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Shades of Gray

Career Collective post: Once a month, a group of career professionals blog on a subject topical and timely for a job seeker. We’ll post our thoughts on our own blog and link to the post of our colleagues on the same topic.

This month’s topic: Job-hunting “Rules” to Break/ Outdated Job-Search Beliefs

Responses from others contributors linked at the end. Follow the hashtag #CareerCollective on Twitter.

Back “in the day” I used to don my clamp-on roller skates and do laps in the basement. One of my favorite skating songs was by the Monkees “Shades of Gray.” Funny. Now, YEARS later, the message from that song is the core of the most frequent response I give job seekers when asked a question about conducting a job search:


How do I contact this company?
How do I find out the interviewers name?
Should I drop off a resume?
Should I call? Should I email?
Is faxing OK?
My friend said this __________ (fill-in-the-blank) worked for them. Will it work for me?
What do I say in an interview?
What do I wear?
What does HR think about ____ ?


Too often I find job seekers thinking there’s only one right way to conduct a search. They scour the Internet looking for the “THE” answer – a black or white, yes or no, definitive method to use when managing their careers. They’re convinced there’s a magic bullet. They’re sure, once found, that one technique will end the search and land their dream job with little effort. They glom on to what worked for their friend or acquaintance. They read an article about how sandwich boards worked for one job seeker. They find another article about how mailing an empty coffee cup or one shoe with a promise to fill the cup or deliver the other shoe at interview worked for another. They talk to Great-Aunt Tilly, their neighbor, the stranger in line at the grocery store. They try anything and everything. They ask questions about what HR thinks as if HR is some huge entity in the sky with a single mind.

They do all this without any thought to the specific position or industry, their own personal comfort level or even the individual preferences of the hiring authority behind the desk. Too often, I find job seekers willing to do whatever they’re told, until they’re told to sit down, think about the specific situation and formulate a strategy that not only fits the industry, the position and the players, but also fits them.

The best thing you can do for your job search is stop looking for ONE answer. Cookie cutter approaches don’t work in job search. What excites one hiring authority could offend another. What works in one industry may have you ostracized in another. What worked for your friend may not be the right fit for you.

As Davy Jones and Peter Tork sing in “Shades of Gray”:
“Today there is no day or night. Today there is no dark or light Today there is no black or white … only shades of gray.”

Dump the myth of a one-size-fits-all job search. (It’s not true in clothing and it’s not true in job search either.)  Customize your search to fit the specific needs of your audience. Differentiate yourself. Make the reader feel special. Speak to their pain; their needs. Apply an “It depends/Shades of Gray” approach to your search and start gaining traction. Who wants cookie cutter, when you can have hand-dropped?

(And yes. I still have my “Headquarters” album.)

Career Collective

Here’s what my colleagues have to say:

Juice Up Your Job Search, @debrawheatman

It’s not your age, it’s old thinking, @GayleHoward

Want a Job? Ignore these outdated job search beliefs @erinkennedycprw

Job Search Then and Now, @MartinBuckland @EliteResumes

Break the Rules or Change the Game? @WalterAkana

The New: From The Employer’s-Eye View, @ResumeService

Job Search: Breakable Rules and Outdated Beliefs, @KatCareerGal

Job Hunting Rules to Break (Or Why and How to Crowd Your Shadow), @chandlee @StartWire,

Shades of Gray, @DawnBugni

3 Rules That Are Worth Your Push-Back, @WorkWithIllness

Your Photo on LinkedIn – Breaking a Cardinal Job Search Rule? @KCCareerCoach

How to find a job: stop competing and start excelling, @Keppie_Careers

Be You-Nique: Resume Writing Rules to Break, @ValueIntoWords

Modernizing Your Job Search, @LaurieBerenson

Don’t Get Caught With an Old School Resume, @barbarasafani

How Breaking the Rules Will Help You in Your Job Search, @expatcoachmegan

Beat the Job-Search-Is-a-Numbers-Game Myth, @JobHuntOrg

25 Habits to break if you want a job, @CareerSherpa

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  1. Gayle Howard says:

    I would like to frame this article Dawn. I nodded so vigorously while reading I nearly gave myself a headache! So true on every single point!

    • Dawn says:

      Gayle –

      You’re not the first person to tell me I’m the cause of a headache. 🙂 Seriously though, I do appreciate your vigorous agreement. Job search and dating … there is no ONE right way to do either.

      I always love it when you drop by. Thank you.

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Julie Walraven, Cindy Billington. Cindy Billington said: Agreed! RT @GayleHoward: I'm loving @dawnbugni 's column ths week. Shades of Gray: #careercollective […]

  3. The “differentiate yourself” element speaks volumes, Dawn! It requires effort to work out how something needs to be – or change – to suit the individual; but an effort worth making. It’s all about Choosing Your Direction. Thanks for this post which applies to many aspects of life as well as the job search! Gee

    • Dawn says:

      Gee –

      I like “Choosing Your Direction.” For all us, that choosing takes effort. Ufortunately, for the majority of us, effort is a “bad word”. We all want an easy button. (Me included!) However, I’ve found, exerting the effort is where I really start to grow.

      Great add to the conversation! Thank you.

  4. You hit the nail on the head with this one, Dawn. The silver lining in the shades of grey is that taking the time to address pain points and personalize–speaks volumes to the employer–and often results in a shorter job search. Thanks for sharing!

