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Careers Café

Feeling like a fraud

Liz Koblyk looks at some popular job search advice that can be misleading for job seekers.


As a part-time employee working with clients who have maddeningly busy professional lives, I sometimes feel like a bit of a fraud. The feeling of being a fraud in no way differentiates me from most academics.

In keeping with the theme of fraud, I started reviewing job search advice I’ve encountered that doesn’t quite seem to fit with client experience, or with my previous experience as a hiring manager.

The magic bullet
The content of magic bullet advice changes, but the format is the same: there’s one easy thing to do in all interviews, or one easy phrase to use when networking or writing job applications, that is guaranteed to seal the deal. For example, I found an article advising job seekers to include the phrase “can-do attitude” somewhere in the letter. The only reason I found the article was because I suddenly started receiving an annoyingly large number of letters that used the phrase “can-do attitude.” Most job seekers are naturally savvy enough to know that magic bullets probably don’t work, but the pain of being unemployed can drive people to try wacky stuff, especially when reasonable efforts don’t seem to be working.

Everyone will want you!
It’s great to have family and friends who love you, but they sometimes have highly unrealistic ideas about employability on both ends of the spectrum. They might constantly ask you what you’re planning on doing with your degree, or they may tell you how amazing you are to the point that they downplay the need to really clearly explain your transferable skills, provide evidence for everything you claim about yourself, and edit out extraneous stuff.

This doesn’t mean you should ignore everything your family and friends value about you. Just make sure it’s relevant, and back it up.

You are doomed
You’ve probably already encountered people (and news articles) that predict your doom. Getting accurate data on the long-term outlook for graduates from different disciplines is a flawed process at best, and if the data is gathered from a sufficiently long time frame to tell you anything beyond what the typical entry into the workforce looks like, it risks being out of date.

On the flip side, even if you really enjoyed the LEGO movie, you might not feel like everything is awesome. The labour market isn’t driven by job seekers’ needs, and the job search is hard work. It is hard work in terms of the tasks involved, the beating your ego takes, and the time it takes when you probably don’t have time to spare. The people you spend your day with may share stories, out of concern or schadenfreude, of the most underemployed person they’ve ever heard of who happens to share your degree.

What you can do is to continue the hard work of the job search, using the same persistence, analysis and skepticism that have supported your academic work, to find information, evaluate it and recalibrate as you go. While there may be no one out there who’s equipped to enjoy job search, you are prepared to learn more about the work that interests you and the ways to prepare yourself for it, and to evaluate the myths you’ll encounter along the way.

Liz Koblyk
Liz Koblyk is the associate director of the Wilson Leadership Scholar Award at McMaster University.
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