by Krystal Corbray, Managing Librarian with Yakima Valley Libraries in Washington State
previously published 7/15/14
Avoiding Cinderella Syndrome: Why Every Job Doesn’t Have to be a ‘Perfect’ Fit
Once you’ve been job hunting for a while, things can get a bit…intense. Many job-seekers talk about their employment search as if it’s a full-time job—which is an admirable and, often, effective way to go about a job hunt.
It’s only when job-seekers start talking about their efforts while using phrases like “perfect fit” and “dream job” that things can start to head off track.
Because searching for jobs with an all-or-nothing mindset, like you’re looking for a soul mate, is a surefire way to severely limit your job prospects, and can also mean missing out on some perfectly good opportunities that don’t necessarily fit a checklist of ideal requirements for your dream job.
This isn’t to say that job hunters shouldn’t use a bit of discretion—there’s obviously nothing to gain from blindly applying for jobs simply because “library” or “information” appears somewhere in the description—but there’s definitely a great deal of value to be had by not being overly exclusive in your job hunt.
- “Go West (or East, North…or South), Young Man” or, The Merits of Relocation
Maybe you graduated high school, moved away for college and landed in a small, but hip, university town that you now can’t ever imagine leaving. And, how could you? Your neighborhood barista knows your drink order by heart, the cost of living is low, and you’re so going to plant that vegetable garden in your backyard this year.
Or, perhaps you live in an urban metropolis, with an amazing music scene, great bars, a thriving social group, and, most importantly, you can get fantastic sushi practically anytime, day or night.
Look, I get it. Packing up and moving on is hard to do. But, guess what? Sometimes, getting your foot in the door, career-wise, means lacing a hiking boot onto that foot and being willing to embrace a major move.
Terrifying? Yeah, a little, but expanding your job search to another city, or even another state, can also help you go from being a small fish in a big pond (or a regular-sized fish in a non-existent career pond) to someone with the knowledge, skills and abilities to rock the socks off an employer who just happens to be in a different area code.
Yes, this approach is certainly easier said than done, but the return on this kind of career investment could be huge. And, sure, as we graduate school, or transition from one job to another, it can become more and more difficult to take these kinds of risks. Sometimes, there are mortgages to contend with, financial limitations, family issues, or other impediments, but barring those scenarios—what’s stopping you from taking a leap of faith, and being willing to literally go the distance for a new job?
That 10, 20, or 30-miles-from-home radius you’ve set for your job hunt might seem practical, or comfortable, but you’ve got to ask yourself if sticking close to what’s familiar, or even easy, is worth missing out on a potential job that fits your interests and skills simply because it’s a State (or three) away.
Facts are, very few things in life are as permanent as we sometimes lead ourselves to believe. Moving away for a job doesn’t have to be, either. Millennials, in particular, are on the move career-wise, perhaps more so than any other generation in U.S. history.
According to Forbes, the average job tenure of a Generation Y employee is 2.2 years, and while some career analysts have warned that this kind of “job-hopping” can be a red flag to future employers, facts remain that “changing jobs and getting a promotion in the process allows Gen Y employees to avoid the ‘dues paying’ that can trap workers in a painfully slow ascent up the corporate ladder.”
So, if you find yourself faced with the opportunity of moving from, say, L.A. to Laramie, WY for a job that, two or three years from now, will make you a better contender in a much more aggressive job market in a larger city—do it!
That out-of-town (or State) job might not be exactly what you’re looking for right now, but down the road, it could be beneficial in helping you get to your ultimate career goal. So, go see what’s waiting beyond your comfort zone.
- “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus—there’s just no such thing as a ‘perfect’ job.”
For some of us, while growing up, Christmas was probably the best day of the year. Pretty much nothing could compete with the unadulterated joy of waking up on Christmas morning and finally getting to open all of those brightly wrapped presents.
Maybe, you’d given your parents a list of everything you wanted, and, as you ripped off the festive paper, the bows, and pulled back the tissue inside, your mind raced, trying to imagine if this box contained that cool, new electronic gadget, or piece of trendy clothing, you’d begged for.
