June 2, 2011

Baskets and Chickens

Today we're going to talk about those two horrifying cliches of life: putting all of one's eggs in one basket, and counting chickens before they hatch.

Eggs in One Basket

This is so easy to do and absolutely potentially lethal. For those of you who aren't familiar with this phrase, it basically means you aren't distributing your risk; instead of diversifying, you (for example) invest all of your capital in one thing, manufacturing or something. Which is awesome when manufacturing is on the up-and-up, but say textiles or steel or cars or whatever see a huge setback. Maybe all of the cotton is plagued with fungus, or there's a steel shortage or a UAW strike. Something is happening and these industries are seeing a massive tumble. Congratulations, you're losing wealth -- wealth you wouldn't have lost if you had invested in, say, manufacturing and tech and banks, or whatever.

In a similar way, your job search is like an investment, and it's very easy to find that you're exposing yourself to a lot of unnecessary risk via your job search strategy. Say you're, oh, a business economics major with a co-degree in public policy analysis. Awesome! Congratulations, hypothetical student. You would be great in consulting, economic research, or perhaps even working for a lobbyist or federal agency. You're so awesome. But let's say that you really just want to do consulting. As in, it's your life passion, and the more you hear about it the more you feel like it's right for you. Awesome. So you apply for consulting and analyst-type positions only. Congratulations, you've basically opened yourself up to a ton of risk.

In this (admittedly convoluted) metaphor, you are the investment capital. If you choose to shop yourself to the consulting firms (and only the consulting firms) then you're limiting your opportunities considerably. There's a ton of industries that you could be working in to start with, and you could do a whole lot more at a startup or a smaller consultancy than you could realistically at a larger firm. Analyst positions are pretty comparable across the board, as well, so you could leverage former experience into a later position and demonstrate your real value.

Finally, this phrase could also mean that you're leaning on one job to pull through for you. We'll talk more about this in the next section.

Chickens Before They Hatch

Don't start making Epic Life Plans before you have the interview; I am, right now, doing my absolute best to not allow this to happen to me. For myself, this is partially not my fault. The company asked me some questions that have tracked my mind into starting on the road of Epic Life Plans. And that road just leads to serious disappointments.

Counting your chickens before they hatch means taking for granted some exceptionally risky thing. In this case, it's getting the interview, the offer, the job. In life, it's assuming that things are going to go your way even when the odds are not obviously in your favor.

So what do we do about this? Keep applying. Send your resume every day, even if the company is courting you hard, even if the job looks like a lock, just send it out every. single. day. Don't give up, don't hang your hat, just send out that resume even while you're juggling interview prep and company researching. Prevent counting chickens by getting it done.

(I'll be honest, I just watched my Dallas Mavericks win a tough game. I don't have the heart to blather on about expecting the impossible when I just saw something that seemed nigh impossible just happen. So hey. Perhaps, sometimes, a little hope and prayer and sweat equity will also get you what you want.)


  1. So wise. You really should consider economic journalism and writing; you have a very rare style; one that is both authoritative and conversational WITHOUT being an assumed air which is something that so many Ivy-leaguers fall into.

  2. On "counting chickens," I've been thinking about this as my own job search gets started. It's tricky because often in the application process you'll be asked to imagine how you would fill the position. I think the key is to play it as an intellectual exercise rather than an emotional commitment--which of course is easier said than done.