“Do you deserve a great job?”
I often start many of my job search workshops off with this direct, no-nonsense question to see how people react to it. As you might suspect, after a few puzzled looks, most of the hands in the room eventually go up and the majority of the audience casts their lot in the affirmative — declaring that yes, of course, they absolutely deserve a great new position. My attention-getting rebuttal, of course, is to inform them that in my own humble opinion, they’re all dead wrong!
Where’s the disconnect here? Of course, when you step back and think about it, it all comes down to the word “deserve”…
One of the biggest obstacles to most people’s courtship of the job market is the notion that somehow the job market is “fair” and that decent, talented, hard-working individuals are more or less entitled to a good job, with good pay. In an ideal world, this would be true, perhaps. But need I point out numerous examples of where individuals who are seemingly quite lazy…or unscrupulous…or missing a few cards from the deck have risen to positions of great influence and power? Or perhaps you’ve seen evidence in your own places of employment (ha ha) that the path to getting ahead hasn’t necessarily been what one would call a meritocracy?
How about if we talk in terms of companies, not candidates? Would you say that a fairness principle applies? Does Ford “deserve” to beat Toyota or GEICO Insurance “deserve” to beat State Farm? Or on the product side, did VHS “deserve” to beat the Betamax format, way back in the day, even though most experts pointed out that Betamax was a far superior product, technically speaking? (for those younger readers who weren’t around during the ‘videotape format wars’ here’s a handy link that will bring you up to speed…)
In this corporate context, it’s pretty clear that “fairness” and “justice” are concepts that don’t really apply. They just aren’t a relevant part of the equation. Short of engaging in criminal behavior, American organizations are free to employ every ounce of creativity, strategy, and spunk they can muster in order to get people to buy their products (even inferior ones) and vanquish their competitors. So remember, the labor market is a market, too. It functions almost the exact same way as the consumer market. It’s a competitive environment and the rule, not the exception, is that perceptions of value routinely trump bothersome realities. So if you buy into the mistaken belief that a great job is going to find you, based on your loyalty, stellar qualifications, and exemplary track record to date, you’re leaving a lot to chance — and will more than likely lose out to those less-talented candidates who outhustle you via a series of shrewd, savvy, highly proactive self-promotional efforts.
Does substance, then, truly count for nothing? Of course not. It’s far easier to market a “product” that stands up to scrutiny and actually delivers what it promises! But again, the point is that most products aren’t going to sell themselves, and for better or worse, the job market as a whole is allowed to be completely apathetic to the fortunes of the individuals within it. There is no referee or higher power deciding whether one candidate is more “worthy” of a killer job than another candidate.
So if you’ve got any lingering entitlement notions, it’s well past time to jettison them — and get busy selling yourself!