Was it a Gigapet? Or a pair of Doc Martins? Or maybe, it was a—
Nope, it was socks. Or underwear. Or, worse yet, a sweater your Aunt Veera had knitted for you, and now expected you to wear.
Not quite the Miracle on 34th Street you’d had in mind, right?
Well, life—and job hunting—can be like a lot like that sometimes.
Whether you’re a recent grad with an eye out for your first, perfectly fitted professional job, an unemployed job-seeker convinced that everything will be better once you land that ideal position, or someone with a job who is scanning the field for ever greener grass, here’s some advice for you: please buckle up for your inevitable, and bumpy, trip back down to reality.
Because it’s a-coming.
Don’t get me wrong—there’s absolutely nothing amiss with wanting a job that you’re well-suited for, and enjoy, but landing a job that turns your work-life into rainbows and daisies and sunshine? Probably not going to happen.
Given, most people realize this, and their job hunts are practical, and about realistic career fulfillment, job advancement, finding an entry-level role, or simply getting back on the horse after being out of the job market for a while.
Other folks, however, need just a tiny jab of reality. So, this next bit is for them.
Job hunting is, in many ways, like dating—the job interview, in all of its nerve-wracking glory, being your first “date.” Job possibilities, like life partners, are seemingly endless, which means you need to be open to experiences, accept some flaws, and kiss a few professional toads along the road to career satisfaction.
Think about it. Even if, after endless hours of job-hunting, it seems like you’ve found The One position for you, and you do manage to land a job that, on paper, seems perfect, that may not always be the case.
A new, or potential position, might hit each and every one of your “ideal job” checkpoints, but, once you’re in, you might have to deal with incompetent administrators. Or, maybe you end up exactly where you thought you wanted to be, only to realize you have nothing in common with your co-workers and the tedium of socializing with them day in and day out is unbearable. Or, maybe everything really is perfect, exactly what you wanted and expected before getting the job, but you just…aren’t feeling it.
Facts: People change. Expectations change. Life happens.
Do yourself a favor, and don’t tie your future happiness so tightly to the prospect of what a “perfect” job should entail, that you lose sight of the fact that perfection is fleeting, if at all attainable. If you’re holding out for a position that gives you butterflies and inspires you to write sonnets, well, you’re probably going to be waiting a long, long while.
Like romantic relationships, being selective in your search is important, but each and every job you apply for can’t be The One. By applying for, and being open to accepting, positions that aren’t your ideal job, you’ll put yourself in a position to learn a great deal about yourself—what you want, don’t want, like and dislike; what you consider a deal-breaker, or the things that bother you, but you can put up with.
It’s important to recognize that applying for jobs that aren’t “perfect” for you doesn’t have to mean you’re settling, or stagnating. You may find yourself surprised at the experiences, or people, you’re exposed to in a less-than-ideal role—all of which are tools you can add to your arsenal of skills and knowledge, so that when a better job fit comes along—and one most certainly will—you’ll be that much nearer to finding that (almost) perfect fit.
- “Started from the bottom, now we’re here.”
It probably goes without saying that job-hunting can hurt—emotionally, financially, even psychologically. Especially when you’re out of work, or desperate for a change, and that one job you want, or that organization you really want to work for, either isn’t hiring, or just doesn’t seem to want you.
So, what do you do when it seems like the soundtrack of your job hunt should be the Rolling Stones’, You Can’t Always Get What You Want?
While it may not be an option for every job hunter, if the opportunity presents itself, you might consider aiming lower on an organization’s totem pole. This means that, if you’ve been looking to get hired at the management or supervisory level at a particular library, look a step lower—see if there are supervisory, specialist, or even assistant, positions that might be a workable fit for you. Given, this might not make financial sense for everyone, and, for some people, might be a step-down on the career ladder, but for others, getting in at the ground-level could be a strategic step.
