Why Job Hunting and Cooking Red Beans and Rice are Alike

Although I grew up in New Jersey and trained in the midwest, I lived and worked in Louisiana for 25 years. It took a while, but I finally realized that one of the two things they do better in Louisiana than anywhere else in the country is cooking! I was a slow learner, but I eventually picked up a thing or two. (The other thing they do better in Louisiana is partying, but that’s an altogether different post.)

One of the signature dishes of Louisiana (and much of the rest of the South) is Red Beans and Rice. (I’m whipping up a batch right now, as I write this.) There are some basics you absolutely need for the dish, in particular, red beans and rice (and black pepper, but that’s just assumed in Louisiana). Then there are the common ingredients, like onions, celery, some sort of green peppers, and (except if you’re serving to Yankees) hot sauce. Traditional style calls for ham hocks but there are lots of variations including sausage (Louisiana boudin is great), or ham, or whatever you happen to have left over in your fridge.

Then there are the spices. We mentioned pepper and hot sauce, but from there on it all depends on the cook. Every recipe is different. The one thing you can’t do is NOT put spices into the mix. That’s pretty much the rule for all Louisiana cooking (Cajun, Creole, Soul, Caribbean, N’orleans, Country and home). Spices make the simplest of foods distinctive.

The other important ingredient is time. You can throw together some beans and rice, but its the slow simmering that makes all the ingredients mix and enhance each other. If you’re making it from scratch, with dried beans, you probably start soaking the beans the previous night. Some say the dish is even better after it’s been cooked and the leftovers stored in the refrigerator for a couple of days – the flavors mix together even more.

Cooking up a new job and making a batch of Cajun food have a lot of similarities

Just as a simple dish of Red Beans and Rice can grow to become a personal statement, the same goes for job hunting.

There is no single way to find a job. But there are a lot of details you need to pay attention to, just like a good recipe. Do it out of order, add the wrong details, or do it half-baked, and you may need to throw out the application and start over from scratch.

The Four Ways to Get a Job

First, there are only four ways to get a job. Local (that’s New Jersey local, not Louisiana, now) résumé writer and job coach, Debra Wheatman, tells us that the four ways are:

  1. Internet search (newspapers, generally, don’t cut the mustard for job search any more),
  2. Recruiters,
  3. Social Media (LinkedIn is tops, but Twitter, Facebook, blogs, and other sites can all go in the gumbo),
  4. Networking (not just connecting on LinkedIn – real, face-to-face, person-to-person networking).

Just as you can decide whether to add smoked sausage, ham hocks, or vegan soysage to your red beans, you can decide which way you want to focus on finding your job, but it’s probably not a job hunt if you aren’t focusing on one of the four ways. (Just like it’s not a real Red Beans and Rice without the essential ingredients.)

Whichever way you go, there are some essential tools you need for your job hunt. A résumé is essential. Communication skills are necessary. And, these days, you need a centralized web location for your job hunt. To continue with the metaphor, this is your online kitchen, where all your friends, networking partners, recruiters and potential employers can come visit, sit down for a spell, drink some tea or coffee, and talk turkey.

For most people, the easiest way to do this is do create a good LinkedIn profile. The trick is to make your profile look like YOU, not your résumé, not a cookie cutter business exec, but something unique that makes you stand out in the midst of 400 million LinkedIn members. Add your individual spice. (Likewise, if you want to stand out as a cook, Louisiana cooking is just one of the milieus you can be noticed in; there’s also French, Chinese, German, Indian and lots of other places you can hang your spoon.)

If you are a social media specialist, you might already have a website as your central command. Some people are so famous, all they need is Twitter. But for most job hunters, LinkedIn is a very good place to be found.

Networking is another important ingredient to the modern job hunt, as is targeting your search at several specific companies.

Too many job hunters say they just want any job at any company, and often they get no job at all. You need to write your own job hunt recipe, depending on your location and needs. (Here, in the crowded northeast, you need to decide on the specific type of company, its location, how you can commute, see if telecommuting is an option, and more.)

Create a plan to focus on one or two companies at a time. Find people to network with who you can build trust with and, eventually, have them become a search partner for you. Know what you can do for that company that most others can’t. Then, be patient. Simmering a while is important when cooking a new job. Then, when you do get an interview, you have all the ingredients in the right order, you’ve planned well to show how you meld the mix together into a career recipe that focuses on them, not just the cook.

Finally, there are some tasks you can do in advance. Just like you can chop vegetables beforehand, soak the beans the day before, make the cornbread, or use leftover rice, you can prepare for the job search before you are unemployed: getting your résumé up to date; creating your LinkedIn profile, going to a career counselor, joining a networking group, building your job search community.

Some cooks can walk into a kitchen, look in the cupboard and fridge, and come up with a new recipe from scratch. But that cook probably has years of experience with a wide variety of foods and cooking techniques before they get to that point. Likewise, if you want a quick and successful job search, prepare your personal network before you need it. If your job search “cupboard” is already full before you need it, then it is easier to find that new job, too. Put the ingredients together and let them simmer until it’s time to serve.

Well, it’s time for me to go stir those beans and start the rice. Wish I could share those with you, too. Laissez les bons temps rouler, y’all. And happy eating and job hunting, too.


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