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Don't Despair & Don't Compare!

Job hunting feels like a competition - and in many ways, it is. Key to landing the job offer is demonstrating to an employer that you offer a package of skills, experience, talents, and values that no other candidate offers.

Naturally, when you're trying to demonstrate that you're the standout candidate, you become tempted to compare yourself to other job seekers, as well as to other friends and colleagues in your field.

Unfortunately, this only-natural habit is also a counterproductive one.

Think of it like this: Every moment you spend comparing yourself to others takes away from a moment you could be spending on improving your own situation--your skills, your experiences, your personal and professional satisfaction. It's easy to compare ourselves to others, but it's also an easy way to set ourselves up for regular disappointment and dissatisfaction. When you compare yourself to others, you will eventually come up short and put yourself on the fast track to distraction and despair.

Rage Against Comparisons

How can you prevent being dragged down by "Comparison Syndrome" during your job search? Try this approach to the job-hunt game:

  1. Compete only against yourself.

First, stop thinking of other job seekers or colleagues in similar positions as your competition. Yes, they are in the same field and looking for the same jobs--but you can't control what skills and experience they have or how they present them to employers. The only candidate package you control is your own. So instead of trying to outshine "everyone else," work on beating your own best when it comes to productivity, skills, and professional credentials.

  1. Know what makes you different.

Most employers will look at your resume for only a few moments before deciding whether or not to offer you an interview. Your resume and your interview should both answer one key question: "What does this candidate offer us that no other candidate offers?"

When you compare yourself to others on the market, it's tempting to answer, "Nothing." After all, candidates for similar positions typically have similar education, credentials, and job experiences. But these aren't the only things that make you you, and they shouldn't be your only focus when presenting yourself to hiring managers. How do your "soft skills" transfer to the job you're applying for? What unusual perspectives does your life experience give you? Work on offering the best candidate you can to employers, rather than merely beating "the others."

  1. Know what you want.

Knowing who you are is key to finding a job you love, but so is knowing what jobs you will love most. Define what you're looking for not only in job responsibilities and compensation, but also in a workplace culture. Do you thrive in a collegial group where co-workers share ideas freely, or do you find that a little competition keeps you focused? Do you prefer receiving a great deal of support and feedback, or do you like having to "go it alone" when tackling a new project?

When you know what you want, you can more easily focus your energies on finding employers who offer those qualities and targeting your job search toward them--instead of wasting effort worrying how you stack up against other candidates.

Landing the New Job: Look Forward, Not Back

When you finally land the job offer of your dreams, the pressure to compare yourself to other job seekers is off--but the pressure to compare this job to the last one is on. Don't give in! "Comparison Syndrome" in the new workplace undermines your success in several ways. Even if you consider your new position superior in almost every way, regularly mentioning that "in my old job, we did X" sets you up for tougher integration with your new colleagues, who already see you as "the new kid" and may be looking for reasons to keep treating you that way. A quick "Oh, I know that software; we used it at my last job" is fine; "At my old job, we used Platform X because it's much easier to maintain than the one you use here" is not. Focus on what you can learn from where you are now, not where you were then.

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