Think about it: if it’s always been your dream to work at Library X, or in City Y, and you’d love to be a manager or department head, you’re also probably just as qualified to be an assistant. Starting from the bottom up, so to speak, gives you a good amount of leverage for when higher-level positions open up down the road—you’ll have in-house experience, exposure to the culture and procedures of the organization, which helps set you up as a stronger candidate for promotions or professional positions later on.
Case in point: My first library job, straight out of college and with a bachelor’s degree, was as a page. A part-time page, at that. I shelved books in the Reference Department, did some filing, and other odds-and-ends tasks. At the time, I had a fair amount of misgivings, wondering if I was simply treading water, but now, as a manager, I look back on my time as a page as the first in a series of valuable, lower-ranking positions I held that helped me get to know where my interests and disinterests were, and were also a platform where I got to know other library staff, managers and the organization in a bottom-to-top way that has helped me countless times, now that I manage multiple branches and staff in the same library district.
- “You don’t know what you don’t know.”
Yes. I just quoted a Taylor Swift song. And, no, I’m not sorry about it, because there’s a nugget of job-hunting gold in that there lyric, and it’s this: expand your horizons.
Or, to put it another way (and sticking to my current pop culture theme), does anyone remember that scene near the end of the movie, Fools Rush In, when Matthew Perry’s character chases down his pregnant, estranged wife (the perennially gorgeous Salma Hayek) and, in true Rom-Com one-liner fashion, tells her, “You are everything I never knew I always wanted.”
Sigh. Remember that? No? Well, Netflix it later. It’s a pretty decent movie.
But I digress. My point is that, Mr. Perry’s eleventh hour realization—that you often don’t know what you want until it’s staring you in the face—also holds true in the job hunt.
Expanding your job hunt just a bit, to include positions that you may think you’re underqualified for, or that don’t fall directly in line with your skill-set, can lead to surprising personal discoveries. Think of this approach as a career-focused invocation of the good ole “use it or lose it” philosophy.
Yes, there’s much to be said about becoming a subject expert, or undertaking a very focused job hunt because you’ve always known you wanted to work in an archives or academic library, or you have a burning passion for European Studies or children’s services, etc.
But, hey, you’re on the job hunt anyway—so, maybe consider branching out a bit.
Yes, fine, pursue your goals, but also try looking for positions that somewhat overlap with your goals, or ones that will challenge you to step outside of your comfort zone in terms of job duties.
No, I’m not advocating that you go into outreach or community engagement if public speaking tops your list of biggest fears; and you certainly shouldn’t start applying for cataloging jobs if interacting with the public is your professional bread and butter. I am, however, a cheerleader for holistic skill-building. Going after positions that don’t necessarily match up with what you’re already well-versed in is a great way to keep yourself competitive, and is a solid means to avoid a career plateau.
Sure, it can be tempting to box yourself in during your job hunt by only applying for positions that show direct tie-ins to your resume and work history, but looking beyond what you know you’re good at, to explore what you could be good at given the opportunity, will not only exponentially expand your job prospects, but you may also completely surprise yourself by discovering that what you don’t know now, is also what you come to love.
So, grand scheme of things? Be open to new experiences and change. Don’t be afraid to take risks, and always consider the big picture in your job search. The path to eventually finding a position that challenges and excites you need not be a perfectly straight line.
We all need to be willing to zig-zag, to adapt, and, like Cinderella, take a few chances along the way.
Bio: Krystal Corbray is a Managing Librarian with Yakima Valley Libraries in Washington State. She has a BA in English Literature from Seattle University, and earned her MLIS from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her professional interests include digital literacy, public services, community engagement, outreach, and innovative library programming for children and adults. She spends her spare time pretending to be a wine buff (she’s not); obsessively checking Facebook (seriously, it’s a problem); re-watching old Star Trek episodes, cooking pasta (sooo much pasta), and feeding her crafting addiction by finding new uses for glue dots.
She blogs on a completely irregular basis at http://chapterandversed.blogspot.com/, and can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.