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If your job search seems harder than you thought it would be, remember the parable of the mule in the well:

A mule fell into a farmer’s well. The farmer heard the mule praying for help (or whatever mules do when they fall into wells). After assessing the situation, the farmer sympathized with the mule, but decided that neither the mule nor the well were worth the trouble of saving. Instead, he called his neighbors together, told them what had happened, and enlisted them to help haul dirt to bury the old mule in the well and put him out of his misery.

Initially the old mule was hysterical! But as the farmer and his neighbors continued shoveling and the dirt hit his back, a thought struck him. It suddenly dawned on him that every time a shovel load of dirt landed on his back, he would shake it off and step up.

This he did, blow after blow. “Shake it off and step up … shake it off and step up … shake it off and step up,” he repeated to encourage himself. No matter how painful the blows or how distressing the situation seemed, the old mule fought panic and just kept right on shaking it off and stepping up.

It wasn’t long before the old mule, battered and exhausted, stepped triumphantly over the wall of that well! What seemed like it would bury him actually helped him because of the manner in which he handled his adversity.

Preparing proactively for a job search is smart for any person to do and helps minimize fear and discomfort, should you need to make a change. Here are nine steps you can take right now to prepare for any changes that may be coming your way:

1. Change Your Attitude

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in my work as a recruiter, it is that people are conditioned by schools and employers to be obedient and tame. At school, you have to sit in your chair.

Eventually, you start off thinking you can enter the workforce, do great work, be recognized, and rise through the ranks to an executive role with an organization that sees your work as extraordinary and wants to reward you with money and authority.

Little by little, an emotional death by a thousand cuts occurs, leaving you hollow, depleted of your desire to succeed, and just trying to get along.

Slowly and steadily, a condition I call “career madness” develops. You start to tolerate bad situations or risks and unquestionably accept the terms presented by your employers (work as long as we need you, do what you are told for this amount of money, go away when we don’t need you).

Conference TableOne day, you may find yourself shocked when someone comes and asks you to accompany them to the conference room, where an HR rep and your manager are waiting for you with a letter marking your termination.

You have to retrain yourself to think that you are the chairman of the board of your own entity beholden to no one but yourself and your family.

2. Think About What Makes Your Heart Sing!

Many people never take the time to figure out what makes them happy professionally – let alone think about a way to achieve it.

Are you working in a job that leaves you “deadened?” Have you learned the hard way that this is work you don’t enjoy? Then now is the time to start exploring alternatives that will make your heart sing!

What gets you excited? What can you do that is unique to you?

3. Get Clear About Your Goals

If you were driving from New York to Boston, Paris to Rome, or Brasilia to Caracas and didn’t have a GPS or roadmap, how would you get there?

The same holds true with your career.

Start to speak with people who are already doing things you want to do about your career goals. Start to look for common patterns in their advice and explore those commonalities in detail.

4. Do a Career Inventory Self-Assessment

Taking a career inventory self-assessment will give you a better idea of who you are and what your interests and capabilities are. Plus, it will offer the extra value of waking you up to possibilities beyond the ones you might naturally gravitate toward.

5.  Get Your LinkedIn Identity Up to Speed

LinkedIn is used by recruiters to find “passive candidates.” These are people (like you, perhaps) who are not actively looking for work, but who might be open to leveraging their experience and taking it to a bigger payday and a better job.

Start changing your attitude about these contact attempts and listen to what recruiters have to say.

After all, the person who gets ahead isn’t always the smartest or the hardest worker – although those are great qualities to have. But people get ahead professionally by being alert to opportunity.

WavesSometimes, though rarely, those opportunities are internal to your firm. Most of the time, they are at a different firm – and recruiters reaching out to you can be the gateway to those new opportunities.

6. Develop Relationships With Recruiters

Most of you think of recruiters as being transactional. You believe they never think about you and your needs and are only in it to make money. Then you go out and treat recruiters as though they are disposable, never speaking with them except when you are actively looking for work. In other words, you treat them in a way that is transactional.

In fact, you treat recruiters in exactly the same way that you complain about them treating you. 

7. Research Your Value and Work to Upgrade It.

One of the many mistakes job hunters make is that they fail to get a good idea of what they are worth on the job market. They ask friends with degrees from great universities they did not attend who have worked at the best of the best companies what they should be earning, and they hear numbers that reflect those pedigreed backgrounds and think they deserve that much, too.

You can’t compare an apple with Beluga caviar. 

8. Accumulate Data to Update or Write a Resume

If you have your old resume on hand, you have a leg up in this process. After all, much of the factual information has already been compiled.

Most people, however, make two mistakes when writing resumes:

- They never define the problem they were brought on to solve.

- They provide no metrics for the impact of their work.

This is an opportunity to correct those mistakes.

Take the time to define the problem you were brought on to solve and how you went about doing it. Use metrics to describe how what you did helped a firm make more money or save money.

9. Practice Interviewing with Someone

When professional athletes or high-end amateurs prepare, they practice relentlessly until motions and actions become second nature. Boxers and tennis players have training partners. Baseball, basketball, and football teams all have other players they go up against to practice for the real thing.

You need to take a lesson from great athletes and practice.

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