Wednesday, October 21, 2009

4 ways to keep your confidence during a job hunt

I hear from a lot of people who are out of work. In the early stages of job hunting, I've found most people are usually pretty confident. They know they have valuable skills and have worked hard -- what employer wouldn't want to hire them?

Then they get initiated into this job market.

Months later, the confidence has left their voice. They're angry, depressed, frustrated and demoralized. I'm no psychologist, but I do my best to provide them with career information that might help them. Still, it's frustrating for me to see so many great people feel so bad about themselves because they can't find work.

So, when a book crossed my desk called "Think Confident, Be Confident" I knew it was something I had to look into for my Gannett column. Here's my story:

For the first three months he was out of work, Frank Myers says he was “fine.” But after 15 months without a job, five fruitless job interviews and applying for more than 150 jobs online, he admits there are days he can’t get out of bed.

“As it goes on and on, you start to get worried and your confidence goes down,” says Myers, of San Diego, Calif. “I’m getting to the stage that I’m being reclusive. I wonder if I’m smart enough to hold up a conversation with anyone. I do get depressed.”

Myers story echoes that of many other job seekers who have been shell-shocked by successful careers suddenly yanked out from under them, cut adrift in a flooded job market. The lack of confidence that comes from unsuccessful bids to find jobs starts to wear on their confidence.

“In the beginning of a layoff, there’s no reason to think that your skills won’t be transferable and you’ll find other opportunities,” says Leslie Sokol. “But when you begin knocking on doors and nothing happens, the confidence starts to turn to pessimism. We become more doubt-activated, and when that happens, then we’re really in trouble.”

Sokol, an instructor and psychologist with the Beck Institute of Cognitive Therapy and Research, says that once the doubt creeps in, then “we start to think back to the job we lost and we start to think of all the things we think we did wrong, and we forget why we lost the job.”

In Myers case, a successful career as a district manager for Radio Shack and 15 years of experience fell victim to the bad economy. “It really was a slap in the face,” he says. “I went from an assistant manager to a district manager in a little over four years, and I had done all this work. Then, it was: ‘Bye.’”

“Sometimes when you lose your job, you start to feel like you’ve lost your skills,” says Marci G. Fox, a psychologist and senior faculty member in the Beck Institute’s training program. “We start to make our unemployment status mean something negative.”

Sokol and Fox have written a book, “Think Confident, Be Confident,” (Perigee, $14.95), addressing what happens when doubt takes over. In the case of unemployed workers, they say these people often are ashamed that they’re out of work.

“We fail to see the reality of why we’re out of work,” Sokol says. “So, instead of using a strategy that’s going to help us find a job, we do just the opposite.”

Our doubt begins to overtake our lives, often dragging down our ability to be stay balanced in our lives and project confidence in interviews and be productive in job searches, they say.

Instead, they say anyone searching for work or losing confidence in their career should:

  • Keep a list of skills. “Write down your skills, and then be prepared to sell those skills,” Fox says. “If you see that you have some shortcomings that are hurting your job search, then you know that you need to get more training.”
  • Stop blaming yourself. “When bad things happen, we want to find meaning so we tend to blame ourselves,” Fox says. “That’s why it’s important to keep in mind those alternative explanations.” For example, you didn’t lose your job because you weren’t good at your job, but rather because market pressures forced your company to cut staff in order to stay in business.
  • Don’t set the bar so high. “Everything is a competition these days,” Sokol says. “What is going on in our society these days is just crushing people.” Instead, she says to remind yourself that “you don’t have to be perfect to be an asset.”
  • Find balance. Exercise, eat right, get enough sleep, spend time doing things you enjoy and stay in contact with family and friends, Fox says. “Treat looking for a job as a job,” she says. “That means you need to schedule time for other things as well. Don’t be afraid to take time off to do things that make you feel good.”



Anonymous said...

Read Think Confident. be Confident. It's a book for everyone as it deals with much more than confidence. It's a new way of thinking.

Barbara Safani said...


This is a really important post. I think that journaling can also be a great way to relieve stress and remain confident during a job search. Reviewing the journal entries, looking for trends in your search strategy,recounting the small victories, and reflecting on what is and isn't working can be very empowering and a great way to move past obstacles in a search.

Anita said...

That's a great suggestion. I know many people who say that journaling not only relieves stress, but is very empowering.

Rick Saia said...

Hi Anita! Some excellent food for thought in this post, as well as in the comments. I especially like Barbara's points about journaling.

One thing from personal experience: Try to do at least one thing every day that moves you toward your next job. It could be finding and responding to a job posting, or even going out for coffee with a networking contact. Anything that can reinforce the message within yourself that you're moving in the right direction.

Anita said...

Thanks, Rick. I think for people who are used to being employed and doing something every day, that "moving forward" suggestion could really be beneficial.

Andrea said...

I have read Think Confident Be Confident and it has helped me to overcome the paralysis of doubt.

Ian Tang said...

Those are great point. I know from past that I would feel struck during a job search & just want stay at home & just browse around on the web.

To get out of that mindset or help others, I recommend to get out of the house. Like take a course at a local college or just a club/association that meetup weekly (like toastmastes). This help people away from the lonely feeling in a job search.

David Benjamin said...


This is an interesting post. While I know many are doing all they can to find employment, I still speak to even more who haven't done the necessary activities to compete in today's challenging market.

1) Are they utilizing all the free online networking sites to their advantage

2) Have they reached out to their network, find out who may be hiring and asking for recommendations if applicable

3) How proactive are they vs. reactive (job board hoping)

4) Have they taken stock of current skills sets, if their skills are in demand, and if they are working on gaining knowledge in a industry that is hiring

5) Are they face to face networking consistently

6) Have they consulted w/ a career coach (Invest in themselves theory)

7) Have they had a resume/recruiter professional look over their resume

8) Have they searched for a recruiter in their industry (although only A players are usually placed, never bad to network with recruiters)

I do realize how tough times are which is why implementing ALL of these strategies is essential today.

Anita said...

Getting out of the house and away from the computer is key, I think. Just talking with others, participating in the world around you and reaching out can make a big helps you keep your perspective. Thanks!

Anita said...

Thanks so much for taking the time to list such key points. You've given a lot of options, and hopefully job seekers will heed them.

BullsEyeCareers said...

Thanks for sharing this Anita. You are so right about the stress creep that happens months into unemployment. The comments all offer valuable suggestions. I would just add how important it is to have a support system. I have a wise sis-in-law who always said, while suffering through an illness, that she did not want visitors who would be sad around her or pity her.

Having some buddies who will have "normal" conversations with you, is really important in tough times. I believe it helps you to stay confident.

Anita said...

I think your sis-in-law sounds like a pretty smart cookie. Friends want to help any way they can, and by telling them exactly what you need, then you both benefit from it. Thanks for sharing your story.

Self Discovery said...

Great post and comments. I would also suggest spending time with other people who are confident as it can be infecious. I would also suggest finding a role model who you aspire to be like. Then if they were in your situation, how would they act, talk, walk or think like?