Women are constantly striving for perfection. It’s something I’ve been guilty of many, many times, especially in my younger years. I wanted to get the best grades, go to the right college, hurtle up the career ladder, and so on and so forth. It wasn’t until I had kids that I realized perfection is an illusion and that no one — even the people who you THINK have everything together on social media or in real life — can achieve it.
Women have it tough right now. Not only are four times as many women than men out of work due to the #SHEcession we’re facing due to COVID-19, but because we’re still seen as the primary caregivers, our responsibilities at home haven’t just stayed the same, they’ve often doubled or tripled. The strain of child care, virtual schooling, elder care, home maintenance, and more is weighing heavily on all of us.
Add looking for a job to that already hefty list, and it’s easy to see why many women are reaching their breaking point. It’s an incredibly competitive job market to begin with, but it’s also hard to focus on finding a good job when you’re saddled with so much invisible labor. Add onto that trying to be perfect, and, well, you’ve got a recipe for disaster.
Which is why I’m here to say: Go easy on yourself. There’s no shame in having lost a job for whatever reason, but especially due to COVID cutbacks. No matter how stressed or anxious you may feel, the reality is that no one is judging you right now.
I wanted to get more insight on how women can be kinder to themselves during the job-hunting process, so I turned to members of my Connect4Women network (a community I started two years ago that connects, uplifts, and empowers women). As part of our recent SheCovery Network initiative to get women back to work, we’ve held a series of Pow-HER-hour sessions offering career and networking advice from coaches and experts.
I asked those experts for their advice for women who are searching for work right now. Here’s what they had to say:
Don’t worry about what other people think — because it’s not what you THINK they think. “We pointlessly wear ourselves down feeling like other people are judging us, when usually they just love us and/or really don’t care much about our job situations,” said Sheila Camillus, career coach and partner at Career Collaborations. “Think about your own reaction to hearing about others who have lost their jobs. Those who love you appreciate you for you, not your work title.”
It’s okay to be overwhelmed right now. “Accept that you are doing the best you can in all of your roles. You cannot be a perfect home-schooler, employee, family member, and parent all at the same time EVER,” said Rachel Scherl, CEO of SPARK Solutions for Growth. “Give yourself a break [from job searching] and make sure you have tools/activities to reduce your stress level – exercise, binging TV, reading, meditation – but you need something.”
Pat yourself on the back for small wins. “Progress far outweighs perfection. As women, we put so much pressure on ourselves to be perfect: the perfect mom, wife, daughter, sister, friend, coworker, leader, networker…the list is endless,” said career coach Julie Bronsteatter. “Well I say, screw perfection! Let’s take the time to celebrate our progress. Did you cross ONE item off your to-do list together today? Progress! Did you finally put that coffee mug in the dishwasher that’s been sitting out since the weekend? Progress!”
Instead of focusing on the negative, lean into your strengths. “Tell your story — honestly and authentically. Great quote I heard today: I’m too grown to play this small. You know what your strengths are. Tell them,” said Laura Mignott, founder of the experiential agency DFlash.
If you’re feeling burnt out, try to re-prioritize. “Last year, I spoke to a coach who gave great advice to evaluate your life 1-10 in the areas of Finance, Relationships, Career, Fun, Mental Health/Spiritual, and Physical Health to live a more holistic life,” said Jessalin Lam, head of Learning and Development for TBWA. “For example, I was lower in fun and health, which allowed me to prioritize doing more for those specific ones including therapy, meditation, working out at home, and finding new hobbies like crocheting and Animal Crossing. Another recommendation is to ask for self-care accountability partners to check-in on each other for support.”
Don’t feel like you have to craft some intricate story if you were let go during COVID. “The problem could be that approach in itself (i.e., feeling like there must be a story that needs to be re-written). Is the story losing the job? If [you’ve] lost the job because of Covid (or even just during Covid), it’s highly likely that no other story is needed,” Camillus said. “There’s not a one-size fits all answer here, but it’s always good to focus the story on what they DID do well and how they’re qualified for whatever is next.”
Learn how to tell your story in a way that reveals your superpower. Mignott also offers this exercise for drilling down into your strengths: “1. What inspires you? 2. What is your superpower? 3. What is your X-factor? What can you bring to the table that no one else can do? 4. What’s a challenge that you never thought you’d make it through and did- what did you learn? With this exercise you will begin to build your narrative about who you are and why you’re awesome.”
You CAN make a career pivot right now; it just takes a little re-tooling. Melissa Kilby, executive director of Girl Up, said, “Figure out your ‘why.’ Lean into that story as you craft your resume and draft your cover letter and application. Make your case for a pivot and what you can bring from your past experience upfront. Don’t count on anyone making that connection on their own – make it for them. As personal as possible will be the most compelling and interesting.”
And my own personal advice? Lean into your networks and find your cheerleaders — the women who will uplift and support you when you’re having a bad day, or who you can text for introductions and advice. And always, always be honest with your asks. Like my friend and Connect4Women coach Cate Luzio, founder and CEO of Luminary, says, “Be prepared with your ask or your offer to help. Be open, honest, and advocate for yourself. Forget what you’ve heard in the past: We need to keep our heads up, not down.”