    • Dawn says:

      Thanks Chandlee!

      I frequently say, flattery only works on two types of people — men and women. Personalizing a search and skills presentation to fit a company’s needs is a form of flattery. As you said, the time and effort it takes to make it “all about them” does speak volumes to the potential employer, differentiates the candidate and in the end, as you said, shortens the search.

      Great points!!

  5. How right are. We’re taught from childhood that there are rules and answers to everything. You just have to know where to look. Most of us are willing to turn our lives over to anyone if only they’d solve our mess — much easier to let someone else figure it out. But looking for a job is another learning moment — to learn more about you. Thanks for another great post.

  6. Great post Dawn! There are so many factors that go into a successful job search and so many more tools out there that a one-size fits all solution the job search is simply impossible – yet so many job seekers are in search of that very thing. Taking the time to customize your solution to your situation is critical to success.

    It’s great to be a part of this wise group of career professionals!


  7. […] Job Hunting Rules to Break (Or Why and How to Crowd Your Shadow), @chandlee @StartWire, Shades of Gray, @DawnBugni 3 Rules That Are Worth Your Push-Back, @WorkWithIllness Your Photo on LinkedIn – […]

  8. Great advice Dawn! Whether it’s a job search or establishing a personal brand, it must reflect the essence of “you” and people are like snow flakes, every single one is different.

  9. Wonderful post, Dawn! There are so many different variables that can affect an approach to job hunting that it’s impossible to define a singular “right” way.

  10. Of course, I love your entire post with all the essential details and nuances that make your writing uniquely you.

    That said, one of my favorite takeaways is this (in regard to job seekers in their quest for the ‘answer’ for job search strategy): “They ask questions about what HR thinks as if HR is some huge entity in the sky with a single mind.”

    That is the trap that too many folks get mired in: thinking that readers of resumes and evaluators of interview fit are ALL thinking and responding in the same way. This simply is not true. Unique individuals (human beings) are responding to job seekers’ initiatives; and each human being’s emotions and intellectual curiosity is piqued by different styles, words, actions and so forth.

    As you wisely point out, job seekers should aim their message at individuals, positions, players … and yes, even themselves, versus a standardized, bland set of rules.

    Great, great post, as usual, Dawn!


  11. Somewhat like the answer I sometimes give my husband. “Yes and no.”

    This is a great reminder that we need the flexibility and wisdom to be able to colour our world – blending, coordinating and sometimes, contrasting.

  12. GoOctopus says:

    Enjoy reading this article, including the song you mentioned. Every problem you listed here are jobseekers caring about. Actually, our world is not black or white, just as there are no perfect candidates in job search, All we can do is just learn to maximize the probability of our success

  13. Love this post! The first concert I ever went to was a Monkeys concert! I was a punk in high school, but my friends were hippies. Did I wear black to this particular concert? NO! I dressed for the occasion in some bright hippie colors to fit in. Was it off-brand? Not necessarily, it was just another way of expressing myself. Did I have a good time? You bet! I felt comfortable and knew the others around me were relating with me. Exactly how I would recommend people approach their job search. Be flexible, know your audience, have fun!

  14. Walter Akana says:

    Great post, Dawn!

    The fact is it does all depend – and therein lays the opportunity.

    If you can sort out what the critical elements are, then you have a leg up on everyone else. Of course, this is not only true in the job search, but also on the job.

    Frankly, if companies wanted people to apply cookie cutter solutions, they could automate. Job search is an opportunity to stand out by figuring it out!

  15. […] As you can imagine, a resume writer is asked lots and lots of questions about how to craft a resume, how to conduct a job search, how to do things career related. Frequently, the “asker” is looking for a definitive answer — a yes/no, black/white, “this works in all cases” response. Unfortunately, when it comes to job search and careers, it’s not that simple. The most frequent response I give to career related questions is: IT DEPENDS. For a deeper look into the nuances of an “it depends” response, and a fun video trip down Memory Lane, take a peek at Dawn Bugni’s post: Shades of Gray. […]

  16. Ed Han says:

    Dawn, I’m sorry I didn’t see this last week when you first posted it. This is an excellent blog entry. A lot of job seekers are so anxious that they sometimes forget that each organization, each opportunity, each interviewer/decision-maker may require a slightly different approach.

    This is easily the first time I’ve seen someone make good use of a Monkeees tune in a blog entry. Only you, Dawn!


  17. […] a job search, though there are plenty of Shades of Gray, there are still rules for things like interviews, cover letters, and resume writing. When you are […]

  18. Dolores Perez Priegnitz says:

    Great blog. Thanks for the positive and realistic advice, which I so needed today.

    I loved The Monkees…Hey, Hey for The Monkees. I am a child of the 60s.

  19. Dolores Perez Priegnitz says:


    • Dawn says:

      Dolores –

      Glad to spread some positive today! And even more glad to share the Monkees. I loved (love) not only the Monkee’s music, but watched their show every Saturday morning … way back when.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and taking a moment to share your own memories and kind words.

  20. Christi says:

    Hello! I just want to give a huge thumbs up for the great data you’ve got right here on this post. I shall be coming back to your weblog for more soon. we are always looking for fun things to do. Nice stuff, just nice!

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