4 Common Assumptions That Kill Your Job Search Before It Even Starts

By Gary Burnison

You hate your boss. You haven’t had a decent raise in years. You’re seriously underappreciated. Or maybe you’ve actually been doing amazing work and feel you deserve to do more of it at an equally amazing company. And yet, after giving it some thought, you still fall short of actually looking for a new job. Here’s what might be holding you back, and what it takes to shake yourself out of it.


When “I’m Comfortable” Conceals Complacency

Complacency is a career killer that can strike at any level, stifling your growth and making you miserable, yet can prevent you from doing anything about it.

According to a recent survey by my company, Korn Ferry, executives who are passed over for a promotion are far more likely to stay put (67%) than take immediate action to look for a new job (10%). Of course, missing your chance at a title bump isn’t always cause to cut and run. But while there’s nothing wrong with trying to improve your performance and increase your chances of promotion the next time around, there’s a real risk of rationalizing your way out of pursuing a better opportunity.

Steve is an executive who started getting calls from an in-house recruiter who wanted to talk to him about a big job with room to grow and a potentially major salary hike. At first, Steve is intrigued. Then he thinks it over and begins to talk himself out of exploring it: “I guess pretty I’m comfortable where I am. I’d have to work longer hours and travel more than I do now. Plus, I’d be the new guy and have to prove myself all over again. If things don’t go well or the economy goes south, I’ll be the first one out the door–and I’ve got a mortgage to pay.”

The next time the recruiter calls, Steve says, “Thanks, but no thanks.”

The thing is, Steve’s decision to stay put isn’t the result of analyzing his opportunities–seeing where he’d have the best chance of stretching himself, learning more, and resetting his career trajectory (which could also be within his own firm). Instead, Steve’s fear of failure leads him to inflate the potential risks of trying something new, cutting an otherwise promising, well-timed job search off at the knees.

Avoiding the complacency trap–and figuring out how to climb out of it once you are ensnared–all comes down to identifying four common assumptions that you may not even realize you’re making.


False Assumption No. 1: “All The Best Opportunities Are Outside My Company”

Many people automatically assume a job search must involve looking beyond their own company’s walls. But there could be great opportunities right under your nose that you don’t see! You’ll just have to do some work to uncover them.

Network within. Ask your boss for bigger assignments, especially something with higher-level exposure. Get on cross-functional and interdepartmental task forces and teams. The more you broaden your sights within your company–beyond the same hallways you walk every day–the more opportunities you’ll find.

False Assumption No. 2: “Updating My Resume Is More Than Half The Battle”

You may think that the biggest hurdle to kicking off a job search is polishing up your resume. So maybe you do that, then send out a few resumes and wait for results. When nothing happens, you conclude the timing isn’t right or it’s not worth the effort to do more.

To escape this trap, you need to recognize that your resume is maybe 10% of it. The real 90% is knowing yourself–your strengths, weaknesses, passions, and motivations, and how to talk articulately about those things. From there, it requires carefully targeting new opportunities and networking to get warm introductions to recruiters and hiring managers. In other words, a job search is a process, not an event. Give it time, and diversify your efforts.

False Assumption No. 3: “The Best Jobs Will Come To Me”

The bad news here is that landing the job you really want takes longer than you think and involves a lot more effort. A single position can attract literally hundreds of applicants. You might decide that going through the front door, so to speak, by applying to job listings, is pointless, holding out hope that the best opportunities will come directly to you. But it’s not either/or.


You can network in a way that uncovers opportunities that would never have landed in your lap otherwise. Look at the career paths of people you know with similar backgrounds. Where are they working now? Ask a former boss or colleague where they could imagine you working. Rinse, repeat.

False Assumption No. 4: “I Just Don’t Need The Stress Of A Job Search Right Now”

Whoever does? Some forms of career-related stress are necessary evils, and just unavoidable. Thinking afresh about your skills and what you want out of your professional life is sometimes difficult and uncomfortable, but the challenge can prove invigorating–and make you happier in the long run.

But it just feels too exhausting, and you’ve already got so much to do! So you decide that your boss isn’t that bad, you’re comfortable where you are, and you can do your job without breaking a sweat. The choice is always yours: You can give into complacency, or you can decide to take charge of your career.

Gary Burnison is the CEO of Korn Ferry and author of the upcoming book, Lose the Resume, Land the Job.



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