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The Best is a Relative Term

  • Are you searching for the “best” companies, the “best” recruiter, the “best” resume, the “best” interview strategy, the “best” salary and, of course, the truly “best” advice on how to find a great job?
  • At the same time, are you considering starting your own Dear Abby column because you have received so much advice, you don’t know what to do with all of it?
  • And worst of all, do you have a nagging feeling that looking to others for insight might be a one-way ticket to both personal and professional disaster, but you also fear striking out on your own?

Finding out where to get the really good advice, and then deciding if it applies to you, are related mysteries that plague job seekers.  Parental messages, social pressure and fragile egos fuel this dilemma.  You don’t want to be a failure.  You were raised to believe there are “better and worse” jobs.  And, of course, you want to measure up in the eyes of your admirers. So the search for the “best” is serious business.

Whether you are unemployed or seeking escape from a lousy job, you are likely to start the job search process tentatively.  You might ask your friends and neighbors where the good jobs are.  “Hey, do you know about any openings?  I guess high tech is out these days. (Ha, Ha)” And the dialogue goes on.  You look for rules to follow and to seek out good advice.  But soon you find that everyone has an opinion.   

You decide you will start with your resume.  “Write a one page resume with lots of key words.”  “Forget the resume, and rely exclusively on networking.”   “Functional resumes are the way to go.” “Customize every resume.”  “Drop the objective.”  “The resume is worthless without an objective.”  The list of rights and wrongs goes on and on.

So you stand in your kitchen surrounded by the rubble of your search and feel lost.  Take heart!  The “how-to’s on job search can generally be found in a book in the library.  Pick a current publication and choose an author that writes in a style that is comfortable for you.  Use the book as a reference manual throughout your search.

In addition, consider getting some support through a class.  You’ll find out you are not alone. You may also participate in a “success team” (or create one of your own!).  Meeting with a supportive group of job seekers each week will help keep your spirits up and provide an avenue for creative ideas. 

Now you are up-to-date on the rules, but are still mystified about where to apply and what jobs are right for you.  You look for a list of “best” companies and contemplate what makes a company great.  Wouldn’t everyone agree that you should look for companies that are growing?   Isn’t it crucial to find companies that are financially sound?  Doesn’t everyone want to work for a fortune 500 company that will attract the best and the brightest?

You guessed it…the beauty in the eye of the beholder.  Companies that are growing can be chaotic and unpredictable. A strong revenue picture could be the result of a ruthless management team, expecting long hours and allowing few vacations.  The companies sitting on the “most admired” list may not fit you at all.  Or they may be perfect.  How do you know?

You only have to have one serious clash with the wrong corporate culture to understand the relative danger of  “the best.”  So you must look in the mirror and ask yourself what makes you tick and what are your longer-term goals.  The answer to these two questions will lead you out of the quagmire of well-intentioned advice that could lead you down the wrong path.

Here’s how to get the answers.  Go back to your kitchen; make yourself a cup of tea.  Bring a pad of paper and your favorite pen to the table.  Brainstorm a list of your most enjoyable experiences.  Go back to your youth, your previous jobs, your best community involvement experiences, and your proudest achievements.  List the projects you’ve had at work that were both energizing and successful.  Keep going until you have about twenty-five experiences listed.

Now, go back and select the top ten.  Write a paragraph about each of the ten experiences.  Write it in the first person and be sure to add all the details.  How did you prepare for the event? Who was involved in the project? What were the steps you took? What were your creative contributions? What was the final impact?  What kind of feedback did you get?  What were you wearing and what was the cultural environment of the organizations you liked best?

When the stories are written, take a break for a while.  When you come back to them, look for patterns.  Highlight your natural talents and aptitudes in one color.  Highlight your values in another color.  Finally, notice what type of environment suits you best.  The clues to your “best fit” careers and organizational settings will emerge as you reflect on your past experiences.  You might also share your stories with a trusted friend, in case you have having a tough time seeing the patterns.

This simple exercise is the job search secret that helped Steven Jobs move on from Apple Computers to another great venture with confidence.  Your past experiences provide a literal roadmap, telling you what career positions are best for you, what companies are best for you and what risks you need to take to get there. 

Once you have analyzed your most enjoyed experiences, then sit down and write your long-term plan.  It should extend out at least thirty years.  Let your intuition be your guide.  Start by describing your life as it is today.  How old are you now? List the names and ages of all the significant people in your life.  Where do you work?   Who are your friends?  What are your hobbies?  How is your health?  What is bringing you joy in your life?  What challenges are you facing?

Now, age that scenario five years.  Where will you be then?  What will all the other people in your life be doing?  Will your circumstances be improved, and in what way?  Keep adding five years until you have developed a thirty-year plan.  This should only take a couple of hours.  Again, take a break and come back to it.  Now you will see how to define your priorities and what short term sacrifices need to be made to achieve your longer-term goals.  

Having done these two exercises, you will see your search in a completely different light.  You will not be as vulnerable to bad advice or well-intentioned pressures.  You will have the energy to tackle the tough interviews and stand firm in your salary negotiation.  Now you are making decisions for you and your future, not following arbitrary standards set by society that make you feel guilty and lost.

In the final analysis, the “best” can only be defined in terms of who you are and what you bring to the marketplace.  It is personal and subjective.   The self-aware, long-term planner is the winner in today’s battle for the “best.”

© Helen Scully. All Rights Reserved. For more information visit

 Helen Scully
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