Barbara Sher, the best selling author and life coach, titled her second book “I Could Do Anything, If Only I Knew What it Was.” Sher writes that many of us don’t know what life goals to strive for – making it hard to know when you’ve been successful. This same phenomenon is a challenge for jobseekers. It’s frustrating for those seeking a new job and for those who are trying to help them.
Career transition is a time of uncertainty. You’re not sure where to look for opportunity, when you’ll have your next interview, what questions you’ll be asked, and most importantly, how long it will be before you land a great job. There’s one thing you should never be uncertain about – what it is you’re looking for. The worst answers to “What kind of job do you want?” are: “I don’t know” or “Anything.” Either answer makes you sound unprepared for a serious job search.
Almost any answer would be better than “I don’t know,” but what if you really don’t know what you’re looking for? It may also indicate that you want to stay open to possibilities – or that you’re afraid to state your case. Try scripting your response like this: “Although most of my previous experience has been in customer service, I’m open to almost any opportunity that will allow me to use my strong sales skills and lets me interact with people all day – that was my favorite part of the job.”
Note how this answer does double duty; you position yourself as open to possibilities while also marketing your skills. Keep this formula in mind as you speak to people about what you want to do. Another variation: “I have experience in a variety of industries, from shipping and logistics to restaurants. I hope to go back to a position where I can use my administrative and bookkeeping skills.” If you’re unsure about what job title you’ll end up with, talking about your skill sets helps your network understand what you do. The next time they hear “shipping” or “bookkeeping skills” in connection with employment, they may think of you.
The “I can do anything” syndrome afflicts both entry level and advanced job seekers. Most recruiters despair when they hear it in an interview; they know from long experience that no applicant can do anything. They decide that “anything” applicants haven’t done any serious research into jobs at their company. They might also think that the candidates are desperate enough to take any job as a temporary measure. But they’ll be out the door as soon as the right opportunity comes along. In either case, most “anything” applicants are never seriously considered.
There are effective variations of the “anything” response. You might add it to your networking introduction: “I have experience in almost every aspect of publishing, and I’d consider any position that gets me back into the industry.” In this case, your enthusiasm for any job is backed up by your strong experience in the industry. You can also generalize about your skills without referencing a specific industry. “One of my strengths is my passion for working with kids – I seem to really connect with them. I’d consider any job that lets me work with young children.”
As always, the key to talking to people about your job search is knowing what you do well. Take some quiet time alone or with a trusted adviser and list your personal, professional and educational assets. Then practice putting them together in a sentence or two that describes who you are and what you’re looking for. Build up confidence by talking to people about what you’d like to do. Even if your next job title is still a mystery, what you can contribute to a team should be very clear. The difference between being able to do “anything” and being able to do one thing very well may just be the difference that gets you a job offer.