The “Perfect Job” Fallacy with Helen Kearney

Helen Kearney is a sales recruiter for a global software company. Her life's journey and her career specialization allow us to examine the question that we all - at one time or another - find ourselves asking: what is my perfect job (or purpose or life's mission)? As she explains, many people are exceptionally naive about their professional value. They may not understand their involvement in the larger transaction and the realities of their role in the marketplace. As such, she says, they often fail to consider or understand the needs of the employer and their concerns. Like any good marriage or satisfying position, a job is a reciprocal transaction.

Helen Kearney is a sales recruiter for a global software company. Her life’s journey and her career specialization allow us to examine the question that we all – at one time or another – find ourselves asking: what is my perfect job (or purpose or life’s mission)?

As she explains, many people are exceptionally naive about their professional value. They may not understand their involvement in the larger transaction and the realities of their role in the marketplace. As such, she says, they often fail to consider or understand the needs of the employer and their concerns. Like any good marraige or satisfying position, a job is a reciprocal transaction.

Near the end of the episode, you’ll also hear Helen’s tips for your preparing your LinkedIn profile, resume, and job interview.

Below you’ll find a transcript of this podcast episode that has been edited for your reading pleasure. You’ll also see links at the bottom of this post where you can find more information on the people and ideas mentioned in the episode.
Produced by: John Patterson & Tyson Crandall

“People get conceptions and ideas that are subjective or they create these narratives.

You need to transact […] with people that are doing work that you think you might want to do. You need to talk to them […] and get the real picture.”

John Patterson: Helen Kearney, welcome to the Influence Ecology Podcast. Great to have you here.

Helen Kearney: You as well.

John Patterson: Take a minute and introduce yourself, if you would.

Helen Kearney: Hi, I’m Helen Kearney and I live in Denver, Colorado and I am a recruiter for a global software company and very excited to talk with you today.

John Patterson: Great. It’s good to have you here as well. I’m actually a bit excited to speak with you for a few reasons. So one, is you’re in a recruiting business and you have a lot to say about that, from what I understand.

But there’s also something really valuable I think for our customers who are, of course, attempting to satisfy some aims that they have for their career and for their work. And so in your notes, you talk a little bit about the perfect job fallacy or the illusion of all of that. And I’m looking forward to talking about that with you and finding out some of your thoughts about it. But before we get to that, let’s talk a little bit about your own journey with Influence Ecology.

Tell us a little bit about the way that you were thinking before you met Influence Ecology, what was going on for you. And then we’ll start to move towards what’s happened since, but what was life like before Influence Ecology for you?

Helen Kearney: Yeah. I really had a goal in my life to have a successful career that paid great money and was kind of transferable that I could pick up from company to company and carry on. And so I, more than a lot of people I knew was very ambitious and really moved forward in my career. And when I came to Influence Ecology, by all measures was very successful. And I was drawn to the ecology and the education because it is for people who are already successful. But in my career, I had always had a bit of a background angst and always returned to this thought of, “I don’t know, I feel like I’m meant to do something and I just need to find that mission.”

And I had really convinced myself that I was sort of here on this planet to do something extraordinary and this wasn’t it. So everything had the undertone of a bit of unhappiness. So I was sort of being driven by that. And even though I had these really great jobs, so …

John Patterson: Did you do a lot of things to try to reveal to yourself that perfect direction or orientation or …

Helen Kearney: Yes.

John Patterson: And I bring it up because I hear this quite often, people are on a quest to find out what am I supposed to do with my life?

And it starts very early on, of course, with people, parents asking you, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” But there is this sense that there is some kind of perfect role, perfect job, perfect place in the universe, whatever you might call it. And I just need to uncover it. So tell us a little bit about what you did to deal with that.

