Mystery Gardening: A Job Hunt Parable

By Barry L. Davis

As our clients embark on their employment search, it often seems as if nothing is happening at all. They begin to feel that all of their activity is futile, like chasing after the wind. They may even entertain the thought of simply giving up, since there is precious little to show for all of their efforts.

What follows is a simple story about planting you can share that may help them.

The Mystery Garden

You go to the local garden store to buy some packets of seed for planting. On the shelf you discover some discounted containers. The packets are very inexpensive, primarily because they're old and the labels fell off a long time ago. Oh well, the price is right, so you decide to give them a try.

When you arrive home, you dig a furrow in the ground, guessing how deep to go and how far apart to place each seed (you have no instructions, remember). You then cover them up and give them some water (guessing again). You follow this procedure for each of the packets of "mystery plants" that you have purchased.

Let's apply the "Mystery Garden" metaphor to our clients' employment search:

  • As your client begins the gardening process, it's important to encourage them to start taking action as well as to counsel them on using the best "gardening" techniques they can. It's like preparing the soil. For example, reading the Sunday News and browsing the Internet alone are likely to reduce their opportunities significantly, while using additional activities such as researching companies and networking can create opportunities.
  • Sometimes the seemingly dry, dead seeds spring into life almost immediately, while other times the germination period can be much, much longer. As all effective sales people know, every sales process is a series of "No's" with a "Yes" at the end. Effective job search takes as long as it takes, no more and no less. Supporting, encouraging and continually evaluating the quality of your client's "gardening" techniques will increase the likelihood of success. If they continue to use limited methods and do them poorly, the time frame will likely be protracted.
  • Some of the seeds will produce plants that they have no interest in. Your client should not get discouraged with poor results, discovering jobs that are not of any interest, or don't pay enough, for example. These are the "plants" that they simply pull out of the soil and move on. However, some of them may actually provide excellent leads to new contacts. At the very least, the process of getting some interest and feedback can encourage them "to keep on keeping on". The counselor can serve as a coach and mentor in seeing these less than optimum results as mini-successes.
  • Some of the seeds are likely to be dead, providing no results at all. When there is nothing showing up or clients experience a rejection, you can help them see that their efforts are not futile. With your help, they can use the experience to learn, improve and redouble their efforts, knowing that something good is still out there. Changing the watering pattern or amount of sunlight may make a difference in the plant's life. It can be the counselor who coaches changes in efforts, such as re-writing cover letters or creating new business cards.
  • Planting seeds guarantees some results. The more planting they do, the higher the likelihood that they will reap a crop of opportunities they of which they can be proud.

To summarize the metaphor of the "Mystery Gardens" for your clients:

1. If you simply dump the seeds on the ground and walk away, you're virtually guaranteeing little or no success. Yet, if you take the time to care for these "mystery seeds" by planting, weeding, cultivating and watering, sooner or later something will show up.

2. As you start to plant the "seeds" of job search through your various techniques (want ads, agencies, Internet, research, networking, etc.), you have little or no idea WHAT is going to happen, IF it is going to happen or WHEN it may happen.

3. All you really know is you're "planting seeds" of opportunity and these "seeds" need to be cultivated.

4. The moral of this little parable: Start planting, keep planting, watering, weeding and cultivating and don't stop until you have the results you want.

Barry L. Davis (MS, CTC, MCDP), a founding member of LMA Systems and Head of Career Services, with over 20 years of experience in career counseling, business consulting, outplacement and performance training, has designed and implemented career and personal development programs for thousands of individuals. Barry's business consulting includes planning and preparing with leadership prior to reduction in force announcements, designing and delivering personalized services for career continuation and providing support to organizations and individuals through the process. He also collaborates in personnel developments, helping organizations ensure that the right people are in the right positions for maximum performance and satisfaction. Barry developed "CareerOnline," LMA's specialized Internet site for career clients providing 24/7 access to information and support. Barry can be reached at bdavis@lmaconsulting.cc or visit his website at http://www.lmaconsulting.cc/.

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