Wednesday, October 21, 2009

4 ways to keep your confidence during a job hunt

I hear from a lot of people who are out of work. In the early stages of job hunting, I've found most people are usually pretty confident. They know they have valuable skills and have worked hard -- what employer wouldn't want to hire them?

Then they get initiated into this job market.

Months later, the confidence has left their voice. They're angry, depressed, frustrated and demoralized. I'm no psychologist, but I do my best to provide them with career information that might help them. Still, it's frustrating for me to see so many great people feel so bad about themselves because they can't find work.

So, when a book crossed my desk called "Think Confident, Be Confident" I knew it was something I had to look into for my Gannett column. Here's my story:

For the first three months he was out of work, Frank Myers says he was “fine.” But after 15 months without a job, five fruitless job interviews and applying for more than 150 jobs online, he admits there are days he can’t get out of bed.

“As it goes on and on, you start to get worried and your confidence goes down,” says Myers, of San Diego, Calif. “I’m getting to the stage that I’m being reclusive. I wonder if I’m smart enough to hold up a conversation with anyone. I do get depressed.”

Myers story echoes that of many other job seekers who have been shell-shocked by successful careers suddenly yanked out from under them, cut adrift in a flooded job market. The lack of confidence that comes from unsuccessful bids to find jobs starts to wear on their confidence.

“In the beginning of a layoff, there’s no reason to think that your skills won’t be transferable and you’ll find other opportunities,” says Leslie Sokol. “But when you begin knocking on doors and nothing happens, the confidence starts to turn to pessimism. We become more doubt-activated, and when that happens, then we’re really in trouble.”

Sokol, an instructor and psychologist with the Beck Institute of Cognitive Therapy and Research, says that once the doubt creeps in, then “we start to think back to the job we lost and we start to think of all the things we think we did wrong, and we forget why we lost the job.”

In Myers case, a successful career as a district manager for Radio Shack and 15 years of experience fell victim to the bad economy. “It really was a slap in the face,” he says. “I went from an assistant manager to a district manager in a little over four years, and I had done all this work. Then, it was: ‘Bye.’”

“Sometimes when you lose your job, you start to feel like you’ve lost your skills,” says Marci G. Fox, a psychologist and senior faculty member in the Beck Institute’s training program. “We start to make our unemployment status mean something negative.”

Sokol and Fox have written a book, “Think Confident, Be Confident,” (Perigee, $14.95), addressing what happens when doubt takes over. In the case of unemployed workers, they say these people often are ashamed that they’re out of work.

“We fail to see the reality of why we’re out of work,” Sokol says. “So, instead of using a strategy that’s going to help us find a job, we do just the opposite.”

Our doubt begins to overtake our lives, often dragging down our ability to be stay balanced in our lives and project confidence in interviews and be productive in job searches, they say.

Instead, they say anyone searching for work or losing confidence in their career should:

  • Keep a list of skills. “Write down your skills, and then be prepared to sell those skills,” Fox says. “If you see that you have some shortcomings that are hurting your job search, then you know that you need to get more training.”
  • Stop blaming yourself. “When bad things happen, we want to find meaning so we tend to blame ourselves,” Fox says. “That’s why it’s important to keep in mind those alternative explanations.” For example, you didn’t lose your job because you weren’t good at your job, but rather because market pressures forced your company to cut staff in order to stay in business.
  • Don’t set the bar so high. “Everything is a competition these days,” Sokol says. “What is going on in our society these days is just crushing people.” Instead, she says to remind yourself that “you don’t have to be perfect to be an asset.”
  • Find balance. Exercise, eat right, get enough sleep, spend time doing things you enjoy and stay in contact with family and friends, Fox says. “Treat looking for a job as a job,” she says. “That means you need to schedule time for other things as well. Don’t be afraid to take time off to do things that make you feel good.”


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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Expert Advice on How to Deal With Current Mind-Blowing Stress

Some days I think there should be another word for stress besides "stress." I mean, does one simple word really describe what millions of people are experiencing these days?

We've been complaining for years that we have too much stress at work. Studies have shown that we get headaches, stomach pains, back problems and may even make ourselves more susceptible to things like cancer because of the pressure we feel in our lives.

But nothing could have prepared us for what we feel now.

That's why when I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Judith Orloff, I jumped at the chance. As a psychiatrist, I figured she would have all the answers when it came to dealing with how to handle the stress we're feeling today.

And here's what I found out: She's got a lot of suggestions but ultimately, if we want some calm in our lives, we're going to have to put some effort into it. Sure, a doctor can prescribe therapy or even pills to help the anxiety, depression, fear and stress, but it's really up to an individual to find that stress-free zone we all wish a snap of the fingers could give us.

I caught Orloff while she was on a tour for her new book, "Emotional Freedom: Liberate Yourself from Negative Emotions and Transform Your Life."

“For a lot of people who have things in their past like an insecure childhood, all the old patterns are being triggered by this crisis,” Orloff says. “People are really worried about what might happen.”

According to the American Psychological Association (APA) annual Stress in America survey, almost half of American workers say they’re stressed about their ability to provide for their families' basic needs, and eight out of 10 say the economy is a major stressor.

Orloff says that even though she is being deluged by new patients seeking help because of the current economic conditions, she says there are a number of ways for people to help themselves, and someone should look at this crisis as a chance to be grateful for “what is working in your life.”

