Job-Search Lessons From American Idol

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

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Miriam Salpeter
Miriam Salpeter
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.