiving we have “Black Friday”, and then “Small Business Saturday”, and then “Sunday”, and then “Cyber Monday”. It is all a little silly, if you ask me. However, it does give me the opportunity to talk about the benefits of thinking about your career in terms of what you are doing rather than at what company or institution you might be doing it. Job titles and company names are just labels – what you do on a day-to-day basis may be much more relevant. There are some of you who think you might like to work for a big company, be it a consulting firm or investment bank, but who might enjoy using your skills in a similar way for a smaller-scale organization. This could mean working in a start-up rather than for a more established company. This could mean working for a non-profit instead of a corporate giant. This could mean working for yourself rather than for someone else. Your career path is yours to choose, to a certain extent, and if you can gain satisfaction from the application of your skills and knowledge in a variety of different settings, then you might find many more opportunities out there.

4)      There’s always a sale at Macy’s. Has anyone else noticed this? I’m not complaining, mind you, but the constant sale does seem to play a significant role in Macy’s business model. Perhaps they had an even bigger sale over the Thanksgiving period, but chances are that anything you missed out on during this time (if you are afeard of shopping during this heinously busy time like me) you’ll be able to find on sale at some other random point in time when it is much less busy. Depending on the careers you are interested in, you might find that there can be seasonal fluctuations in the number of job opportunities available. Let’s say you want to apply for academic jobs as an assistant professor, then applications are often due starting from September – depending on your discipline. By January and February, the number of open positions may be significantly less. Does this mean that you should stop looking? No. Set up email alerts on some of the job aggregator sites (e.g., for academic jobs take a look at www.indeed.com; www.higheredjobs.com; http://chronicle.com/section/Jobs/61/), and you’ll always be informed of openings as they arise. More importantly, keep a dialogue going with people in your network who might hear of opportunities as they arise. It is possible that a search committee will not be able to agree on a person to hire for a full-time position, and will find themselves scrambling to fill a more temporary position for the year before they conduct the search again. This could be a great opportunity to get a foot in the door, and search committees may often look more favorably on people they know (i.e., internal candidates, even in visiting professor positions) than on unknown entities when it comes to filling the full-time position. So, keep your eyes out for sales outside of the traditional sale periods – you never know what you might find.

5)      Be thankful whether or not it is Thanksgiving. Don’t forget to thank those people who have helped you in your academic and professional careers – this can be a great way to get back in touch, and people always like to hear how their actions may have contributed in some small way to any successes you have had. Also, keep the people you have in mind as potential reference letter writers updated on your professional comings and goings. It is hard to write a good letter of reference for someone you have not thought about for five years. It is almost impossible to write one for a student who took your course in the past, but didn’t say or contribute much, and who expressed no obvious enthusiasm or passion for the subject being taught either during or after the course. Maintaining your network of contacts is very important throughout the year (especially during the summer!), as these posts affirm.

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