What Job Seekers Can Learn from LBJ

President Johnson was crude, rude and lewd. He was probably also a pathological liar who may only have been bested by the Clintons. And, as they say, “if it was not for” the Vietnam War, he would have gone down in history as one of our greatest presidents. (As would Nixon if not for Watergate. Polk if not for Mexico?) But he was highly intelligent and a legislator without equal. That is why his unofficial biographer, Robert Caro, titled one of his books, “Master of the Senate.” He was and, despite his many flaws, we can learn a great deal from him.

(As you have no doubt guessed, this article is based on Doris Kearns Goodwin’s biography. References are to the ebook edition.)

Dr. Goodwin writes, “The judgments of history are neither immediately rendered nor are they set in stone.” Contemporaneous accounts of presidents, predictions of their ultimate place in history, are almost always wrong. The most recent example was probably President Ford. At the time, he was roundly vilified for having pardoned President Nixon. But today, many experts on leadership cite him as an example of just that, leadership, and for that very decision.

The point for job seekers is that you do get a second chance to make a good first impression. Many a time I have disliked a candidate when we first met. A weak handshake, a button undone, perhaps an unfortunate initial comment/attempt at humor. But as I began to interview them, I changed my minded. My initial reaction was wrong. First impressions are not “rendered in stone.” That does not mean that you should not make every effort to make a great first impression, just that if you think you failed there is always a chance to recover. For that matter, as some of my career counseling clients, and a few candidates, have learned, a poor interview can be saved by a great thank-you letter. There is always a chance for a second chance.

Of course, there are times…

Quoting Arthur Schlesinger, Goodwin recalls: “Once an American diplomat met him [Johnson] at the Rome airport and on the way into the city methodically instructed him, as if he were some sort of uncouth backwoodsman, on how to behave. Johnson listened to this singular performance with unaccustomed patience. When they arrived at the hotel, the diplomat said, Mr. Vice President, is there anything else I can do for you? The Vice-President, looking stonily up and down at his model of diplomatic propriety, replied, Yes, just one thing. Zip up your fly.” (Loc. 7970-7912)

LBJ wrote in his college paper, “The very first thing one should do is to train the mind to concentrate upon the essentials and discard the frivolous and unimportant. This will ensure real accomplishment and ultimate success.” Great advice for job seekers. Don’t let your concerns about what you perceive to have been a poor start to an interview result in a poor interview. First, you might be wrong. Second, in the interview, if you have the answers, and, at least as far as I am concerned, more importantly, the questions, you can turn it around.

It is true that a job search is a numbers game. But it is not simply luck. Once recalling LBJ’s childhood hero and then Sputnik, Goodwin notes, “Just as the young college editor told his fellow students that Lindbergh’s success was due not to luck but to pluck, so now the Majority Leader told his fellow Americans that the Soviet success was due not to magic or superior resources but to determination—a determination we could match and surpass. ‘Our people are slow to start,’ Johnson later said in analyzing why America had originally lagged in the space effort, “but once they start they are hard to stop.’ ” (Loc. 2604-2608). Pluck, patience, perseverance and persistence usually win the day!

Finally, one problem a great many job seekers face is constantly reevaluating their decisions. “What if I had just…?” or “What if I hadn’t..?” are very popular questions. And very foolish questions! LBJ respected President Truman (so much so, in fact, that he took Washington to Independence, Missouri so that the former president could witness the signing of the Medicare Act which he, Truman, had tried so hard to get passed!) especially when it came to doubting his decisions. Goodwin recalls that LBJ once told her, “You know the great thing about Truman, is that once he makes up his mind about something—anything, including the A bomb—he never looks back and asks, ‘Should I have done it?’ ” (Loc. 6489-6491)

Don’t overthink or dwell on the past. Someone must have said, “God put our eyes in front so we would look ahead, not backwards.” And whoever said it, was right!

