How Job Search Fails

Across Every Galaxy -- Tell Your Story

Star Wars creator George Lucas's wife, a long time respected member of Chicago's business elite, has an office in the building where I work. A powerhouse executive, her office is on a much higher floor than mine.

So picture some lightly snowing Wednesday morning, like today, when she be running for the elevator, shaking off the snow and I'd hold the elevator door open.

She'd thank me for that and say, "Snow is really starting to come down out there. Nobody's going to want to come out or go to work on a morning like this."

To which I'd reply, "That's true, which is why I get paid to help make sure people want to come to work. Even on a morning like this."

That comment would spark her interest, we'd start talking, and she'd ask me if I wouldn't mind taking a ride up to her floor.

Of course, none of that actually happened. But the story shows one of the five key principles essential to understanding why job search fails.

The principle is "tell your story." Yes, the encounter took place in an elevator. But this was not the programmed "elevator speech." This was a unique human encounter geared solely to that moment. You won't fine it in any "how-to" book. "Tell your story" means being ready to share a moment or a week in a way that enables the other to think, "I really get who you are and why we should form some sort of connection." If this were all it took to get a job, I'd be offered this one.

But I'd only hit the mark on one of the principles. I had four more to go in this story of a search. So to continue...

Adding Music

Once off the elevator, walking through the office with the boss, I knew that "fit" would be a challenge. I'd been in dozens of board rooms, knew the rock-hard consistency of utilities, the nimble touch of retail, the twists, turns, clouds of tech and the heart of non-profits, churches and schools. But now, here inside the beating heart of venture finance, I might as well have been the odd looking creature in the Star Wars Cantina.

If there was a song playing here, I could hear it only faintly. "Adding Music" is the second principle. It's an intangible. But it's one known to every seasoned recruiter. Often they call it "fit." And if you do not have it, your job search will fail. As mine was right that moment.

Which of course was depressing, until I saw my neighbor Don coming out of his office. I remembered he worked for the firm. Surely, knowing someone on the inside would help. Right?

Well, not so much. Not anymore. In much the same way "networking" -- which often means the anonymous exchange of contact information on Linked In -- no longer worked; knowing someone on the inside didn't work alone either. What was missing was communitizing.


After re-introducing myself, Don could not have been more polite. We exchanged quick comments about an annual neighborhood Christmas Party we both missed, but then the well ran dry. Born into a Chicago political family, a phone call from the Mayor, on his way to close a million dollar deal before lunch; I lived near Don, but we shared no real common community. No binding, visible or active force. No membership in any of the same clubs. Of any sort. So on principle number #3 -- Communitizing -- I struck out.

Solving a Mystery

At the starting block of the fourth principle, "solving a mystery," I somehow turned into Han Solo. Protecting institutional knowledge, engaging a workforce, succession planning and leadership coaching, reducing intangible costs -- none of that came up much around the office. Simply wasn't part of the culture. So it was all like a mystery. And who doesn't like a mystery.

Finally -- Practicing Stewardship

It's the fifth and final principle. And it's where I struggled the most. Usually I get it. Practicing Stewardship means, "taking care of something larger than yourself." In a utility, you are delivering energy. You are stewards of that energy. In a non-profit you have a mission. In retail you could be part of feeding people. I know that finance, even venture finance, can drive all that. I get that. And besides, what I'd be taking care of wasn't the deals, it was the people. That's my mission. But still, I could not get my arms around the stewardship here.

So I fell short.

And this job search failed.

Do you need all five of the principles to succeed? Of course not. Job search is not a formula. That's why "how-to" books can only take you so far. They are necessary. But they are not enough. But if your job search fails, run it up against all five principles. You will find at least one where you've fallen short.

It's the 5 Principles that are your building blocks for your own unique search. If you use all five, at full speed, you will find work.

And not using them is how a job search fails.