How to Calm Your Job Search Anxiety
In my decades as a creative professional, I’ve coached people through job searches of all types: when they’re seeking a new position, pitching an important piece of new business, re-entering the workforce after an extended period, or they’ve just been fired.
These transitions are tense moments for anyone. And though I’ve steeped myself in the world of creatives, and consider us to have a unique set of traits and quirks that influence how we react under pressure at work, I’ve also realized that just about anyone can struggle in the ways I’ve seen creatives do.
In my first coaching meeting, I almost always find that a narrow set of concerns define the conversation. The person I’m coaching:
- focuses on their perceived lack of credentials.
- limits their view of the opportunity to the prospect’s description.
- limits their search (or pitching process) to a single opportunity at a time.
A 2016 study published in the journal Thinking and Reasoning made clear that stressful situations, such as running out of time (always a factor when you’re job searching or pitching projects), impair problem-solving and increase the frequency of wrong guesses. I see the culprit as a kind of monovision that narrows thinking, actions, and options. The challenge then becomes how to coach — and coax — both eyes to open.
Who’s in charge here?
My goal is always to get the person I’m coaching to understand the power they have in the relationship with the prospect. I’ve always theorized that the misunderstanding about that power — the assumption, which is startlingly common, that the prospect holds all the cards — stems from something deeply and long held. That “something” is individual to the person, but is rooted in our acceptance of the client or boss-to-be as the authority figure. I’ve found that the belief in this hierarchy can be dismantled through a gentle line of inquiry that first builds confidence and then addresses fears.
Who are you?
I start by asking my coaching client to tell me their story — what they do professionally right now, but also what events and experiences early in their lives led them to this career. I want to know about what part of their work they feel most connected to, and what they feel that connection is rooted in.
This recitation begins a move to renewed confidence. I build on that by asking about the opportunity they’re facing: “Why are they interested in you?” I ask this because it quickly reminds them that they are special and that the employer or prospect already thinks so, even if there are other candidates in the running.
The other thing I do as early as possible in the first session is ask them what fee or salary they expect to receive. No matter what they say, I just take note of it for future reference. Interestingly, that number is consistently lower at the beginning of our coaching engagement, and increases as confidence is built.
What is the opportunity — really?
Time and again, whether I was running a business of my own or was engaging with a coaching client, I found that what the potential employer or client says they want is far from the only need to be filled. It took me a while to realize what kind of opportunity this opened up: With enough knowledge of the company, the pitch, proposal, or even job description can be re-crafted so as to wipe out the competition.
To suss out how the opportunity might be expanded, I ask my coaching client questions like:
- “Why do they want to fill this position at this time?”
- “How are their competitors succeeding (or failing)?”
- “What market forces are driving their actions right now?”
If my coaching client doesn’t know the answers, I encourage them to do their own research, but I also press them to talk to the prospect before their interview or first meeting — and I do mean talk, either by phone, Skype, or in person, and not via email. Launching this kind of inquiry is the first step to setting yourself apart from the competition. Once you’ve gathered all the information you can, it’s time to change the context. Present your research and insights and begin working with your prospect to redefine the scope of the project or job so that you, and only you, can meet their need.
What else is out there?
Conducting a job search or pitching new projects can definitely feel like full-time work itself. That might be one reason we limit ourselves to pursuing one gig at a time. The problem with that mono-focus is it removes you from two things — a wider understanding of the context of the offer, and any reminder that you have options. I’ve seen coaching clients get really desperate to nail down the offer at hand, when, from my more relaxed perspective, it’s clear that they could have more offers, and even leverage multiple opportunities. If you find yourself doggedly focused on only one gig, here’s my recommendation: Spend 15 minutes of each hour you put into your main search on finding other possibilities. If you can, broaden your search to include at least one other viable option.
With eyes wide open — both of them — thinking, actions, and options that once seemed narrow can become broad and expansive. And with that comes more opportunity and, most importantly, more work.
A version of this article appeared on Fast Company.
To the Point
A short list of people who are nailing it right now, and some extra reading for your career toolbox.
Ariell R. Johnson — Owner of Amalgam Comics and Coffee in Philadelphia gets a $50,000 grant to reach diverse audiences and would-be comic book creators.
Power Causes Brain Damage — This in-depth article at The Atlantic looks at how leaders lose empathy and what can be done about it.
Breaking Free from Perfectionism — Creatives are all too familiar with the concept of perfectionism. This essay offers a look into possible, deeper psychological reasons for — and solutions to — perfectionism.
Corporate Creative Groups are Thriving — Why? — A recent article of mine explores the trend of bringing creative teams in house.