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Bruce Hurwitz, the Amazon international best selling author of The 21st Century Job Search and Immigrating to Israel, is an executive recruiter and career counselor. He has helped scores (thousands if you include attendees at his presentations) of people, including veterans, not only change jobs but, on occasion, change careers. Having successfully transitioned from academia to non-profits to the recruiting industry, he has been there and done that! A five-star rated speech writer on Fiverr, he is the host and producer of the live-interview podcast, Bruce Hurwitz Presents: MEET THE EXPERTS

What Job Seekers Can Learn from Freud

The Interpretation of Dreams was originally published in 1899. To put it mildly, it was rejected by the scientific community. In fact, in the six years following its publication only 351 copies were sold. (This post is based on the ebook of the 8th edition, published in 2010 by Basic Books.) Ironically, and I only share this for the obvious historic significance, Freud wrote the preface to the second edition, in the summer of 1908 in, of all places, Berchtesgaden!

So the first lesson job seekers can learn from Freud is don’t give up. Have the courage of your convictions. Accept criticism and address it professionally. In the end, you may be proven correct (even if your choice of vacation spots may, one day, prove rather unfortunate!). As Freud wrote in the preface to the third edition, “just as formerly I was unwilling to regard the neglect of my book by readers as evidence of its worthlessness, so I cannot claim that the interest which is now being taken in it is a proof of its excellence” (loc. 356-358). In other words, don’t beat yourself up when things are not going your way, and don’t get a swelled head when they do.

(Segue missing because I could not think of one!)

I have a theory about decision making. If you sleep well at night you made the right decision for you. It may appear to be wrong for someone else, immoral, unethical, even indecent, but for you it was the right decision. You decided to quit your job without having a new job. That’s Mistake #1 in the Career Counseling Handbook. (Don’t look for it; there’s no such thing!) But for you it was the right decision because you could not take another day with your idiot boss, stupid colleagues and moronic clients. So you slept very well that night and then, in the morning, you started to deal with your new reality.

This article, though, is not about the morning, it’s about the night. Specifically, about your literal dreams. Not the day dreams of killing the boss, burning down the office building, posting your clients’ secrets on Facebook, but the dreams you dream at night when your mind is actually calm and you are not, in reality, in control.

Now I happen to be one of those people who says, figuratively, “I don’t dream.” And, figuratively, it’s true. I can’t tell you the last dream I had because I never remember my dreams. Never. But, of course, I dream every night. If humans did not dream they would die. We need REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep to keep our sanity. So we all dream. It’s just that some of us do not remember our dreams. (Shortly I shall contradict myself.)

But I have a simple test to show if your dream was a happy one or a troubling one, because even if you can’t remember it your bed will! First, though, we need Freud to define for us what a dream actually is in reality.

He wrote, “There is a popular saying that ‘dreams come from indigestion’ and this helps us to see what is meant by the stimuli and sources of dreams.” In other words, have a spicy meal for dinner and don’t expect to dream about unicorns. Dragons are more likely to fill your thoughts!

But it has always been recognized that dreams are “pre-monitors of illness” (loc. 980-982). Again, I quote the Master (loc, 1004-1007):

It it is established that the interior of the body when it is in a diseased state becomes a source of stimuli for dreams, and if we admit that during sleep the mind, being diverted from the external world, is able to pay more attention to the interior of the body, then it seems plausible to suppose that the internal organs do not need to be diseased before they can cause excitations to reach the sleeping mind – excitations which are somehow turned into dream-images.

From this I draw my second conclusion for job seekers: listen to your body. Having left your job, you are no longer “being diverted from the external world,” so you can concentrate on yourself. I had one career counseling client who, for no apparent reason, was doing poorly in interviews. He got plenty of interviews, so his cover letter and resume were fine, but he just could not get any job offers.

