Every job search is different, but most are stressful for the same reasons. Here’s how to keep your cool and think strategically no matter what.
BY DON RASKIN
Kicking off a job search? Or still slogging through one? Until you’ve got an offer in hand, you’ll probably be nursing a few worries and concerns. Dealing with uncertainty is one of the main challenges of any job search, and sometimes it can even derail one. Knowing how to cope with some of the most persistent sources of anxiety is crucial for making sure your job search goes well. Here’s how to handle these four common fears:
FEAR #1: YOU AREN’T SURE HOW TO POSITION YOURSELF
The most difficult person to market is yourself. Maybe you don’t understand what you bring to the table. Maybe you do, but you just aren’t certain how to formulate a compelling story about it. Or you just don’t like to brag. Whatever the reason is, you need to become an expert at crafting and articulating a career narrative that will interest employers.
Of course, that’s sometimes easier said than done. The best way to start this process is to find out from others what differentiates you. Get outside your own head. Ask a few coworkers what they think you’re good at. Ask some former colleagues for a coffee and get their opinion, too. Then use this information as the basis of your story–it’s more likely to be both compelling and truthful. But if you’re still stuck, consider hiring a recruiter or career coach to help you position yourself. They can often see your strengths in a light you can’t.
FEAR #2: YOUR RESUME WILL DISAPPEAR INTO A BLACK HOLE
Candidates like searching job sites because it’s easy to feel like they’re moving forward: You can sort by date posted and catch up on the latest openings that way. It’s after you apply to a listing, though, that the anxiety typically seeps in–with disappointment following in its wake when you don’t hear back.
The fact is that applying to openings on job sites does have value, but it’s only one part of a successful job search. If you only do that, you’re in for a long, demoralizing experience. Since many jobs are found by networking, one of the most productive ways to allay the fear that you’ll never hear back is by reconnecting with friends and work associates on social media. This might feel like a distraction from actually applying to jobs, but it isn’t.
Be just as specific and targeted in your outreach as you’d be about your fit for a role in a cover letter. Ask your network for referrals to people in similar roles to the ones you’re gunning for. Stick with it, and your path toward a new job will be speedier and shorter if you keep networking.
FEAR #3: TRYING TO CHANGE CAREERS MIGHT BE HOPELESS
After spending time in the job you have now, you may feel ready to move on but aren’t sure exactly how. Should you make a slight adjustment or a radical shift into a totally new industry? Try not to worry about how hard it might be to change careers dramatically. Your first step is to decide for sure what type of move you actually want, and to do that, ask yourself this simple question: Can you see yourself in your industry five years down the road?
If the answer is a solid “yes,” stop entertaining thoughts about a dramatic career change–at least for right now. Focus your game plan on jumping to the next level at a better company in your industry. If the answer is “maybe,” that’s fine, too. You don’t have to know exactly what you want, but you still have to think just as strategically about your search: Take an inventory of what you like about your job and seek out positions–no matter the industry–where you can spend more time on the type of work you like. This approach will help you zero in on any “transferrable skills” that can help you make the leap into another field if it comes to that.
If you can’t see yourself in your current career path five years from now, it’s time to widen your lens even further. Consider going back to school or picking up some new training. These tips can help you handle the uncertainty plotting a new course.
FEAR #4: YOU’LL NEVER GET THE SALARY YOU WANT
Money is at the back of most folks’ heads even at the very start of a job search, and it can be a nagging source of concern. Your first step for dealing with it is to figure out what the market is paying for your current position, so you can use that as your base. (Yes, you’ll also want to determine market rates for the jobs you’re applying for, but that’s step two.) Check out the usual sites like PayScale and Glassdoor, and consult with a few recruiters in your field.
Once you nail down a salary range for your current role–no matter what you’re actually earning right now–aim for any new offer to leave you with a 10–20% salary increase. Less than that just isn’t worth it unless the new job has really crucial benefits you desire. When it comes time to negotiate your salary, aim for the higher end of your target. This way you can make sure changing jobs is financially worthwhile.
But in the meantime, try not to worry too much about compensation. Once an employer has decided they want you enough to extend an offer, you’ll have more leverage than you did as an applicant.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Don Raskin is a senior partner at MME, an advertising and marketing agency in New York City. He is also the author of The Dirty Little Secrets of Getting Your Dream Job. More