Offering a Critique is Not Being Critical

Offering a Critique is Not Being Critical

Many of us are reluctant to critique the efforts of those in transition. They have enough problems, the thinking goes, without someone looking over their shoulder and pointing out their missteps.

That’s certainly a well-meaning point of view, but unfortunately, it has two unintended and very negative consequences:
• First, it prevents job seekers from getting the advice they need (and deserve) if they are to improve their efforts;
and
• Second, it debases job seekers by assuming they are too weak-kneed to hear some corrective input.

So, while some will say it’s hard-hearted, I think critiquing those in transition is not inappropriate. Indeed, done right, offering such a critique is not being critical; it’s offering assistance that’s critically important.

With that conviction in mind, I am compelled to respond to the words and actions of a job seeker who was profiled in the Sunday Styles section of last week’s The New York Times. This fellow was a very successful senior vice president in a private student-loan company until his employer fell on hard times and, at the age of 58, he found himself unemployed. He’s now been looking for a job for 18 months.

What’s he been doing? According to the article, he has applied for over 600 jobs, but landed just three interviews—two of them over the phone. Let’s look at the positive and less than positive steps he’s taken during that campaign.

First, to his credit, he was flexible enough to relocate to an area where he thought there might be a more employment opportunities. As we all know, that’s easier said than done when you can’t sell your house for the money you owe on it or your spouse has a job or your kids are in a school they don’t want to leave.

While this fellow didn’t have those obstacles, he did have hubris. He had moved from Maryland to Florida several years earlier believing he could work successfully from anywhere. When that notion proved to be incorrect, he was too proud to return to Maryland, despite the availability of openings there in his field. So, what did he do? He moved to an area where there were fewer openings and, in the process, diminished his prospects for success.

Second, he’s looking for a job the old fashioned way and not doing it very well. He sends out lots of resumes and then sits back and waits for employers to call. He apparently does little or no networking because, as he put it, “ninety percent of the people I worked with lost jobs”. As a consequence, he’s not reached out to those best positioned to help him—his professional contacts, including those who are in transition themselves—let alone his wider network of contacts among former customers and suppliers and even former college classmates and teachers.

Worse still, he’s wasting time. Here’s how the article described his day: “He can walk to shopping, but often drives his secondhand S.U.V. to a grocery store two towns away to have someplace to go. ‘If I walk to the store, I’m back in 10 minutes, and then what?’ Last Monday, asked what he had planned for the week, he said, ‘As of now, I have zero planned, not a thing.’”

In the old world of work, searching for employment was a full time job, not a part time activity. Today, it’s even more demanding. It’s two full time jobs. You have to work at finding work, and you have to work at strengthening your credentials.

Whether you’re a first time job seeker or a former senior vice president of a student-loan company, you have to re-imagine yourself as a “work-in-progress.” You have to get back into school or take a training program where you can add to your ability to contribute on-the-job. That’s what employers are looking for today. Not a track record alone, but a track record and an attitude—the demonstrated conviction that you can always be better and that you take personal responsibility for making it happen.

Thanks for reading,
Peter