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Don't sabotage your job hunt: 6 tips

Many people who get laid off rush out and start looking for a new job right away. That's usually a mistake.

By Anne Fisher, senior writer
August 28, 2008: 9:27 AM EDT

Succeed in your new job?
Whether you're changing positions mid-career or starting your first real job out of college, new hires face common pitfalls. Do you know how to avoid them?
1. Five minutes from now, you will step on to an elevator whose only other passenger is your company's CEO, whom you haven't met before. You are most likely to:
Be completely tongue-tied and say nothing.
Introduce yourself and give a 30-second summary of the work you're doing and why you're excited about it.
Chat about the weather.
Most of the Uncle Sam stimulus checks have been sent out. How did you use your rebate?
  • Spent it on essentials
  • Paid credit card debt
  • Added to my savings
  • Splurged on something fun

(Fortune) -- It's a perfectly natural reaction: You lose your job and, in a panic, you immediately start calling and e-mailing your network and answering Internet job ads. The trouble is that, understandable as that course of action is, it's unlikely to get you where you want to go. Instead, take a deep breath, slow down, and chill. Then, make a plan.

More than one-third (34%) of 1,029 employees and managers in a recent survey by Philadelphia-based consultants Right Management ( said they'd start job hunting immediately if they lost their current positions.

Understandable, but that course of action runs the risk of "sabotaging the very goal they set out to achieve, by being unprepared and reactive," says Right's president and chief operating officer Douglas J. Matthews. A better approach is to "avoid rushing into the job market," he says. "Take time to think about what you want to do next in your career."

Immediately following the loss of a job, Matthews notes, you are probably "not completely prepared, are still too emotional, and have no comprehensive plan for launching a job search."

Too true. For one thing, if you haven't updated your resume in a while, you need to think carefully about how to recast it, and that's likely to take longer than a day or two.

"Your resume should describe you at your highest level of accomplishment, telling the story of your career and how you can help contribute to an organization," Matthews says. You also need to study prospective employers in some depth, to find out what problems they have that you might be able to help solve - again, a task that takes calm analysis and an investment of time.

With money tight and getting tighter, you might be tempted to take the first job you're offered. Again, try to resist.

"You don't want to walk into someone else's nightmare," says career coach Deborah Brown-Volkman ( "You want to make a good choice - not just any choice, but the right one." To help with that, she offers these six tips:

1. If you don't get along with a potential boss during an interview, you never will. "Clicking with your would-be boss is essential. If you notice during an interview that you and this person don't 'get' each other, don't think that will change once you start working there," Brown-Volkman says. "Use the interview to explore whether your prospective boss is interested in what you have to say and understands what's important to you in your career before you accept the offer."

2. If you don't have a good rapport with prospective co-workers, you never will. "If you sense there's a problem with someone you'll be working with, listen to what your intuition is telling you," Brown-Volkman suggests. "Working relationships with people you don't like will only get harder as the time you spend with them increases."

3. Stop worrying about being selected. Easier said than done, of course, especially if you've been out of work for a while and the bills are piling up. But "wanting to be chosen by an employer sometimes makes us talk ourselves into a situation we may not have taken if we were thinking more clearly," Brown-Volkman observes. "This is a recipe for disaster."

4. Decide what you want first. Make a list of what's most important to you before going into an interview. "Is your workspace a priority? Then ask to see it before you make a decision," says Brown-Volkman. "Do you want to work from 9 to 5? Be sure to ask your future boss and colleagues what their typical hours are. If they arrive at work at 7 a.m. and leave at 8 p.m., don't kid yourself into thinking you can do otherwise." Knowing what you want ahead of time gives you the chance to ask the right questions and find out whether the job is really for you.

5. Don't sell out. It's fine -- in fact, often unavoidable -- to take a job because you need the paycheck. But if you know it's not the right position, make a timetable for moving on, and then stick to it.

"I work with many clients who agreed to less-than-ideal jobs in the belief that they would stay for just one year," says Brown-Volkman. "But that year frequently becomes two, and then more, even though the job is still not satisfying. An interim position is just that."

Be ready to start job hunting again when your self-imposed deadline draws near. This time, since you're already working, take a slower, more methodical approach.

6. Be yourself. We all want to put our best foot forward in interviews, of course, but it's possible to take that too far. "Letting interviewers see 'the real you' is the only way to figure out whether you'll be accepted for who you are, or not," Brown-Volkman notes. "You may fool the people interviewing you, but you'll only be fooling yourself when you have to go in there every day and pretend to be someone you're not."

Readers, what do you say? If you've landed on your feet after a layoff, how did you do it? Have you ever taken a job you knew was wrong for you - and, if so, are you still in it? What have you seen friends or colleagues do to sabotage their searches? What mistakes have you made? Post your thoughts on the Ask Annie blog. To top of page

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