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The job seeker's agonies...and how to mitigate them

By Marty Nemko

Alexis, one of my clients, recently described her job search as “agony.”

Here are four job search agonies, as a job seeker might describe them. I’ll follow each with my thoughts on how to reduce or eliminate the agony.

I’m not an expert at anything. I just have soft skills: people skills, communication skills, organizational skills. I have a college degree but I feel like an imposter, like I don’t know anything that an employer cares about. I look at the want ads and they want stuff like three years experience with C++ or with characterization of conjugated polypeptides. What do I tell them? That I’m a quick learner? I have a college degree and the only employer who’s interested in me is my uncle who said he might(!) be able to get me a sales job in the shoe department at JC Penney.

Well, you’re right. You do need more than soft skills for most decent-paying job openings that are listed in the want ads. So, you have a choice: network and cold call your way into a non-advertised job that requires only soft skills, or get some hard skills either at a community college, State U, or You U (mentors, articles, books, workshops.) And to build your confidence, reread the accomplishments you listed in your resume. That will probably remind you that you would be valuable to an employer.

The task of finding a job seems so enormous: all that pitching yourself and stressful interviews. Ugh! I know, I know: “Baby steps.” But that still feels so overwhelming, I’d rather have a rectal exam. At least that’s over in a few seconds.”

You can make your job search more pleasurable than you think. For example, no need to hype yourself, something most people find distasteful. In networking and cold calling, just describe your situation and ask for advice. In actual job interviews, describe your strengths and weaknesses and ask if the employer could see you being helpful to him. Do that and you will, with less stress, get a job faster than if you hype yourself—most employers have good BS detectors.

And remember, it’s normal to feel yucky during a job search, especially if you lost your previous job. When you’ve felt bad in the past, what has helped? Seeing friends, helping someone, reading a book, playing in your garden? Do it—you’ll be a more effective job searcher if you take a little time each day to do what restoreth thy soul.

It’s so frustrating, so demeaning. I work my butt off writing perfect job applications and then I get no response. Or I finally get an interview, it goes well, and then weeks go by and no response. Finally, I call to follow up and they say they hired someone else. It takes a toll on your self-esteem.

You’re absolutely right. In a more humane world, employers would at least tell you they hired someone else. Alas, many don’t. Realize it’s not personal—they’re inhumane to everyone. Consider joining a job search support group. It can help you realize you’re not the only good person being ignored. Another way to reduce the hurt is to wait only a week after submitting your application or after your interview before following up. Then phone and say something like, “I hadn’t heard from you so I’m assuming you’re not interested, but I know how things can fall between the cracks, and I really think I’d do a great job for you, so I figured I’d take the liberty of calling to follow up.”

In my last job, I was making $80,000. Finally, after seven months of looking, I got a job offer. They offered $60,000. Now what? If I pushed for $80,000, I was afraid the employer would retract the offer—‘I’m sorry. The job pays $60,000. If you took the job at $60,000, I’m afraid you’d be a disgruntled employee. So, thank you Ms. Jones, I’m sure one of our other good candidates will gladly accept $60,000. Have a nice day.’ I couldn’t bear the thought of seven more months looking for a job, so I took the $60,000.”

If you counter properly, the risk of having an offer withdrawn is minimal. Just turn down the offer pleasantly, providing evidence that the salary is low and that the employer will benefit from hiring you. Use a tone that allows the employer to save face. For example, “I can certainly understand your budget constraints in these tight times, but if you hire me, you’ll get (Insert examples of how you’re an above-average employee and the benefits that will bring to the employer), which will make your life much easier. And what I’m asking is truly fair—here is a list of comparable salaries.” That approach will rarely cause a job offer to be retracted.

Another way to avoid losing a job offer without caving too quickly is to reject the first offer; accept the second. Reject the second and you risk alienating the boss or even getting the offer withdrawn, and the amount you’ll likely gain beyond that second offer usually isn’t worth that risk.

These tips may not turn a job search into a joy ride, but should make it more pleasant than a rectal exam.

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