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Job Seekers Can Not Generalize

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It was the great English poet-philosopher William Blake who said, "To generalize is to be an idiot. To particularize is the alone distinction."

That was in the 18th century, but great truths don't change, even in 200 years.

And when it comes to job search and career advancement in the 21st century, generalizing can be fatal.

Let me explain why generalizing can kill your chances by presenting some "conventional wisdom" (generalizations all) and then, the reality (particulars).

Unemployment is 8.9% so there can't be any jobs – Sure, it makes sense that "nobody" could be hiring if "everybody" is laying people off, except everybody is not downsizing and even those who are may be hiring in other offices or for specific positions.

In fact, more people have been hired this year in the U.S. than have been laid off.

North Carolina doesn't have jobs in wake of B of A and Wachovia downsizing – It's certainly true that those large employers have laid off workers and stopped hiring, and the unemployment rate has hit almost 11%, however there are hundreds of new jobs being offered by biotech and pharma companies looking for people with skills in chemistry and engineering.

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There are no jobs in media, especially in New York – This makes sense, on the surface, as the economic meltdown has led to cutbacks in advertising and a general tightening of the media job market. However, on-line advertising continues to grow and I know (personally) more than a dozen people who have been hired in the past six months to sales & marketing positions at media companies in Manhattan (including mainstream).

It's easy to get a job in Government right now – Stimulus package equals more jobs equals a job for you. Well, not so fast, unfortunately. Indeed, though the government currently has huge hiring needs, those jobs are among the hardest on earth to actually land. First you have to navigate a challenging application process, then you have to be chosen from among millions of applicants who believe the same generality as you, then you have navigate a brutal interviewing and vetting process, and then (in most cases) you have to wait for weeks and weeks for approval.

The moral of this post is: don't make assumptions based on generalities and do your homework on every aspect of your job search. Look for shifts within industries, localized opportunities, and companies behaving exceptionally versus their competition.

Force yourself to think counter-intuitively. Assume there is a silver lining to every negative generality and that will increase your chance of a successful career transition.

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Erik Sorenson is CEO of Vault, the Web’s most comprehensive resource for career management and job search intelligence. Vault provides top talent with the insider information they need to make critical career decisions. An Emmy award-winning media industry veteran, Erik served as president of the MSNBC cable news channel through 2004. His experience spans radio, local and network broadcast television, cable and syndicated TV, and the Web.

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