June 19, 2018

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The Magic of Three, and All About Vacuums

Three is a magic number. You donít have to believe this, because itís magical without requiring you to believe in it. Thatís been my experience. I say this because you can use the knowledge that three is a magical number to get what you want or need. If this sounds confusing or too mystical, and doesnít sound connected to job-seeking, donít worry about it, just read on.

I bring this up because the other day I was explaining to a client that, if they had an idea and wanted to propose it to their management, more often than not the first time it will not be accepted. "If you fold your cards and go away, it obviously wonít happen," I told this client, and we both agreed about that. So what do you do? You propose it a second time, in a modified format. And, of course, your management may reject it again. Do you give up then? No, of course not. Not according to the rule of three. You propose it a third time, once again changing the format. And this time, often because it is familiar but not quite the same as the first or second time, it gets accepted. (Or, if it doesnít, you go on to something else.)

We all give up too easily. Thatís really what this is all about. When someone gives up on the first try, they often are missing an opportunity that is so-o-o-o close, and they just donít know it. Also we donít expect a "No" when we first propose something, so we donít expect that weíre going to have to try again, and again. Objects at rest tend to remain at rest, according to one of Newtonís laws. The same thing applies to introducing new ideas, new thoughts, new concepts to people. People tend to stick with the old, established ideas and ways of doing things. You owe it to yourself, is my message, to try at least three times before giving up.

The trick of course is to modify what youíre asking for slightly so that it isnít perceived as the exact same thing you asked for originally. This sometimes takes real creativity and work. But, if you begin to believe in the Rule of Three, and you donít give up easily, it can lead you to getting more of what you want, whatever it is. Expecting that you have to try at least three times in the fact of getting "No" is a great foundation for dealing with the world. Itís a great habit to acquire.

If this little article inspires you not to give up when you receive that first "No!" and try a real three times, then Iíll consider it successful. After all, in baseball, you do get three strikes before youíre out, donít you?

In talking with a client after a recent job interview they had, my client said, "I donít think he was too enthusiastic."

"How do you know that he wasnít enthusiastic?" I asked.

"Well," my client said, "the interviewer didnít sound enthusiastic nor did he look enthusiastic." The client went on to explain that the interviewer had a plane to catch to another country, that he had more than ten other people to interview and had to wade through more than two hundred responses for this particular job opening, and that he was completely re-organizing the department in question.

As a result, my client had begun to conclude that this particular interviewer really wasnít interested in him, that heíd only done "OK" during the interview, and that his chances for the job were low. Itís also my contention, although I canít prove it, that with these kind of thoughts going through my clientís head, it is entirely possible that he visibly communicated some of this thinking to the interviewer without realizing it through body language or tone of voice or something that was said. Mind you, the client would deny this and wouldnít for the world have done anything but his best during the interview. But Ö and but Ö sometimes these inner thoughts creep through to the surface while we donít even realize it. Sometimes, although we donít realize it, theyíre as easy to read as the bubbles over a comic book characterís head.

My point in this instance is: IN JOB INTERVIEWS, WE DONíT REALLY KNOW WHAT IS GOING ON IN THE MIND OF THE INTERVIEWER. IT IS ALL Ė REPEAT Ė ALL CONJECTURE. And, if we believe what we have in our minds as conjecture, weíre not dealing with reality any more. That isnít a good place to go, now, is it?

Everyone knows the phrase: Nature abhors a vacuum. So, interestingly enough, does our mind. If we donít have an answer, we make one up. If we donít have closure on a subject, we invent a way to close it. We think-think-think about it until it is resolved. We rush to judgment, to conclusions, and to resolution. All too often. And, all too often, we believe these made-up conclusions. Even if we remind ourselves that they are conjecture, we may buy into them a little.

What if the interviewerís cat had died that morning? What if he and his wife (or significant other) had an argument? What if a shipment heíd been expecting hadnít come in and their company needed it badly for their manufacturing group? What if his IRA stock went down? What if his daughter ran off with the mailman? What if his son had been in an auto accident?

All of these would make this particular interviewer seem distracted and disinterested, wouldnít they? Yet none of them have anything to do with what my client did or didnít do. So until we know exactly what occurred, how can we pass judgment?

The point is: We donít know whatís in this interviewerís head.

Sometimes, we can find out by asking questions. Asking questions is a good way to help people unload whatís in their heads and share it with us. Not always, because they may not be willing to share it. But questions, politely asked, are the best vehicle to "get inside someone elseís head."

So donít let the vacuum in your head get filled with all kinds of thoughts and ideas when you really donít know; and, if such thoughts and ideas creep in, donít give them the credence that real knowledge deserves. Itís OK to say, "I donít know." Itís also OK to feel positive about what you did and didnít do in an interview, from your point of view.

There are lots of job seekers out there who are hostile and angry because theyíve decided that interviewers (and, incidentally recruiters and HR people) donít like them, find them too old, are incompetent, have a prejudice against them, you name it. There are also lots of job seekers broadcasting subtle feelings and emotions that may turn off an interviewer without realizing it, simply because they are letting suppositions fill the vacuum.

The converse of this is something I often see when I start with new clients. All too often, they feel they did wonderfully in their last interview. When I ask what evidence they have of this, itís just a feeling. Or, I could tell from the way the interviewer responded to me. They havenít checked out the reality by asking such questions as: "Where do I stand?" or "Would my experience and background fit in well in your company?" And, often, when someone else is chosen for the job, they find themselves surprised at first, then angry and depressed Ė because theyíve filled their vacuum, their lack of knowledge, with unrealistic thoughts.

Learn to live with the vacuum. If you donít know, say to yourself, "I donít know." And learn to live with it. Itíll help you in this difficult and troublesome adventure called a job search. And learn to try questions. Itíll help you in other ways, too.

-Lawrence M. Light, Job Coach
Lawrence Light is an experienced job coach with a varied clientele across the U.S. His website is; he can be reached by e-mail at or by phone at 949-716-3581. For a sample of his free opt-in newsletter containing tips and techniques about job-hunting, e-mail him with the word "sample" in the subject line."

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