Science and Sensibility

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Psychological Tips for a Successful Job Search

Learn the psychology behind a successful job search

Approximately 80% of a job search is psychological. The edge goes to those who ably combine technical search skills (i.e. having a quality resume) with psychological skills (i.e. communicating effectively, persisting, and managing setbacks).

What do people do who have the most productive searches? Vic McCarty at WMKT-AM Michigan recently interviewed me for job hunt tips for his listeners to help make their searches more productive.

Vic asked good questions about the psychological parts of a search. That's a benefit of communicating with a skilled host. Here are psychological tips that came from this broadcast that you may find helpful to use in your job hunt.

What's the point of the Fearless Job Hunting book?

It is no mystery that we have a real economic mess on our hands with a lingering recession which seems to go on and on and where a third of those who are unemployed have been out of work for more than a year. We know that during the course of being unemployed, most people progressively get more miserable then languish in a state of general misery. With this mindset, job searching becomes more and more of the burden. So, a group of us wrote the book to help people manage themselves psychologically so as to better manage the job search tasks and challenges that they face.

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It's easy to read information on how to do interviews, develop network contacts, and answer interview questions. These technical parts of a job-search are important to know. Unfortunately, most don't dig into the psychological aspects of a job search, but those who do have a decisive advantage.

The psychological part of a search involves cutting back on negatives like procrastination and anxieties over uncertainties. Building positives, such as job-search confidence and persistence, is a key to a successful search. Fearless Job Hunting is the only book of its kind that delivers information on the technical parts of a job search and emphasizes the critical psychology parts of a job-hunt.

Is this like the power of positive thinking?

The power of positive thinking could lead you astray. For example, you could tell yourself that things are getting better in every way every day. You know full well that it isn't the case because each time your mortgage comes due you wonder how you will make your next payment and still buy food.

Life doesn't have to get better every day. Life is what it is. But you can daily improve your ability to think with a clear perspective and benefit greatly from that effort.

There are lots of good reasons why life doesn't go as you might like or expect. As an alternative, train yourself to think like a realistic optimist. This is taking reality for what it is, recognizing that you have options and can make choices, and knowing a job search, in any economic situation, is a numbers game. Not surprisingly, this type of optimism predicts higher levels of job-search activities and earlier successes; pessimism predicts the opposite.

What are some psychological conditions that listeners need to know to prepare for their searches?

First of all, a big issue is to map out how procrastination can interfere with job-search persistence. This preparation involves recognizing and debunking harmful tendencies, such as to think that tomorrow is a good time to begin.

Procrastination can get elaborate. Maybe you could write a resume by reading 50 resume-writing books. That overkill is a procrastination distraction. The job search literature suggests that distractions cause delays that may lead to quitting on yourself.

A big distraction is the double-agenda-dilemma. Sure, you'd like to prepare yourself for persisting with your search. You'd like to get that great resume done. You'd like to put 12 hours a day into your search. But you'd like something more, which is to do this without effort or hassle. This second-agenda thinking is procrastination thinking.

If you think the odds are so much against you it makes no sense to try, you might just hang it up and give up. The men and women who don't cop that attitude play a numbers game and pursue a job on the grounds that they'll sooner or later land the right job for them.

How do people block their own progress?

So as to avoid repeating the same mistakes, it's important to watch out for and to correct consistent errors. Common consistent errors include thinking that your unemployment compensation will not run out so you have all the time in the world; you think the search will be too difficult; you expect to fail so you quit before you begin; you don't know where to begin and so you sit on your hands.

Another consistent error is in believing that whatever job search efforts you make has to be absolutely perfect. Believe that and you'll be waiting forever for that magic moment.

Most people don't realize it but fear of blame is a very common consistent error. Blame, like the air, is woven into practically every aspect of life.

Avoiding the possibility of blame is common. Most will bend over backwards to avoid imaginary possibilities for getting blamed.

If you get turned down for a job you may treat this as a form of self-blame where you tell yourself you didn't do well enough, and then you down yourself.

Blame itself is okay when this involves assigning consequences to behavior. For most of us, blame goes beyond that.

Blame usually involves negative criticisms, negative labeling, complaining, finger-pointing, and a host of unpleasant conditions. Being cautious to avoid needless blame is useful but an inhibiting fear of blame is an unnecessary distraction that is a strong ingredient in most formulas for needless delay.

You may influence but don't have control over what other people think. Unless you're a mind-reader, you may not know what they think. You could be a great candidate for a job, but the interviewer recommended the boss's niece or nephew for the job. So, who's to blame?

