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Don’t let fear and overwhelm derail your job search.

Feb 18, 2022

We all know looking for a new job can be stressful. In fact, 92% of Americans are stressed by at least one aspect of the job interview process. Whether you are looking to elevate to a new level, pivot to a new industry, or just land a job in a new company, the whole ordeal can seem overwhelming. There are many reasons that a job search can cause anxiety. Fear of rejection, additional tasks on the to-do list, networking, the complexity of application systems, differing opinions and “rules” to follow - the list goes on and on. 

After working with hundreds of clients, there are two main things that we hear over and over again when it comes to feeling anxious about the job search. The first is fearing rejection and the second is a sense of overwhelm with all the unknowns throughout the process. The application process isn’t always straightforward and there’s a lot of conflicting advice out there that can keep you stuck in analysis paralysis. We wanted to shine a light on these issues and give actionable tips to overcome the most common emotions that show up when applying for a new job. 

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It’s the most common reason people don’t apply for jobs. On average, each corporate job offer attracts 250 resumes. The typical employer will then interview 4–6 candidates for the job, and only one will be successful. Rejection is an inevitable part of the job search process. Because of this, many people will avoid applying for positions that they think might be a stretch, even if they are 100% confident in their ability to do the job. 

Why are we so afraid of rejection? If we look at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs, being rejected, specifically from a potential job, jeopardizes our second most important human need - employment to provide safety. It also makes us question our belonging, self-esteem, and keeps us from self-actualization, at least in the short term. 

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All of this to say, it’s a big deal and our brains love to highlight that for us to try to keep us safe. If rejection is part of the average job search and is stress-inducing for most of us, how do we overcome this?

Tip #1: What can you learn? 

What are one or two things that you can take away from the experience and apply to your next opportunity? This will ensure that even a rejection will be useful in the long run. By reframing the experience into a learning opportunity, you can find value in the process rather than focusing only on the outcome. Every opportunity can provide a new perspective if you’re willing to look past the result and focus on the experience as a whole. 

Tip #2: Don’t get so personal. 

Most people go right to negative self-talk. You might say “I didn’t answer that question right” “I wasn’t personable” “I didn’t make a good impression.” Instead, say “someone else was better suited for this specific role” or “my experience wasn’t perfectly aligned with what they are looking for.” Although these reasons can still be disappointing, they aren’t personal attacks which makes the disappointment more manageable and less intimidating. 

Tip #3: Keep perspective. 

Catastrophizing is when you jump to the worst possible scenario and start to spiral into the “what ifs.” If you find yourself catastrophizing after a rejection, try to bring your attention back to the most likely scenario, instead of the very unlikely, worst-case scenario. If you don’t get this one job offer, what in your life will actually look different tomorrow? After all, you don’t have the job today. Most likely, there won’t be a drastic change. Even if there is a sense of urgency around the job search, focusing on the worst possible outcome will only make you less likely to confidently present yourself in job interviews. Make sure you always have a backup plan and focus on the most likely outcome versus the least likely. 

Tip #4: Keep a folder of achievements. 

Keep a list of successes throughout your career (and life). When you find yourself moving into self-doubt, turn to your past to remind yourself of the great things you’ve done. This could include emails from co-workers thanking you for helping them, a great review from a boss or client, a quantifiable achievement like sales results, or an award you received. Anything that demonstrates something that you’re proud of. When you start to doubt yourself, it can be hard to remember all the things you’ve done, so having something to turn to can help you maintain a positive mindset. 

Tip #5: Focus on small wins. 

Even if you go through the interview process and don’t end up landing the job, it’s important to recognize that you were successful in getting an interview. Considering that the average interview rate from job applications is 10%, just getting an interview is a win! If you only focus on what you didn’t get, the job search process can get discouraging really fast. Small wins are still important to celebrate. 


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Going through a job search can make you feel completely out of control. You don’t know exactly what the recruiter or hiring manager is looking for - although you can take your best guess - and you don’t know who else is applying for the same position. It’s hard to go up against an unknown opponent. 

Now add in that the application process is typically complex, antiquated, and extremely confusing, and the overwhelm can easily start to take over. Have you noticed that the “easy apply” jobs on LinkedIn typically get hundreds of applicants? The easier to apply, the more competition. Sometimes it’s easier to get an interview with a long application process but who wants to go through that? 

Also, there’s so much conflicting information on the internet. If you look enough, you can find an argument for and against every piece of advice you’ve been told about applying for jobs. So who is correct? And why isn’t there just one right answer? 

Similar to the question, the answer is complex. Since these job searches are run by different people using different technologies, two people with similar backgrounds can apply for the same job and get vastly different outcomes depending on the reviewer and systems the organization uses. For most applicants, that is extremely frustrating. However, this is another reason why you shouldn’t take the job application process so personally. It’s a flawed system. Extremely qualified and high-potential talent gets passed up for opportunities all the time simply because of automated systems or recruiters who aren’t given the flexibility to interview applicants who don’t meet 100% of the requirements. 

With these challenges, how can we avoid overwhelm and keep moving forward?

Tip #1: Create boundaries 

Stick to a schedule when it comes to the job search. Schedule specific times to check your email, apply to jobs, and send follow-ups for applications or interviews. This will help you feel a sense of control over the process. If you find yourself constantly checking your email waiting for a reply, remove your email from your phone and only access it during your scheduled email time on your computer. Find ways to incorporate the job search into your day without it controlling your mindset or mood. 

Tip #2: Find a trusted resource

Because the job search process is so varied, you can drive yourself crazy finding a million different opinions. Instead, find a couple of sources to gather all the advice you need. First, try to connect with someone who is currently working in the company or industry you’re interested in. Ask them about their path to their current role and see if they can offer any specific advice for your targeted search.  

If you are conducting a more broad search, try to find career experts you align with and find their information helpful and valuable. If they are a reputable resource, you’ll be able to learn everything you need without worrying about all the conflicting advice out there. This can reduce a lot of headaches and analysis paralysis. 

Tip #3: Take breaks. 

If you’re starting to feel burnt out, it may be time to take a break. Although it can be hard to step away from the process, it is often better to take a couple of weeks off and give yourself some space to come back to the job search with a positive mindset. Pushing your way through burnout typically doesn’t end well - the same rule applies to the job search. When you take a step back, you may think of connections you forgot about or get around to reconnecting with an old colleague you’ve been wanting to reach out to. 

Tip #4: Get help

If the job search is feeling really daunting, it may be time to reach out to a professional. A company like Elevated Resumes can help you move forward with an actionable plan to make traction in the job search process. This can also be a great way to get started if you’re confused about the next right step. Knowing this is an option to explore if you are feeling stuck can give you the confidence you need to get started. 

Making big changes in your career can be a daunting task. Most people encounter both the fear of rejection and a sense of overwhelm when making a transition. Since you can predict that these emotions might come up, we can prepare and feel secure in the fact that we are not alone. Being prepared for these feelings to show up throughout the process will allow you to experience the emotion without letting it derail your plan. 

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