Helen Kearney: Oh, yes. My self-awareness meter is very, very high. I mean I have done all kinds of self development courses and read all of the personality, different types. And being in HR, you often have access to all of those tests and things like that. Anytime someone goes to talk to me about who they are or whatnot, I can tell you every little nuance of how I am in the world and how I express myself and what really is valuable to me. And I hear this a lot from people, but I do just think it’s such a fantasy that we have from a very early age, you pointed that out perfectly, that there is this ideal structure that I get to perfectly plug into that satisfies my … “I wake up in the morning and I’m just alive and I just, oh, I want to get out of bed. And yes …”

That every moment has this high. And so I had to come to terms with sometimes there’s just like a normalcy to your job and it’s not always going to be fun every moment. Like for me, being the performer personality, it was so helpful when I started to study with Influence Ecology because I realized that yes, I really enjoy people and I love that aspect of my job. And there will always be parts that are producer-focused and I stopped making myself wrong for really not liking that stuff.

And I was actually listening to a podcast recently where you said something about how performers are often prone to thinking, “Oh, if only I was more disciplined,” or just that sense of, “I should be that other thing. And I feel bad about the fact that I just like to talk to people and I should be doing it differently.”

John Patterson: This is really good because this is the year of satisfaction here at Influence Ecology. And one of the things that we’re addressing right now in … This is March, I don’t know when this podcast will come out, but it’s currently March and the year of satisfaction for Influence Ecology. And one of the things that we’re working on or dealing with is that people always have some sort of standard by which they gauge their satisfaction.

And that standard is often a bar that’s set really high. So for example, “I should never be bored,” is a ridiculous standard. “I should be happy all the time,” is it ridiculous standard. “I should constantly be excited and passionate about what I’m doing.” Again, a ridiculous standard. A standard that can’t be met. And if that is in fact your standard, there’s going to be some suffering that goes on with it.

So in terms of the job, the perfect job fallacy there is, from what I can tell in speaking with people, and I’d love to hear your perspective a little bit from somebody working in recruiting. But there is the sense that there is some job that when I find that job, I will be happy, I will be satisfied, I’ll always be engaged. I’ll always want to get up and go to work or roll out of bed. There will never be anything as mundane as maintenance and labor. It will always be something quite exciting. So comments about all that.

Helen Kearney: Yeah, and the same goes on the flip side of it. When we’re interviewing people, oftentimes managers think there’s a perfect candidate. People get conceptions and ideas that are subjective or they create these narratives about all of that.

One of the things I hear most often is, “I really want to get paid what I’m worth.” It’s like, well great. If I was hiring for a law clerk and I had an attorney apply, guess what? Yeah, maybe I’ll pay him a tiny bit more, but he’s still going to be a law clerk. I think that we talk about with deliberate focus, you may not have that. It’s not fun. You have to repeat it. And so in the area of, we call it early career, we don’t say young people, but early career folks, oftentimes out of college, they’re actually not used to having their butt in a seat every day and coming to work and it’s like, “This is boring.” And so early career folks, we often have to train them to type up an email that capitalizes things, things like that.

And then especially in sales, people say, “Oh, I want to go into sales because I want to make a lot of money.” But guess what? It’s scary. You have to pick up that phone and you have to have people that say no, or you put in all this effort. As you get more senior in your sales career, you put a ton of effort and all your eggs in a basket for a large deal with a huge corporation. And yet you’re neglecting maybe some smaller deals. They’re out of sight. And then all of a sudden at the last minute that big deal falls apart and you really have to learn that you need to focus on sort of objectively your whole pipeline or you’re focused on putting a lot of effort into one thing and then suddenly, all of a sudden, this other deal comes in, they call it a blue bird that comes in. And if you’re managing that whole aspect of all of your job, that’ll often … It’ll kind of work out.

I also tell people when they’re job seeking that you can call, say, luck happens. Oh, like, “Helen, you were really lucky in your career.” No, I knocked on a lot of doors in my pathway to success and getting where I wanted to go. And I’d like other people to consider this.

You need to talk to a lot of people. You need to transact for and ask informational interview kinds of questions with people that are kind of doing work that you think you might want to do. You need to talk to them and say, “Well, what is it actually like? What do you love about it? What’s hard?” And get the real picture.

