Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“I Have Major Job Search Anxiety”

I graduated last May, and since then I have been working in a full-time entry-level job in an industry where shorter contracts are the norm. I’ve been looking for the next step for me for a few months (slightly sooner than I might otherwise have done because my boss is, to put it kindly, difficult, but not, I don’t think, at a red-flag-to-employees level of soon, given the industry).

I’ve had several interviews which haven’t worked out (and plenty of non-responses to CVs, which I actually find easier to deal with), and it’s taking a toll on my self-esteem. Objectively, I know that I’m good at what I do, that finding a job takes time, and that, given that I have a job, I’m already in a good place. When I have received feedback, it’s been really positive (but they’ve just had a slightly better candidate too). However, every time something doesn’t work out, I feel worse and worse about myself, and I find myself stuck in thought-cycles about how terrible I am and how I’m never ever going to find something new.

I’ve been having anxiety-dreams about losing my current job, never getting a job, becoming homeless… which I think are a symptom of feeling anxious and not in control of the future. With the most recent interview, in the two days between the interview, which I really enjoyed, and hearing back that they’d chosen someone else, I felt sick and dizzy with stress for 48 hours, which is obviously not how to deal with waiting to hear back, nerve-wracking as it may be. Do you have any tips for an early-career professional woman not to go mad? — I Just Want A New Job

For your question, I turned to our forum moderator, Kate, who is a mid-career level VP of client services and who, in addition to her always thoughtful relationship advice, has really insightful and helpful career advice, too. She also happened to be in a similar position as you about a year ago, so she understands what it feels like but has the experience and expertise you don’t yet have, and I thought her perspective would be valuable. She ran her response by her mother, a career HR manager, so this advice has been well-vetted:

First, congratulations on having found a full-time job after graduation, and even better if it’s an industry that’s related to your degree and interests! As to your job search, there are other reasons to move on besides your boss being difficult, yes? Reasons that make sense from a career trajectory perspective and that you could articulate to an interviewer in a way that makes you sound like a smart and strategic go-getter?

I wonder if it may be good for you to stay put a little longer – if there are things you can still learn, experience you can still gain, accomplishments you could add to your resume, and if so, then maybe for now your focus could be on figuring out how to work with and/or around your boss, as that’s a great skill set to have. There are any number of good books about how to identify various difficult personality types in the office, with tips and tricks for how to work productively with them. [I haven’t read it, but have heard good things about this book – wendy].

But if a move is the best thing for you and you want to continue with your job search: Deep breaths – it’s only been a few months. It’s great that you’re getting lots of interviews. That means your resume is attracting positive attention and that you’re passing phone screens and moving on to next steps. If you get responses to two to three out of ten of the applications you submit, you’re doing well. If your hit rate is lower, maybe your resume needs a little tune-up. Formatting can be important, in terms of your resume getting past automated systems that read documents in a certain way. There are plenty of articles and resources online about that, like this one. You also want to have a powerful and succinct summary statement up top that clearly communicates who you are and what you’re looking for, and you want your experience to read not like a job description, but instead like a series of accomplishments – things you actually achieved on the job.

Maybe it’s not your resume but your interviewing skills that could use a boost. Are you aware of many common interview questions and do you have solid responses prepared that you can mentally pull from when needed (or even have the notes in front of you during phone interviews)? Do you take the time to research each company and have a basic understanding of what they do, what makes them unique, how they talk about themselves, what their competitive positions are and any challenges they’re facing, their culture and values, and their key players? Are you prepared with good questions to ask your interviewers? Can you clearly and effectively communicate your strengths and how you’d benefit the company?

Even if you feel like you’re on top of all of this, I would highly recommend picking up a copy of the 2018 edition of What Color Is Your Parachute?: A Practical Manual for Job Hunters and Career Changers. The first part of the book is exactly that: a practical guide for your job search, without gimmicks or tricks but with just the steps that have been proven effective in landing a new position. I found it very helpful and comforting during a job search last year.

