Mean Mentors: Why Jerks are Good for Your Job Search

by Cathy Vandewater | December 18, 2012

Ever see Kitchen Nightmares?

The notoriously difficult chef Gordon Ramsay waltzes into failing restaurants, samples the food and atmosphere, then succinctly and arrogantly tells the owner everything they're doing wrong.

It's awesome.

Naturally, this tends not to go over too well with the owners. But with a lot of money at stake (many are already losing thousands of dollars a month on rent), they usually take Ramsay's advice and save their businesses.

Trouble is, without actual, visible losses, jobseekers often don't invite that kind of tough love into their hunt. But they should. Entry level employees especially, since they have so little experience, like to think they're deserving of a job because of who they are. They're hardworking; they're honest; they made the Dean's list in college. So where's the job?

The older and wiser generation knows better: it's not just who you are and what you know—it's what you can actually do, and how you communicate that you can do it.

A mentor may not know you as well as you know yourself, and a mean mentor especially probably won't care too much about knowing you. But that's a good thing, because neither does an employer.

Seeking out tough love from an honest, experienced, and slightly curmudgeonly mentor is usually the only way you'll know if you're making bad image mistakes.

Here's where an honest opinion can help:

1. You're focusing on the wrong things

Sure, you know what you're talented at. But what are you actually qualified to do?

It can be hard to see ourselves objectively, and it feels strange to read a job description and then completely retool our message about what who we are. But it's necessary to proving you're the man for a job. So ask your mentor to do the objectifying for you.

Even a small thing, like the scale at which you mention skills and experience (focusing on one responsibility at your last job over another) can make a huge difference. A tough, objective mentor will get your ego out of the equation and start bringing your selling points to the forefront.

2. You're not attractively packaging yourself

Think you're a just an Excel monkey? Wrong! You're an up and coming banker with fool-proof technical skills! Or so says your mentor. Sometimes, we get so caught up in the "whats" of our former jobs that we forget to package ourselves as a "how"--what we're capable of in a larger sense that leads to an advanced position.

You may not see your full potential or know how to angle yourself for the job that taps into it, but your mentor just might. With a flexible sense of self and a tough guy advisor, you can makeover your professional menu from "side salad" to "artisanal vegetable medley with heirloom tomatoes and locally sourced cheese."

3. Your cover is false advertising for the book

This is a problem straight out of Ramsay's show: a so-called traditional, home-grown pub has complicated table settings and pretentious art work fit for a Queen. Or a chic vegetarian restaurant serves up sloppy, humble basics to indulgence-and-presentation oriented Parisians.

Chances are, you're accustomed to the way you look. You're also likely surrounded by people too polite to mention any appearance snafus. That's where a meanie comes in: if you're still dressing like a 20 year old IT guy when you're angling for a manager position, or wearing ill fitting hand me downs to meetings with ad executives, you need someone to call you out on it.

4. Your attitude is off

Are you coming off as a know-it-all when you try to project confidence? As shifty or uncertain when you pause to gather your thoughts too long? A good mentor will notice and give you the benefit of the doubt anyway; a mean mentor will have the guts to tell you you're acting like a brat.

Now all you need is the moxie to handle criticism.

--Cathy Vandewater, Vault.com

Read more:
Job Hunting? Don't Make These 4 Party Mistakes
Are U.S. Manufacturing Jobs Coming Back?
Strengths Vs. Passions: What Makes a Dream Job?

Filed Under: Interviewing | Job Search | Networking | Workplace Issues


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