Using Innovation to Navigate Today’s Job Market. Guest Post John Zuknick

In today’s unprecedented environment, the job market is challenging at best for anyone from a recent graduate to someone laid off to a career-changer to those reentering the job market. Due to the pandemic we’re in a global recession and looking for employment during a recession is difficult.

The five principles of effectuation (Image source:

What can you do to better position yourself for success in these uncertain times?  I suggest you employ an innovative process that many entrepreneurs have used for years called effectuation.  The effectual thinking process works on the philosophy of, “If I can control the future, I do not need to predict it.” Some very successful serial entrepreneurs, including Michael Rubin, an e-commerce and sports entrepreneur, and Oprah Winfrey, an entrepreneur who built businesses based on her television audience following, each used effectual entrepreneurship.  Serial entrepreneurs are effectual thinkers.

To navigate through an uncertain job market, consider using what you already know.  Focus on the given means (what you know) and choices; and then, define your goal. Effectuation encourages creative, innovative and transformative tactics to control your future, and is based on the following five principles that can help you control the job market uncertainty:

John Zuknick is Director of Economic Development & Workforce Initiatives for the Universities at Shady Grove. He volunteers as an entrepreneur-in-residence and teaches marketing, innovation, and entrepreneurship at the University of Baltimore.
  1. Bird in Hand Principle  

The first step of effectuation is your means, not your goal.  Begin with looking at the resources you have at your disposal right now. Make an assessment by asking yourself:

Who am I?  Conduct a self-reflection and complete a value map exercise to determine your strengths, traits, and abilities. “Who you are” is something you likely take for granted, think of as obvious, and have never thought about memorializing in a written document.  However, defining your values is key when trying to explain your work to colleagues, superiors or hiring managers. When developing your value map, survey your supervisor, co-workers, professors, and peers.  Try to keep away from asking your mom, as she already knows that you’re brilliant, and BFFs are not always unbiased!

What do I know?  What value do you bring to the table with education, training, expertise, interests and experience that employers can use to solve their problems?  Here is where you want to uncover your value through a competence mapping exercise.  Use the results from competence mapping (what you bring to the table) to match your value to solving the employer’s requirements and needs.  Maybe you are applying for a social media marketing position and have been successful with social media marketing through a volunteer organization or club.  That’s great, and you are very qualified, but you also need to highlight what differentiates you from the other qualified applicants who are applying. 

Who do I know?  Target and segment your social and professional networks for employment opportunities.  This provides you with effective introductions via your network (e.g. colleagues, classmates, former employers and co-workers, professional acquaintances, friends, family, etc.).  You will find an excel spreadsheet works well for this task.  Research on how to best develop this process as there a number of books and websites with good information on identifying and farming your network.

After answering these key questions, you will be ready to create a personal value proposition (PVP).  A PVP is a summary of why an employer should hire you! It’s not about what you want, but instead, what value you bring to the opportunity. Usually the first question asked in an interview is, “Tell me about yourself.”  When answering this question, the first sentence should be your PVP! It’s extremely important to develop a strong PVP and a message map is an excellent place to start when developing your PVP.

2. Affordable Loss Principle  

By using this principle, you kill failures early and you cumulate successes by leveraging on what works. Ask yourself, “What can I possibly lose by taking this action and is that affordable to me?”  If it is an affordable loss and there are potential gains, go for it! Here are a few examples:  

Initiating contacts with other people has a very low cost but high upside.  

The job market is challenging, should you stay in school to earn a Master’s degree? You already have $70,000 worth of debt from your undergraduate degree.  Is the additional debt worth it?  

There is a significant need for cyber security specialists. You could attend a cyber-academy, incur an additional $20,000 of debt and in six months have multiple certifications making you a candidate for a variety of high paying jobs.

A company you desire to work for has a non-paid internship. Can you afford to work free for three months to increase your chances of landing a paid position at the end of your three-month internship?

There is no “right” answer to the question of “What is an affordable loss?” The question is very personal and can only be made by you after careful consideration of your personal aspirations and financial situation.  

3. Lemonade Principle  

There is an old saying, “When you get dealt lemons, make lemonade.” I always use lots of sugar!  Leverage the possibilities by embracing the unexpected that arises from uncertain situations; be flexible rather than chained to your current goals. A great story I share with my entrepreneurship classes on the lemonade principle is the invention of the potato chip. George Crum invented the potato chip in 1853. Crum was a chef at a restaurant where French-fries were popular, and one day a diner complained that his fries were too thick. Mr. Crum cut the potatoes thin, salted the potatoes heavily and fried them up. Out of just one customer complaint, the potato chip was born! Learn to work with surprises and turn those surprises into opportunities. For example, if you have a business degree with a concentration in marketing but there is an opportunity at a large company as an accounting clerk, why not consider it? After getting your foot in the door, you’ll have a better opportunity to move towards that desired marketing position.

4. Crazy-Quilt Principle

Partnerships, partnerships, partnerships…create a personal “quilt” by forming partnerships with diverse people and organizations willing to make a real commitment to jointly creating the future with you. For example, you join a business civic organization and volunteer to serve on a committee. A committee member notices the hard work and skills you employed to ensure the success of the committee project. Her company has an opening and she recommends you for the position before the job is on Indeed (actual story). The Crazy-Quilt Principle can serve as a paramount resource in finding employment.

5. Pilot in the Plane Principle 

You are in the pilot seat of your career, which means you need to “Control vs. Predict.”  By focusing on activities within your control, you need to know your actions will result in the desired outcomes. Of course, not everything can be shaped or controlled, but effectuation encourages you, as the pilot of your career, to focus on those aspects of the environment that are, at least to a certain degree, within your control.

I hope you find the above points helpful as you take the next step in your personal and professional journey.  Looking for employment in a recession is difficult. However, working through adversity makes us stronger and produces great character traits that can lead us to great success.

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