And I had many times in my career where I got very focused. “Oh yes, I know that I want to become an HR business partner. That is the next step in my career.” And then I started interviewing and kind of networking with people that do that work and started to learn.

“Oh right, right. People can be kind of complex and crazy human beings and they get into a job and it’s a difficult job.” So once I learned that, and actually once I began to study with Influence Ecology and I got this certification that was actually a lot more time and effort that I had planned for as a performer. I just jumped in and got very overwhelmed quickly. But I got that certification and was pursuing that path and that narrative of, “Oh yes, yes, this is going to be great. This is going to allow me to be the consultant and work with the leaders and the VPs and that’s what I’m ready for.”

And really I got very far down that path, worked with a company with that concept in mind. And it was just hard. That’s all I kind of … If I just say it like that, it was just stressful for me. I like people in the side of performer to be happy. And when you have employees that have issues or conflicts or complain, it can be very stressful. And so while I was studying, I was able to kind of step back and use all of that information that I gained and heard previously from other HR business partners that know actually specializing in recruiting, which is what I ended up coming to, is really the part of the transaction cycle in human resources where a performer really kind of belongs best.

I’m selling the company, I’m finding a candidate and selling the candidate to the managers. But I think for job seekers to dissolve that fantasy, you should really spend time learning industries that you might want to go into. But then you need to narrow from there. You have lots of possibilities of lots of different kinds of jobs, but each of them have titles. So keep narrowing down, keep getting specialized, understanding your personality and seeing, “Okay, if I’m an engineer, what part of the transaction cycle does my personality best fit into for that software development role?”

John Patterson: In your own journey, I can hear that in your participation here, you started to think accurately about a variety of things.

So can you say a little bit about what some of those things are for you personally, what did you start to think accurately about for yourself, about your personality, about the work that you wanted to do, about the satisfaction of your own conditions of life? Say a little bit about that for me, if you would.

Helen Kearney: One of the main things is that … I’ll give the example of when I was pursuing my current role, I had just started to study with Influence Ecology when I had this whole idea of becoming an HR manager. And I had really crafted this ideal role that I thought I wanted. And it was kind of 80% recruiting and a startup company doing technical recruiting. So speaking with technical software folks, they don’t like to hide in plain sight like software people. They’re coding, they’re in dark rooms, they’re not really peopling, but I thought I need that experience. And then the other part of it was doing some of this HR manager work.

So that whole experience was all in the beginning of my studies. And I started to realize that these technical people I was talking to and recruiting for were speaking a foreign language. I did not understand what they were talking about. I might ask them, “Tell me what language do you code in?”

And then I could not understand them for half an hour. So I wasn’t effective in bringing those technical candidates to my managers because I didn’t know if they were qualified or not.

So that coupled with trying out this HR manager role, I really looked at it and said, “Oh, okay. It’s all right to specialize. In fact, that would be really fun for me to actually only talk to salespeople all day long and give myself that permission.”

So I ended up deciding to contact some career sales recruiters in the area just to say, “Was that ever a disservice to you to, to get that specialized in sales recruiting?”

And actually I got a call back right away and someone had a position open. So what ended up happening is I’ve used our education and throughout that whole interview cycle, studied so hard at the start of every day and confronted my moods, which I in the past would fall into despair a lot.

So every day I would say, “Okay, great. Objectively that mood is not going to help you today.” And as I progressed in the interview process with this company, I really listened to, who is the person I’m speaking with right now? I have 30 minutes, I’m going to have to guess very quickly who you are and what’s important to you. And it was a fabulous experience because sure enough, my peer was a judge and wanted to hear a lot about my past. And so immediately I had facts and I had projects, I had bullet points in front of me. Should I be talking to someone that needed that?

And then the director was this high level performer, but I would take notes and then I, after the interviews would, would go back and really look at it all objectively. Like what am I hearing they’re looking for? And more importantly, is this a fit for me? Is this the kind of sales recruiting I wanted?

