Looking for a job can be a challenging process, regardless of whether you’re currently employed or are out of work. Of course, the advantage of being in the latter group is a little thing called time. Instead of trying to figure out how to sift through postings without your boss finding out or devoting nights and weekends to tailoring cover letters and resumes, you have the luxury of throwing yourself 100% into your search.
The downside to this is letting feelings of insecurity and anxiety over being unemployed take over. You might feel frustrated that you haven’t found a job yet . Heck, you might be genuinely worried about how you’re going to pay your bills next month, or you might be feeling like no one will ever want to hire you because if no one has by now, it’s never going to happen.
In spite of any negative feelings you may be harboring over your job status, you need to set them aside if you want to present yourself as a viable candidate. 14 career coaches weigh in on the job search mistakes unemployed people make.
1. Lacking Focus
If you’re unemployed, and have been for a long time, it’s common and totally understandable to feel stuck, frustrated, and a bit desperate. But, the one thing to keep in mind is that employers hire to fill needs. They may need to increase profits, balance a team’s workload, expand a department, etc. Stay laser focused on meeting the needs of your prospective employers and you’ll be on the road to a new position in no time.
2. Giving Off Bad Energy
What attitude are you bringing to the job search? How are you networking and communicating your desire for work? I’ve noticed that in the past when I’ve come from a place of desperation others could sense it, and it definitely didn’t do me any favors. Approach each and every connection from a place of service—even if you’re feeling despair. Ask yourself how you can be of service, and your energy will automatically attract rather than detract.
3. Projecting Laziness
When you’re unemployed, your job is finding a job. It’s legitimate in its own way. I encourage people to use the same dedication and discipline they demonstrate while employed. Make a plan, develop a schedule, create a routine each day, and set goals for yourself. Treat your days like workdays—keep up your good routines and be productive.
4. Exhibiting Low Self-Esteem
Walking around with an ‘I’m not worthy’ mindset is a huge problem and not one that’s likely to escape the notice of hiring managers. When networking and interviewing, nothing is more important than demonstrating your strengths and possessing confidence—job or no job. If you haven't done the personal work to get there (affirmations, gratitude journal, channeling mentors), it’s going to be difficult. So, do the work. You’ll never convince someone you’re hireable if you don’t believe it yourself.
5. Thinking Quantity Over Quality
When you’re an unemployed job seeker, you’re going to want to do everything you possibly can to get a job, which can lead to emphasizing quantity versus quality. Instead of thinking about how many jobs you applied to or how many cover letters you wrote this week, focus on submitting top quality materials for roles you’re truly interested in. Attempt to form connections with people at those companies.
6. Standing Still
Don’t talk yourself out of applying for a role you really want just because the competition scares you or you’re not 100% qualified. If you convince yourself you’re not good enough for a position or think no one would ever consider you, you miss out on a lot of potential opportunities. Be willing to put yourself out there and risk the rejection that you’re likely to experience as a result of the job-search process.
While confiding in professional contact about your job search struggles can be cathartic, more often than not you’ll end up coming across as desperate. This isn’t a good look and won’t position you as someone who’s capable and qualified. Instead of lamenting your situation, think of how you can show your value to your network. Save your personal frustrations for a close friend or family member.
8. Ignoring Grief
Many people don’t realize the emotional toll unemployment can take. Any significant loss—including being laid off or fired—can involve grief. Though you may go through emotional ups-and-downs throughout unemployment, it’s important to realize that mourning is a natural process. Learning the five stages of grief is a great place to start to lift yourself out of an unemployment rut. It’ll help you understand your thought processes and devise action steps to move through it more quickly.
9. Losing Sight of the Big Picture
If you’re unemployed, you may think you have no leverage and have to take what you can get, but this is incorrect. Focus on your totality of experiences and practice speaking broadly about your strengths and skills in a way that brings your entire background into the conversation so you’re not focusing solely on your most recent position. Do you have a side hustle that you’ve been building? Have you done meaningful volunteer work that’s helped you build out a new skill set? Taken any continuing education or online class to gain fresh knowledge? Bring these into the discussion.
10. Letting Past Failure Rule
The job search is fraught with rejection, but the challenge is in not letting those failures influence your ability to succeed. In Michael Lewis’ bestseller on behavioral economics, <em>The Undoing Project: A Friendship That Changed Our Minds</em>, we learn that judgment is greatly influenced by our last impression, our last experience. Apply that insight to the job search, consciously letting go of each no so you can keep moving forward. Failing is a part of life and something to learn from, not something to hold you down.
11. Applying for the Wrong Jobs
When funds are running low, and panic starts to set in, leading you to apply for stuff that’s way beneath what you're actually qualified to do—with a resume that indicates that you're not working—you’re going to raise eyebrows. Hiring managers may assume that you’re up to exactly what you're up to: scrambling to land anything you can get. You’re wasting your time and theirs applying for roles that would’ve been a good fit 10 years ago.
12. Not Optimizing Your Best Hours
I’m not of the mindset that looking for a job is a full-time job. I recommend spending four solid hours a day of concentrated, strategic effort in your search—researching positions, writing cover letters, and setting up interviews. Choose hours when you’re at your most energetic and enthusiastic. Spend other time on indirect job-search actions including self-care, hobbies, and networking in all its many forms.
13. Listening to People
Despite their best intentions, friends and family can offer input that can lead you to feel overwhelmed and question your path. Because their advice is typically based on their values and experience, they may be unaware of your actual goals and aspirations. While they mean well, they may be getting in your head in a way that’s hindering—not helping you.
14. Letting It Break You
Finding a job can be long and draining. It takes a lot of courage to continually put yourself out there, write a strong cover letter, update your resume, and send it off to someone in the hopes that they’ll contact you. And when you're unemployed, it’s really easy to become demoralized every time you don’t hear back from someone, each time you receive a rejection. Keep perspective: This is temporary. Believe that your hard work will eventually lead to an opportunity.
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Stacey Lastoe is the Senior Editor/Writer of The Muse. She started writing short stories in the second grade and is immensely grateful to have the opportunity to write and edit professionally. Her work has appeared in YouBeauty, Refinery29, A Practical Wedding, Runner's World online, and The Billfold among other publications. She enjoys running and eating in equal measure and lives with her husband and dog in Brooklyn. All three of them are avid New York Mets fans. Say hello on @stacespeaks.More from this Author