Finding A Job In Today’s Job Market: Hero’s Journey

Hero's Journey: Landing A Job In Today's Job Market

Know Your Values, Know Your Worth!

I’ve spent months finding a new job that I really wanted. This, the first part of my journal of the experience, may help others in similar situations in today’s job market. I’ll include my thought process, tools and applications, resources, and lessons learned. While the resources mentioned in this article worked for me, it doesn’t mean they would all work for you. Use them as guidance or a blueprint, but you’ll need to design your own path. Speaking of path, the best way to describe the end-to-end experience is probably through the Hero’s Journey.

Intermission: Five Stages Of Grief

I didn’t lose my job in a mass layoff like many. If losing your job is a situation that is sudden and unexpected, you may be expected to describe the journey through the popular five stages of grief. Except, it is a myth. Work by Bonnano in 2002 looked at 205 individuals before and after their spouses’ death, and found that only 11% followed the grief trajectory assumed to be “normal” [1].

A Balanced View Of Campbell’s Hero’s Journey

If not the five stages of grief, then what? Well, there’s the Hero’s Journey, which is basically also a lie. One that we’d like to be true [2].

Campbell claimed his theory, which has gone on to influence everything from Star Wars to Disney’s Aladdin, arose from a universal structure inherent in the global myths of antiquity. The problem is, that’s a lie. Campbell’s theory is as mythological as the stories from which it borrows.

One of the biggest challenges with the Hero’s Journey is the brand of “rugged” individualism. Therefore, as you read this adventure through the lens of the Hero’s Journey, think of the word “hero” not in the modern sense of the “rugged individual infused with toxic masculinity to win against all odds,” but rather as a human learning about themselves while pursuing happiness and growth. Any human.

Act 1: The Ordinary World

Act 1 is about the perceived calm before the storm. Sometimes, the storm comes out of nowhere, completely unexpected. Other times, it’s brewing, but you may be living in blissful oblivion ignoring all the signs of inclement weather.

1. Ordinary World

A safe, often mundane world where the Hero exists. Through the lens of everyday tasks and challenges the Hero is presented as a human, just like any other.

Think of your role before anything happens. You have projects, you deal with deadlines, politics, co-workers, etc. At least you have some control over what’s going on, or at a minimum, how you react to it all. You may not even update your resume or network with others outside of the company for a long time. You may even hear that everyone is a family at work. Your performance reviews are fine. What could go wrong?

  • Hint
    You should always keep your eyes on the road and not in the vanity mirror!

2. Call To Adventure

There is one distinct moment, where the Hero receives the call to action. It may be as dramatic as a direct threat to their safety or even the whole community. This moment is the first time the Hero’s life is disrupted in the “ordinary” world.

And one day, out of the blue, you may learn the rightsizing or reduction in workforce may affect you. This initial call is often like a first dent in the new car. You just can’t believe it. There must be a fix.

3. Refusal Of The Call

The initial reaction to change often follows the same pattern: people want change, but they want others to change. Therefore, the Hero may refuse the call, thinking “why me?” A refusal of the call sometimes manifests in downplaying the significance of the change. I’ll just put a band-aid on that scratch.

If this call to action was unexpected, it may take a while to even digest the news and the new reality. You may post about the unfortunate event on LinkedIn. Some may turn on the “green banner” just in case. Last time you looked for a job was pretty simple and quick. Why would that be different now, with all the experience you’ve gained? Right?

  • Hint
    There’s a lot of debate on LinkedIn about the “green banner.” Does it reflect a decision for change, or a desperation for anything? First, the green banner is probably not the first thing you should do. Find people you trust (see mentors below) and discuss how prepared you are. Do you know what you want? And is that what you need?

4. Meeting The Mentor

Mentors are some of the most memorable figures in movies. While the Hero needs guidance and advice, the audience gets their first glimpse into a world that is anything but ordinary. Representing the bridge between the unknown and the known, the mentor often gives something to the Hero. A gift. An object of great importance? Insight? Advice? Self-confidence? Skill?

Here’s a sample of famous “mentors” in movies: Yoda, Professor John Keating, Gandalf, Mary Poppins. Watch these movies for inspiration [3]! In reality, this is not so dramatic. However, reaching out to your network is crucial. The goal is not to get a magic shield or even a job, actually. It is to spread the word and receive honest feedback.

5. Crossing The Threshold

“Red pill, blue pill” meme, anyone? The Hero must choose to cross the threshold. They may need some “help” to stumble over it, but it is always clear that they just started something scary, something that is going to test their knowledge, skills, and even self-esteem.

In screenplays, the moment of crossing the threshold is always a “beat”: a significant scene that propels the story into the real adventure. This scene is mostly a choice rather than a forced entry. Think of the “red pill, blue pill” scene in The Matrix. By providing a difficult choice to the hero where they’ll have to take a risk, we resonate more with their courage and commitment.

