I recently finished Emily Gould’s new novel Friendship, which, among other things, illustrates just how miserable it can be to underachieve in a city built on success and unstoppable ambition. One of the main characters is a defeated temp resigned to her fate of coasting along in ultra-competitive New York. To paraphrase one of Gould’s many powerful lines in the novel, this individual “didn’t apply for good jobs, so she didn’t get any.”
If only Gould’s book had been released in fall 2013, when I did everything but apply for good jobs. Deep into my quest to make it in the entertainment industry, I went on more than twelve Hollywood interviews with no luck, and my first conclusion was that I was utterly useless and unemployable. I wanted to be a screenwriter, and while certain people start out as PAs or lowly assistants before eventually landing creative work in the field, I didn’t have the luxury of relying on a “maybe” anymore.
Everything about the job hunt is a pain, and it’s especially painful when you don’t get a position you really thought you wanted. It’s OK to be upset about what could have been, but it’s also important to determine whether you’re having issues landing the work you deserve or repeatedly seeking the wrong openings. Here are some signs you’re falling into the latter category and wasting your time, money, energy, and emotional investments on the wrong opportunities.
1. You look for jobs way below your pay range
This is easy to do when you’re unemployed, underemployed, or desperate, but if you don’t recognize your value, prospective employers won’t either. Even if you do snag this position and find yourself working in no time, you’ll complain about the income immediately and wonder why you couldn’t have just waited longer and searched a little more critically before agreeing to an opportunity.
2. The work itself is vastly different from anything you’ve done before
Interviewers figure out pretty quickly who has what it takes to get the job done and who will just look like a bewildered deer when given assignments. If you can’t explain how your previous experience can benefit you in this role, you’re most likely not looking for jobs that are going to bring out your best professional assets.
3. The job description is far below your experience level
You’ve been in the game for four years, but suddenly you’re scrambling to get an interview for an entry-level position all the recent college grads are madly fighting over. You might think you’ve got a leg up on them as a seasoned real-world employee, but someone with less experience (read: lower salary demands) is probably going to be at the top of the list, and then you’ll just feel awful about losing out to someone you thought would be working for you, at this point.
4. You’re afraid of seeming too smart
Never allow yourself to work in an environment where your intelligence is punished rather than celebrated. You belong among other intellectuals who challenge and engage you. Perhaps it feels nice to be the smartest person in the room every once in a while, but long term, it’s going to hurt you. Surround yourselves by positive and thoughtful minds and you’ll grow each day, both at work and in your personal life.
5. Your interviewer seems unhappy and unprofessional
When your interviewer doesn’t even try to make the job appear tolerable, you’re walking into a disaster. If you don’t get the job, just know you dodged a bullet. Or two.
6. Your work style is dramatically different from that of your prospective employer
One of the reasons I love my new job so much is because I have an excellent manager and a tight-knit office team. We have similar working preferences, and this makes for a healthy professional environment. Had I applied for a job with a perpetually unsatisfied boss and a cut-throat work environment, however, I wouldn’t have been such a good fit. I also wouldn’t be able to swing it at a company that forbids employees from ever working remotely. I like pajamas way too much to consistently honor a rule like that.
A huge part of the application process is finding a culture that suits you, and if your style is vastly different from that of your potential manager, you’re going to run into problems from the start. So take a minute, breathe and figure out exactly what you’re looking for. It’s cool to be open to new challenges, but you also want to find a job that really matches your interests and talents. Not to compare the job search to love, but what the heck: when you find the right one, you just know and it hopefully works out.