“If you’re not having as much success as you’d hoped in your job search, do you think it’s because a) you don’t really know what you should be doing or b) you know what to do, deep down, but just aren’t doing it?”

If you’ve been job hunting for a while now, without much in the way of results, this is a really important question to ask yourself — making sure to be as honest as possible when answering it!

I say this because I think many out-of-work individuals pretend the issue is (a) when, in reality, issue (b) seems to be a far more common culprit leading to lackluster job search results.  For example, when a frustrated job hunter says something like “nothing is working” or “nobody’s hiring” I want to instantly respond “that’s an interesting perception–what activities have you been engaging in, exactly, that would support these conclusions?”  Held up to this kind of standard, you usually discover that the arguments being made don’t hold much water and that a more authentic, accurate series of complaints would be along the lines of “nothing (among the limited things I’m doing within my comfort zone) is working” or “nobody (among the handful of companies I’ve sent resumes to after seeing them run an ad on the Internet) is hiring.”

Tough love, I know, and of course I realize that a lot of people say these kinds of things simply to blow off steam without expecting anybody to take them literally.  But if you’re facing a genuine career crisis, and need to find work in the immediate future, it’s important to diagnose the real roots of your problem so that you can take action to fix them.  So again, if you’ve been unable to generate many (or any) interviews over the course of a few months, or longer, ask yourself whether it’s because you truly don’t have a grasp on the series of steps you should be pursuing — or whether you’re letting fear, doubt, procrastination, overcomplication, or similar emotional landmines get in your way, instead.

If your answer continues to be the first item, I’ve got good news for you.  There are countless career advice books, websites, and counselors around who can point you in the right direction — and the vast majority of them are free or cost very little.  If you’re into web surfing, I’d recommend you peruse a site like Quintessential Careers or Ask the Headhunter, or go through the extensive array of job hunting advice I’ve chronicled here on my own blog.  If you’d prefer to kick back with a book or two, I’d recommend the old standby What Color is Your Parachute (much of this advice still holds true!), Guerrilla Marketing for Job Hunters, or Allison Hemming’s Work It! How to Get Ahead, Save Your Ass & Land a Job in Any Economy.  And if you’ve got the funds, of course, you can always invest in personalized assistance through a coach,  like myself, who can help you jump the curve and build a solid game plan for moving forward.

But I’ll warn you in advance: if you’re expecting magic bullets, or for somebody to suggest that looking for a job can be accomplished without a healthy dose of grit, discipline, temporary setbacks, and hard work, you’ll be sorely disappointed.  Virtually all legitimate career advisers preach from the same choirbook — and emphasize that the most effective formula for job hunting is to figure out the specific problems you can solve for an employer, make a list of the employers most likely to have these problems, then invest 30-40 hours each week seeking to create dialogue with these organizations via a mix of outbound networking, direct marketing, recruiter contact, and published ad response activities.  There are no real shortcuts, any more than there are “get rich quick” schemes out there that will make you a millionaire overnight or “Hollywood diet pills” that will help you lose 20 pounds without breaking a sweat.  As for those speed-reading courses that promise to teach you how to read War & Peace over your next coffee break, the jury’s still out on those…

And what if, at the end of the day, your unflinching analysis does reveal that (cue the trumpets) the real obstacle behind your unemployment struggle is NOT a lack of knowledge, but a lack of willpower or motivation, instead?  That’s a good thing, too!  At least you now know where your real challenge lies — and can channel your time, energy, and effort into breaking these self-destructive behavior patterns.  There are all kinds of ways you can go about this, ranging from reward/punishment schemes to peer support forums to weekly “accountability chats” with a fellow job seeker, and ultimately it will be up to you to figure out which motivational systems work best for you.  But hey, at least you’ll be focusing on the right problem instead of getting trapped in the “insanity” cycle of doing the same thing over and over again, expecting different results!