by Jennifer Winter — January 14, 2013
A few months ago, I visited Tanzania for the first time, and over the span of two weeks had the amazing opportunity to venture out to the Siwandu and Jongomero camps in the remote Tanzanian bush.
On my first day, we happened upon a pride of lions resting by a lake, just as the sun was setting. One of the young males decided get a closer look, and I was immediately spellbound by his presence. As he slowly sauntered by, he favored me with a glance, and for one magical moment, I looked into the eyes of the king of the jungle. Understandably, I became a bit obsessed with lions after that.
But in addition, as I watched one of the world's most effective predators in action, I realized that they could teach us all a thing or two about hunting—for a job.
Hear me out.
Lesson #1: Learn From Others
Hands down, one of the most impressive animal sightings I had was of a pride of seven lions and cubs dining on a giant water buffalo. Although the buffalo was massive, it was easily dwarfed when all the hungry lions crowded over it for a bite. As we watched, it was clear there was a pecking order, and none of the lions were shy about asserting their place in the hierarchy.
But what really caught my eye was how each lion served as a teacher for the others. For instance, one of the cubs was trying to sneak in for a big bite, and was quickly swatted off by one of the older lions. The other cubs lingered not far behind, waiting to see what happened. And when they realized the older lion wasn't in a sharing mood, they moved on to a less contentious part of the buffalo.
This scenario (minus the gore) can play out in your job search as well. When you're ready to zone in on a particular opportunity, don't go in blind and just hope for the best. Find out what made other candidates successful (or not) by scheduling informational interviews and doing some research to get to know the rock stars of the industry. After you're familiar with what tactics worked for others, you'll be better positioned for success of your own.
Lesson #2: Everything's Connected
While the animals in Tanzania were incredible, the connectedness of the ecosystem in which they survived was pretty amazing as well. From the watering holes created by rooting elephants to the network of paths tramped out by grazing hippos, one thing was clear: Everything was connected in some way. Each part of the environment had an impact on another, and everyone knew everyone else's business.
This is an important consideration when looking for a new job, because let's face it, people talk. Whether you're in a giant industry like banking or a niche industry like purple widget manufacturing, chances are, you'll eventually run into someone who's connected to your future employer. And, just like the fragile balance in the ecosystem of the African bush, the network of people in your field can work in your favor—or against it.
Take the time to develop existing relationships and forge new ones. Yes, that means you'll have to step out of your comfort zone and attend a few networking events, but with the right attitude, they don't have to be painful. Once you understand you're swimming in the same pool as your future (and former) employers, it's much easier to pursue relationships that could help land you a new job in the future.
Lesson #3: Failure is Part of the Process
If you've ever watched a documentary on lions, you know they often miss the mark when pursuing their prey. Animal Planet, which ranks the lion as the #2 predator on Earth, notes lions miss four out of every five attempts when hunting. That's an 80% failure rate! Yet, lions are still considered the "king of the jungle" for good reason: They take failure in stride, and they keep trying until they have their dinner.
Hopefully your job search will yield better results, but when you're in the trenches, it's easy to let any number of failures get you down. If you don't land the job you were hoping for, approach the experience from the lion's perspective: Learn from it, then change your strategy as needed. Build on each opportunity that didn't work out, and you'll soon find yourself enjoying the spoils of victory—a new job.
Lesson #4: The Competition Never Ends
Every single day I ventured out on a safari drive or walk, I found myself struggling to keep up with the frenetic pace of life as it played out in front of me. Even the lions' naps in the blazing afternoon heat were precisely choreographed to enhance their competitive edge, allowing them to conserve energy until they needed it most for the hunt. You could almost see them plotting their next pursuit as they sauntered up to the local watering hole for a drink as the sun set, their eyes never distracted from the horizon. For them, each success was to be enjoyed only for a moment, and then it was right back to work.
This is an important lesson for your job search as well. One good interview—or two or three—doesn't guarantee you'll land the job. And even once you've sealed the deal, you don't have a pass down Easy Street. The competition will always be there, coming up with new and creative ways to get an edge, so you must be, too. Keep your skills sharp and expand on your experience by taking classes or finding a mentor to show you the tricks of the trade. Working to constantly improve yourself not only makes you better at your job, but a formidable competitor, ready to pounce at the next opportunity.
While the lions of the remote regions of the Tanzanian bush may seem like improbable career counselors, remember they do this for a living. So, thinking like a lion may just make you king (or queen!) of a corporation someday.
Jennifer Winter is a 14-year veteran in financial services, and a writer and aspiring entrepreneur. Originally from Montana, Jennifer has a great appreciation for the outdoors, and takes advantage of all the Bay Area has to offer whenever she gets the chance. Hailing from Oakland, Jennifer is always up for a glass of wine, great conversation and people watching. You can find her on Twitter @fearlessjenn.