Dream Employee

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The Burns Rule

I’ve always wanted to share this with you. The best advice I’ve ever read about interviews came not from career-counseling books, but actually from a popular psychology book I read called “The Feeling Good Handbook” by David D. Burns. He’s a clinical psychologist specialising in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

I will modify the content of his points in the section “Turning Failure Into Success” in the chapter “How to Give a Dynamic Interview When You’re Scared Stiff”, except for the last point, which I find the most important and I hope to preserve it entirely.

Don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Key tip in most career-counseling-type books: Always have alternatives or Plan Bs! 🙂

Don’t base your self-esteem on how well you do. We are more than our performances. We are more than our outward appearances. We are people of value and worth, regardless how terrible we perform.

Don’t blame yourself for a rejection. Don’t be too harsh on yourself when you have made mistakes or have been foolish. We often are our worst critics. Be gentle and patient with yourself. 🙂 Transitioning is a tender period. Guard your heart! Don’t let it become too discouraged or wounded.

Don’t blame someone else for a rejection. Even if our interviewers disparage us, are mean to us, or do nasty things to us, let us be gracious to them. Let’s be honest, living in this world isn’t easy. Let’s be gentle with tough people. Thankfully most of the time interviewers are fair people.

Think about rejections as opportunities. I see rejections as chances to thicken my thin skin. Let your heart grow stronger but your skin grow thinner! Protect your heart, but allow each rejection to bolden you for the next one. I still have not mastered how to do this yet, but I hope by sharing this, I open your mind to potential threats and opportunities of rejections, so you will not just flow with the tide but are alert to protect yourself and capitalise on such opportunities.

Remember that an offer you don’t really want is worth its weight in gold. “This is the “Burns Rule”: People only want what they can’t get, and they never want what they can get. What it boils down to is this: trying to get the first offer can be tough. Since you’re what people can get, you’re not in demand. But once you get an offer, even if it’s not the one you want, you can easily get many more offers. Since you’re what people can’t get, you’re in demand. Everyone will want you.

Let me give an example of how this works. A divorced woman with two children applied for admission to graduate school in psychology. Her options were limited to programs in Chicago, where she lived, because she didn’t want her kids to have to change schools. She had her heart set on a highly competitive program at the University of Chicago, but knew her chances for admission were only marginal because of the large number of applicants. After her interview, she was informed that she had not been selected for the program, but she would be placed on a waiting list of alternate candidates.

Six weeks later another school, in a less desirable area and with only an average reputation, called to tell her that she’d been admitted but without financial assistance. She was told that she had to decide within two hours.

Her heart sank, because she still had the dream of attending the University of Chicago. She called me in a panic. She was distraught and wanted to know what to do.

I explained that this was her golden opportunity, and suggested that all she had to do was to call the University of Chicago and tell them that she was under pressure to accept an offer that very day from another school, so that if they were interested in her they’d have  to move quickly.

She was skeptical that this would do any good, but she called the admissions office and explained the situation to the secretary of one of the professors on the admissions committee. Within ten minutes the professor called back to inform her that they were extremely interested in her and if she would consider attending the University of Chicago, they would offer her free tuition plus a stipend of $8000 per year for living expenses. She immediately accepted and ultimately received her doctorate there.

Why was she suddenly accepted when she’d been ignored? Because she was in demand. They probably thought that if someone else was pressuring her to accept an offer, she was an incredibly desirable candidate. This made them want her as well. It’s basic human nature to want something that’s a little beyond our grasp, and this is true in school or job interviews.

If you want to take advantage of the Burns Rule, you should court every suitor when you’re applying for a position. Once you get an offer, even if it’s an unappealing one, you’re over the biggest hurdle because you’re in demand. Leak this information to the people you’re interested in. Let other interviewers know that you’ve had an offer, but that you like them very much and would be proud to consider their offer as well. If you do this in a friendly manner, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised to discover that you will suddenly get many offers.

