Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How to Think Yourself Into a Job

by Laurel Mylonas-Orwig

Chances are that at some point you’ve encountered a promise that sounded too good to be true. Marketing campaigns promising things like “you’ll lose 10 pounds overnight!” are usually at the top of my “To avoid” list, since I’m pretty sure the only ways to lose 10 pounds overnight involve stomach flu or the amputation of a major extremity. That said, don’t fear, wary job seeker: new research proves that you really can think yourself to job search success.

Here’s the deal. Researchers at the University of Missouri studied the efforts of 327 job seekers between the ages of 20 and 40. The goal of the study was to identify how personality traits—specifically positive thinking, extraversion and conscientiousness—influenced the job search process. Researchers conducted three surveys over the course of eight months, collecting data on demographics; personality; emotions; planning and goal setting; job search results; and job offers. What the study revealed is both groundbreaking and commonsense: it turns out that developing a plan at the beginning of a job search, sticking with that plan, and maintaining a positive outlook are all key to success.

Since we at UChicago are especially interested in theories, let’s break down this one a little bit further. According to the study, conscientiousness and extraversion are both important qualities. Job seekers with these traits engaged in more metacognitive activities, like setting goals, assessing their own skills, and keeping a record of their job search progress. These activities, in turn, led to a higher number of resume submissions and first round interviews.

Researchers also noted that conscientious job seekers had another edge: they conducted higher quality job searches and followed up with employers more effectively. When I was little, my grandmother went to great lengths to remind me that after-Christmas thank you notes are important. The same is true for after-interview thank you notes! Never waste an opportunity to make a good impression.

The final piece of the puzzle, according to the study, is the ability to think positively. The study questionnaires revealed that extraverted job seekers reported feeling positive throughout the job search process. Researchers also discovered that optimistic job seekers were more likely to score follow-up interviews, and thus received a higher percentage of job offers than other applicants.

At this point, you’re probably feeling pretty good if you consider yourself a conscientious, extraverted person. If you struggle with the whole job search process, however, don’t feel dejected: you don’t have to change your personality to get a job. What you can do is utilize the same set of behaviors that proved beneficial in the study. The first step is to set goals, and the second step is to make a plan. As you might have guessed, this being the CAPS blog and all, CAPS counselors are a great resource if you need help with these steps! We can assist you with determining realistic goals, figuring out where to start your search, and making an easy-to-follow plan.

Finally, it’s important to monitor your job search progress. If six months have passed and you haven’t achieved the goals you wanted to, be honest with yourself about it. Sit down and assess your goals and your accomplishments, and make a new plan. As Professor Daniel Turban, chair of the Department of Management and the lead researcher on the study noted, “Some of these recommendations seem like they are commonsense, but they are just not that common. People don’t have strategies, they don’t assess their plans, and they don’t think about their strategies and reflect on whether [they are] working or how to make them work better. They just don’t do it." By making sure that you do take these steps, and keeping a positive attitude, you can beat the odds and up your chances of job search success.

Source: Effects of Conscientiousness and Extraversion on New Labor Market Entrants’ Job Search: The Mediating Role of Metacognitive Activities and Positive Emotions.

What steps have you taken to make your job search successful? Please share your tips and leave your comments below!


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