05/11/2010 08:48 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Identify With the Opportunity, Not Just the Need: The Case of Lori and the Middle Aged Exec.

Whenever I ask a job seeker what the top criteria are for the perfect job, I typically get a combination of career and lifestyle choices presented. Case in point: Last week, after a grueling session, I asked my under-30 trainer what her top five criteria for a job change she's considering are. (Lori is a degreed physical therapist, living independent of her parents, who because of her bubbly personality and intelligence, has been pushed into a lucrative sales career by the health care company she works for. Her dream, though, is to work with patients.) She unhesitatingly answered, 1)use my degree in what I'm doing, 2) have time with my family, 3) cover my financial needs, 4) make a difference in the way I help people and 5) Uh...if I get the first four, I'm good!

Now, asking this same question of a career changing, 50ish exec in Washington, DC last week, I got this: 1) enough monthly income to pay off my back debt and mortgage as soon as possible, 2) get ahead of my other bills and help my daughter transfer to a four-year school, 3) a solid retirement plan, 4) work close enough to home to cut my commuting , 5) no more work travel, and please may I have a 6th? 6) some respect for what I bring to the table!

Who do you relate closest to? Regardless of whether you're looking for a job right now, or are fully employed, who comes closest to your personal work perspective? The chances are strong that Lori and the Middle Aged Exec cross each other's paths everyday in the turnstile of interviewing and career growth competition. The truth is, HOW they relate their needs to their opportunities is far more critical to their job search and success than WHAT they are relating. You've heard the adage, "It's not what you say; it's how you say it." Well, add that to the one that goes, "It's not what you know, but who you know", and you've got the perfect steps for a job search in today's market. Putting them together in the right order, with the right passion, is what makes it happen!

There is definitely a tango between employers and workers today, and the dancers don't always feel perfectly matched. If you are in the worker position, no matter how highly or lowly skilled that position is, your employer has strong views on how they want you to value the position you hold. Need I say that, you too, have strong ideas about how you want to be valued? So, where do the missteps leave off and when does the dancing begin? Ever watched "Dancing With the Stars"? Each television season, long standing professionals are teamed with a new round of amateurs, and all are followed by camera as they bring their skills, and lack of skills, together to create competition winning routines. What is interesting to me is none of the teams get to the skill and joy of dancing until they've gotten through 'getting to know each other' and working out whatever friction they create in the process, or clearing whatever baggage they bring to the studios. Only after they've revealed themselves as individuals and weighed truthfully where they match up as individual teams and within the competition, do they begin to dance toward winning the judges' votes.

What both under-30 Lori and my 50+ friend should know is that they each need to understand what criteria the employer is judging and do a personal matching assessment of their need versus opportunity before they go into the interview. This requires the three R's of a solid job search process: Research, Review and Rehearsal. Research is more than the internet and the evening news; it's people who are already "working there" and getting to know them, too. Review requires evaluation of all your assets as an employee and how well they match to what the company is offering, not just to what you need. (This may reveal that you will need to put a timetable and order of importance to your requirements.) Rehearsal demands that you go on a few phantom interviews at other companies, if possible....or, in the spirit of wasting no one's time, I recommend enlisting a few friends or employment agencies to give you sample interviews and be highly critical of you. Many high-level professionals engage coaches to assist with this!

No matter how well rehearsed you are in your head, the process of actually being asked, and answering, real questions that are life changing for you, is a tense one. Rehearsal will not relieve your tension; it will help you to walk in more sure footed. It is the one of the three R's that most people tell me they have not done before a big interview...yet, it is in so many ways, the most critical. Knowing all the information and evaluating your personal weaknesses and strengths are fine things. Until you've really put them into the motion of an interview, you have not stepped onto the dance floor. Whether you are Lori or the Exec, the smarter and sooner you actively work through the stuff, the sooner you can enjoy the dance of success!