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.

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