When we would do mock or practice interviews, he did great. But they were not real and, I, of course, could not see what was happening during the real interviews. Then he got lucky. He asked one of his interviewers to critique his “performance.” And she did. All of her colleagues agreed with her that he did not appear to be the type of person who could handle stress. That was rubbish. His job was very stressful and he had been highly successful at it. But the criticism could not be ignored. So I sent him to the doctor and, one blood test later they discovered the problem, the doctor wrote a prescription for the cure and, once his body was under control he aced his next interview and got the offer. So listen to your body. He had been having problems but attributed them to his being unemployed. He never bothered to tell me about them. After all, I’m not that type of doctor!

I think the best analogy may be “the sport of kings.” Boxers, if I am not mistaken, by law, always have to have a medical check before stepping into the ring. So too should the job seeker.

I have always believed that we dream just before we wake and that the dream only lasts a few seconds even though it may be a dream about an experience that took place in the near or distant past over a good period of time. It is common for people to dream, for example, about hearing church bells and then to wake to their alarm clock. Apparently, I’m not wrong, although I would hesitate to say that I am right. According to Freud, “Once we have put ourselves to sleep by excluding all stimuli, there is no need and no occasion for dreaming until morning, when the process of being gradually awakened by the impact of fresh stimuli,” such as an alarm clock, someone calling your name, a knock on the door, traffic, “might be reflected in the phenomenon of dreaming” (loc. 1705-1707).

What Freud showed was that “dreams really have a meaning” (loc. 2412-2413) and “a dream is the fulfillment of a wish” (Chapter 3). But it can all be in reverse. You can dream the opposite of reality. For example, Freud tells the story (loc. 2481-2484) of a friend who told him that his wife dreamed that she was having her period. The truth was that she had missed her period. As he wrote, “It was a neat way of announcing her first pregnancy.” (There is something about Freud saying “neat” that bothers me!)

If you remember your dreams, you are lucky, because “Dreams are never concerned with trivialities; we do not allow our sleep to be disturbed by trifles” (loc. 3373-3374). So if you can remember your dreams you can know what is really on your mind.

When I was writing my doctoral dissertation I complained to one of my professors that during the night I would wake up with a great solution to whatever problem I was facing, but, in the morning, I could never remember what it was. (This would be the aforementioned contraction!) He told me to keep a pad of paper and a pen by my bed. I did and when I would wake up in the middle of the night with my brilliant discovery, I would immediately write it down. Great idea in theory, but in practice, not so great. Rarely could I read my handwriting (which is bad enough when I am awake!). But sometimes it worked. I realized that I had to be really awake so I would turn on the light and sit up to write. That made all the difference.

So my third suggestion to job seekers is, for example, if you dream about the perfect answer to an interview question, wake up and write it down. You never know, it may get you the job offer!

Of course, one of the problems job seekers have is that they know too much about themselves. There are things they worry a prospective employer may find out. Usually it is nonsense and the job seeker is making a big deal out of nothing. I had one client who was mortified that he would be asked about a project he had been responsible for 20 years (!) earlier which had failed. I told him (a) there was virtually no chance an employer would know about it, (b) there was no chance that they would care about it, and (c) to use it as an example of a learning experience. He did and he got the offer.

As Freud notes (loc. 3816-3917), “there are many things which one has to keep secret from other people but of which one makes no secret to oneself.” Failures are things we want to keep secret. But that’s just silly. We all have had them. They are important experiences. Even Freud failed. In his case it was his Forensic Medicine finals. How do I know? He wrote about it (loc. 4886-4887)!

Finally one last bit of advice. When you find an error on your resume or your cover letter, make sure it does not happen again, but don’t lose any sleep over it. For one thing, once you hit “send” you can’t take it back. But Freud shares a cute story which just goes to show something I learned a long time ago: People don’t read!

As the good doctor tells it (loc. 8663-8665), “The editor of a popular French periodical is said to have made a bet that he would have the words ‘in front’ or ‘behind’ inserted by the printer in every sentence of a long article without a single one of his readers noticing it. He won the bet.”

