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Careers Café

Getting through the long slog


In most things you do, you get to see progress. You start painting a wall and, an hour later, you can see that you’ve put in an hour’s work, and that less work remains because of your efforts. You incorporate feedback from a reviewer when strengthening an article for publication and, sure enough, you end up with a better article that’s likely to be published.

In the job search, it’s a lot more difficult to tell whether you’re making progress. The inability to chart how close we are to achieving our goal can make the spirit say “meh.”

The fantastic thing about the job search and its feedback vacuum is that you’re probably already well-prepared for it. If you’ve worked on a thesis, you know what it’s like to face a seemingly endless task and to keep yourself motivated and working, even if your committee members take six months to comment on your latest chapter.

So, what else from your studies can be adapted to your job search? You probably had some strategies in place that routinely got you through tough spots and past the series of rejections that are part and parcel of the job search.

Maybe, in your academic writing, you have a rule that you had to achieve a certain amount of output, rather than put in a particular number of hours. That way, you know at the end of the day that you’ll have at least 500 words written, instead of having spent the time checking databases for relevant articles again, just in case. The same can apply to your job search. Maybe you can commit to researching a certain number of organizations, writing a prickly part of a cover letter, or attending a workshop at your university’s career centre, instead of searching online job postings and hoping for the best.

If you ever used the strategy of having a “junk” file to deal with writer’s block, try the same strategy with your résumé, cover letter and any notes you make to help prepare for networking or interviews. After all, it’s much easier to edit an ugly first draft than an empty page. So, if you found it useful to create a document that wasn’t your paper, where you could work out ideas without worrying about whether you were articulate, try the same with your job search documents. Give the document a separate name — something called “ugly résumé” or “cover letter that will never see light of day” gives you permission to write in plain language about what you can do.

Career advisors tend to talk a fair bit about transferrable skills. They extend beyond the skills that you will explain to employers. If you can handle an extended research project — even if it hurts — you’ve already developed the abilities you’ll need to come out on top, on the other side of the job search.

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