Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 21, Issue 29;   July 21, 2021: Be Choosier About Job Offers: I

Be Choosier About Job Offers: I


A serious error some job seekers make is accepting an offer that isn't actually a good fit. We make this mistake for a variety of reasons, including hating the job-search process, desperation, and wishful thinking. How can we avoid the error?
A dog in despair

A dog in despair. It isn't only humans who can experience despair. And some other species can even communicate it in ways we understand. In despair, we might feel that nothing we can do will improve our lot. We might want to surrender. In a job search, an indicator of despair is the urge to do nothing. Photo by Bruno Cervera

As we approach what might be the beginning of the end of the COVID-19 pandemic, some are considering returning to work or changing jobs. The search for a job can be a long demoralizing slog. When it ends in a fulfilling, meaningful job you truly enjoy, with great pay and benefits, the slog seems worth it. Not all job searches end that way.

Some job searches end with offers of jobs that are less than wonderful, amid clouds of red flags. Whether from dislike of the job search process, or despair, or wishful thinking, or financial pressure, the searcher accepts an offer from an employer somewhat reluctantly but hopefully.

Too often, the relationship between searcher (now employee) and employer ends in involuntary or voluntary termination in short order. Sadly, that isn't the worst case. The worst case is that our hero continues unhappily in the red-flagged position with no path upward, forward, or sideways for months or years, until the next round of downsizing. At that point our hero is involuntarily terminated with a wholly inadequate "package." And then a new search begins.

We all Some job searches end with offers of
jobs that are less than wonderful,
amid a cloud of red flags
want to avoid this cycle. To avoid it, we must be choosier about the offers we receive. Four factors that cause us to accept job offers we ought to decline are dislike of the job search process, despair, wishful thinking, and financial pressure. In Part I of this exploration, I address the first three factors. Next time, in Part II, I'll consider methods for mitigating financial pressures.

Dislike of the job search process
You're in charge of the job search process. It's up to you to pursue the channels that you think are most likely to lead to a real opportunity. If you find yourself engaged in job search activity that just isn't worth doing, stop. Don't do that anymore.
But if you truly feel that one of your job search activities is worth doing, and you still detest doing it, then you have a problem. Ask yourself why you detest doing something that you believe is worthwhile. Be honest with yourself.
If it's worthwhile, then pursuing it is a way to achieve your goal. Are you certain that you believe it's worth doing? If not, find a way to adjust the activity so that you're more comfortable doing it and it's still worth doing. Even better: find something about the activity that you love and do more of that.
As the search continues in an ever-lengthening chain of rejections, non-responses, or disappointments, despair can set in. Despair is disheartening. Giving up begins to seem like a viable alternative. It is not.
Worse, feelings of despair can interfere with your ability to represent yourself to prospective employers as a potentially valuable employee. That's why dealing with feelings of despair is essential to a successful search. From the outset of your search, recognize that rejections and non-responses and disappointments might be in your future.
One approach to dealing with despair involves finding alternative ways to interpret exchanges with employers who elect not to offer you employment. They are almost certainly not rejections of you as a person. Instead, they are decisions to hire some other candidate. A decision to hire someone else might or might not have anything to do with your performance during the exchanges you've had with that potential employer. Indeed, their decision might have nothing to do with you at all.
Examine those exchanges for anything you might change — anything you can learn about how to do your part better. But don't dwell on the exchanges. Remember, you probably won't have enough evidence to definitively conclude that you did anything wrong. Learn what you can and move on.
Wishful thinking
Wishful thinking is a means of reaching pleasing conclusions, maintaining preferred beliefs, or rejecting unfavorable beliefs or data. In the context of a job offer, wishful thinking leads us to tend to accept job offers we otherwise would not, in three ways. First, wishful thinking can cause us to overlook indicators that the job might not be what we're searching for. Second, wishful thinking can cause us to imagine that there are indicators that the job is what we're searching for. Finally, wishful thinking can cause us to fail to look closely enough at the offer to collect data that might suggest that the job isn't what we're searching for.
These three patterns, together, are the hallmark of a cognitive bias known as confirmation bias. [Nickerson 1998] To mitigate confirmation bias when evaluating a job offer, consider adopting the following three practices.
1. Don't evaluate offers you don't have. If you find yourself thinking about the offer before you actually receive it, you're more likely to regard it positively, whatever it is, if it does arrive. Until you have the offer, you don't have the offer. In your mind, move on to other tasks in your job search, just as if you hadn't received an offer.
2. Conduct a mini-retrospective. Assume that you didn't receive an offer from this particular employer. Reflect on the process of your interactions with this prospective employer. Find three things you can improve for your interactions with your next prospect.
3. Re-examine what you know about this prospective employer and the position in question. Ask yourself what you would like to know that you don't now know. Formulate questions you might ask if an offer does arrive. Use those questions to gather missing information if an offer comes. To ensure that you don't find yourself in a similar situation with future prospects, add these questions to your investigative process when engaged with future prospects.

This list isn't exhaustive. Certainly there are other motives for ending a job search by accepting a job offer that doesn't fit. Next time we'll examine financial factors.  Be Choosier About Job Offers: II Next issue in this series  Go to top Top  Next issue: Be Choosier About Job Offers: II  Next Issue

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Comprehensive list of all citations from all editions of Point Lookout
[Nickerson 1998]
Raymond S. Nickerson. "Confirmation bias: A ubiquitous phenomenon in many guises," Review of General Psychology 2:2 (1998), 175-220. Available here. Retrieved 22 April 2021. Back

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