Steven Simon, Ph.D.
Anyone who has been searching awhile for a skilled or professional job knows that it’s a difficult and humbling experience. If you’re new to job hunting or haven’t done it for a long time, coming up with the best search strategies for any job, let alone one that will lead to a great job match, can be more than overwhelming. Then there’s the immediate discouragement of the inevitable and continuing rejections. So, if you’re a serious job hunter, what do you do?
In pondering this question, Bonnie and I decided to jointly write this article. My entire career has centered on helping people find careers and jobs. Bonnie, a mid-career independent business owner has worked within large and small organizations, and most recently has observed, and written blogs about countless small local businesses. She has also searched intensively for the most satisfying career. Based on her observations and experiences she articulated what we now call the “intersection" principle. Since this concept neatly summarizes my experiences on how people find jobs that bring career success and fulfillment we were then able to use the intersection principle to frame the most effective way to conduct a successful job search....one that will work in creating a best-fit for both the job seeker and an employer, a win-win situation.
What is the "intersection" principle? You might already realize that irrespective of “flavor of the day” job search techniques, certain basic precepts can serve well in positioning yourself not only to get a job, but to get the right job….one that elicits a passion for and a sense of meaningfulness in what you do, as well as serving an employer’s desire to get the best, most motivated employees in today’s or tomorrow’s job market; in other words, employees who work with a passion. So, the intersection principle simply states that you are most likely to feel passion and meaningfulness in a job that occurs at the intersection of your best skills, your strongest interests, your best-fit environment, and the best matching job opportunities.
To start, Bonnie offers some real-life observations from her corporate experience with regard to where skills and interests intersect with the best results. “I noticed when working at a Fortune 100 corporation that there were people we called ‘stars’ who were really good at their jobs. They got a lot of attention from management, got promoted and made more money than the rest of us, but they also seemed to enjoy their jobs more. That's not surprising since they were very helpful to the organization and to the people they worked with…..Honestly, I think I was entering star territory with Information Technology Service Level Management."
Information Technology Service Level Management encompasses the integration of efforts among different technical departments. It involves a lot of data and negotiation. In her case, Bonnie's skills in analysis, building social relationships, and facilitating group problem solving made her good at putting intradepartmental agreements into place, despite lacking a full understanding of the technical workings of the software and hardware systems in question. What made her good at this job was that she was focused on using her strongest skills, not trying to compensate for her weaknesses in understanding details of the technology.
Job seekers often find themselves focused on trying to sell minimal skills they think employers will want, and when they get a job, in compensating for whatever skills or experience they lack. However, these may not be the most constructive strategies. Now Discover Your Strengths is a popular business book by Donald O. Clifton and Marcus Buckingham*. Bonnie heard of the book from a senior manager at her company. She notes “The authors said it didn't make sense to spend one's life trying to become good at things one is weak on and neglect improving the things one is strong in. That seems right to me. The ‘stars’ all got better at things they were really good at and it made them great employees. So what if the star programmer has only moderate skill at writing? The key seemed to be finding where that strength was useful, not trying to be good at a weakness." This doesn't imply that you can't improve on weaknesses, but the point is to capitalize on skills for which you have a predilection for approaching or achieving star level strength.
So let’s go back to you, the job seeker. Let’s say you can comprehensively identify not only your skills, but also your strongest skills. Then, of those skills, which are the ones that have been of most interest in using? Many skills, such as programming or facilitating work group coordination can be used in a variety of career fields, such as medicine, banking, food service, the arts, etc., or subfields. Can you identify both the skills and fields/subfields that are of greatest interest to you?
The next intersecting component is environment, or the context in which acting on your skills and interests is most satisfying and meaningful. Environment can refer to the industry, the types of people with whom you work or interact, the communication style within an organization, or any other context factors that could facilitate passion for or meaningfulness of what you do. This is different for everyone. Would the "stars" to whom Bonnie refers have emerged in a small company with some already established stars, or different types of leaders or work styles, or in a different industry? If they didn't emerge as stars, would they have the passion for their work that in combination with skills and interests made them great employees? Maybe not. As a job seeker, can you articulate your best-fit environment?
After defining your best skills, the ones you are most interested in using, your fields of interest, and your best-fit environments, then comes perhaps the most critical component of the intersection principle....finding the opportunities. This is a point at which many job seekers lose their way.
Rather than simply looking for a job, the task now becomes one of skillfully targeting the job search toward the intersection point of skills, interests, and environments. This requires the right methodology and employer research techniques to keep the ball rolling in the right direction. All of your energy is now focused on finding the opportunities, getting interviews, and then landing in a job that uses your best skills, is consistent with what you love to do or are passionate about on a day to day basis, in a place that you can thrive and in which your employer, customers, clients or patients believe you are, or can be, a “star".
So, is this possible or just wishful thinking? Well, a lot depends on how much you know or find out about yourself, and then most importantly how you narrow job searching (or self-employment strategies) to find the corresponding opportunities. If you’ve been getting rejected from jobs in a general job search, you might as well focus where you have the highest probability of ultimately experiencing passion for the work you do, feeling what you are doing is meaningful, and ending up with an employer or customers (if you are self-employed) that can appreciate and benefit from your passion and skill.
* Buckingham, M. and Clifton, D. O. (2001). Now discover your strengths. New York; The Free Press.
Steven Simon is President/CEO and a Career Consultant with Human Services Outcomes, Inc. (HSO). He has a Ph.D. in counseling, a master’s in rehabilitation counseling and over 40 years of experience in helping people find passion and meaningfulness in their work, managing other career and vocational rehabilitation professionals, and teaching others to provide/manage career and job services.
Bonnie Simon promotes local food, farms and businesses with writing and marketing services in Colorado Springs, CO. Bonnie holds a master’s degree in Computer Information Science and worked for Progressive Insurance for many years. Today, she publishes a bi-monthly newsletter about Colorado Springs businesses & events, as well as stories about the chickens in her backyard. Read more at www.HungryChickenHomestead.com.