Beyond resumes and interview skills, here are some tips from my experience:

Your best opportunities are likely to come from people you know, whom you’ve worked well with in the past or who like you and are willing to introduce you. How’s your network of college professors, parents’ friends, classmates who now have jobs, people from internships? Have you reached out to folks to let them know you’re looking, maybe asked them out for coffee or a drink, found out if they know of anything? Of the four companies I’ve worked for, I was introduced to three via close personal contacts and the fourth through a recruiter. While I’ve cold-applied for positions that led to interviews, these have been much less fruitful than the ones from personal introductions. An interview is really just a conversation that you have, to find out if there’s a mutual fit and if it makes sense to move forward. If there’s not a mutual fit, it’s no reflection on you or your value; it’s just not the right fit at this time. And that’s fine! All you need is one really good fit, and it can take some time to find it.

When you notice you’re in one of those destructive thought-spirals, snap yourself out of it. Literally snap a rubber band on your wrist if you have to. Be kind to yourself. Remind yourself that catastrophic thinking isn’t productive. Replace those mental images of homelessness and failure with an image of what success looks like to you. See yourself in a great position, an exciting culture, a nice apartment, wherever you want to be. Look at that image instead.

The waiting game is hard, but remind yourself that you found a great job already. You’re making money and gaining experience. You’re going to take that next right step when it’s time. It’s also good to have at least a couple of active prospects at any given time so you’re not putting all of your emotional eggs in one basket, but don’t be hard on yourself if you don’t.

And finally, remember people have been searching for and successfully finding jobs for centuries. Luck and timing are part of it, sure, but at the end of the day it’s just a series of steps and best practices that, if you follow – and sometimes it’s “wash, rinse, repeat” – you’re going to find that next right job. But if you’re doing everything right and you feel like you’re just beating your head against a wall, a couple of thoughts: When a position you were excited about doesn’t come through, there may well be a reason that position wasn’t right for you. Often, when I’ve come really close and not gotten the job, I’ve found out information later that made me realize that was a good thing. And sometimes it’s just not the right time and you still have things to learn where you are before moving on.

Best of luck!

Thanks so much, Kate!

***************

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy​(AT)​dearwendy.com.

16 comments… add one
  • avatar

    Moe April 2, 2018, 8:37 am

    Job searches, especially one’s first professional search, can be super intimidating. I know I felt the same way, but things will work out! I had the same bad dreams and anxiety and was convinced at time a really great job just wasn’t int he cards for me and here I am, nine years in, loving the hard-earned job I got!

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  • Copa

    Copa April 2, 2018, 9:21 am

    I think Kate’s advice is great (as her career advice tends to be).

    You should feel really proud of yourself that you landed a full-time job in your industry right after graduation. (If I’m not mistaken, it’s still a tough market out there for very new grads.) That alone should give you hope, I’d think!

    In my experience, job searches have gotten easier with more experience. I think the longer you are in your current role, the easier things will get. Right now you’re still a new graduate with not even a year of experience. There’s a strong chance you’re not doing inherently wrong, but competing against candidates with more experience.

    Also, you may consider seeking the help of a professional when it comes to dealing with anxiety. I also have work anxiety — am I gonna get fired? laid off? will I end up homeless? am I even doing a good job? am I never gonna get another job offer again and die working at this job I hate? (That last thought was one that plagued me when I was at my last company, which I HATED.) Feeling physically ill and dizzy when you logically understand you’re in a solid position (gainfully employed while seeing what else is out there) sounds extreme. If you can’t rein in your negative thoughts on your own, try therapy.

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  • avatar

    LisforLeslie April 2, 2018, 9:30 am

    Kate’s advice is spot on. This is, for lack of a better analogy, like dating. You are highlighting all of the things that make you a great catch. They are doing the same thing. They are looking to tick off all of the boxes plus find someone who has a good “fit”. If they don’t choose you, it’s simply because someone else had more of the check boxes and experience needed.

    Two things that I recommend:
    1. Dig deep in your interviews to determine if THEY are a good fit for YOU. Just because you want to leave your current job, doesn’t mean you should take anything.
    2. Keep doing well at your current job and look for opportunities there. Staying more than a year is to your benefit and although your boss is difficult, I predict you will have better and worse yet to come.

