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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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

What the Brady Bunch Can Teach You About Finding the Right Job

Like most people, I was broke when I got out of college. Flat broke.

That meant than instead of getting a cool apartment to go along with my first job, I had to take what I could afford: A place that looked like the Brady Bunch had exploded all over it. Crushed orange velvet sofa. Orange, yellow and green wallpaper with flowers bigger than my head. Olive green appliances.

You can imagine that as soon as I could scrape together more money, I jumped at the chance to rent a better place. When I saw the apartment, I fell in love. It was in an old Victorian home that the owner had converted into three units. High ceilings, a claw-footed bathtub and no olive green appliances. I immediately grabbed it and put down my deposit.

But after moving in, I began to discover some things that I had not observed in my first starry-eyed inspection of the place. There were only small, gas heaters in each room. Hmmm....never used anything like that before. Upon my first bath in the cool old bathtub, I discovered that hot water was in short supply and the water pressure so low it took about two hours to fill.

As time went on, I discovered all the summer heat in the old house went straight to my second story place, making the kitchen floor so hot I couldn't walk across it in bare feet. But then, funny enough, the heat didn't rise in the winter and I was forced to live in one room because I couldn't keep the entire place heated.

I put on a brave face for my friends -- my new apartment was awesome! It was near work, had a nice porch overhanging the front yard (that I couldn't use because the floor was rotted and I was afraid I would plunge through it to my death) and had two built-in bookcases 9that were so crooked my books all leaned to the right like drunken soldiers).

As I huddled under blankets during the winter with that small gas heater spitting out about as much warmth as a lizard's burp, I thought longingly of my Brady Bunch apartment with it's hot water and great water pressure and central heating and cooling. What was a bit of shag carpeting after all?

When it came time to relocate for a new job, I had several friends competing for the right to live in my awesome apartment. I gladly gave them the landlord's name, waved goodbye to the toilet that always leaked and headed for better digs.

I learned a valuable lesson from that apartment debacle. I learned that no matter how good something looks on the surface and no matter how much I may believe I want it, I need to take a deep breath and look a little closer.

I think it's that way for many people who get caught up in interviewing for a job they really, really want. They are so excited about it, they forget to check out whether underneath the sheen of joy there might be a leaky toilet or rotted roof.

We all know that when we interview we're supposed to ask intelligent questions about the job, the company, the industry, etc. But let's look at some other things that you need to examine:

* Eye contact. Do people look one another in the eye when they speak? Does the manager look directly at employees, and vice versa? Do employees look each other in the face when they speak? If you don't see that eye contact, it could indicate that there is a lack of trust or respect among the employees and managers.

* It's too quiet. While you wouldn't want to work in an office that resembled a three-ring circus, a lack of talking -- and laughter -- could indicate an unhappy atmosphere where everyone avoids any contact with one another.

* It's sterile. One of the first things I notice in any office is the personal mementos that everyone displays. You can tell a proud papa by the numerous photos of his children or the avid gardener who has homegrown flowers in a vase. If workers don't seem to have anything personal around, it could indicate the management may have little support for employees having a life outside the office.

* Body language. Look at how employees behave as they work. Are there nervous or unhappy gestures such as slamming down phones, biting fingernails, chewing lips, constant sighing, etc.? Do employees not look well? Deep eye circles, unhealthy skin pallor and disheveled clothes might indicate they are overworked and overwhelmed.

* Interaction. I've already mentioned that a lack of eye contact or talking casually might indicate problems, but do you see employees interacting around the coffee pot or in the lunch room? Or, is everyone eating at their desk or while their nose is stuck in a newspaper? While some people may want to be alone during lunch, you also want to see a bit of camaraderie among workers to indicate a relaxed, friendly atmosphere.

* Doors. While management may say there is an open-door policy, is there really? How many doors do you pass that are closed?

* General upkeep. Ask for a tour of the facility and be sure and note whether it seems to be in good shape. Unkept bathrooms, overflowing trashcans, broken furniture, dirty floors and piles of papers may indicate not only a disorganized workplace, but one that might not be financially able to afford a good cleaning service. It can also reflect a general lack of pride by the workers in their company.

I'm not saying you should reject a job offer because of any of these things, but I do think it's a smart idea to look beyond the surface, and make sure you won't wind up feeling uncomfortable in your new job.

What are some other things a job candidate should look for when interviewing?


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