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Columbo and the Job Hunt

I can see him now. Rumpled raincoat, stub of a cigar, tousled hair and knitted brow, driving around in his old Peugeot looking befuddled. Yet, from 1971 to 1978, in 55 episodes and 14 specials, Columbo always seemed to crack the case wide open. What in the world, you may say, does this have to do with me and my employment search?

Quite a bit. Let me introduce you to what I like to call the “Columbo style” of job hunting – four key principles that you can apply to increase your opportunity for success.

Columbo always had insight into what was really happening.

If you recall, the episodes started by showing us “who done it,” someone who had carefully prepared an airtight alibi. No one thought that person could have possibly committed the dastardly deed. No one, that is, but Lieutenant Columbo. Somehow or another, he seemed to have an inside track on the events before him.

You also have insights. You know that many of the better opportunities are hidden from public view, will never be acknowledged in the traditional market (Internet, newspapers, recruiters, etc.). You also know that contact with others to seek information, advice and referral can be a powerful and highly successful way to tap into this hidden market. Furthermore, you know that most of the individuals you network with are inclined to feel that the only way they can help you is to either provide you with the Lead of a Lifetime, or hire you themselves. If they can do neither, they feel that they have nothing to offer. You, however, understand that through networking with others, they can become more informed about you and your interests and can begin to connect the dots between your skills and abilities and opportunities they may encounter in their work and life. Not to mention what you can learn from them!

Columbo never tipped his hat on this insight.

He never barged right into the obvious “Where were you on the night of . . .?” questions. He often spent considerable time talking around the issues at hand, to the point of having conversations that seemed totally unrelated to what was really important. One of his typical questions, “What did you pay for those shoes?” even became a famous catchphrase for comedians and impersonators, even though he uttered it only once.

How does this relate to the job search? Just because you understand more about the process of networking than your contacts doesn’t mean you should approach them that way. For example, you should not start out by saying something like “I know you think the only way to help me is to offer me a job, but I know that you’ll come up with contacts, advice and insights that you’re unaware of that will really help me.” Such a lead-in is a recipe for failure. You want to start with friendly, conversational topics that tap into the individual’s interests and activities, then move on into seeking his or her perspective on things. We have a solid article on this very topic called “Networking Questions” you may want to read.

Columbo was willing to be confused to get the answers he needed.

As a matter of fact, more often than not he appeared to be totally perplexed. Of course, that gave the criminal false confidence that this disheveled character was no threat at all, a misinterpretation that the lieutenant used to his advantage every week!

You need to be confused, too. As a matter of fact, you are confused, whether you believe it or not. According to Barbara Sher in Live the Life You Love, most people are natural problem-solvers, relishing the opportunity to figure things out, give advice and share their perspective. You can use this “I don’t know what I am doing” technique to admit to your contact that you are not sure what your next steps should be, wonder if your resume represents you properly, are not at all sure you are identifying the best fit for your skills, etc. Most individuals will rise to the occasion of your “confusion” and provide assistance.

Columbo was always seeking to “put two and two together.”

As he managed to extract the facts from the criminal, he took full advantage of these gems to bring the offender to justice.

Our application? OK, I admit that you’re not trying to catch a murderer or throw the keys away on a blackmailer, but you are seeking to get the key information necessary to take action towards a meaningful, satisfying career. That is where you need to be constantly investigating, considering and applying what you learn as well as continually tapping into the people and resources that are all around you to be successful in your career development.

Skip the raincoat. Forget the cigar. Comb your hair. But stay confused!

It worked for Lieutenant Columbo!

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