You may object to this strategy, thinking it amounts to manipulation. In a way, you’re right. I felt a little guilty when writing this section. I was concerned that I might come off as exploitative or insensitive. If I offended you, I apologize. However, I felt that this information was necessary, because the people who conduct interviews wield great power. They’ve got what you want, and they are intentionally playing you off against many other candidates so they can get the best possible person to work for them or to attend their university. You need a little power too, to balance the situation. I want you to get the best possible offer so you’ll feel happy and excited about the opportunity just ahead of you. Then you’ll do the best job you’re capable of, and everyone will win.”

I honestly don’t know how you feel about it. But some of us are under the impression that we cannot let the company we are applying to know that we are actually applying to other companies. Maybe this might change your mind a bit.

Does it work for the Singaporean context?

Is it unethical? Manipulative?

Have you tried doing this and does it work?

Feel free to comment and discuss!

But I place this information here with the same intentions as the author, if it really does work (the bit about playing hard to get), I hope it helps you.

Job Databases

The Newspaper
The traditional method of job searching is to search the Recruit section of the Classified Ads daily or the thick Recruit standalone section every Saturday. The Saturday issue includes articles on self-development for working people.

Online Job Databases
But, now, more and more people are using online job databases such as:

1. Careers@Gov
This is the place to go if you want a job in the Civil Service! This revamped website is really one of the most convenient for certain ministries, as you only need fill in one generic resume and an application for a job is just a click away! Some ministries or statutory boards would direct you to their own career websites and request you to send them your own copy of resume or cover letter though.

My friend taught me that the most convenient way to use this website is to firstly go through the database for jobs that interest you, thereafter, regularly check out the new postings.

2. ST701 Jobs
This is personally my favourite place to visit. I like the categories. I would just zoom down to the few categories which I’m interested in and regularly visit to check on new jobs. The limitation for this site is that sometimes you are required to fill in important criteria which the employer wants in an applicant, so if you do not have that criteria, you could possibly be immediately disqualified, without even being considered. In such a situation, it might be better to apply directly to the company.

You can also keep track of how many competitors you have here! And this gives you a gauge of your chances. Don’t be frightened though. 🙂 You deserve a good job as much as everyone else does! 😉

3. Jobs Central

4. JobStreet

5. JobsDB

Other Means

Word of Mouth
Not every company wants to find employees this way – receiving a huge pile of applicants and having to sieve through to get who you want (the advantage of convenience of online applications is also the disadvantage as people find it so easy, they mass apply for jobs, sometimes with less thought). Some might find it too much a hassle and prefer to find applicants through word of mouth (sounds very unprofessional but this happens). So it might be helpful for you to let your friends or your parents friends or whoever know you are searching for a job. They can help you keep a lookout!

(On hindsight, this seems to be the best and easiest way to get a job – be recommended into it. 6 August 2013)

Snail Mail
Also, sometimes companies do not accept online applications and want you to snail mail your application, coupled with relevant materials. This used to be the way before the internet age. Don’t be lazy to avoid these jobs if you like them! I think because less people are inclined to do this, the pool of applicants will be smaller, and you naturally stand a higher chance!

Tips on writing Resumes

What I really hope to do here is to give you, who for some reason, like me, did not attend a course on Professional Communication or have never written a resume before, some ideas how and where to begin. I hope these sample resumes taken from my collection amassed over 7 months and the comments I’ve included on them would in some way help you. If it does, I have fulfilled my objective.

Conservation Officer @ Singapore Zoo

Journalist @ SPH

Health Policy Analyst @ Ministry of Health Page 1

Health Policy Analyst @ Ministry of Health Page 2

This is the first step most people have to take to obtain their jobs. If you managed to master the art of resume writing, it will take you a long way. For it’s also about your language ability (can you write concisely and to the point?), your ability to know what people want and provide it and how well can you present your life achievements and accomplishments in such one or two pages. It is surely an art. 🙂