Toll Booth

Toll Booth Incident Taught Me About Job Search


Toll BoothOn my way home from work recently, the toll booth lane got backed up. When I finally got to the attendant and reached out to hand her my money, she said, “The guy in front of you just paid your toll.”

I was shocked. I paused and said, “Did he say why?”

She said, “Well, the guy in front of him paid for him, so he paid for you. It’s that pay-it-forward thing.”

I didn’t need to think twice. I handed her my money and said, “Okay. Then I’ll pay for the person behind me.” Her face lit up and with a big smile she said, “Oh, my! That makes number eight! I wonder how long it will keep going?!” Her reaction was contagious. I drove off with a big smile on my face too. It literally changed my mood. I felt different.

What Loser Wouldn’t Keep it Going?

That night over dinner, I told my husband about the toll booth incident.  Then, I asked aloud, “I wonder how many more did it?” To which my husband replied, “You have to hope a lot. I mean, what kind of loser would have someone do something nice like that for them, and not want to keep it going? If you were in that toll booth line, you were planning to pay anyways, so why not put the money to good use and keep the karma going?”

That’s when it hit me: One of the biggest reasons job search is so ineffective and stressful right now is people aren’t paying-it-forward enough.

Your Job Search Hurts Because…

As a job seeker, especially one not currently working, I realize you feel frustrated, helpless, and depressed. You are in pain – and the human body doesn’t like to be in pain. What you may not realize (or, aren’t ready to accept) is your painful feelings are coming from an endless talk-track of negativity going on inside your head.

(This article over at the Mayo Clinic breaks explains this in medical terms.)

This negative self-talk is causing you physical and emotional stress that hurts your health (i.e. more likely to get sick, etc.). In short, there is plenty of evidence to support you must make a conscious effort to look at things more positively when it comes to your job search. You need to have some feel-good moments related to finding work.

That being said, be honest and ask yourself this: How many people have you actually tried to help with their careers in the last month? I bet not many. Here’s why…

Survival Mode is Making You Selfish!

When we are looking for work, we become very selfish. We are in pain, so we naturally go into survival mode. The rationale is, “Once I get a job, then I’ll help someone else get one.” And yet, the very power of positivity that could come from helping someone else land a job is something you need right now, isn’t it? Truth be told, I think we can all do a better job of leveraging the power of paying-it-forward in job search. It should be a movement. Let’s call it Job-It-Forward!

Job-It-Forward Movement

I wish I could take credit for the name, Job-It-Forward, but it actually was an idea generated by my good friend and writing partner, Dale Dauten. Back when the recession first hit in 2009, he proposed it to our editors, but they shot it down. We had hoped to get some corporate support to build out a strategy for sharing the successful stories of those engaged in Job-It-Forward activities. Alas, it was not meant to be… at least back then.

Fast forward to today…

CAREEREALISM was just a baby blog in 2009 with a tiny audience. But today, we have all of you! More than 800,000 monthly visitors that care about the same thing: Learning the new rules to job search and career development.

Tell Us Your Job-It-Forward Story

I’m looking for stories where everyday professionals decided to Job-It-Forward for friends, family, and even strangers? What have you done to get someone hired? What’s working?  How did it make you feel? Share your stories in the comments below. Let’s learn from one another all the ways we could be doing a better job at helping other’s find jobs!

Your Next Step

If you are struggling to stay positive and motivated in your job search, then I suggest you sign up for my videos on the Ultimate Technique for an Easier Job Search.

Click below to get access to the first video.


Image Credit: Shutterstock

J.T. O'Donnell

Job Search & Career Expert. Syndicated Speaker & Author. Wife. Mother. CEO of CAREEREALISM Media. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.


  1. If you are good at something, do it for free and do it all the time! I start with the young folks having difficulty getting their first jobs and work with them on their resumes and basic networking. I’m hoping to reach as many of them as I can, because we do a terrible job of teaching young people basics of job search. I don’t want anyone young to have to go through what I went through in 2002 as a young engineering graduate.

    There is never any reason you can’t offer to help in the twenty-first century. The golden rule is the most important rule for wealth generating networks!