The idea of a consistent error reminds me that a number of years ago a manager came to see me who felt utterly frustrated with his job search. The job market was much different than it is today. This was in good economic times and he had gone through 82 job interviews and had not gotten an offer. This very bright guy communicated quite well with me. He had great promise and potential. So, what was going on?

When we got into the nitty-gritty it was clear that he went to each job interview with an entitlement view. His performance reviews amply documented that he was exceptionally good at his job. He expected the world to see him as he knew himself to be. So he presented himself as arrogant. That turned people off.

Once he figured out how to communicate in his normal, natural style, and to work on building a collaborative relationship with his interviewers, he got a great new job.

If you are getting in your own way and can't figure it out, you are likely to keep going round in the same circle. You have an edge when you have a clearer picture of yourself.

Should you treat a job search as a full-time job?

People I've known who seek work in economically rough times, who treat a job search as a full-time double-time job, typically get work sooner rather than later. This observation is consistent with the scientific literature. However, you won't be perfect. If you are proactive you are not likely to be that way all the time. You'll likely adapt based on experience and situation. You are more likely to develop skill as you gain experience. It is the cumulative effect of these psychological initiatives that often spells a positive difference.

This is a numbers game where the more numbers you crank out in the way of resumes you send, cards you leave off at different establishments, and phone calls to potential contacts and gatekeepers (people who decide who will get interviewed for a job) the more likely you are to tip the odds in your favor. Plan to use your time and resources wisely, and create a workable "work schedule" for seeking work, and I predict you'll do much better than flying by the seat of your pants where the chances are you'll land on your tail. (See page 2 for important and timely psychological tips.)

You can do many practical things to pursue a job. Look for hidden opportunities. Drive around an industrial center and look for where the parking lot is full. Go in and talk to people about job opportunities. Drop off a resume. Make up a set of cards that has your name, address, and phone number on the front and bulleted points on the back that describe your skills and what you want in the way of a job. Drop a card off wherever you go, like the local parts supply store. Pin up the front and rear parts of the card at your local grocery store. Leave a copy with your local pharmacist. That persistence is out of the ordinary. Remember, it's a number's game.

Here's a key psychological tip: We're not perpetual motion machines. Take time out for exercise and recreation, and relaxation as much as you would if you worked full-time.

How important is communications?

Most try to figure out what to say in an interview before they know the questions. What's the right answer if I'm asked this question?

There is some validity in this form or preparation. But concentrating too much on coming up with the right answer may come across as phony.

Focus just on possible questions and answers and I think that misses the big picture. This big picture includes establishing rapport with people. That's where psychology comes back into play.

Instead of telling and asserting in an interview, listen to what the interviewer has to say. Ask your own questions so you get some clarification. That way you don't go on to respond to questions where you put your foot in your mouth.

You may underestimate your communications ability, but if you are like most, you'll over-rate this ability. If you ask 100 people about how they compare with others on their communications skills, most will place themselves among the top communicators. That cannot be. There's always something that you can do to make your communications more effective.

Nonverbal communications sends messages to other people. Your body language tells a tale. Keep tapping your fingers and this suggests impatience. Roll your eyes, and you'll come across as immature.

Stock phrases are another common form of error. If you have a constant error, such as saying "you know," that's a distraction.

If you're doing or saying things that can be distracting and want to check this out, have one friend carry on a mock interview with you while another video records it. I think this is worth the time and effort. It's easy enough to do. Following the taping, critique it and see if there aren't some things that you might be doing that you could drop or something you might want to add that can make the difference. If you find you are too pushy in a mock interview, you can practice a softer form of assertiveness.

I and my co-authors Sam Klarreich, Russ Grieger, and Nancy Knaus made how to communicate with positive effectiveness a big part of the book.

Does how you shake hands make a difference?

Impression management is important. How you dress and carry yourself is important. Handshaking is part of that process. A limp handshake sends a different message than a firm handshake. But you don't want to crush the other person's hand. This is an easy area to practice. If in doubt, get feedback from friends and relations on the quality of your handshake.

As you persist and get practice at both the technical and psychological aspects of a job search, you are likely to hear, "Can you start this coming Monday?"

For information on Fearless Job Hunting, click here.

For a free crash course on job hunting, link to: Free crash course to successful job hunting.

Bill Knaus, Ed.D., is the author of more than 20 books; one, "Overcoming Procrastination", was co-authored with Albert Ellis.

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