How To Focus On Jobs You Want; Forget “I’ll Take Anthing!”

Job Search

The next time an unemployed friend tells you “I’m looking for anything” or “I’m open to any job,” you have my permission to pull out one of those game-day big fan hands and gently slap them.

Otherwise, please find another way to make it clear that just like a quarterback, they’re not going to send the ball into the end zone if they aren’t clear about their target.

Anything and nothing are like flip sides of a music album – and they both sound like white noise, all but invisible and untraceable.

Anything is as hard to picture as it is to remember – and your friend really needs people to remember her when a great job or prospect comes up in conversation.

But how will you or her other friends know it’s a great fit if her search is so open-ended and vague?

Anything also smacks of desperation – and that will slam some doors in your friend’s face.

So start honing in on the specifics of the work you want – and what your best most marketable skills are to land it.

“By having a focus, it allows people to help you and know how to help you,” said Robin Roggenkamp, a leadership and career coach at My Authentic Career. Many job seekers are reluctant to narrow their search; they think being broad and open will allow in many more opportunities, she said. But in truth, people who are targeted are more effective.

Roggenkamp recalls a conference call of coaches a few years ago when different coaches were introducing themselves, one woman made a real impact. She coached feng shui business owners. It’s a narrow niche – and also a standout amid the sea of business coaches and life coaches. Job seekers also want to stand out.  “Make it real easy for them to remember you” and the kind of job you seek.

Certainly in this economy it makes sense to be flexible and adaptable in our work expectations and plans. So I’m not suggesting you narrow your focus so only five such jobs exist in all of the English-speaking world. But if your search turns up 1,346,751 jobs, then it’s a bit broad.

Another problem with the anything goes approach:  It gives new connections no clue to your expertise – whether it’s in online marketing for BtoB companies or on-boarding for nonprofits that are hiring. If you tell someone at a business mixer that you’re looking for a job as a graphic artist for an animal-focused business or organization, that is a clear target that will make it easy for that person to help.  If you tell her you’re looking for almost anything, she won’t know where to send you or how to categorize your talents.

“If your resume covers a wide array of jobs and experience, make sure you have a compelling story to show the common threads,” said Trudy McCrea, chief executive of Achieve-It, an IT and finance recruiting firm in suburban Washington, D.C. Most jobs call for a depth of expertise. One way candidates can show that is by developing separate resumes for their business development experience and their technology background.

“They have to be eloquent to come across as a specialist,” she said. A generalist who’s taken a few fill-in jobs may not stack up in most competitive searches. If your financial picture is such that you really need to take “any job” outside your career path, McCrea suggests you immediately find volunteer work or some seminars to keep your hand in your focused arena.

So suggest to your job-seeking friend to craft a two to three sentence summary of what she’s looking for. “I’m looking for a job as a market researcher / development researcher for a nonprofit in Indiana. I want to use my research and communication skills at a place where my colleagues use their heads and hearts all the time.”

That sounds so much clearer, targeted and memorable than saying, “I’ll take anything in the nonprofit field.”


Vickie Elmer regularly contributes articles on careers and small business to the Washington Post. She has collected a slew of journalism awards, large and small. Her career and workplace articles also have appeared in Fortune, Parents, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, the Financial Times, the Chicago Tribune, Newsday and many more. She has been called “dazzling,” “incredibly competitive” “creative” and “prolific and feisty” by those who work with her. Elmer is the mother of three children and the co-owner of Mity Nice, a start-up that employs teens to sell Italian ice and sweet treats from a shiny silver cart in Ann Arbor, Mich. An active volunteer, she encourages kindness and creativity and embracing change, and she blogs and tweets under the moniker WorkingKind.