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Tuesday, January 31, 2023
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I recall an old (indeed, a very old) joke. Older than I am. Older than the hills:

A guy goes into his favorite restaurant and orders a bowl of chicken noodle soup. The waiter promptly serves it, but a few minutes later sees the guy staring at the soup but not eating it. He comes over and asks, “Anything wrong with the soup?” Guy says nothing – just stares at the soup. Waiter figures the guy might be waiting for the soup to cool off, but a few minutes later the guy still hasn’t begun eating. Waiter comes back and asks again if there’s anything wrong with the soup. Still no response, so the waiter backs off, thinking maybe the guy’s having a bad day or has a lot on his mind or something else that’s distracting him, so he gives him more time.

Yet a few more minutes go by and the guy still hasn’t touched the soup, so the waiter decides to be more specific in his questioning. Is it too hot? No answer. Not hot enough? No response.. Not enough chicken? Or noodles, maybe? Silence.

Frustrated, the waiter decides to take action and says, “If you won’t tell me, I’ll have to taste the soup myself.” He reaches for the spoon, finds none at the place setting, and blurts out. “Hey, where’s the spoon?”

Customer looks up and shouts, “Aha!!!”

As a kid, I used to roar every time my father told that joke, bellowing out the one-word punchline while stabbing the air above him with his index finger, dramatically acting out the customer’s defiant proclamation. (Just so you know, when my father told a joke, it was as funny the hundredth time he told it as it was the first.)

So anyway, why did I start today’s column by doing shtick? Surely I have no visions of doing Borscht Belt standup. (Raise your hand if you even remember the Borscht Belt.) The reason is that this joke is a pretty good metaphor for something that’s becoming – by the day – a bigger challenge in the workplace: the complexity of the job market and the simplicity of the tool(s) you need in order to get through it.

If you think about it, a bowl of chicken noodle soup – at least the way my mother served

it – is a complex world. There’s the liquid, with those delightful globules of chicken fat floating on the top; the chunks of chicken, of course, those little rewards we all saved until the end; the noodles, which were always slippery and too long to stay on the spoon, thereby slipping off and splashing back in the soup, resulting in my uncle usually wearing half of it on his shirt; and the carrots and celery, all of which were cut to a size that had no relation to the spoon. But we had the spoon, so we ate the soup. And (you know this next line is coming) it was the best chicken noodle soup in the history of the universe! But I digress.

If the soup is the job market and the spoon is the (set of) tool(s) you need to get through it, then the big challenge for most people is not that they’re unqualified for the job(s) they want; it’s that they’re not familiar with the ground rules governing the way the job market works, as opposed to years back, when things weren’t necessarily easier but were certainly simpler.

And make no mistake, this is an intimidating thing. It’s intimidating for the 20-something just out of school, for the 30-year veteran whose company just went bankrupt and set her out on the street for the first time since 1988, for the mid-career professional who has suddenly realized how fast technology has gone past him, or for anyone else facing a complex, complicated, globally-influenced, technology-shaped job market.

That’s the challenge. If you don’t want the soup to get cold, the solution is to pick up the spoon. And if the spoon is not there, ask for it. Your tools (five of them, actually – geez, I’ve been through this a million times) are (1) what you write – resume, letter, profiles; (2) what you say – interviewing strategies; (3) what your vision is – career planning; (4) how you search – smart, proactive job search strategies; and (5) how you utilize your strongest resources – career networking.

These tools are critical and if you don’t have them well in hand, go find a professional who will help you get them. You don’t want cold soup.


Career Coach Eli Amdur provides one-on-one coaching in job search, résumés, and interviewing.

Reach him at [email protected] or 201-357-5844.

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