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Responsibilities May Include

Your job search through the lens of the Hero’s Journey

What separates the hero from others is a willingness to embrace the challenge despite the unknown and to keep going no matter the obstacles.


Looking for work after graduate school involves challenges, setbacks and great rewards. It involves weapons, including resumes and storytelling. There are moments when it seems hopeless, and courage and grit are needed to keep going. These are all elements of the Hero’s Journey.

The Hero’s Journey, which was first identified by Joseph Campbell, and then later modified by Julie M. Bouche, describes the universal cycle of change we experience in the various journeys we undertake in our lives. It provides us with a map of what we can expect at each stage and describes the associated tasks and strategies for a successful job search.

Stage 1: the invitation

The Hero receives an invitation to complete a special task, which often involves treasure and powerful enemies. Finding relevant employment in a challenging job market may seem just as difficult. Your commitment to the quest at hand, along with proper preparation, are necessary for success. Building a strong LinkedIn profile, composing targeted resumes, and crafting career stories are all part of this process. It is also important to plan for the worst-case scenario while being optimistic about the job search. Consider the possibility that it could take six months or more. How will you support yourself? How will you keep your skills current? Answering these questions will minimize the adverse effects of a prolonged search.

Stage 2: the threshold

This is the border between the familiar and the unfamiliar. The Hero begins their adventure and enters a whole new world. Likewise, when you begin looking for work, you cross from the known world of graduate school to an unfamiliar world with its own language, culture and norms. Having a beginner’s mindset is helpful at this stage. This means having an attitude of openness and a lack of preconceptions about the job search. Set a goal to learn as much as you can about the skills needed for a successful job search.

Stage 3: trials and tests

After embarking upon their quest, the Hero encounters a series of challenges, ranging from fighting gigantic spiders to resisting a powerful dragon (The Hobbit). Challenges you might encounter include completing lengthy job applications and attending difficult interviews. Heroes often experience setbacks during this stage. In your job search, this can include not hearing back from jobs applied to or being informed that there was a more “qualified candidate” after what seemed like a promising interview.

A growth mindset, a bias towards growth and learning, is essential for successfully navigating this stage. Reframe the challenges that you are facing as opportunities to learn and grow. To succeed, you will need to believe that you can overcome these difficulties and “level up” your skills.

 Stage 4: mentors and allies

Every successful Hero has mentors, such as wizards, or allies, fellow travellers, who help them achieve their task. For the job seeker, mentors offer advice about looking for work, and sometimes provide referrals to unadvertised positions. They can include career coaches, faculty members, and industry professionals. Conducting information interviews is an important tool for building your network and connecting with potential mentors. This involves meeting with professionals to learn about their careers and getting advice on your job search. Allies or helpers are friends and peers. They can offer needed encouragement and sometimes connect you with mentors. Don’t forget to support your peers who are also looking for work, whether that means listening to their job search concerns or pointing them to a position that may be a good fit for them.

Stage 5: the abyss or crisis

Every hero, including job seekers, faces the abyss at some point in the journey. This is where the Hero questions their ability to succeed with their task. In your case, you might question your worth and ability to secure meaningful employment. Everyone’s crisis is unique. For some it may only last for a day; for others it can stretch into weeks, resulting in apathy and depression. Knowing that the crisis is a normal part of the journey can help you to move through it. Reflecting upon and applying lessons learned from past challenges that you have successfully overcome helps. Reaching out to mentors and allies for support is another important step to take, especially if your abyss stretches beyond a few days.

Step 6: unique task

The Hero has passed through the abyss and now faces the unique task of their journey. While you are not required to destroy a ring like Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, your task is no less daunting:  having a successful interview or interviews for a position of interest. Preparing by participating in mock interviews with mentors and/or friends is essential. Your perspective about the interview is also important. Think of the interview as an opportunity for you to learn more about the job as well as determine if the job is a good fit for you. Lastly, focus on giving thoughtful answers versus telling the interviewers what you think they want to hear. Applying these strategies will help you to be more relaxed and genuine during the interview and ultimately increase your chances of being selected.

Stage 7: the reward and return home

The Hero has completed their task and has now returned to the ordinary world. You have received your job offer and now are about to begin a new Hero’s Journey. Take the time to savour what you have accomplished and learned. As well, look for ways to help others who are embarking upon their own job search journey.

The challenge

The job search is rarely predictable. Some individuals find employment with barely a scratch; others succeed only after much effort and receiving a few battle scars along the way. What separates the hero from others is a willingness to embrace the job search despite the unknown and to keep going no matter the obstacles. So, take up your weapons and begin your Hero’s Journey.

Matthew Geddes
Matthew Geddes is a career development specialist at the University of Calgary where he helps graduate students reach their career aspirations through one-on-one consultations and webinars.
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