Don't Be Like These Guys

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Successful individuals frequently talk up the necessity of keeping a positive mind-set, even when between jobs. As a cautionary flag, here are a couple of examples of its opposite.

The poisonous attitudes that follow are markers of what not to let yourself do, or even think, in the course of your job search.

A May 2008 accounting graduate recently posted a comment on our sister site, JobsintheMoney, describing his futile search for work. He concluded by voicing frustration that his top grades and academic honors "mean nothing to these ignorant CPA firms."

But the real poison wasn't in that remark. It was this brief follow-up comment: "BTW if you chose to delete my previous post, that proves that this website shows favoritism towards CPA firms."

Negative Preconceptions Are Self-Fulfilling

That's a sure-fire sign the guy is letting his jobless status poison his state of mind, setting the stage for what can easily become a vicious circle of negativity and hostility. Evidently, his anger at accounting firms has broken from its moorings. It drove him to randomly vent at a Web site he clearly had no prior contact with and knew next to nothing about.

If a prospective employer picked up even the slightest hint of this attitude, any chances that young man might have had would vanish in an instant.

Here's another example. I recall asking a former colleague - a high-class financial writer who has several books to his credit and was on a first-name basis with investment bank chief executives through the 1980s and 90s - whether he'd ever sought work inside an investment firm. He said he had tried, but couldn't get hired because, "They think a journalist won't be able to drink the Kool-Aid."

I ran his remark past a veteran in-house financial writer at a mid-tier investment bank, who also runs a LinkedIn group for financial writing and marketing communications professionals. Her terse assessment: "Saying things like that helps them (employers) think that." In other words: Come in with a negative attitude, even silently, and you'll trash not just your own chances but those of anyone else with a background like yours, by reinforcing negative stereotypes a given hiring manager might hold ... or creating them where they didn't exist before.

My Childhood Lesson

There's an echo here of one of the first lessons my father taught me. Told in the form of a joke, I now recognize it as a parable that illuminates an occupational hazard for job-seekers.

A man's car gets a flat tire on a deserted highway. Lacking a jack to lift the car to change the tire, he sets off on foot for the nearest service station. As the sun beats down and the minutes stretch into hours, he begins to doubt whether the service station attendant will agree to lend him a jack. Initially he is confident his simple request will be granted. But the longer he trudges toward his goal, the more his fear and distrust swell. When he finally reaches a service station, he confronts the attendant: "What's the matter with you, you lousy son of a bum? Why won't you lend me your jack?"

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