Opinions: Take Them or Leave Them?

by | February 06, 2013

“It is difference of opinion that makes horse races." – Mark Twain

Looking for work is an arduous activity. Like the experience of a marathoner, the end result will be much better for some than others, and the journey seemingly quick for the lucky and slow as molasses for many.

Job seekers often face challenges they’ve never before encountered. A natural and essential part of the process is to seek guidance. 

Some whose views might be solicited may be “experts,” such as career and guidance counselors, recruiters, psychologists, and perhaps even tarot card readers and other soothsayers. Parents, former bosses, business colleagues, and others in similar or complementary fields are also fair game, particularly if they’ve successfully navigated the job-search waters recently. The job seeker hopes that “the answer” will be found in one of the opinions received. 

Asking others to share their experience also serves another important purpose. Speaking with friends and colleagues who have found new positions in this economy can help allay the fears that the search is futile or will drag on forever. Newly successful job seekers have recently walked the very same path, and so can provide an empathetic ear which can reduce the job seeker’s anxiety.

Unfortunately, the number of opinions received often equals the number of people asked. Receiving multiple opinions invariably leads to getting advice that is inconsistent with, or even diametrically opposed to, the advice we got elsewhere perhaps just hours ago. In the end, those asking the questions are left more befuddled than when they set out on their quest for knowledge.

One simple and illustrative example of a job seeker’s question that constantly results in conflicting advice is the age-old question, “How long should my resume be?” As an attorney recruiter, I get that question regularly from applicants, and indeed my answer (which I’ll share in next month’s blog) often is at odds with what the applicant has heard from others.

So what’s a job seeker to do? I offer two initial suggestions.

First, evaluate the credentials of the person giving you the advice. Questions to ponder include:

  • Does the advice-giver have real experience answering these questions? 
  • Is she “in the business” and if so is she successful? 
  • Was she referred to you with a personal recommendation by someone who found her assistance valuable?
  • Do you feel confident that she knows what she’s talking about?
  • Does she have a stake in the outcome? (If so, discount the advice accordingly.)

Quick digression: I often frequent internet guitar forums. Many people use these forums to seek advice on specific products before making a purchase. More often than not, however, gear reviews are posted anonymously. The person seeking guidance has no idea whose opinion they’re reading or, more importantly, whether the person posting the review has sufficient knowledge, skill, and first-hand experience to provide helpful input. Yet opinions issued with a tone of authority are often read as the gospel. Those who don’t question the true credentials of the person giving advice can very well end up spending lots of money on a guitar based on the recommendation of someone with no real expert credentials. Job seekers, instead of following blindly, ought to not give equal weight to every piece of advice received.

Second, do not discard your own judgment out of hand in favor of an expert’s advice. Although others might have more direct experience with job searching, I find too often that job seekers underestimate the value of their own assessment of the alternatives. Gut reactions can be invaluable, and should never be dismissed automatically in favor of contradictory “expert” views. A job seeker’s own opinion should be a starting point for each inquiry. Expert advice should be used as a complementary tool to rebut and/or modify the initial view. Thus, for example, the length of one’s resume should be guided initially by the job seeker’s own view – a perfectly valid starting point.    

Thanks for checking out my post. I hope it has been helpful. But remember—it’s only my opinion!

Next month I’m writing about preparing your resume and hope you stop by to read my views on the subject.

Evan Lerner is the founder of Lerner, Cumbo & Associates, a NYC-based search and staffing company active in legal, financial/accounting, and administrative placement. Before transitioning to a career in recruiting 17 years ago, he practiced transactional corporate, securities, and entertainment law at major New York City firms and as general counsel to Nathan’s Famous, Great Earth Vitamins, and the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

Filed Under: Job Search


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