Looking for a job is hard. Looking for a job that is fulfilling and purposeful is even harder. Add on the stress of unemployment or a toxic work environment and it can personify difficult emotions such as doubt, shame, and fear that negatively impact our confidence levels.
As professionals, we tend to side-step emotions, to ignore them and focus on action. When we ignore emotions, they tend to take control of our life. We constantly find ways to suppress the emotion or strategize around the emotion instead of using the emotion to fuel our action. Think about emotion as simply “energy in motion” (E-Motion): that energy needs to move through us or else it will continue to wreak havoc as pent up energy until we face it. Take a moment to understand your emotion and root into its origin, then you better understand yourself so you can translate the energy into action vs avoiding it like the plague (or perhaps COVID-19).
How do we identify, understand and use our emotions effectively to maintain confidence during a job search? Here are 5 strategies (pen and paper may be useful):
1. Recognize you have choice.
Often times, the lack of confidence or negative emotions come from an inner critic stating all the reasons why you can’t or shouldn’t do something. It is our “fight or flight” response system reacting to the possibility of change. When change is contemplated, the inner critic will alert us: “Danger!” Our inner critic’s sole focus is to keep us safe so it takes comfort in the known. No matter how bad it may be, known misery is safer than the unknown to our inner critic. That's where the 3rd F-word comes into the fight or flight response: Freeze. The inner critic will often say or ask:
Why would they hire me?
I’m not good/worthy enough
How is my experience even relevant?
Others have better skills/more experience
Have you heard this before? Yea, me too. We are very critical of ourselves, especially when we are considering taking a leap out of our comfort zone. When approaching your inner critic, you have options. This power of choice is yours so use it in a way that best serves you (and remember, choice can sometimes be about what you are willing to do, not what you necessarily want to do):
Ignore the inner critic. Warning: they are persistent if not addressed.
Listen to the inner critic. Freeze/Flight, stop your pursuit of change.
Face the inner critic. Get curious and learn what’s helpful for you.
2. Face the Inner Critic.
When we choose courage over comfort and we face our inner critic, we make a choice to prioritize what’s important. We allow our dreams to be bigger than our fears. Here are three ways to face your inner critic. Take that recommended pen and paper and brainstorm for a moment:
Personify it: who/what do you picture when this voice speaks up?
Does it take on a particular shape, color, being, or object? Can you draw or name it?
Acknowledge it: what is the kernel of truth underneath the critic’s words?
It may be true that you are older/younger than the average applicant. Accept that fact and separate it from the stories like inadequacy, undesirable, etc. What else?
Alternate perspective: listen for your inner ally’s whispers
What advantage does your seasoned time in the world offer - or - what fresh, new perspective do you bring?
3. Know what is (and is not) in your control.
Now that we have a way to quiet the critic, another big way to find confidence is to focus on what you can control. Pen a paper again: make a list of those things in your control and out of your control in the job search. In my coaching philosophy we lean on both the “being” and the “doing” of ourselves. That is – who we are and what we do: the actions you can control as well as thoughts and emotions. Ideas: I can reach out to 3 people a day in my network. I can be mindful of my attitude when networking. I cannot control if a company or person in my network responds to my inquiry. I cannot control my company’s decision to lay-off workers.
Those items out of your control – set them aside for now. If you need help, create an accountability structure that can remind you when your focus strays to items on that list: a rubber band on the wrist to pop you back in focus, hang the side-by-side list in a visible location, a statue of your inner critic, a partner who (gently) calls out when they hear the inner critic chirping.
4. Know what you want to offer the world.
Often times we focus on what we have to offer and we forget to clarify what we want to offer. Just because you have done something successfully doesn’t mean you have to keep doing it when it no longer brings you joy. Alan Watts beautifully reminds us “you’re under no obligation to be the same person you were 5 minutes ago.” Same is true for your career: you are under no obligation to keep doing the same things you’ve always done.
What do you want to do in your next role? In fact, write your own job description! Not sure how to do this? Grab that pad of paper again and make a list. If you are still employed, track your week in two columns: like and dislike. Get granular here: do you enjoy the meetings on your calendar? What specifically do you/don’t you enjoy? What about the interactions with colleagues and clients? What about communications like email, phone, instant messages? What about document preparation? If you are unemployed, focus on your current resume or LinkedIn profile and scratch out the items that no longer serve you and circle the items you greatly enjoy. What else? Think outside the box to what you enjoy recreationally or when interacting with friends.
Keep going. What would you like to do that has never been an opportunity in your current career? Get curious and look at job listings and borrow bullet points that intrigue you. Here's the one I created when I did this exercise. Now what stands out about the like list? How do they transform into a role companies need?
5. Prepare for the meet & greet (aka interview).
When you get an interview – celebrate! What's the point of the journey if we don't celebrate the individual milestones? Also, prepare. Know your resume and your own values. Write down your values so they are present during your conversation. Have examples of successes, failures, learning opportunities, etc.
What do you hope they won’t ask? Get ready for the questions you would rather avoid. Don’t worry, they are meant to make us squirm, so prepare for them. Not sure? Head over to MockQuestions – a great resource for this very step. Be prepared – and even if they don’t ask them – the confidence gained in planning for them will show in your other answers!
These are just a few steps you can take to maintain your confidence heading into a job search. Know that by committing to the search, you are committing to yourself and your happiness – that is a big deal! One last tip: give yourself grace. This is not easy and it takes mental fortitude. When the confidence starts waning, take a moment to reset – review the notes you took during this experience, take solace in your accountability structure(s) from #3 and choose courage over comfort.