Career Resources

Luck, and where to find it

Luck, and where to find it

By The Good Jobs Team, 13 Feb 2017

Interview tips Job seeking strategies Enhancing your career

You've applied for lots of jobs, and so far you haven't got past the interview for any of them. You haven't given up, but there's no doubt you're not feeling as upbeat about your prospects as you were when you'd just graduated. You find the application process faintly depressing.

Stick at it. Random chance plays a part in job-hunting success, but there are things you can do to improve your odds.

It's a roll of the dice

Any human interaction has an element of luck about it. It's not enough to be qualified for the job - your chances also depend on how many other equally qualified people apply. It's not even enough to be the best candidate - interviews aren't all that good at identifying the best candidate. A lot depends on the skill of the interviewers in resolving ambiguities and estimating potential. Some aren't very good at all.

The influence of random chance goes all the way down. A lot depends, for example, on which team won that weekend. People are more inclined to mark harshly if they feel cranky. If that torpedo punt just before the siren missed, they're going to feel cranky, and they might take it out on you.

The organisation you're applying to may just be going through the motions: in fact they've planned all along to install their favoured internal candidate. They may have unspoken selection criteria that aren't in the job description. Laws or no laws, they may be biased against women, or migrants, or old people, or young people, or whatever you are. It happens.

Even if you had a 50% chance of getting any particular job, which is pretty good odds, statistics say you'd miss out on four in a row 13% of the time, which is just worse than Russian roulette. If you set the odds to a more reasonable 20% chance of success per interview, 5% of applicants are going to miss out 14 times in a row.

If you get a long sequence of negative judgements, it's hard not to start thinking there's something wrong with you. But don't lose faith in yourself. Don't let the mistakes of others drag you down. Don't go into withdrawal. Don't despair - hell, don't go off the boil. The next roll of the dice may be it, and you have to be ready.

But you can improve your odds

The thing about random chance is that there's nothing whatsoever you can do about it. That's why we call it random. Which means there's absolutely no point thinking about it. Whether you believe there's chance involved or not, your actions should be exactly the same. And those actions should consist of thinking about what you might have done wrong, and trying to improve next time.

If you're a redback spider trying to spread your genes, you don't get a second chance at the interview; once you're close enough to express your interest, you get eaten. As a species, we're a bit luckier than that. You're going to get another chance to perfect your interview skills. You can vary your approach to see what goes over best.

You can practise what the military call a TEWT, or Tactical Exercise Without Troops, in front of the mirror, or on video. How are you at maintaining eye contact? Smiling and seeming confident? Talking without stumbling or hesitating? Remaining on point for half an hour or more?

Run through your answers to the standard interview questions (Where do you see yourself in five years? What would you say was your greatest achievement in your present position? Why do you want to work here?) with extra points for looking as if you are hearing them for the first time.

You can do better. Whatever the role of chance, you can improve your chances. You have to be able to blend realism and optimism without having either of those admirable qualities push you away from the other. You have to be able to smile sincerely. Inside and out.