I recently spoke about my book Jobs That Matter at a major career networking event with over 400 participants, and made connections with probably 50 different people. I was struck by two of the people I met, both job-seekers but completely opposite in their attitudes.
The first person, a woman who had years of experience in marketing, had a brief but friendly conversation with me about her background and what brought her to the event. I remember she spent most of the time asking me questions that got me to talk about myself and my book. Like most people, I like to talk about myself when given an opportunity… and I tend to like people who show a sincere interest in listening to me. So I liked this woman immediately. I exchanged business cards with her, and she was the only person out of the 30 or so to whom I gave business cards who followed up with me the very next day. Her email was just as lovely as our in-person conversation:
“I hope you remember me from the mixer last night. I was your “elevator speech” partner. After your outstanding presentation you got swarmed by attendees so I didn’t get the chance to tell you how very much I enjoyed meeting you. You’re a very impressive woman and I look forward to reading your book. (Thanks for the tip. I got a brand new copy for $10.17) Thanks too for the tip on idealist.org. I was once a paid employee of a nonprofit organization. I was in my 20’s then but always loved it! I should re-examine that as a path. I wish you great success on the book sale and hope our paths will cross again.”
Wow! What a nice email. I am left with very positive feelings towards this woman, and in fact if I get any requests for marketing or communications consultants, I am sure I will keep her in mind.
The second person, also a job-seeker, was the exact opposite of this woman. He hung around after my speech and waited to talk with me as I signed books. He held the very last copy of my book in his hand–several other people were hoping to buy it–and when I finally got a chance to speak with him, he expressed a pent-up rage to me, even though I had neither said nor done anything against him. He told me he “wouldn’t complain” even though he’d been out of work for a year and a half. It was at the end of the night, and I had been dying to take care of some physical needs of mine, and to leave and get home to my new baby after a long day of work and after-work engagements. But he kept me there, holding on to my last book like a piece of bait, not really asking for any advice but just using me as a target for his anger. I told him I was sorry but needed to leave, and he nearly threw the money for the book at me, hissing “Is this what you’re waiting for?” He did give me his card, but I was actually afraid of him and virtually ran away.
I know there are a lot of people out there suffering right now, who are on their last few dollars and who are finding themselves staring at a desperate set of options, possibly falling right out of a middle-class life and even into homelessness. No amount of well-meaning job search tips can help someone in that situation to pull themselves out of a well of fear, anger, and depression. All of those feelings are natural and normal for someone facing long-term unemployment. I can empathize all I want, but I have never been in that situation myself.
It is totally unfair, but the person who can find a way to act like the first job-seeker, being kind, listening, open-minded, and professional in following-up, is going to get jobs. The person who becomes trapped in a downward spiral of anger and hopelessness may end up burning all the bridges they are presented with.
I don’t want to blame the victim here. But I do know that hope is an essential component of a successful job search. I hope job-seekers in a hard situation can find a way to reach out positively to other people for help. Easier said than done. It’s still my hope.