But those are movies. In reality, your freedom of choice to embark on finding a new job can vary. Some do this slowly and gradually, while others dive into the deep end. There are no right or wrong ways. However, you can improve your chances by preparing for the moment.

Act 2: The Special World: Finding A Job

We’re not in Kansas anymore! How you adapt to the new world, the new rules, the new tools, and the new processes can make or break your success.

6. Tests, Allies, Enemies

Imagine you just landed in an unknown country. Everything is strange: the language, colors and signs, the rules of traffic, what’s edible, and what’s not…that’s how the Hero feels when navigating the “special” world. A lot of things they took for granted are gone or useless. Knowledge, skills, and experiences that helped the Hero in the “ordinary” world don’t seem to make a difference. Everything is a challenge. Everything is a test. To overcome, the Hero needs to know who they can trust (allies) and who they need to fight (enemies).

On LinkedIn, you can see this story unfold when someone gets laid off. They post their status, with some opting for the “green banner” and a call to action to help find a job. The message is positive, even energetic. New challenges are welcome! They search for job postings and find perfect matches, where they even believe they’re overqualified. And after weeks (sometimes months) of no success, they realize they’re not in Kansas anymore.

In my case, I reached out to allies (you know who you are, and thank you!) to keep an eye on openings. I had my list of must-haves and a list of nice-to-haves. I wanted to know what I really want. And how will I know if I fit in? I knew, for example, that I wanted a remote job with occasional travel (when it makes sense, not when it’s Tuesday).

  • Hint
    A great way to start is to read a book called Wrong Fit, Right Fit [4]. This is an excellent and practical resource that takes you through the process of figuring out your values, expectations, and practical tools to find the right company where you “fit in.” What I appreciated about this book is that it includes tons of interviews with real people who fit in and those who did not. And by the way, fitting in may not mean what you think. It is about being comfortable with how to get things done.

7. Approach To The Inmost Cave

The inmost cave represents a place or situation where the Hero realizes that the only way to successfully return to the “ordinary” world is to face the toughest challenger: themselves. It is like sitting in a dark, empty, silent room on your own. No distraction. No electronics. Nothing. Listening to your thoughts, that you may have suppressed by being busy. Are you honest with yourself? Do you have doubts about yourself?

People may think they just need to “update” their resumes and apply for a couple of jobs where they clearly meet all the requirements. That is before they enter the inmost cave. Not hearing back from “sure” jobs, not even a phone screening, is the entrance to the inmost cave.

Welcome to the gates of doubts! To get organized, I used a personal career development platform for practical job tracking. It let me add job postings directly from LinkedIn or other sites. It helped me keep customized resumes and cover letters organized. It also had an “AI” feature that tells you how your resume matches a job description, but they need to work on that feature, as it picks up words in isolation even from the legal claims at the bottom of a job description.

You’re going to doubt yourself, including things you take for granted, such as knowledge, skills, and experience. This is a different world with different rules. The Hero’s ordeal is just starting, but without understanding who you are, as opposed to what the world wants you to think about who you are, it is going to be extremely hard to make decisions. And you’re going to have to make lots of them.

The Ordeal Of Finding A Job

In the next part of this article, the Hero continues their journey through the ordeal stage, where they face challenges, upsets, and disappointments along the way. One of the biggest disappointments is realizing that it may not be the most qualified candidate who gets the job after all. Who gets the job? (Don’t take this list too seriously. Unless it resonates.)

  1. Someone they already had in mind, but following rules, they had to post the position. Therefore, they created the job description for that person.
  2. An internal candidate who knows the hiring manager well, and they’ve been working on this move for a while.
  3. An internal candidate who has already proven to be an asset to the company without a direct work relationship with the hiring manager.
  4. An external candidate the hiring manager personally worked with or knew from outside work.
  5. An external candidate who was referred internally by someone the hiring manager knows. The internal referral championed the external candidate in an informal chat with the hiring manager.
  6. An external candidate who contacted the hiring manager (or their manager) directly, and the hiring manager was open for a quick informal chat rather than reading hundreds of similar resumes.
  7. An external candidate through a recruiter’s direct outreach or someone they’ve interviewed before for another role.
  8. An external qualified candidate who managed to get through the awful automated resume submission process to be even considered by a human.
  9. An external, qualified candidate who applied for the job.
  10. Nobody (not kidding, there are jobs that open and reopen for months and months)

I’ll share some personal experiences about the ordeal stage in the next part of the article.


[1] It’s Time to Let the Five Stages of Grief Die

[2] The Man Behind the Myth: Should We Question the Hero’s Journey?

[3] The top 30 mentoring movies of all time

[4] Wrong Fit, Right Fit

[5] The Hidden Traps in Decision Making

[6] 5 Applicant Tracking System Myths, Debunked

Author’s Note: This is the first of two articles discussing my experience of finding and landing a job.

Editor’s Note: Check out our directory to find, choose, and compare eLearning Industry’s Top Recruiting Software.