If you’re looking for a job, untold sites will display listing after listing, supposedly presenting possible candidates for your Dream Job.
You might write cover letters and resumes for some, or even a hundred, but you will often not hear anything back. According to CareerBuilder, 52% of employers admit that they respond to less than half of applicants.
“If you’re just going on the internet [to look for a job], you’re chances of being successful are very low,” says Bill Burnett, executive director of the Stanford Design School.
And searching for a job this way can burn you out, he adds: “Every time you send a resume and don’t get an acknowledgement, it feels like a rejection. You think someone looked at your resume and turned it down. That’s not true. Your resume got scanned, it went into a big database and your key words didn’t pop when they did a search.”
People start with job listings because “they’re being ‘realistic,’ but it’s a faux realism,” says Stanford Design School lecturer Dave Evans.
Burnett and Evans, professors of a popular course at the d.school called Designing Your Life that has become a nationwide series of workshops are also cofounders of the Life Design Lab and coauthors of the book Designing Your Life.
They offer a completely different approach to job hunting: Don’t look for a job at all, but an offer.
Here’s what you’re doing wrong and how you should be conducting your search instead.
1. Stop combing listings.
As mentioned above, Burnett and Evans say the probability of even getting an acknowledgement, let alone a job, out of your cover-letter-and-resume routine is low.
But the other reason listings are not incredibly useful is that many jobs are not posted at all. While the estimates of what percentage exactly are published vary widely — an online search shows statistics ranging from 20% to 80% — Burnett and Evans surmise that the ones that aren’t advertised tend to be “those that fall into the dream job category,” they write.
The reasons are myriad. Big companies might list the most interesting ones internally. Companies of fewer than 50 employees may not publish any at all. Others may only post online after they’ve tried to fill them through their own networks. After all, some companies require that every job opening is listed in order to make sure the best candidates have a chance, “[b]ut many times managers have already selected an internal or external candidate they want to hire for the job,” Burnett and Evans write. (One way to figure this out before you waste time trying to apply is to see if the company’s listings come and go quickly, such as every week or two.)
2. Stop thinking your dream job is out there waiting for you.
In their book (and in an earlier article I wrote on their ideas), Burnett and Evans discuss the importance of reframing dysfunctional beliefs. They call reframing the key to getting unstuck and say that it “makes sure that we are working on the right problems.”
So what is a dysfunctional belief they often see in job seekers? That dream jobs even exist. They write, “What you can find out there are lots of interesting jobs in worthwhile organizations populated by dedicated and hardworking people trying to do honest work.”
So, they would reframe the belief “My dream job is out there waiting” to “You design your dream job through a process of actively seeking and co-creating it.”
Good jobs in good places with good co-workers exist and “there are at least a couple of those good jobs that you can make close enough to perfect so you can really love them,” they write.
3. Embrace networking.
Don’t groan. Burnett and Evans have a really practical way of looking at networking.
When it comes to those good jobs that you can tweak to your own liking, the authors say you’re going to find them in the hidden job market, which they describe as “only open to people who are already connected into the web of professional relationships in which that job resides.”
And accessing those connections requires you to do some purposeful socializing — or networking.
“[People] think networking is slimy,” says Evans. “They’ve seen too many movies where someone manipulates someone for ill-gotten gain. Most people are really helpful and perfectly willing to give you directions when you’re lost in their town — in their town of freelancing or their town of emergency medicine or their town of nanotechnology.”
So give up the negative attitude about networking, and work your existing contacts, Google, Twitter and LinkedIn to do step 4.
4. Conduct Life Design interviews.
Burnett and Evans are proponents of design prototyping, by which they mean asking good questions, uncovering hidden biases, adjusting constantly and allowing one thing to lead to another. To prototype, you need to collaborate with others or have an experience in the real world.
When it comes to finding a job, they recommend a version of prototyping they call the Life Design interview, in which you talk to someone who is pursuing what you’re thinking about doing and find out their story. Ask them how they made their way into their current position and what it’s really like in the job. (But when you propose the meeting, don’t call it an interview. Just say you’re impressed by what they do and that you’d love to hear more about their experience.)
The authors tell the story of Kurt, one of the Stanford d.school graduates who relocated to Atlanta with his “shiny” Stanford and Yale degrees. He sent tailored cover letters to 38 job listings but only received eight responses — all rejections via email — and nothing at all from the other 30 companies.
His first step to landing a dream job was step 1 above — to stop applying for jobs. Instead, he had 56 Life Design interviews, to find his way around Atlanta’s sustainable architecture sector.
If you do the same for your job search, the authors say more than half the time, you’ll find the interviewee saying they’ve noticed how interested you are in the work and that you may have skills they could use. If not, you can direct the conversation yourself by stating that the company is becoming more interesting to you the more you learn about it and asking, “What steps would be involved in exploring how someone like me might become part of this organization?”
Notice you don’t ask if they have any openings, because if not, the conversation is over. The exploration question is more open-ended and gets the interviewee thinking about what might be possible — or they may think of another company that might have openings that would match your skills.
In the end, Kurt got seven offers, and for six of them, he didn’t ask about openings — his interviewees asked him.
5. Don’t look for a job. Focus on offers.
When you see a job, you might have any number of critiques: that the commute is too long, that you don’t want to work for a big company, that it probably doesn’t pay well, etc. This is the job, not offer, mindset.
Burnett has seen this with students. One might state an aversion to working at a big company. But when he asks them, “Do you want to change how health care is applied to individuals so their genomic information makes the possibility of diagnostic success 10x higher?” they express interest — and then he reveals that’s a project at one of the world’s largest insurance companies.
“You don’t know whether you really want the job till you get the offer,” he says. At that point, you might find out that you can telecommute three days a week and the pay is better than you thought.
By using trivial details and assumptions to nix opportunities, you’re closing yourself off from what the authors call latent wonderfulness. Burnett describes this as “the rule that if a 20% chance there’s something interesting going on in that organization, you have to go talk to them.”
And as you seek out this latent wonderfulness through your Life Design interviews, you’ll hopefully end up with, not just a job, but multiple offers.