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Overcoming Fear of Looking for a Job

Practical ways to get past your fear of putting yourself out there.

PlanaRisu CC 3.0
Source: PlanaRisu CC 3.0

It's unfortunate but true that, today, unless you're a star, landing a job requires to you put yourself out there, often again and again.

Many people resist job hunting for one or more of five reasons. Here they are and a way to reframe those fears so you may more easily push past them.

Fear of confirming that you're unhireable. If you look only cursorily for a job, you can retain the comforting thought that you'd be hireable if only you put in the effort. In contrast, if you made full effort and no one will hire you, you'd have to face having to aim for a lower-level job.

A reframing: Better to know you've set too lofty a career goal sooner than later. Sure, your self-esteem will take a hit but you'll then be able to redirect your job search to positions you're more likely to land and to succeed it. And perhaps, after taking a step back, you'll be calmer, have more time to grow, and perhaps ascend again. Do remember though that up isn't the only way. Many people are happy in modest positions. Indeed, many of my highest-level clients are overwhelmed by the stress of it all.

Fear of letting people know you're looking for work. Especially if your peers are well-employed, it can feel embarrassing to let them know you're looking for work. You may wonder if they'll think, "Geez, the unemployment rate is so low, so if s/he's needing a job, she must be a loser." So you avoid the uncomfortabilty and don't ask friends or colleagues for job leads. Alas, as everyone knows, friends and colleagues may be the best source of leads.

A reframing: No need to sound like a basket case—"I can't find a job. I'm desperate!" You can, for example, say,

I was laid off and am treating this as an opportunity to find better work. I'm looking for a position in human resources where I can use my organizational development background and ability to address diversity-related problems. Know anyone I should talk with?

Anyone who'd think less of you for saying that is someone whose opinion you shouldn't value.

Fear of losing fun. Typically, working is less fun than, for example, sleeping late, lingering over coffee, playing in the garden, etc. If you don't look for a job, you don't have to give those up. And especially if someone else is supporting you, it can be tempting to make only enough efforts to look for a job to convince your cash cow that you're looking.

A reframing: Even if you have the option of being a kept man or woman, you'll likely end up feeling sad about your life--that you were a perennial taker rather than contributor, not only to your household but to society. Even mundane work, as long as it's ethically done, is contributory. Accept that work is a cosmic obligation. Besides, from a purely selfish standpoint, you'll feel better about yourself and be able to tell others that you're working, thereby gaining most people's respect.

Fear of getting another job at which you're unhappy or unsuccessful. You've not been happy on previous jobs and fear that if you land a job, you'll simply be back again in that unpleasant situation.

A reframing: You can reduce that risk by remembering that, in the job interviews, you can vet the employer as they're vetting you: Ask questions such as, "Tell me a little about what it's like to work for you?" and "What would you hope I'd accomplish in the first 30 days?" After being offered the job, ask to come to the workplace to negotiate terms. That gives you the opportunity to chat with employees in the break room and observe the vibe: Do people seem engaged but content, or unhappy?

Fear of saddening others. Perhaps you feel that landing a job, especially a good job, will sadden your less-well employed loved one--s/he'll feel inferior in comparison.

A reframing: Isn't denying yourself good work too high a price? Wouldn't it be wiser to search for a good job and encourage that loved one to also to find a job or help that person to understand that a good job isn't the only indicator of a person's worth, pointing out, for example, that s/he does fabulous volunteer work, is an exemplary romantic partner, etc.

Fear of selling yourself. You believe that self-promotion is unseemly, pushy. So you unconsciously embrace magical thinking: "Somehow I'll get a good job without having to sell myself."

A reframing. True, jobs occasionally do drop in people's laps but putting your job-search eggs in that basket puts the odds against you. Remember that in selling yourself, you needn't oversell yourself. Indeed, snow jobs are often obvious, and even if you succeed in snookering a prospective employer, you're setting yourself up for failure on the job--The employer thinks you can do more than you actually can. Better to reveal yourself, beauty marks and relevant warts, with no hype. That honesty may lengthen your job search but you'll feel better about the way you got the job and be more likely to land one at which you'll be successful.

Dr. Nemko’s nine books are available. You can reach career and personal coach Marty Nemko at