So when you go to sleep tonight, think about your job search and how you will handle the wording of your cover letters, resume, and how you will answer those tough interview questions that are causing you stress. And then dream about them. Because “dreams are nothing other than fulfillment of wishes” (loc. 9441) and “[b]y picturing our wishes as fulfilled, dreams are after all leading us into the future…” (loc. 10608-10609). So dream that you get the interview and job offer and, according to Freud, you will!

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Bruce Hurwitz, the Amazon international best selling author of The 21st Century Job Search and Immigrating to Israel, is an executive recruiter and career counselor. He has helped scores (thousands if you include attendees at his presentations) of people, including veterans, not only change jobs but, on occasion, change careers. Having successfully transitioned from academia to non-profits to the recruiting industry, he has been there and done that! A five-star rated speech writer on Fiverr, he is the host and producer of the live-interview podcast, Bruce Hurwitz Presents: MEET THE EXPERTS

OUTboarding is More Important Than ONboarding

It’s a known truism: Something good happens to you and you tell five to 10 people; something bad happens and you tell everyone you meet.

A great deal of attention is rightly given to the way new employees are treated on their first day on the job. Some companies do little more than show them to HR. Others have their desk anointed with company swag, throw a lunch in the newcomer’s honor and make certain that they meet everyone.

The logic is simple: Just as a relationship that begins poorly will (probably) end poorly, so too a relationship that begins well, should end well.

But what is far too often forgotten is that how you end the relationship is just as important, maybe even more important, than how you start it. Telling someone their services are no longer required, giving them a few HR forms to complete at their convenience, a box to put their personal belongings in, and an escort out of the building, pretty much guarantees hard feelings that will remain forever.

Almost literally kicking someone out the door, unless they have committed a crime, is the same as throwing someone in the deep end of the pool and seeing if they can swim, or, if you prefer, dropping someone from the top of the building and seeing if they bounce! Not a good idea.

When someone is fired, or laid off, they are scared, embarrassed, confused, angry and feel alone. No employer should do that to an employee who has given their all. Some relationships just don’t work out. If anyone is to blame, it’s probably just as much the supervisor’s fault as it is the employee’s. But blame isn’t the issue, treatment is. How did the song go? R-E-S-P-E-C-T…

The correct way to let someone go is to sit with them, explain what happened and why, and offer them assistance. That can be career counseling services, severance, or continued access to some company benefits for a limited period. I remember reading about one company (it may have been GE when Jack Welch was in charge), that would give three- or six-months’ notice to an employee that they were going to be let them go and then allowed them to conduct their job search from the office!

At the end of his performances, the late Don Rickles liked to quote his father, “Be nice to the people you meet on the way up, they’re the same people you’ll meet on the way down!” And it’s true. I know plenty of people who have been fired and they all told me the same thing: “No one from the office ever called to see how I was doing.” It’s not just on the employer to make sure the exit is proper, it’s also on the employees.

A proper exit is everyone’s responsibility. After all, that former employee will probably stay in your industry and you never know where they will end up. Who knows, maybe one day you’ll need them and, believe me, they’ll remember their last day on the job a lot better than their first! I met one man who, after being fired, swore he would get even. He did. He went to work for a small competitor and, after 10 years, he was at the table when his new employer bought the previous employer’s company for pennies on the dollar. He made it happen.

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Bruce Hurwitz, the Amazon international best selling author of The 21st Century Job Search and Immigrating to Israel, is an executive recruiter and career counselor. He has helped scores (thousands if you include attendees at his presentations) of people, including veterans, not only change jobs but, on occasion, change careers. Having successfully transitioned from academia to non-profits to the recruiting industry, he has been there and done that! A five-star rated speech writer on Fiverr, he is the host and producer of the live-interview podcast, Bruce Hurwitz Presents: MEET THE EXPERTS