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What Your Job Search Has in Common With Your NCAA Brackets

Miriam Salpeter

If you've been preoccupied by the NCAA's March Madness, you're not alone. What lessons can job seekers take from the basketball tournament?

Do your research. Everyone seems to have a story about someone who knows nothing about college basketball who wins his or her NCAA pool. No doubt, anyone can get lucky and succeed based on uneducated choices. While you may randomly win the jackpot in your basketball pool, don't count on this approach to help you land a job. It's important to research organizations where you want to work and identify the most applicable and appropriate positions at companies that are most likely to hire someone with your skills and expertise.

How can you find the best information? There are many online sources, but sometimes, your best bet is to actually speak to people who work where you want to land a job. Ask questions about the company's biggest challenges, and about what skills and accomplishments the organization values.

Embrace the Cinderella story. Just as there always seems to be a story in these tournaments of a breakthrough team that outreaches expectations, it's possible for you to succeed by applying to a job that seems beyond your reach. Although they lost to Florida, Florida Gulf Coast University was the first No. 15 seed to reach the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16. To make the accomplishment more significant, the team accomplished this feat in their second year of eligibility.

Successful teams can outpace statistically better ones by staying on their games and playing well at the most important moments. Similarly, your best chance to land a job that is beyond your qualifications is to outperform in every respect of your application process.

What does it mean to outperform? You'll need to network your way into the opportunity, as referrals have much better chances to land interviews. You'll need to impress everyone you meet and follow up with contacts to maintain a consistent dialogue. It may seem as difficult as hitting six three-pointers in a row, but if you work at it, you may be a Cinderella story waiting to happen.

Overcome a long drought. The University of Michigan Wolverines haven't had a Final Four berth since 1993. Some of their players this year were not even born when Michigan was a powerhouse team. The 20-year lag can't compare directly to a long-term unemployed job seeker's plight, but hopefully, their success reminds job seekers who've lost hope that the right combination of skills and environment can make all the difference.

Keep in mind, if you didn't get the job yesterday or you lost out at an interview last week, it doesn't mean you won't succeed tomorrow or the next day. Just as Michigan clearly went through a lot of rebuilding, you need to think about what you're doing in your search that you need to change. For example: change your resume, apply for different positions, network more, use social media channels to let people know about you and to learn what is important in your field. Think about how you can rebuild and how you can achieve a successful result.

Age doesn't always matter. Michigan's starters include many freshmen and sophomores. Many doubted their ability to make it as far as they have. If you're worried that you're too young or old to land the job you want, stop to take stock of what you have to offer and the best ways to demonstrate you're a match to the hiring manager. If you give up and throw in the towel, you'll never know what you could have accomplished.

Overcome adversity. Anyone who watched Louisville guard Kevin Ware break his leg on the court in the Duke match up was stunned. Shocked teammates wiped away tears, and spectators stood with their mouths open, horrified at the extent of the injury. KSLA.com reported the injury was so horrifying that CBS stopped showing replays. In spite of this, a KSLA.com report quotes Louisville coach Rick Pitino as saying the injured player was yelling, "Win the game, win the game," even as his bone was sticking out of his leg. Pitino noted, "I've not seen that in my life. ... Pretty special young man."

It took Louisville more than three minutes to score after play resumed, but they won the game against Duke.

What are you doing to overcome the challenges you face as a job seeker? Just as Ware was thinking of his team and not his injury, are you focusing on your future goals and not your current situation? Sometimes, it takes a lot of strength and extraordinary courage to slog on during a long job hunt. Instead of focusing on the troubling situation, what can you do to look ahead and see your way through to change?

Use these lessons to inspire your job search plans. You may realize a win in your column as a result.

Miriam Salpeter is a job search and social media consultant, career coach, author, speaker, resume writer, and owner of Keppie Careers. She is author of Social Networking for Career Success and 100 Conversations for Career Success.

Miriam teaches job seekers and entrepreneurs how to incorporate social media tools along with traditional strategies to reach their goals.

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