December 5, 2018
You did your learning, 12+ years of it, in the U.S. education system – but if you want a long and fruitful career, you can never stop seeking knowledge and skill. If you are about to enter the job market, you might want to learn about a few philosophical principles, social theories and good ol’ rules of thumb to guide your preparation and application processes. That way, you can be as efficient as possible and end up with the job you want.
A wicked problem is one that is difficult to solve because the requirements for resolution are unknown, contradictory or constantly shifting and therefore almost impossible to discern and fulfill. The term was originally used in political science, but today it has been taken over by management science to help business leaders identify tricky issues and solve them with greater efficiency. By learning about wicked problems – and more importantly the best methods for resolution – you can use this knowledge in interviews to impress your hiring manager and win the job.
Also called the law of the instrument, Maslow’s hammer is a principle that states familiarity with tool causes overuse of that tool. As Abraham Maslow (who created the law) said: “If the only tool you have is a hammer, [it is tempting] to treat everything as if it were a nail.” You should be inspired by this concept to avoid overapplying knowledge and skill you currently have. You should push yourself to seek out new abilities and information, so you will always have the ideal tool to conquer a situation.
Perhaps the best-known principle on this list, Occam’s razor states that the simplest solution is typically the best option. It’s important that you not confuse “simple” with “easy” – simple means fewest steps to completion, whereas easy solutions might skip vital steps and ruin the outcome. You can use Occam’s razor whenever you encounter a problem; even in your job hunt, try to simplify the steps to getting a job without taking any shortcuts.
Though we still aren’t sure who exactly Murphy is, you undoubtedly know their law – that what can go wrong will go wrong. Though this knowledge likely dates back to the beginning of human civilization, the first record of it is in a proof, where mathematician Augustes De Morgan wrote that “whatever can happen will happen.” He was talking about probability in science, but you should use this knowledge to remind yourself to check and double-check any documents you submit for applications, to ensure nothing on them is going wrong.
Buckle up for a more technical principle: Moore’s law states that the number of transistors that can be inexpensively placed in an integrated circuit will double every two years or so. This law shouldn’t be taken literally; unless you work as an electrical engineer, transistors and integrated circuits don’t much matter to you. However, the law is important to your job hunt because it reminds you that technology advances swiftly, and you should always be adopting emerging tech to stay ahead of the curve.
Also called the 80-20 rule – especially around offices – the Pareto principle states that 80 percent of effects come from 20 percent of causes. Vilfredo Pareto was an Italian economist who noted that 20 percent of the population of Italy owned 80 percent of the land, and he extrapolated from this about the general distribution of wealth. You should apply the 80-20 rule to your job search: Focus your energy on completing the 20 percent of applications that will provide 80 percent of your career goals, such as salary, benefits, workplace culture, professional development opportunities, etc.
In 1955, Naval historian Cyril Northcote Parkinson made a joke that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” Today, the joke is often repeated as wisdom by efficiency experts, who note its truth. You should remember Parkinson’s law in your job search and later in your career. If you only have 20 minutes of work to complete but eight hours in which to do it, you will spend that entire workday struggling to get done. That’s why you need to make your own deadlines – and stick to them.
Anton Checkhov, illustrious Russian playwright and short-story author, noted that if you mention a gun in a story, by the end of that story, the gun needs to go off. More often cited as a storytelling rule, Chekhov’s gun is still useful to you as a job-seeker if you remember that any qualifications listed on job postings will need to be included in your application materials or interviews later. If not, you will let down your hiring manager and fail to get the job.