Black and white thinking can hurt your career

Help! I’m a software tester specializing in accounting systems and have been out of work for over a year. A few months ago I was offered a job testing mobile apps, but didn’t accept it because I’m an accounting system tester. Other than that, I’ve had no job offers.

First, thanks for sending me your email and good luck on your continued job hunt.

Please note, that this isn’t an official psychological definition; it’s my personal thoughts as to how the practice of black-and-white thinking can affect you professionally.

Conceptually, black-and-white thinking is the process of looking at everything from only the extremes. For example, if you go to a restaurant, the food is either great or inedible, it’s never just ok, but not your favorite place to eat. This type of “yes” or “no” thinking on how you view yourself in the workplace can dramatically reduce your ability to grow professionally or in your case, narrow your job search to something so specific that it hinders your ability to find a job.

I’ll give you an example of this outside the IT space. In 2009, when there was very little hiring and most companies were reducing their workforce, I was speaking with a Human Resources person who was laid off in 2008 and was looking for a job. Her particular professional specialty was technical recruiting. She told me that she couldn’t find a new job because companies didn’t need recruiters since they were only reducing, rather than increasing, their workforce. I suggested to her that she apply for jobs at outplacement companies that help laid off workers find new employment because her experience and skill set as a recruiter would be very applicable to this type of role and there were many great jobs available in this specific market segment.

Upon receiving my advice, she agreed with me that the skill sets were similar, her experience was applicable, and she knew of jobs in this area, but she immediately said “no, I don’t do outplacement, I do hiring”. I further suggested to her that she consider this type of job just for a couple of years until recruiting jobs once again became available. She again said no. I ran across her at a professional meeting about two years later and she was still looking for work.

Given our earlier discussion, in 2009, my thought was that conceptualizing her professional role so specifically, it dramatically reduced the number and types of jobs she applied for and, as a result, reduced her chances of finding new employment.

I never worked with this person directly, but I thought of her as being very professionally accomplished, highly competent, well respected, and well connected. Truth be told, it saddened me to learn that she was out of work for such an extended length of time.

My advice to you, as a tester of accounting systems, is related to the moral of this story. If the recruiter in my story was able to conceptualize herself in the workplace with a wider brush and be willing to step outside her comfort zone to do something related, but different to her view of herself, she may have found employment much more quickly.

As a tester of accounting systems you have both testing expertise and subject matter knowledge. Consider using this skill and knowledge to pivot yourself into a similar, but different professional role. For example, the ability to create test plans, write test cases, and properly execute those tests is a very significant and important skill set in the development and deployment of all types of software, including mobile-based applications. On the accounting system side, a deep understanding of accounting systems positions you for other technical roles related to accounting and business-type applications. For example, consider a: • Business Analyst type role in the accounting systems area • Testing role in systems related to accounting/business, such as portfolio accounting, inventory control, medical records, and other transactional type systems • Testing role in any business systems area such as budgeting, human resources, or business intelligence, using your accounting systems background as a credential

Look objectively at your technical expertise, personal strengths, and subject matter expertise with a wider brush and it may help you paint a more successful professional future.

If you have any questions about your career in IT, please email me at or find me on Twitter at @EricPBloom.

Until next time, work hard, work smart, and continue to build your professional brand.

Read more of Eric Bloom's Your IT Career blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Eric on Twitter at @EricPBloom. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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