What Gone Girl Can Teach You About the Job Search

Gone Girl
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* Before you read any further, know that there are plenty of SPOILERS in this post. Please do not read on if you have yet to read the book Gone Girl or see the movie.

All set?

Now we may begin.

In Gillian Flynn’s thriller novel, Gone Girl, we are flung into a totally bizarre and twisted relationship. The wife, Amy Dunne, is missing and we’re trying to figure out what happened to her. For the first half of the book the only contact we have with her is through a journal of sorts. Soon, all the evidence (especially the journal entries we read) points to her husband Nick Dunne as the murderer.

That’s when the book does a total 180.

BAM! We’re introduced to the real Amy Dunne. A woman with sociopathic tendencies who has found a frightful joy in framing her husband for her murder.

Okay, so what does any of this have to do with your job search? Are you supposed to turn into a sociopath to get a job?

No, please don’t. By no means do I want you to become Amy Dunne. She’s totally nutters! BUT I have to admit that there are a few things we can learn from her actions in Gone Girl that could really help in the job search.

In a recent podcast on the Harvard Business Review, Sanjeev Agrawal, the cofounder and CEO of Collegefeed explains what students need to think about when it comes to getting a job. His advice is to work on these three steps: branding, networking, and connecting. And let me tell you, Amy Dunne is an expert at all three…

Here’s what we can learn about these three job search steps from Gone Girl:

  • SHOW Your Personal Brand

Let’s start with your personal brand.

In a very different story, Amy Dunne might have been able to become a personal branding coach. She’s an expert at creating a strong brand for herself.

After she catches her husband cheating on her, she realizes that she wants to frame him for her murder. In order for her plan to work, she has to brand herself as a person the world would fall in love with and want to defend. She makes sure that everyone sees her in this light; she offers to grab a soda for one of the local bums, she writes sweet and loving entries in a fake journal. She makes it clear to everyone (except him) that she has never stopped loving her husband. She makes sure that this “Amy” is seen by everyone.

Now, you are NOT going to create a persona for yourself. You are YOU, and your personal brand should reflect that. But what you should learn from Amy is how to show AND tell when creating your story.

Sanjeev explains that creating a personal brand is a part of the job search process that is getting a lot of coverage with more advanced job-seekers but is just as important for students and recent graduates. Seasoned employees already have a background of work they can pull from to develop their stories and show to employers, but students are just starting out and don’t have that same body of work to draw from.

As Sanjeev says, “Personal branding starts with showing rather than telling.” Employers are paying just as much attention to your skill set as they are to where you went to school, so you have to make sure to get your work seen. Not only did Amy tell the world how loving she was in her journal, but she SHOWED it through her actions, volunteering to buy that drink, constantly smiling.

Create your story through your work. Are you good at writing? Get published in your school’s literary magazine or newspaper. (Or just start your own blog.) Are you looking into the tech industry? Make sure you’re working on places like GitHub and Stack Overflow.

Every single one of these front-end developers says that independent projects are what take a candidate from prospective to hired. Develop who you are as a job-seeker and how you fit into your industry through the work you do.

Start creating your personal brand here.

Network the RIGHT Way:

Amy is no stranger to networking and she is good at it. But her success with networking is the result of how she networks; not the fact that she does it.

Realizing she will need an ally in the town after she leaves, she solicits the friendship of her next door neighbor, Noelle Hawthorne. Noelle is the perfect person to have on her side. She’s a mother, a local in the town, and is exactly the type of person that the sweet “Amy” persona would spend her time with. Amy knows her audience.

Of course, Amy’s plan is to use Noelle to accuse her husband of murder and drop the bomb about her pregnancy, but she is too smart to make that obvious. Instead, Amy offers Noelle something she knows she wants—friendship. Noelle wants so badly to be friends with Amy, the new and mysterious neighbor, to be in her confidence and hear all her secrets.

Amy gives this to her. She goes through the motions of being Noelle’s friend, shares her “secrets” (the fears she has about her husband, her refusal to give up on their love, and her pregnancy). It is not a short process. It takes months and months of faking a friendship to finally get Amy the result she wants.

Though you should NOT be attending networking events just to use people, you should still take a cue from Amy and find the right niche for yourself. Sanjeev explains that to really get the best networking results, you have to do more than just “typical” networking, like attending events at your school or going to generic events and passing out your business card. You have to put yourself in situations where someone might want to meet you.

Find places where people who have similar interests hang out. Leverage social media or your personal connections to find sites or meetups where people in your industry are having discussions or working on projects. Know your audience and become a part of it. Also, don’t expect results right away. Building your network isn’t about shoving your résumé at new acquaintances and getting hired the next day. It’s a process; a pipeline. Expect it to contribute to your job search, but not make or break it.

Noelle was an important part of Amy’s plan, but she wasn’t the only reason Nick Dunne was suspected.

  • Connect With the Right People

When it comes to connecting, Amy really knows how to pull out the big guns. After she finds herself in a little bit of trouble, she doesn’t reach out to just anyone. She contemplates in that twisted, genius mind of hers about who the perfect person is to save her—someone with the right resources to support her and who doesn’t care that her husband is wrongly accused of murder. She knows just who this is; her rich ex-boyfriend who never really got over the fact that she left him.

One of the most frustrating parts about looking for a job is sending out your résumé to a job posting only to hear nothing back… ever. Sanjeev says that a lot of the time this is because job applicants are sending their résumés to the wrong people for the wrong jobs.

That’s why you need to do your homework. Don’t send your résumés out blindly. Find the people who are in charge of hiring and the jobs that are really aligned with your skills and interests. Then, make use of that network you’ve been building and get in contact with them!

Other Job Search Tips We Can Learn From Amy Dunne in Gone Girl:

Attention to Detail Is a Must

Amy is detail-oriented almost to a fault. Every. Single. Thing. she does is carefully thought out and put together to create the perfect web of lies. You should be no less careful when applying to a job. There’s nothing that will get you the boot faster than a grammar error on your résumé or in your cover letter.

If Something Goes Wrong, Get Over It And Figure Out a New Plan

Amy’s scheme seems pretty foolproof, but still, she ends up finding herself in a situation that totally throws everything off. But that doesn’t get her down for long. She picks herself up, dusts herself off, and quickly figures out a new plan of attack.

Sometimes it can seem like you’ve found a job and company that you’re perfect for. You’re brought in for a first and second interview and everything is going great until… yikes! You don’t get the job.

It’s frustrating, but you can’t let it stop you from applying to another one. Here are some tips you can use to help you deal with rejection in the job search.

Pain-spot

After Amy decides that she wants to return and stay married to Nick, she makes sure that she makes him an offer he cannot refuse. She finds his weak spot and uses that as leverage to get back into his life.

Use this same pain-spotting technique to get a job. You don’t necessarily want to point out what a company is doing wrong, but you can offer yourself as a solution to a part of your industry that could be improved. This recent graduate was sick of waiting around for a job offer. He looked for a place in his field that could be improved upon, took charge, and created a project to make it better.

Though I don’t want to cheer on anything that Amy Dunne did in Gone Girl, I have to admit that she was really good at getting what she wanted. Even though she’s totally crazy, there are certain parts of Amy’s character that we can imitate and use to find a job after college.

Homework time! Amy approached everything she did with intense determination and attention to detail. Adopt this to your job search strategy. Force people to see you. SHOW who you are as a job-seeker with your personal brand, network with people and in places that relate directly back to you, and be smart about who you connect with.

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