By Dave Isbell (With Special Guest, Kenneth Gutow)

If I could give only one piece of advice to any job seeker, it would be to stop looking for a job. Seriously, just stop. It is not a healthy or productive use of time.

Wait a minute! I am a career coach and I just told you to stop looking for a job? Why would I possibly say that? Frankly, it is because I have been at this for over twelve years and I’ve noticed a few things. First, looking for a job is an anxiety-ridden, soul sucking and unnatural experience that nobody wants to do. As a result, all of that anxiety tends to be what the job seeker ends up “selling” and no employers want to buy that! Furthermore, it is because most people end up spending 90% of their time in what is always proven least effective. Think about it, what is the first thing you think of when you need a job? Most people will say that they need to update their resume and the next step is going to be finding places to send it to. I won’t argue about that if their rationale is to be prepared and to know their market. However, that is not what most people are doing. The average job seeker is using this as his/her entire strategy! The problem with that is that of the job postings s/he finds there is a good chance that many of them are not even open!

That is right, I said many of the postings you are seeing online are not open! I am not saying that there are no postings on job databases that are open; after all, they are extremely helpful for employers to use as a way to screen applicants. However, job boards are also notorious for holding postings that serve as attempts to collect resumes for inevitable future openings, or for employers to maintain compliance with EEO laws (even when chosen from the inside, the employer still needs to prove that person to be the best candidate.) Additionally, they are great for cheap PR to make the company look as if they are growing.

Most career professionals agree that roughly 20% of available and open jobs wind up posted publicly. That means that about 80% of job leads are a part of what careerists call the hidden job market. If that is the case, then what hope does an unemployed person ever have of becoming employed again? Instead of wasting your time by looking for a job, what I suggest is to focus on building a life that matters to you and to those who want what you have to offer.

Be Authentic, Build a Life That Matters

How do you build a life that matters? Here are a few things to start with:
1.Understand who you are, and build a career around what matters most to you.
2.Spend your time connecting with people who share a similar vision for the world around you. I’m not just talking about people who like the same music that you do (though that is important too.) I’m talking about finding people who are attempting to create solutions for the same challenges that you are trying to work on. If you don’t know what challenges that you are trying to create solutions for with your work, please go back to number one before you start approaching people!
3.Collaborate with a few of these people on projects that matter to both of you.

Allow me to synthesize the common arguments against this approach into one sentence: “I don’t have time to do that, I have bills to pay and I need a job right now!” Ok, I agree with you, and I feel for you. I’ve been there before and it is not easy! It is difficult to think about your “vision of a better world” and to go around finding other people that you can help when you don’t even know how you are going to eat tomorrow! However, let’s just pretend for a minute that I know what I’m talking about. How many resumes did you send out this week? How is that working out for you? Unless you have a highly technical skill, and you are willing to go where the job is, I am willing to bet your phone isn’t ringing off the hook with requests for interviews. Now pretend that you and I are acquainted and that I call you up to tell you that I will give you a million dollars and will help you with your job search. Assuming that I have already established credibility with you then you would be all ears, would you not?

Find a Way to Help People Get What They Want

Simply put, people are not lining up to help others get what they want or need. In this case, you need a job and the employer wants the right person to fill the job, not another resume to look at. However, people will always respond when you have established credibility and are willing to give them something they want. (I’m just going to guess that you probably want the million dollars, more than you need the job, which makes my offer that much more appealing than just offering to help you get what you need.)

Never Look For A Job Again

If you have been reading this blog, then you have already read about Monte Bartlett and Bruce Leech. These are just two examples of people who will never “look for a job” again. They have established credibility by what they have done, and are doing, with their time. Additionally, they are constantly serving the needs and wants of other people and in return they get what they want and need! I could give you hundreds of other examples of people who have landed a job (or had one created for them) based on who they know (starting with themselves), and how they communicated/collaborated with those people. However, I could just as easily give you thousands of stories of people who have sent hundreds of resumes and never received so much as a rejection letter. Are you convinced that this might just work yet? “Yes,” you say, “that does work for some people, but not for me!” To that, I say to you that you are right! Who am I to argue with you? But, if you can manage to see that the glass is half full, then read on for one idea of how to apply this stuff.

Networking Only Works When You Work With People

Today, with all of the social networking tools available online, there is absolutely no excuse for not building relationships with people in your industry/area of interest! Certainly, using these tools is not a magic bullet to kill your unemployment situation. Having an account on Linkedin, Twitter, and Facebook is a place to start, but as with any tool, it is all how you use it! For one thing, it is hard to be “social” when all you are doing is “networking” and it never involves meeting with people in real life. Furthermore, it is pretty hard to establish credibility when you never do the things for people that you say you can do! (Who do you trust more, the person who says s/he can fix your car, or the person who actually fixes it?)