And then the last part of that cycle was really using what I knew about what I wanted in terms of culture to ask, “hey, it sounds like I’m a match for you.” I’d like to just take one step further and talk to a sales manager that I might be working with so I have a feeling for them. And I ended up really being able to make sure that that culture piece was a match.

So, and then at the end of the day when we had finally got to offer, I was able to have shown such a high level of value that they kind of increased the role to capture a more senior role. And if job seekers out there can use this education to … If they’re laid off and needing that or even just in planning, use the aspect of networking and that kind of thing, it can really help you get in the right mindset.

John Patterson: That’s really great.

All right. So I can hear sort of where your journey has taken you, from fantasy job to much more of one based in reality using understanding personality, understanding all parts of the transaction cycle, understanding your own conditions of life and thinking accurately about them and moving yourself closer and closer towards the job.

It sounds like you now have. So is there anything else that we should know about your journey? I’m going to go to recruiting in just a moment specifically and I have some questions there, but anything else that we should know about your journey along the way using this education?

Helen Kearney: Well, I think it’s important for people to know that … When I came and started studying I thought, “Well, this education is for entrepreneurs. I can’t do these things inside of a corporate environment. I can’t use scarcity. I can’t transact for more help. My job is what it is.”

And I really came to learn that that’s not true. For example, sometimes I get into places where I have a very high workload and it just happens to be hiring season. People get their budgets, that sort of thing. And in the past, I sort of felt in some ways like this is my responsibility and hiring managers would come to me and say, “I’m carrying a quota. There’s no pipeline, I need candidates.”

And there’s this sort of order taking aspect. I was able to shift that into we’re really partners here, co constitutive, let’s talk about how we can mutually move this along. And so I’ve asked hiring managers sort of to take a 50-50 partnership with me and sometimes they can actually go out and do that branding on my behalf.

So it’s really given me an ability to use some of the weapons of influence. Like I won’t provide further candidates until they give me feedback on another candidate that I had already moved forward. And better able to challenge people internally instead of looking at myself as sort of like I said, an order taker or this is my job, I have to do it exactly like this and I can’t get help.

John Patterson: That’s really good.

You brought up something earlier, which I think is an important thing to consider because we’re all part of a transaction where I’m involved with another person or the company. So although I might be looking for my perfect job or my perfect role or my perfect fit or my fantasy or fantasy that, that again meets the reality of what they’re looking for. You brought up the lawyer who gets a job as a legal clerk. From the perspective of the market, the market pays what it pays for that particular role regardless of your fantasy.

I’d like for you to address that for just a moment. Then I’m going to ask some other questions. So there’s my fantasy and then there’s what the market allows for, is looking for, and so forth. Can you say a little bit about that from your perspective?

Helen Kearney: Yeah, for sure. For sure.

I think that a lot of people are sort of naive to or don’t want to care about company’s aims. So companies have a complex set of earnings projections and they have to work inside of a budget. And so when a company is designing a job, they say, “Okay, we want it to perform this or that and have achieve these objectives.” And then they budget for it. Oftentimes, companies have actually a compensation philosophy, maybe where they match the market in pay. So they go out to other companies and say, “Hey, what are you paying for this expert level role?” But they have to decide, can I match the market, does my actual salary, I paid this person, can we afford that? So they may create other components to the offer. They might be stock options, they might be a great 401k matching, there are other things outside of this number that’s on paper that sometimes that’s just what the company has.

Maybe they’re a startup, maybe they’re a older company. Maybe it’s a new position that they’re funding to try something out and the leadership team is only willing to fund a certain amount. So oftentimes people aren’t looking at that bigger picture of where the company is at.

There may be a lot of things behind the scenes that you as a candidate don’t know or understand. Maybe they’re back filling someone that was paid a little bit lower. Again, mid year, mid budget cycle. That’s all they have. And so when I have a candidate that’s a great fit and they get that disappointing ugh offer, that’s maybe not what they were expecting because, “Oh, I went on Glassdoor and I see that Glassdoor pays this or that.” Those are not accurate numbers.

