By Dave Isbell

Have you read the news today? Apparently, the unemployment rate is going down. That’s good. At least, it looks good on a computer monitor. However, what I’m hearing from people who visit my office still isn’t all sunshine and roses. I know how hard it is for job seekers and can understand their frustrations and sense of desperation. More often than not, I am hearing about recruiters who come across as “snobbish elitists” and job postings that lead to no response, or worse, an interview for a position that was already filled before the ad went to print. I’m all for the idea that many businesses consistently use outdated, and even draconian methods of “plug and fill” hiring that doesn’t really see the person or his/her potential. Certainly it would be awesome to see more companies to start thinking differently if they are going to attract and retain talent. However, job seekers (and those who want to manage their own careers) also need to look at the way they are thinking and operating.

Look, I know it is tough out there and it has been for a while. Yet, it is one thing to feel desperate, it is quite another to present one’s self that way! The reality is that employer’s have never cared about a potential employee until that person can prove that s/he can provide value to the company. It is counterproductive to brand one’s self as “unemployed” instead of proving to be a valuable asset through creativity and initiative. Yet, that is what I see more often than I would like to admit. Think about this, when you introduce yourself to someone new, what is that inevitably comes up in the conversation? Sooner or later, one of you is going to size up the other person’s value by asking “what do you do,” right? (Admit it, most of you aren’t asking to make polite conversation. You are asking because you are wondering if this person is worth spending time with.) So, what is your answer when someone asks you what you do?

Ah! I probably stepped on someone’s foot with that last question. Your answer to the “what do you do” is something like, “I’m looking for a job,” or “I used to work for xyz” or “I’m a fill in profession here.” Or, it could be that you are saying to yourself “I am not doing anything,” “I’m waiting for company x to call me back,” or the always impressive “I’m in between things right now.” Come on, admit it! You have been saying things like that haven’t you? Now ask yourself how impressive and valuable a person would be to you if they gave you that kind of response?  What would you think about this person if s/he wanted to marry your son/daughter? You’d probably be concerned about their finances, right? (Because we all know it takes more than love to make things if we’ve been married for more than a year!)

Now, think about how the conversation might go, if, instead of affixing a job title (or lack one) to your answer you actually told them something about who you are, what you love to do, and what you are doing about that thing you love? Have you ever been around someone who is in love with life, has a plan, and is moving full steam ahead to take charge of it? It doesn’t really matter what that person is talking about, s/he is contagious; you just cannot help but to feel like you wish you could be a part of what s/he is doing, even if it is not really something you had an interest in prior to the conversation! What do you think would happen to your job search if you were to become one of those people?

“But,” you say, “I’m just not like that, all I need is a job so I can pay my bills!” Hmm, Ok. Let me shift the subject ever so slightly before I get back to my point. I always wonder why job seekers continue to insist upon following the herd of other people who have wasted countless hours of their lives uploading resumes that will never get read by human beings.  Yet, I already know the answer to my own question; it is because it feels like one is doing something. Also, I suspect, it is because it is a heck of a lot easier to take rejection from a non-response than from being told “no” in person.  But, I’m going to throw in one last idea: It is a lot easier to sit back and wait for someone else to do something about any kind of problem than to become the solution we are seeking.  

Listen, there is a TON of work that needs to be done in this country (and around the world), and enough problems to last into eternity before they get solved. Yet, the average job seeker acts more like an armchair critic who is waiting for someone else to pay him/her before s/he will lift one finger to use talents, time, and treasure. I’m not at all saying that there are not real barriers out there, or that everyone should “lift themselves up by their own bootstraps.” (There are certainly inequities that are rooted in the fabric of every culture that make it nearly impossible for some people to rise above their circumstances.) However, what I am saying is that when you look at the world around you and all that it needs, and then look at yourself and all that you have, and decide to start giving all that you have to a world that needs you, then you will become one of those people who are contagious.

Contagious people are those who are self aware, who focus all of their energy on purposeful activities that serve the common good (instead of just themselves), who don’t take no for an answer (but are brave enough to deal with the fear of rejection), and are willing to work hard for what they believe in. Also, an important point, contagious people don’t stay unemployed very long even in the worst of job markets. That is kind of the point of being “contagious.”

Take your pick. You can stand in line with the herd to buy a lottery ticket and wait for your million dollar check. Or, live and work like life really matters even though your sweat may never equate to a million bucks.  Either way, the economy is still going to be up one day and down the next, and you are going to find hiring managers that are going to be cold, distant, and inept. I, for one, hope you become contagious and find yourself in a room with a whole bunch of Spartans who need to be infected. Believe me, it only hurts at the beginning. You can thank me later once you can’t ever imagine standing around with the herd ever again!


Dave Isbell is the Alumni Career Service Coordinator at Michigan State University. He has been a Career Coach since 1999. He is also pursuing a Master’s in Social Work/Family Studies at MSU.  When he is not working or studying, he is enjoying domestic bliss with his wife and kids, or playing rock music on his bass guitar. You can find him on Twitter (@helpingspartans) and sometimes he writes about compassion, collaboration, and career for this blog, which he owns and begs other Spartans to write for.


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