“Ok, fine” you say, “everyone says I should be networking, and using social networking tools, but I don’t know how to use the computer very well and I’m not good at networking!” If you find yourself in that particular situation, read on to find out how this week’s featured Spartan fared after he told me exactly the same thing:

Kenneth Gutow graduated from MSU in 1992 and had been improving his skills in logistics and supply chain management for almost 20 years when I met him in 2008. Most of his experience in was in the automotive sector, which you probably remember was not doing too well when he was laid off at the end of 2008. Consequently, he found himself laid off from a well paying management position and was struggling to find another one.

Be Uncomfortable and Do It Now!

When we met, Kenneth told me that after he was terminated numerous people told him that he should “reach out to his network.” The problem was that not only was his network fairly small, he also had no idea how to do this! When I spoke to him recently for this blog post, Kenneth told me, “Networking is not something that comes naturally to me, and to this day I still feel awkward trying to do it.”

When Kenneth originally approached me for help, I introduced him to the concept of the hidden job market, and explained some basics about Linkedin. His immediate reaction was “Oh no! Linkedin combines two things I am awful at – networking and using a computer!” But, with a few hints to get him started, he decided to try it out on his own. I’ll let him tell the rest of his story:

“Unfortunately I had ample time on my hands so I went ahead and built my professional profile on the site. I really did not know what I was doing – I just did the best I could. Eventually I started connecting with people that I knew – both in my professional and personal life. I got in the habit of checking the site to see what they were all up to on a daily basis. One night I noticed that an associate of mine, a person I used to work with but did not know very well, was at a new company that was looking for a sales representative. It was at this juncture that LinkedIn showed its value.

I sent a message to my associate via LinkedIn, showing my interest in the job. Soon after, he requested my resume so he could send it to his boss. I went in for a first interview and felt that it went well. The job opportunity then went dead for about a month. I figured it was over, but then they called me back for another interview. Apparently it was not dead – the position had just changed complexion based on their evolving business needs. The position actually morphed into a better fit for my skill set. I interviewed again. A few weeks later, after I cleared the HR background checks, I received an offer.”

Kenneth attributes some of his success to having worked with me. Honestly, I can’t take any of the credit! We had a few conversations where I pointed him to a couple of basic concepts, and he got up the nerve to try something he was uncomfortable doing. It led to the following series of events:

· Learning about LinkedIn

· Reconnecting with a business associate whom he used to work with

· Exposure to the hidden job market

· A personal reference that he would not have other otherwise had (assuming the associate put in a good word for him)

· A series of interviews

· A job offer

Be In the Right Place at the Right Time

Kenneth goes on to explain, “There was luck involved as well. I was on LinkedIn at just the right time. If I had missed it by a day or two, I might still be un-employed. The moral of that story is that once you are on this site, you should check it on a regular basis. “

Though he states that “MSU really helped me get my job by providing me with a good education and assisting me with my networking efforts,” it is clear that is only one part of the equation. The real success came from Kenneth taking a few minutes to think about how he wanted to present himself. Second, he approached people that he already knew with a clear message of what he wanted to do. Fortunately, he found an advocate who was willing to connect him to a hiring authority. Finally, he navigated happenstance by consistently and intentionally putting himself around other people (even if it was just virtually) so that the right time, person, place, and idea lined up for him to create an opportunity.

Use What You Know and Work With What You Have

Kenneth is still not a Linkedin, networking, or job search “expert.” However, his is a good story of a normal middle-class person who just wanted to make an honest living but needed to do more than “look for a job” in order to find a way to fund the life that he wanted to have. He did not wait to get “perfect” at his approach, and stumbled through learning as he went, despite how uncomfortable it was for him. Further still, he did not need a fancy profile with all the right words, or hundreds of connections on Linkedin (as of the time of this post, he is only connected to 44 people!) What he did worked because, unlike most job seekers who spend 90% of their time where 20% of the job postings can be seen, Kenneth spent 90% of his time where 80% of the job openings are actually found!

In closing, I asked Kenneth what one piece of advice he would give other Spartans. If you remember one thing from this long and winding post, I hope you will remember what he said and take it to heart:

“My advice to readers would be short and sweet – don’t wait until you have a career setback to learn how to do this stuff, just make a habit of it. Good luck – and go Spartans!”


Dave Isbell has been a Career Coach since 1999 and is currently the Alumni Career Service Coordinator at Michigan State University and a part-time contractual therapist in the counseling department at St Vincent Catholic Charities. When he is not working, he is enjoying domestic bliss with his wife and kids, serving as a leader in his church, 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.

Kenneth C. Gutow is a Project Manager (Logistics) from Troy, Michigan. He graduated with a BA in Business Administration from MSU in 1992. He is married with two daughters and in his spare time he loves spending time with family, reading, and playing hockey. If you ever need help from him, you can find him at: or shoot him an email:

The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Michigan State University.

(This blog post was originally posted 02/11/2011)


1 comment

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: