August 2011

Resilience in the Job Search

By Julie Swaner

Who Moved My Cheese was a blockbuster book that remained on the New York Times business bestseller list for about five years. Written by Spencer Johnson, this parable describes change in the workplace and in one’s life. Johnson’s four characters that advance the parable are two mice named Sniff and Scurry, and two little people named Hem and Haw. They all inhabit a maze, and they seek cheese. However, the position of the cheese shifts one day, and it is the responses of the four characters that determine how they do or don’t move forward.

The moral of the story is that change happens and is, in fact, the singular constant in our lives and in the workplace. The takeaway from his little book is the following:

  1. Change happens. They keep moving the cheese.
  2. Anticipate change. Get ready for the cheese to move.
  3. Monitor change. Smell the cheese often so you know when it is getting old.
  4. Adapt to change quickly. The quicker you let go of old cheese, the sooner you can enjoy new cheese.
  5. Change. Move with the cheese.
  6. Enjoy change. Savor the adventure and enjoy the taste of new cheese.

This brings us to the topic of resilience and adaptability within the job search. I have often wondered why some job seekers show such amazing resilience and others resist and seem to hold out for things to return to the way they were previously. From my research, it appears that resilience is a learned behavior, and some are better at acquiring this. As life is about 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you deal with it, resilience becomes a critical component to successful maneuvering in life and in the job search. And rejection will be a component of that search.
Ask yourself the following, and rate your response on a scale from 1 to 10 (10 being the best):

  • In a crisis or chaotic situation, I calm myself and focus on taking useful actions.
  • I’m usually optimistic. I see difficulties as temporary and expect to overcome them.
  • I can tolerate high levels of ambiguity and uncertainty about situations.
  • I adapt quickly to new developments, and I’m good at bouncing back from problems.
  • I can find the humor in difficult situations and can laugh at myself.
  • I learn valuable lessons from my experiences and the experiences of others.
  • I’m very flexible and feel comfortable with paradoxical complexity.
  • I’m nonjudgmental about others and adapt to different personality styles.
  • I prefer to work without a written job description, because I’m more effective when I am free to do what I think is best for each situation.
  • I can make lemonade with lemons.

So how did you score on this quick assessment?

  • 80 or higher indicates high resiliency.
  • 65-79 is better than most.
  • 51-64 is slow, but adequate.
  • 41-50 means you’re struggling.
  • 40 or under means you need help!

Resilience is a process of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, and it generally indicates an ability to grow and thrive in the face of challenges and adversity. Isn’t this exactly what the job seeker faces? Resiliency is actually a fairly strong predictor of job search behavior and re-employment outcomes, and it is linked to increased optimism and determined efforts. Resilience transforms failure into success.

This clearly is a complex topic, and researchers continue to explore how and why people are resilient. So when faced with adversity, remember that life isn’t fair, but your mind and your habits will create either barriers or bridges to a better future. As nothing in life is permanent, a highly resilient you can accept and appreciate that change is the singular constant. As basketball great Michael Jordan said, “Obstacles don’t have to stop you. If you run into a wall, don’t turn around and give up. Figure out how to climb it, go through it, or work around it.”                            

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Join us for Job Club each Friday in Room 380 of the University’s Student Services Building from 2 to 4 p.m. We discuss topics such as the one mentioned here. The club is free to all. Questions? Contact me, Julie Swaner, director of Alumni Career Programs at the University of Utah, (801) 585-5036.

The University of Utah Alumni Association is dedicated to preserving lifelong relationships with alumni, students and the community.