After 7 months of searching for a full-time job, I recently accepted an offer from my first-choice employer. During those long months, I applied for well over 100 jobs, had over 50 interviews, and heard “no thank you” (or nothing at all) more times than I care to count. I also remained active as a consultant and yoga and mindfulness instructor, as well as volunteering for causes that matter to me. My job search made me a better person, and yours can too. Here’s how:
1. Accept that the world owes you nothing.
The world doesn’t owe you a second look, let alone an interview, let alone a job. Those things are earned by standing out as a candidate who has done your research, made a real effort to understand the organization and their needs, and articulated your worth adequately in every interaction you have with a company. The world owes you nothing, and you’re much better off operating from that assumption than walking into any situation–professional or otherwise–thinking the opposite.
Getting over any sense of entitlement about what I was owed (as a person with x years of work experience, as a person with a masters degree, as a person with connections within the company, etc.) was a key piece for me in learning to handle rejection well.
2. Learn to handle rejection gracefully.
No one likes being rejected. Job rejection can sting just as much as personal rejection. It can feel like a message that we failed, that we are not good enough. Practicing mindfulness can help illuminate your thought patterns tendency to think the worst. According to Jon Kabat Zinn, mindfulness is “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” When you use mindfulness to be present with what is really happening, you’re able to detach from painful stories about what rejection means. With practice, you’ll gain the mental clarity and focus needed to see each application and interview process for exactly what it is: a learning opportunity, regardless of the outcome.
Throughout my adult life, I’ve often interviewed for jobs while still employed, and usually gotten hired fairly easily. That wasn’t the case this time, and I needed to make a major internal adjustment around how I handle rejection. Early in my search, I took a few rejections too much to heart, feeling awful for days after getting the “no thank you”. However, practice makes perfect, and having ongoing chances to mindfully face rejection made me a stronger person. As I neared the end of my search, I felt like an expert at being rejected–nothing could knock me off center or dent my self-esteem.
3. Invest in your long-term success via career coaching.
Career coaching can be beneficial for anyone at any stage of their career. Career coaches understand how recruiters and hiring managers think, and they’re able to help you refine your application materials and interview style. Objective advice from a qualified career coach will aid you in steadying your course where friends, family, and even former colleagues and mentors can’t. Particularly if you’re making a major career pivot or have been out of the work force for several years, a career coach is well worth the investment.
When I left my previous job, I enlisted the help of a seasoned career coach to revise my resume and reframe my work experience to put my skills and talents in the best possible light. She also helped me reflect on my “why“, evaluate prospective work environments for culture fit, and negotiate consulting contracts. I came out of career coaching with a deeper understanding of what kinds of work opportunities would be most meaningful for me.
4. Build structure, organization, and routine into your search.
Use your stellar professional skills to set up a replicable system for finding and applying for every single job that fits your criteria. Along with a systematic search process, meticulously track each application, all the associated materials and research, and any communications you have with prospective employers. This will prepare you to respond quickly and efficiently when you hear back. Especially if there is a long delay between applying and getting a call, you’ll have everything in one place and be able to immediately refer to previous contacts.
During my search, I kept to a daily routine of searching for, applying for, and researching job opportunities. Having a system in place helped me stay focused and feel productive. My morale was lifted each day by knowing I had scoured all the job boards for promising positions and sent applications in for all of them. I also regularly grew my LinkedIn network and reached out to new people. Regularly volunteering for great nonprofit organizations was a fantastic (and fun!) way to meet people and learn new skills.
4. Boost your confidence with exercise.
Along with your job search routine, a regular exercise regime will keep you upbeat and feeling confident for interviews. It will also help you sleep better, reduce the stress of being unemployed, and enhance your overall wellbeing during a challenging time.
As a full-time working parent, I’ve rarely had time in recent years to exercise as much as I would like to. During my unemployment I developed a serious exercise habit (walking, yoga, and barre classes are my go-to activities). Now that I’m heading back into the world of full-time work, I plan to continue with my exercise routine to the best of my ability. I’m completely hooked on my workouts, and I know the increased energy I get from exercise will make me a better employee.
6. Recognize that your job title does not define you or your worth as a person.
In a culture where the first question one asks when meeting someone for the first time is “What do you do?”, one of the hardest things about being unemployed is the identity shift that comes from not having a job title. The same challenge can arise with the inevitable “Tell us about yourself” question at the beginning of every interview. While a career coach can help you formulate your “elevator pitch” for job interviews, keeping your self-esteem healthy is an inside job. Acknowledge and appreciate yourself for the things that make you valuable and unique outside of your professional life. Are you an amazing cook, a talented musician, or a loyal friend? Remind yourself of the positive attributes you bring to the world, and let those shine regardless of your job title (or lack thereof).
At first I struggled with telling new acquaintances “I’m between jobs” or “I’m staying home with my kids right now”. I also stumbled at times over my elevator pitch to hiring managers. Over time, and with help from my career coach, I was able to speak more coherently about my career. More importantly, on a personal level I came to appreciate my value as a “human being” rather than a “human doing”.
7. Learn to enjoy the process of job seeking.
Job seeking is often incredibly stressful both emotionally and financially. Each rejection can feel like an enormous setback, especially after preparing for weeks for an interview only to hear back that the employer won’t be moving forward with your candidacy. Yet each interview is a valuable preparation for the one that finally results in an offer. With a mindful approach to the sometimes frustrating and anxiety-inducing process of looking for a job, you can develop a healthy relationship with the unknown and even learn to cultivate a sense of positive expectation about what will happen next.
During my job search, I cultivated a daily mindfulness practice and exercise routine to help counter the stress of unemployment. Each organization I researched and person I spoke to in interviews had something valuable to teach me about my own career path and about the world. I took advantage of every moment to volunteer for inspiring organizations, pursue my passions, deepen relationships with former colleagues, and broaden my networks. I learned to enjoy the process, not just the final result. Though I have to admit, that feels pretty good too.
My Advice to Job Seekers
A job search is an ideal time to do some soul searching. With the help of a trusted advisor, whether that’s a career coach, a mentor, or a therapist, work to uncover your “why“–the values and mission that motivate and drive you–and use that to inform your job search. Use whatever time you have available during your search to improve your mindset, your health, and your professional skills. Stay positive, and you’ll find that you not only enjoy your job search–you’ll improve yourself along the way.
How did your most recent job search make you a better person? I’d love to hear from you.