THE BLOG

Famous Author Job Search Tips

09/10/2013 12:09 pm ET | Updated Nov 10, 2013

What if reading Elmore Leonard, F. Scott Fitzgerald or any great author could help you find a job?

Sounds crazy. Or at best a gimmick. Until you start thinking about what really helps people find jobs.

There is a basic body of knowledge on self presentation. Resumes. Interviews. Networking. Career and talent assessment tools. But what if you already know all that? Can you get better? Sure. But would getting better at the basics really help you find work?

Perhaps the basics were once enough. But that's not true anymore. If the basics of job search were all it took to find work, common sense tells us that a whole lot more people would be employed. So now, when there often are no jobs, and when talent management operations often focus more on screening out talent than on finding the right fit, now might be the time to bring in the literary big guns.

Because the storyteller can do something no "expert" can do: prompt new and different thinking on how a person might find their own unique path to work.

For instance:

Flannery O'Connor: "I find that most people know what a story is until they sit down to write one." In the hyper-efficient, key word screening system of finding work, what's been lost is the individual's own, unique story. Data has replaced narrative. Job descriptions are written to screen out talent. Bullet points are great for busy people. But they can also make the reader glassy eyed. As you build your own path to work, do you have your story ready to use at any given time? Not your "elevator pitch" or your "brand." Your story.

Elmore Leonard: "Try to leave out the part the readers tend to skip." Because your story can't just be about you. It's got to also be about who is listening. Being a true fit for a job is as much about music as it is about data. An elevator pitch or bullet point brand is NOT wrong or bad. It's just sometimes not enough. It can come off as artificial. Your story is you.

David Foster Wallace: "The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you." There are forces, like "the truth" that are larger than any one person. Every organization has a mission. A reason for being. When you approach any organization with what you have to offer -- can you speak to how you would help take care of those larger forces? How you would practice stewardship of the greater purpose? In today's blisteringly competitive market, every finalist for a job will be able to do the job. But not everyone will be able to answer, "Here's why what you do here matters."

J.K. Rowling: "Hearing voices no one else can hear isn't a good sign. Even in the wizarding world." Perhaps the worst assumption made about looking for work today, is that the way we do it is rational.

And it is not rational. It is a wizarding world.

That being said, hearing voices that say, "tap dancing on an interviewer's desk works great!" will likely help only help if the job is "Desk Top Tap Dancer." Creativity is not the point. The point is to remember that when you are searching for work, you are in a wizarding world.

Thomas Pynchon: "If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don't have to worry about answers." In this wizarding world, a busy gatekeeper interview will sometimes become more about completing a checklist than having a conversation about how you are a fit for the job. Which is why a focus on two key questions is always important. "What is the mystery here? and how can I help solve that mystery?" Amid all the questions that don't matter -- those two do. No matter what is asked or answered, solving a mystery is a principle that is always at the heart of finding work.

F. Scott Fitzgerald "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past." Finding work in the past meant completing applications, or going to a "networking event" where you don't know anyone, or following the expert's advice on one-size -fits -all job search. All those things used to work. And sometimes they still might be enough. So they exert a powerful pull on our thinking. That collective song in the back of our minds urging us to simply do what we've always done. The seduction of the past.

Even if what we used to do doesn't work anymore.

But in this brand new marketplace where there often are no jobs, the need is for new thinking. For a new, principle driven path where every work search is different. A crying need speaking the exact same message as Mr. Fitzgerald.

There is no more difficult journey than the one away from old thinking. We are 'boats against the current,' straining to each ask ourselves individually ...

What if I started thinking differently about finding work? What then?