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  • avatar

    dinoceros April 2, 2018, 10:05 am

    I think you’re sort of setting yourself up to feel really bad. I’ve been on several hiring committees, and even the best candidate gets dinged (at least in our industry) if they have been at a job for less than a year. Without a solid (typically non-job related) reason, such as a spouse transferring or needing to move to be near family or something, we wonder if they are going to leave us early too (after we put in money and time into a search and training) or if they are drama prone (and thus maybe imploded their current situation). We wonder if they are picky, if they don’t know what they want, if they just don’t like to work. Now, I know many times none of those things are true, and it’s a situation like yours where it isn’t a good fit and you don’t want to waste time finding the right fit. But there’s also sort of a traditional view of paying one’s dues that I think still is seen as important these days. Most of the people hiring for these positions have also worked in a crappy job at some point, and many of them may have stuck it out for years. So, they are going to be viewing you from that lens, and I think that’s why people often draw a lot of big conclusions from someone who is searching after a short time.

    Anyway, I would also wonder if you could stick it out longer. Not just on paper, but sometimes more time gives you better answers to questions you’ll get asked because you’ve been through situations more (and can give more examples).

    Back to my point about setting yourself up — you’re placing your value as a person on getting a job, yet you’re applying for jobs at a time when you’re going to have a bigger hurdle to jump. I don’t think anybody should base their self-worth on a job search, but definitely not when you’re potentially being rejected based on something that literally has nothing to do with you as a person and based on time. But aside from that, you got a full time job after college. That’s a big achievement.

    Finally, you may want to talk to a counselor. I get being anxious over this, but becoming physically ill for that amount of time isn’t normal. Part of it is your situation, but part of it is how your mind and body are reacting to it. We all let our minds run wild sometimes, but being this affected by thoughts of being homeless when you already have a job seem like they are bigger than just not hearing back about some jobs.

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    • avatar

      dinoceros April 2, 2018, 10:53 am

      Also, since you state your job is tolerable, don’t make the mistake of treating this search like the kind of search you do when school ends or when you are unemployed. The benefit of searching while you have a job is that you don’t have to stress every time you aren’t hired and that you can be picky. No need to take on the added stress of “MUST GET A JOB IMMEDIATELY” if you don’t have to.

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      • avatar

        MaggieB April 2, 2018, 11:12 am

        However, speaking from experience, it can also be easy to lose motivation to keep searching when you already have a job you can tolerate. After working all day, the last thing you want to do is spend all evening before bed job hunting. I’ve found myself in a slump of beating myself up about not trying harder with my search, since I know it’s what I need to do, but at the same time making excuses night after night about why I’m too busy to do it that evening.

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  • avatar

    BakerBabe April 2, 2018, 10:09 am

    Check out Askamanager.com too!

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    • avatar

      Kate April 2, 2018, 10:32 am

      dot org!

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  • avatar

    csp April 2, 2018, 12:06 pm

    LW – I am an IT Recruiter. I think this answer is amazing.

    I understand that there are industries that job hopping is normal (IT being one of them), but many times being in that first job for 2 years is better. With that being said, I speak to candidates all the time who have this problem at all career levels. It sucks being the number two candidates.

    A few ideas, 1.) watch your social media profiles. Do you have a LinkedIn? Look at people from your company and see where they went after your job. So If you are working for Enterprise Rent a Car, see where people from Enterprise went with your job title after that title. It can be a great search tool.
    2.) Some job boards link to your social media and can show it to recruiters. The worst is Dice.com will show a recruiter someone’s twitter. In some of the terrible ones, I think of emailing the person to tell them but I don’t. Just google your name and see what shows up.
    3.) Listen about the job portal thing. Many times, the rejection of your resume comes from a computer.
    4.) Every candidate I talk to says ” There are no jobs out there for people like me” So what happens is that you see all the job postings and you are qualified for a small portion. That is everyone. You need to preserver.

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    • avatar

      Kate April 2, 2018, 12:11 pm

      To add to your point #4, I found that lots of jobs never get listed. The one I ended up with last spring never was, and other ones I interviewed for. People I knew told me about them. That’s another reason your network is so important. If you do see a listing you’re interested in, check to see if you know anyone at that company who could introduce you, rather than applying cold through the system.

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      • avatar

        ron April 2, 2018, 1:14 pm

        Yes, and some posted jobs are phony. The company I worked for did most of its hiring, especially for the subset of new employees having less than a couple years experience, directly from college campuses, for both bachelor’s and advanced degree jobs. Naturally the recruiters interviewed and fell in love with a lot of candidates who were not citizens and needed a green card. A requirement, at the time at least, was for the company to demonstrate that they couldn’t hire an American citizen to do the work.