It’s important for a candidate to really listen to the offer the company’s putting forward and think about your own realities. Maybe you’ve been laid off for six months and you really need just a paycheck to pay that mortgage. Think about it. So there are other aspects to that picture.

John Patterson: And then conversely, what are employers now dealing with about the market of employees?

Helen Kearney: So especially like in Denver we have a 3% unemployment rate and there’s this phrase I don’t like about the war on talent. It’s like, well why is there a war? And so some companies are scrambling and just rolling out the red carpet and, “Oh, we’ll give you anything.” And just because you ask for more, “Okay, okay, we’ll give you more. We need that person.”

So I respect my company a lot because I actually feel like we’re very committed to pay equity, fair pay equity. And for example, women usually don’t ask for more. They don’t try and negotiate. Whereas men almost always try and ask for more no matter the offer. And so I always tell people, “We put our best offer forward. We don’t negotiate because that perpetuates pay inequity.”

So we take a risky stance in that we also have a lot of cultural values that we interview against and we hire people that are going to come forward and be humble but hungry also be just nice. Nice to work with around the office you have have friends. So we’re willing to hang out in that part of the transaction that can be … Most people want to jump forward, “Oh, we need this person. We just got to have them.” And we won’t take the time to, “Yeah, you know what? We’re going to have that position open a little bit longer.”

Or for example, in the current right now you hear a lot about diversity, a lot about underrepresented populations and so we are … And I am very specifically interested in this and I have a goal of hiring more women into our specific office. And so the demographics and the data that you can look at through something like LinkedIn show that there is under 30% women in our profession in Denver.

So can I commit to bringing more women to the table? Data also shows that if you have more than two underrepresented candidates on a final interview slate, so to speak, all the final candidates, there’s like a 70% higher likelihood that you would hire one of these underrepresented candidates. So to really commit to shifting the needle on diversity hiring, it’s going to take some time and companies need to slow down and not move so fast to do that and shift those changes in their workforce.

John Patterson: In terms of the thing that I might do … So let’s just say that I’m interested in beginning to move toward a satisfactory transaction. Being employed in a particular place. What might I do on, say, my LinkedIn profile or my CV, for example, to better position myself towards what I seek or want. What should I do? What should I not do?

Helen Kearney: Don’t say you’re a ninja. That’s my [inaudible] “I’m a ninja.” It’s like, okay, maybe at the gym or something. Sparring, karate, something.

But no, I think what I was saying earlier about informational interviewing and networking is that talk to the people that are doing the job that you want. Take diligent notes about the themes that are common, the words, how do they measure their success and then craft that into your headline on your LinkedIn in a brief sentence.

But then also on your resume, makes sure that each job … That you’re pointing out every previous job, past success in metrics or if you’re a sales person, put our percent of sales to quota achievements, put that you went to Diamond Club, that kind of thing. Because when you submit a resume and you mistakenly attach a cover letter that was addressed to a different company, or you haven’t tailored your resume for the job that you’re applying for, I mean, I’m just going to move on. I mean, I have a lot of resumes to look at in a day and it just …

Oftentimes, I will be honest as well that if there’s a referral, that captures my eye more than the 20, 30 applicants for a role. So if you update your resume and that using the narratives of that industry or that particular job, you’re much more likely to get noticed.

John Patterson: And then what might I do to properly calibrate my financial expectations for a role in a particular company?

Helen Kearney: Yes. I have friends ask me for advice all the time. They get to the offer and they say, “Oh my gosh, this is like 40,000 less than I was expecting.”

And the problem is, they don’t ask. So at the front of the interview cycle, you don’t have to play your cards all the way, so to speak, about what you’re making, but just ask, “What is this pay?” I also always ask candidates, what are your goals or your expectations? And people think that that’s some trick question or I’m going to try and use it against them. But the last thing I want to do is take a candidate all the way through the hiring cycle and waste all that time if we’re, like I said, 40,000 off.

So just ask up front. It’s okay, you don’t need to play games. Because I’ll tell you also, if you’re talking to other people that are doing this job, ask them what the job pays in the market. You’re not asking them what they make, but then you get a sense and you can break your hopes and dreams right then before even applying for that job.

