Change Your Approach to Job Searching

Sep 29 / Coraline Pawlak
Our Career Coach, Coraline Pawlak, explains why our approach to job searching needs to change, and how we build confidence and overcome toxic thoughts in the current climate.

1. Our approach to job searching needs to change because the world has changed

Having the same expectations we would of ourselves and others during a more general career transition would simply be unrealistic. We aren't finding ourselves in the same context as for any other job search; we are not having quite the same emotional experience, we might have several competing priorities and, because we no longer have the same resources to tap into, the way we used to build resilience has changed. Therefore, imposing the same expectations on yourself might do more harm than good and, as a result, could lead to frustration, discouragement and a lack of self-esteem.

It's worth keeping in mind that you are not alone in this, and if you haven’t got where you wanted to be yet, please remember, it is mostly a reflection of what is actually happening in the world, not of you. Being gentler on yourself is not a choice, it's a necessity. It's ok to feel stressed or anxious, it's ok to feel uncertain, it's ok to be on it one day and not so much the next, it's ok to not have secured a new job yet. You are working on it and it can take time. Now, it doesn’t mean that because it's a challenging context, there's nothing you can do. Quite the contrary as you now have the best opportunity to re-evaluate your career. So, let’s make the most out of it and figure out how to do that.

2. Let yourself be led by your values rather than your fear

Fear is the immediate emotional response to what our mind perceives as a ‘potential threat or danger’. It triggers a reaction, which if unexamined can lead us to having the urge to act without assessing whether it is in our best interest or not. Losing a job can feel overwhelming. You may be inclined to tackle all fronts at once, which can leave you drained and lost in the process. Another response may be to retreat, delay action and remain in the procrastination zone, which would impede any progress. Getting some headspace is key, and so is connecting with your values and what matters to you. Rather than being fear driven, you could be value driven. 
Imagine the difference it could make to the way you convey your message when applying for a job if it comes from a place of motivation, confidence and alignment with your authentic personality rather than fear. Taking some time to clarify what is important to you can help channel your job search in a more effective and empowering way. The old saying ‘turn challenges into opportunities’ may very well apply to these circumstances. There are several value-based exercises out there that can help you get started (including a thorough and well-guided process available within the Career Coaching: kickstart you career transition course). I strongly recommend taking this first step to get a sense of direction and focus.

3. Confidence building in a difficult climate

I've been coaching clients before and during Covid, and I have noticed a shift in the way people built confidence, which was mostly through resilience. Resilience is a concept that has become increasingly widespread among psychologists and coaches.

There are many ways of building resilience such as practising gratitude, creating a support network, keeping a diary/log or exercising regularly which are all incredibly important tools. I would like, however, to dive a little more into an approach that I have found to be effective when it comes to building confidence: Acceptance and Commitment Coaching/Therapy (ACT).

When our mind is engaged with hijacking thoughts, it makes it hard not to buy into what it's telling us as we get emotionally involved: ‘I’m never going to get a job in this climate’, ‘I’m not good enough’, ’I don’t even know where to start’, ‘I don’t think I have a lot to offer’ etc. Self-identifying with those thoughts usually stops us from taking action. 
To simplify the approach, ACT focuses on accepting the thoughts we are noticing within ourselves (without fighting or trying to change them) and taking action anyway, in a valued direction. We all experience thoughts that stop us from moving forward, especially when they have been around for a long time. As you may have noticed from past experiences, attempting to suppress those thoughts usually only makes them go away….for a while, until they come back.

So, I’d like to suggest a quick exercise that you can practice on an everyday basis when you get trapped into self-doubt:
  • Notice a recurring thought that you know is stopping you from taking effective action (it can be anything like ‘I don’t have the right skills to offer’). Pause for a couple of minutes and say ‘I am having the thought that… I don’t have the right skills to offer’. This allows you to create some space between you and your thoughts.

  • You can then acknowledge that this is what your mind is telling you. Acknowledging this thought doesn’t mean you are taking it onboard. You are simply now accepting that it exists and that it is your current experience. As soon as you are having this thought, you can simply say ‘Thanks Mind for sharing this’.

  • Observe how it feels when you are not pushing away or pushing down your thought without identifying with it. Make space for it to be around instead of resisting it. Check in with yourself. How does that feel?
  • Ask yourself if this is a thought that you want to have run your life for you. Is it going to help you create the career that you want? Most likely not. So, let’s try to keep going anyway because this belief is currently not helping you.

  • Think of something very small you can do right now to help you move towards the wanted direction. It could be sending that email to your contact, writing a short article, talking to someone about your next step, taking a quick scan at your CV. Make the commitment to yourself to do this small step even if there is an inner chatter going on. See what happens and check how you feel once you have done it.
Bear in mind that, like any new approach, it takes a little time to form a new habit. It is by no means a ‘quick fix’ but I suspect you will already have noticed a slight change in your perception.

4. Re-assess your actions

You may be under the impression that you have ‘already tried everything’. When my clients make that statement, I often challenge them playfully: ‘So you mentioned you have tried everything? Right, let’s look into it and tell me - what have you tried exactly?’ It's interesting to see how this initial list turns out to include no more than 3 or 4 steps. Clients usually end up smiling and telling me ‘Ok, I see your point. There is definitely more I can try out.’ Words implying there is a black and white, all or nothing picture like ‘always, never, everything, nothing’ are often limiting beliefs. A great way to approach this is to analyse in a more practical way ‘what is working so far’ and ‘what isn’t working.’ Take a look at what you could do more of in this situation and what you could change.

Have you noticed that sending lots of CV’s hasn’t paid off the way you wanted it to? What do you think is not working here? What else could you do instead?
Have you noticed that volunteering is bringing you some form of exposure? How could you make the most out of this opportunity? What could be other ways to create even more exposure?
Taking action is essential, but it needs to be planned effectively in order to preserve your level of energy, resilience and confidence. So look after yourself, challenge your beliefs, build up your motivation and, most importantly, keep going!

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Coraline Pawlak is a Career & Confidence Coach and the E-learning Manager at Utopy. Coraline created the Career Coaching: Kickstart your Career with purpose course, supporting people in creating a career with purpose and positive impact. She also hosts a Career Change Podcast series that provides tips and guidance on successful career transitions.
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