        The way you show that an American isn’t available and qualified for the work is to advertise the job and interview people. Generally the job description/requirements were heavily slanted to the skills/education/experience of the person who basically won the job through the campus interview. Outside applicants had perhaps a 10% chance in toto to win the job.

        If you are applying for a specific advertised job, it is best to tailor your resume and cover letter to that specific job. General applications to the company, even in fields where we hired a lot of people tended to not get much attention.

        Don’t overlook your college placement office as a source of help. Many happily assist recent grads.

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      • avatar

        csp April 2, 2018, 3:14 pm

        I totally agree about the job postings. A great plug is to find industry related recruiters. High turn over industries (IT or Promotions/Marketing) usually have industry specific recruiters. There are many jobs I never post because I get so many terrible responses. It is easier for me to just search the job boards.

        Another plug, make sure your resume is posted on multiple job boards like Monster, Dice, Careerbuilder, Indeed, ZipRecruiter. Most companies cannot afford all of those job boards so you might miss roles.

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  • avatar

    alafair April 2, 2018, 1:05 pm

    I’m a hiring manager in IT. I have to echo what csp said – I think the time in current position is hurting your chances. If a candidate comes to me with a single job on their resume out of college and they’ve been in position for less than a year, it’s an automatic no. Same with people who are constantly doing non-contract stints of less than a year. My reasoning? I get a lot of resumes and it’s an easy way to cull down the list as well as screen out problematic/dramatic employees. The only exception for me would be a stellar recommendation from someone whose work I admired and respected.

    My advice would be to use the time until you hit that 1 year mark to expand your skillset and network. Networking will be invaluable and expanding your skillset will show the hiring manager that you take initiative.

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  • mrmidtwenties

    mrmidtwenties April 2, 2018, 4:26 pm

    I would really think out what you want to do career-wise before you look to make a move. Chances are that if you move companies, you’ll be at another entry level position. I would evaluate your prospects of moving up in the next couple of years. If you can wait to get at least 2 years experience you’ll have a much better shot at making a vertical career move as opposed to a lateral move where you’ll likely have to wait another 2 years to make a vertical move. Also, what I’ve found is when you hit the 2 year mark, at least in my industry, is when recruiters are more likely to seek you out as opposed to you having to seek out every job yourself. I made a lateral job move after 1.5 years at my first company after college because my boss was awful and the next role up there required someone retiring (he still hasn’t retired) so I made the choice to stick out for another 2 years in a different entry level role at a different company. I started to fall a little behind my friends who had stuck it out at their first companies for longer, but thankfully because of my experience at the first company, I was able to jump a role and am now further ahead than where I would have been with my first company. All that’s to say, if you can stick it out in your current spot awhile longer, you’ll likely come out further ahead a few years down the line, than making a lateral move now.

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    • avatar

      Kate April 2, 2018, 4:30 pm

      I agree with all this. I was in my first job 2.5 years, got a promotion during that time, and was able to take a new job that was another step up. I think less than a year is too soon to be considered more than entry level, and there’s definitely more to learn in the current role.

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  • avatar

    No Name Needed April 4, 2018, 9:48 am

    I agree with all the people that have advised you to stay at your current job for a minimum of 2 years.

    I stayed at my old job for 13 years before I applied for a new job. I was worried that I would not get hired by the new company that I had applied too because I have only held 1 job on my resume and had no other jobs since I started working, the end results? I got hired!!

    I asked my hiring manager why they picked me out of all the possible candidate’s that I had a chance to speak with in the waiting room while waiting my turn for the first round and second round interviews. Most of all the other candidates had worked for numerous companies and had way more experience than I did in my career field, but in the end I got hired when I felt that I stood no chance against them. My hiring manager told me that I got hired because I held 1 job for 13 years, he said that shows a lot about person from a employers stand point. It showed him and the company that this candidate is loyal and has the ability to get along with their peers and the time and money invested into training and materials will not go to waste as they do not have to fear about the candidate leaving within a year or two. Companies want people who will stay with them for the long run and that is what my resume told them about me, this alone was the major factor that got me hired. Note to mention I applied for a job in my career field that I had experience in, so I wasn’t hopping from different career path and had a sustainable amount of knowledge in what I do in my career but nowhere close to the experience the other candidates had working with numerous different models and equipment that I have never worked with.

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