How to Quell Job Search Anxiety


by Eileen Hoenigman Meyer

Finding a new job is as much an emotional project as it is a logistical one. It’s exciting, but it can also be worrisome when we feel the weight of competition coupled with the anxiety of feeling evaluated.

Job seeking is an emotionally complex undertaking. It’s important to assure ourselves of the reality of the project versus the perceived reality that can crop up during moments of uncertainty. In those difficult moments, it’s important to remind ourselves: “I’m not being judged as a person; it’s just my fit for this position that’s being evaluated.”

Because we need employment, that urgency can make it hard to maintain emotional distance and clarity. It’s uncomfortable to feel needy and to confidently present ourselves to those positioned to fill our need. But viewing our job search from this vantage point can set up a crushing power dynamic in our own minds. This can zap our energy, elevate our anxiety, and sabotage our efforts.

Susan Peppercorn, executive transition coach, principal with Positive Workplace Partners, and author of Ditch Your Inner Critic at Work: Evidence-Based Strategies to Thrive in Your Career advises: “One of the best ways for a job-seeker to quell their inner critic is to recall a challenge in the past that they overcame. What was the situation and what inner resources did they call on to meet that particular encounter? Bringing to mind a previous difficult situation that we surmounted reminds us during times of stress that we can do it again.”

You’ve been conditioning yourself for this. As you go through the process, what you say to yourself matters tremendously. Make it your aim, not just to find your next great fit, but to use the opportunity to become more comfortable taking professional chances. This is your opportunity to hone that key skill.

Take Your Heart Off Your Sleeve
You have power here. Yes, you’re putting yourself out there, which can leave you feeling vulnerable, but recognize that being proactive as you direct your career is a strong move.

There’s a lot about this endeavor that is outside your control; for example, we all see job posts for positions that seem perfect, and then never hear back. It happens to everyone for scores of reasons.

Try not to take rejection personally. That will just hurt and exhaust you. Know that this can be a competitive and unwieldy project.

Peppercorn points out: “A job search helps an individual clarify their skills, strengths, and interests and their ability to communicate their value to an employer. When we are working, we usually don’t have the time to focus on building our personal brand. A job search is a great way to hone that skill.”

Activate Your Network
Networking remains a tried and true way to find a new job. In an article he wrote for LinkedIn, Lou Adler cited a survey revealing that 85 percent of the hires he polled reported securing their positions via networking.

While it’s a great means for garnering leads, and hopefully employment, networking is also a valuable means for securing support. Tapping into your community can also be an especially helpful way to calm your anxiety. Call on your network. You don’t have to feel sheepish or apologetic. Almost everyone in your network has been where you are now.

This can be especially important if you’re job searching with the added urgency of trying to get out of a difficult situation, like escaping a toxic environment or a bully boss. Peppercorn advises:

“Mustering the emotional strength to leave a toxic work situation is challenging and is best done with the support of others who believe in you. Bad bosses or unsupportive environments wreak havoc with a person’s self-esteem. I would advise anyone in that situation to assemble a personal board of directors; a group of people who know your capabilities and want you to succeed and enlist them as accountabilities partners in your job-search quest.”

It can feel humbling to call on your network and to ask for support, an endorsement, a recommendation. But everyone needs it, and when it’s their turn they offer it. Make a silent promise to pay it forward, and then boldly and politely request what you need.

Control What You Can
Embrace this project as you would any other professional assignment. Be purposeful in your efforts. Learn all you can about how to be a savvy job seeker. Read everything you find about writing and revising your materials. Practice interview questions. Become a student of the process.

This is a time of reinvention. Don’t focus solely on the outcome. Every revision, phone call, and meeting informs the larger project which is making you a more versed and confident promoter of your own career. There is nothing wasted when it comes to being a job seeker. Every effort teaches you more about yourself and renders you poised to do better work in this arena. It’s a tough arena, so give yourself credit; this matters.

Trust Yourself
Sometimes, it can feel like the anxiety is pushing you out of the driver’s seat and taking the wheel. This can be especially challenging when it’s time to interview, in person or on the phone. Sometimes the physical manifestations of anxiety can be difficult to think around. Peppercorn recommends:

“Reframing your relationship with stress is a useful way to keep your emotions in check. Research has indicated that individuals who see short-term stress as enhancing rather than debilitating perform better at work and have fewer health problems. If, for example, you think of your racing heart or shallow breathing during an interview as your body’s way of preparing you to do your best rather than as a sign you’ll do poorly, you are more likely to perform well. Assigning neutral rather than negative attributes to physical symptoms that are normal during stressful situations like an interview, releases us from their grip and helps shift our focus to pursuing more constructive responses.”

Job searching takes guts and savvy. You’re bravely forging a path into the future. Embrace the project as one that stands to benefit you on multiple fronts; you might even get a new job out of it.

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