  2. I as laid-off in 2010 and was freelancing and looking for full-time employment since then. I landed a contract position in 2011 and then at the end of last year I saw a position at a company where I knew some people. I networked with one of the people I knew and he got my resume in front of the right people and gave me a recommendation. After I landed the job I took him to lunch and he told me that he knew alot of people who were out of work and wants to help anyway he can. I couldn’t thank him enough. Now, having been with the company, our department is moving to the same building where he is, so I’m hoping I can have lunch with him many more now that we’ll be in the same workspace. If ever given the opportunity I would certainly job it forward.

  3. I was part of a mass lay-off of 700 people. I’ve made a point that if I see something in my search that might be what some of those other 699 people are looking for, to forward it to them. I don’t know if it’s exactly what they are looking for, but I usually get a “Thank you, keep sending them”. It’s great to help out others, and is a great way to keep in touch and keep others positive in their search as well. Nothing feels better than knowing you have someone on your side.

  4. Great article. After several departments I worked with, including my own and myself were reduced I was beaten down at first. I wasn’t ready for a mid-life retirement. After a few interviews that were not to my liking (nor probably to the potential employer), a thought hit me. What if I just started my own company? I could hire on many of my recently departed colleagues and help them out as well. We could be doing what we had always done and loved. It was a great plan. It was looking good. I got together with several of those colleagues/friends and we would meet a couple times a week for a lunch meeting and hash out our plan. It was going well but we found that it was very difficult to break into the market we were hoping for. And, for the very same reasons our previous employer had to dismiss us. The market was gone. While we did get some SOW’s and we made bids on jobs, we were never able to land one.

    However, it was funny how I started to feel obligated to find a job for all my friends. If I could not give them a job with our own business then I was going to throw them as many life lines as I could as I came across them. I started forwarding job prospects to them that I received via the job websites or career coaches. Eventually one of those friends threw a line back to me and I returned to a working status. Now, several years later, we are all working at jobs and keeping up with our bills (mostly). But we all sure wish we were back working with one another again. As the economy has started to rebound again, I have been pondering that business once more and if we could make a go out of it again.

    Here’s to many happy connections and prosperity for all. You never know, the stranger you meet today may become your friend tomorrow.

  5. So I work in career development at my university and this is something I do regularly. I find out about job openings from recruiters and pass them on to the classmates I know who are looking for work that kind of work (I also take the opportunities that i am interested in as well). Recently at a job fair I was informed that a company was looking for individuals to help with their contract development and I told a classmate who had started law school, but switched to the MBA route, about it. That is my most recent instance of Jobbing-it-forward.

  6. I find it very helpful when I come across a job post from a company in my industry, and that I know someone that is qualified for it, to post it on twitter or on Linkedin, or email it to my friends in the industry. Specially if it’s a role in my current company, I love to extend an invitation to my fellow Notre Dame alums or people that I know can benefit from it, it’s just a great feeling to help other people. I have a great friend right now that is in Media that always emails me posts daily, and I try to do the same whenever I can, and also share the wealth with others. Something that I find very useful is to connect with people on LinkedIn and open my network to them, so that we can leverage each other’s contacts and help make introductions. From reading a lot of your articles and personal experience, I truly believe networking is the number 1 way to get a job: it’s not what you know, it’s who you know!

    Thank you for reminding me to keep paying it forward!

  7. I find that the job seekers are the people who are helping other job seekers. I have tried to help people either with advice or connecting them to people in my network. It is the people who already have jobs, especially those from my last company who are not willing to help.

  8. I like the idea of pay-it-forward and job-it-forward. I’m a weekly follower of CAREEREALISM. I have been looking for work since I was laid off in June, but I am not feeling helpless and depressed. I started to read about the “in pain” part and was deciding that this article wasn’t for me, but read on anyway. Although I would love to have a job now, I remain happy and optimistic and keep busy with multiple goals of getting the yard ready for my son’s graduation from high school in June 2013, keeping the kids on track with school work, and job searching. After 25 years of continuously working, it’s nice to have a short break.

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