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Job-Search Lessons From American Idol

Job-Search Lessons From American Idol

If you ever take a break from your job hunt to watch American Idol, it’s time to connect the dots. No doubt a show that’s about winning the ultimate career break for a singer—a recording contract—holds some important lessons for job seekers.

So after you vote for your favorite singer this week, consider these essential lessons gleaned from one of America’s favorite television shows:

[See 10 Ways to Use Social Media in Your Job Search.]

Self-awareness is key. Have you watched the audition shows? Granted, some people try out just to get on television; they know that the worse their audition, the more likely they are to grab 15 minutes of fame—even if it is at the expense of their credibility. However, it seems some of the contestants who have really terrible voices and no chance to win a ticket to “Hollywood” are delusional about their abilities and don’t realize their skills won’t cut it.

It’s easy to laugh or joke about people who are trying out for something they will never win, but be sure that isn’t you. Are you “auditioning” for jobs you don’t really have the skills or experience to do? Reaching for a job you do have the skills to accomplish is worthwhile, but chasing after opportunities you’re not qualified to earn wastes your time. If you have been unsuccessful, but haven’t already asked for an outside opinion about your job hunt, reach out to some professionals in your targeted field and ask them if they honestly believe you have what it takes to get hired.

[See How to Get a Job When You Lack Experience.]

Rehearse. How many of these American Idol contestants forget the lyrics when it’s their turn to impress? Certainly, nerves play a role, but you don’t want that to be your problem when you get your big interview break. Practice answering the question, “Why should we hire you?” in many different ways; it’s the question at the root of all interview inquiries. No, you don’t need to memorize answers to interview questions, but practicing your replies always helps.

Consider preparing several stories to describe when you succeeded, a time you worked in a team, and examples of obstacles you’ve overcome at work, including working with difficult people. Be able to explain the situation, task, action, and result involved with your interviewer. A little preparation goes a long way.

Learn from past mistakes and be yourself. It’s easy to wonder why these new contestants haven’t learned a lot from watching past shows. Many seem to make the same mistakes as prior contestants. An oft-repeated judges’ comment to Idol contestants? “Who are you? What are you trying to be?”

Last week’s episode featured judges reminding singers, “Karaoke isn’t going to cut it. Don’t be a poor imitation of someone else.” Viewers may remember this refrain from previous seasons; why aren’t new contestants learning from past mistakes? Trying to imitate a song someone else made famous probably won’t help these aspiring Idols excel and achieve their dreams. Judges admonish them to “make it their own—do something different with it.”

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Similarly, when looking for a job, you can’t expect to succeed by copying another job seeker’s work—a sample resume, for example, or a friend’s materials. Effective job search requires candidates figure out what they offer in terms of what their target employers want; trying to imitate or be someone else will not help you land opportunities. Just as an amateur Idol singing a Michael Jackson song sounds like a poor imitation of the original, a job seeker who hasn’t invested the time and effort to make sure his or her materials are authentic and resonate with targeted employers will fall similarly short.

Lucky for job seekers, unlike on American Idol, there’s more than one winner in the job-hunt game. Learn from these lessons, and you’ll be well on your way to a job where a boss is singing your praises.

Miriam Salpeter is a job search and social media consultant, career coach, author, speaker, resume writer and owner of Keppie Careers. She teaches job seekers and entrepreneurs how to incorporate social media tools along with traditional strategies to empower their success. Connect with her via Twitter @Keppie_Careers.

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  1. I never watch American Idol, but I can relate to individuals taking risks and trying to succeed. Hopefully, in the process those indiviuals have some of talent. :)

  2. Love this! It’s so easy to rake these people over the coals on American Idol, but Miriam, you draw excellent parallels to our lives in the job search. Re-tweeting!

  3. I’m an avid American Idol fan, and I completely agree. We have to find ourselves and what we can bring to the table. There are thousands and thousands of job seekers out there. Just like on AI, we need to find what makes us so special and why we should land a job over someone else. Being unique is part of it, but we also must understand the many mistakes that happen. We don’t want to fall victim of the same mistakes that happen over and over again.

    I love that you used a pop culture phenomenon like Idol to illustrate. Great stuff.

  4. I do not watch American Idol and never care to numb my mind and waste my time in such behavior. However, I had to read this article to see how anyone could take something as useless as AI and find some good in it.

    Well, Miriam Salpeter did a very good job of finding something useful in AI and put together a very informative report.

    My guess is she used the AI name because many more people would read her article with that name attached to it and it worked for me, in a reverse way.

  5. Randy Boyd Get Your Resume Noticed

    Very clever article. You’re absolutely right…way too many people waste their time going after long shots when it comes to getting a job.

    Especially those who have NO job, that’s a ridiculous thing to do. You can reach for the sky once you’ve got a job, and you’re earning a paycheck. Otherwise go for the jobs that are within your reach so you can put food on the table.

  6. With so much good information on your blog, it surprises me that job seekers are still making the same mistakes over and over again. Go figure.

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