John Patterson: Well, that’s great. Good. Is there anything else that we should know about your own journey or anything else you want to say about your profession or your specialization?

Helen Kearney: Maybe this, that for performers, one of the things I have learned is that over use of liking, and for me when I’m having like an internal meeting, I realize that really other personality types and not rambling in meetings or coming in super unprepared has helped me transact internally inside of the corporate environment. Because even though my work is mostly external facing, it’s also really important in corporate America, to be really good with other people beyond just people liking me and having fun and being that person. It’s helped me lean into those personalities as well. It’s helped me better round out the work that I do in terms of, as I was mentioning about the data and really taking the time to study what’s in the marketplace. That’s kind of judged type things and it’s just helps me get along better with people that might have those personalities inside of the office.

John Patterson: Fantastic. All right, well, what should people do if they want to reach you?

Helen Kearney: They can go to my LinkedIn profile. I believe it’s in the bio.

But I would say if people want to reach me, they should network with people, like have a reason to come to me. Don’t just say, “Oh, hey, I met this guy at a barbecue. I think he’d be really great for your company.”

Come forward with, “Oh, it looks like you’re a sales recruiter. And it looks like what’s important to your company are people that have sold software. I can see by your job postings. I might be that person.” Or “Hey, I have a referral. They do live in Denver. It looks like you hire people there.”

So I do have people come to me all the time like, “Hey, can I spend 15 minutes asking you about that job over coffee.” No, I don’t have time for that. Find out what’s important to me. Get more tailored.

I had a person the other day say, “I’m just, I had spent a lot of time trying to get into your company and I’m really frustrated.” It’s like, wow, what? Yeah, job seeking is hard. You know what’s also hard is selling and you’re applying for a selling role.

So yeah, always be bringing something that’s a value to the recruiter or to the hiring manager.

John Patterson: All right. Well, Helen Kearney, thank you so much for being a guest on the Influence Ecology Podcast. This is going to be very valuable for people. There’s a lot of information here that will both resonate for people about their quest for the perfect job or perfect role and then also for those people who want to think accurately about moving towards that great position. So, thank you so much.

Helen Kearney: Thank you.

John Patterson: My special thanks to our guest, Helen Kearney. In our show notes, you’ll find links to connect with her and all the links to websites, books, or downloads mentioned to this podcast. The Influence Ecology Podcast is produced by Influence Ecology, LLC in Ventura, California. This episode was recorded March 10th, 2020 and was produced by Tyson Crandall and John Patterson. You can find a transcript for this and other episodes at InfluenceEcology.com. This episode is made possible through the assistance of the Influence Ecology faculty, staff, mentors, and students around the world. Co-founder Kirkland Tibbels and our colleagues comprise an international collective of professionals who are active in the development of the philosophy of Transactionalism and the discipline of Transactional Competence™. Kirkland is considered a leading philosopher and authority in the field and he has authored more than 500 papers on the subject, study, and discipline.

The podcast theme is by Chris Standring and titled “Fast Train to Everywhere.” You can subscribe to the Influence Ecology Podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can also find us on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or via email at podcast@influenceecology.com.

If you haven’t yet offered a rating or review, I ask that you take a moment to go to iTunes or your podcast app and let us know what you think. This helps us more than you know.

Podcast Bonuses:

Helen Kearney on LinkedIn

Influence Ecology is the leading business education specializing in Transactional Competence™, having published and contributed to the only comprehensive text on the subject, Transactionalism: An Historical and Interpretive Study by Trevor J. Phillips. Co-Founder Kirkland Tibbels has authored more than 500 papers on the subject, study, and discipline of transactional competence and is a sought-after lecturer at universities, major corporations, and civic organizations around the world. 

Influence Ecology’s curriculum includes conferences, webinars, online tools, podcasts, and mentorship utilized by men and women in over seventy countries around the world. Our membership includes an international assembly of accomplished professionals, faculty, and peers from a variety of countries, industries, and cultures.

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