Orloff says that those who want strategies to handle the stress being felt today should:

· Focus on the moment. “What’s killing people is focusing on what may or may not happen. Do what you can in the moment. If you lose a job, pick up the classified ads and start looking. Give yourself lots of affirmation. But stop thinking of the ‘what if’ and focus on the ‘now.’”
· Battle back the fear. It’s OK to admit you have insecurities or are afraid. Be specific about what scares you. By identifying your fears, then you can be better prepared to handle a situation that upsets you. Then, think about times you showed courage, even if it was simply getting out of bed when you felt bad. Let the courage infuse you, and not the fear. “It’s time for people to be heroes in their own lives,” Orloff says. “Believe in yourself and move forward.”
· Hang around positive people. Orloff says “emotional vampires” can suck the spirit out you with their negative and demoralizing talk. It’s better to engage people who are upbeat and who have positive things to say. Focus on how good you feel when you’re with good friends and a loving family and do things that relax you and make you feel better such as yoga, meditation, taking a walk or relaxing in a warm bath. Avoid things that add to your tension such as violent news stories, arguments or too much caffeine.
· Keep rejection in perspective. Job hunting can be stressful, especially if you’re rejected for a position. “Remember that you’re not being personally rejected. In these cases, it’s more important than ever that you have people around you who are your cheerleaders, who support you.”
· Attract hope. Even if you haven’t lost your job, chances are you know someone who has. When you start feeling depressed, connect with words, songs or art that have hopeful messages. Call a friend who has a hopeful outlook on life. Orloff says that hope is contagious – exposing yourself to hopeful situations will help lift your mood.

Finally, as dismal as the situation is for many people, Orloff says that she believes that our current crisis is really an “opportunity.”

“People are going to learn that no matter what is happening, they’re going to be OK,” she says. “I think many people will come out of this situation more empowered because of how they dealt with their problems.”

What are some ways you handle the added stress of the current economic crisis?

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Thursday, February 5, 2009

When "What Do You Do?" Makes You Want to Punch Something

"So, what do you do?"

While this seems like a fairly harmless question, if you're unemployed, it can have the impact of a freight train.

"Well, right now," you respond, "I'm laid off."


(Sound of crickets chirping.)

It's tough to lose a job. Your work has probably been a big part of who you are and may even color how you see the world. When you don't have that any more, you may begin to question where you fit in. You're confused, angry and depressed. You may begin to withdraw into yourself at the very time you need to be out there at every opportunity.

You don't want people giving you those pitying looks, those guilty glances that you're unemployed and they're not. You're sick to death of people asking you "what you do" and have begun to reply with some rather, er, forthright answers.

"Well, I sit home all day sending out resumes to evil trolls who won't even return a phone call, and then I watch Ellen and Oprah, to make sure I'm up on all the celebrity news before settling in to surf the Internet for endless hours while eating an entire bag of out-of-date Cheetos I bought at the dollar store. And you?"

OK. It's time to get a handle on how to interact with people now that your circumstances have changed. No one expects you to wear a big "J" (for jobless) on your forehead, so stop expecting it of yourself . Remember: Even without a job, you're still you. You're still valuable. You're still worth getting to know.

It's time to:

1. Gird your loins. People can't help but ask "What do you do?" when meeting for the first time. It's human nature, so get used to it. But you don't have to be snarky, or pitiful or embarrassed. They're also going to ask you how your job search is going once they know you're looking for work. Be honest, be positive and be confident. Remember: Most jobs are still achieved through personal contacts. The guy at the cocktail party or the woman you meet at your son's pre-school may be just the key person you need to know to get an interview or promising lead on a job.

2. Seize the day. When you tell someone you just got laid off, an awkward silence can follow. Once you make the statement, someone will feel compelled to say, "Oh, sorry," and then the pity party starts. Jump in before that happens and say something instead like: "I'm a financial adviser but unfortunately just got laid off because of deteriorating market conditions. I'm taking the time to think about what I want to do next. What is it you do?" The key here is that you show you've got talents and you're carefully deciding what to do with them -- and the person is immediately reassured you're not going to start bawling into your martini.

3. Keep your antenna up. When you're depressed and angry, you're not really thinking straight. You're more focused on your emotions rather than on information that might be helpful. So, once you've got your story down pat about your circumstances, then turn the focus back on the other person. Find out not only what they do, but how they do it. There might just be a nugget of information that you can use to help you find a job or land a useful contact. Being seen as professional and able to handle adversity with aplomb will make a lasting impression on those you meet -- and that can also be very helpful to your job search.

4. Get people talking. It's ridiculous in these tough times to try and hide the fact you're unemployed and looking for work. Tell everyone. Network like crazy: "I'm looking for work and I'd like to send you my resume and give you my contact information, and please feel free to forward it to anyone you think might be interested." Give a brief rundown of your top skills, some "highlights" they can use to promote you to others.

5. Send yourself to "me" school. Instead of visiting gossip sites and playing games online all day, figure out what skills you'd like to improve. Teach yourself more about building a website, or start a blog that shows off your skills. Volunteer at a charity that can teach you about community outreach and help you network with others. Check out books at the library that teach you how to be better organized, how to give a better presentation or how to improve your writing skills. These are all positive steps that will not only help you feel better about yourself, but help you when that job does come along.

What are some other coping strategies when you're unemployed?

Lijit Search

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