In my last post, I talked about the importance of acknowledging the competition when applying for jobs, saying that there are some reasonable assumptions about the other candidates you can make based on what you know about the field and yourself.
There are two key words here: “acknowledge” and “reasonable.” Acknowledge is important because to acknowledge is an inherently simple action. To acknowledge the car in the left lane you don’t need to know its year, horsepower, or marketing demographic, you just need to know it’s there. Reasonable is important because it applies a limit. Any assumption is fair game, as long as it lies within the kingdom of reason.
What I’m getting at is that you don’t want to overdo it. Realizing you are not the only applicant can be helpful, but if you think about the other applicants too much, you can get discouraged. Let your imagination run with the idea that there might be a better applicant than you, and slowly the idea shifts from being possible to inevitable, in which case, why even bother?
This is something I have to balance when submitting my fiction to magazines and journals. The editors read a lot of stories, and I have to be aware of this. I need to do more then spellcheck to stand out. I need to edit and review and edit and review over and over again until I feel proud of the story. In other words, I need to turn in the best story I am capable of writing. This is where I leave the idea of the other stories out there behind. To ask myself, what if there are more compelling stories than mine? gets me nowhere, because I don’t know the editor’s preference and I don’t know if the other stories speak to it. Trying to figure this out is like solving for two variables at once. There is no better story. Instead there is an infinite set of potential better stories, so I need to just focus on my own work or else I’ll quickly become so overwhelmed that I can barely even get motivated enough to submit, or even edit, or even write.
Applying for jobs is the same way. You can assume that the other people out there are qualified – otherwise, why are they applying? – but you can’t assume they write better cover letters than you or interviews better than you because you probably don’t know the hiring manager, so you don’t know what he or she looks for in a cover letter or an interview. You simply know the qualifications as laid out in the job ad, and you know you.
So begin by acknowledging the other potential candidates and finish by focusing on doing the best work that YOU are capable of.