How to be a more resilient job searcher?
October 27, 2019 4:11 PM   Subscribe

Okay, I'm back again. I've been trying to job search for a new position since getting my MLIS in April and I've kicked my job search into gear last week because my hours at my current job have been cut. I've been feeling a lot of momentum. I also have *so much* anxiety with regards to my job search that, I think it really takes away from my ability to actually apply for jobs and see what I have to offer clearly. How can I do this and be less anxious?

I'm already in therapy, so concrete tips on what else I can do would be appreciated!

I guess it's not easy for anyone, but job searching brings out all of my very worst anxious traits. I have applied for a minuscule number of jobs over the past 6 months (4 in total, 2 just in the last few days, interviewed for 1). On one hand there has been a dearth of library positions posted in Alberta over the past 6 months, and I doubt that will improve over the next 4 years. However, there are a few that I probably could have applied to, that I just didn't because of my anxiety.

In particular, I really get stuck at the cover letter. When I think of how I have to "sell" myself to a potential employer. I just start to feel not great about myself. It's been even worse lately, because of the situation at my current job. On top of my regular anxiety when writing a cover letter, now I have an extra layer of literally regretting every. choice. I have ever made that led me to this point. I wish I had more clarity and more resilience to deal with the process of applying for jobs, just writing a cover letter boom! submitting it! boom! applying for another! and so on! I spend so much time thinking about the job I'm applying for that I psych myself out and think of so many reasons why I'm not qualified.

In the midst of my anxiety last night, I asked how to re-apply to a job I was rejected from a months ago. I rewrote my cover letter for the position, but now I'm second guessing myself "well, if I was rejected the first time maybe it IS weird that I'm applying to it again." However, positions feel so and far between that I feel dumb for not applying to it? I've been attaching SO MUCH of my worth and my value as a person to getting a fucking decent job (which I've never fully had in my adult life yet), that I just feel like a failure.

How do I apply for all these jobs, knowing that... well, there's a fair chance I might not get an interview? Or if I get an interview, I might not get the job? I want to not be so affected by these "failures," and stay focused and use my momentum to help me be a better applicant/interviewee. I'm tired of second guessing EVERY step I take and feeling like a failure. And then worrying about it until I hear back (or don't). I don't want to need ask people for their opinions on my job search, or how to do things, I just want to be able to get things done and move on.

Sending in an application for a new job just feels SO BIG to me and so MEANINGFUL, that I can't calm down and step back!!! How do I become more resilient during this search?
posted by VirginiaPlain to Work & Money (12 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Whenever I'm job seeking I make sure to go back to my own advice about anxiety and applying for work—it's far less meaningful than anyone gives it credit for, as a process. Toss the fishing line into the river, and sit down.

The other one I like to give, about writing cover letters, is not to write it in your own voice. Most people carry themselves in writing with a mix of professionalism and modesty and reserve, which is fine for behaving like an civilised adult in a workplace, but it's rarely appropriate for cover letters. The voice you're aiming for when you're applying for jobs, alas, is Donald Trump's voice—the blowhard, New York bravado, absolutely self-certain, credit-claiming self-promoter. Try it out.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 5:04 PM on October 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

Apply more. The more you apply, the less you will care about each particular listing/cover letter/application.

The last two jobs I accepted both had job ads that were somewhat peculiar in ways that I am sure deterred some potential good fits from applying, which, you know, served me really well - so no complaints here. But my own experience has borne out my theory that you shouldn't preemptively dismiss jobs that have even an iota of hope or that as-is sound unappealing but might with negotiation morph into something you want. Apply to everything. It will sort itself out at some point down the line no matter what anyway (you either get an interview or your don't, you either get an offer or you don't, you like it or not, etc) so why artificially narrow the field more when you're already in a very very tight job market?

My field is ridiculously competitive (fine art higher education) and is also somewhat affected by relationships in a way that makes it slightly harder to be as competitive a candidate as a complete stranger. I do not take rejections personally at all. It sounds like you should have a similar mindset. Also, it's hard to be mad at rejections when you are applying to some tangential-sounding job ads in the off-chance that they were just written poorly or are more up for negotiation than implied in the ad.

I keep an Excel spreadsheet when I'm applying, because I apply to everything that seems even vaguely possible internationally and even though I feel there are never enough options, it nevertheless gets to be too much to try to keep on top of without that level of organization (this last job application season of about 7 months I applied to around 60 jobs). The Excel spreadsheet has the job list date, the application window close date, my application date, job title, job description, url to the employer and job listing, and then updates on rejections/interviews/offers/misc. The spreadsheet stops most of the ruminating/anxiety. When anxiety pops up anyway, I channel it into finding and completing new applications. That and/or going to the gym.
posted by vegartanipla at 5:17 PM on October 27, 2019 [4 favorites]

To some extent this is a numbers game. I don't have the perfect, comprehensive answer, I think a lot of the anxiety issues need to addressed in your therapy. But there's a few things maybe you can keep in mind:

1. Make a commitment to yourself that from now on you'll apply to any job that you think you are even remotely qualified to do. From the time you see it, until you submit your application, take no more than 24 hours. If you need to hem, haw, freak out, whatever - fine - you've got 24 hours to do that AND get your resume tweaked and your cover letter done and out. To probably misquote and mis-attribute another Albertan: You miss 100% of the shots you don't take.

2. Remember that this is 2019: Donald J. Trump is president so literally anyone is qualified for anything! That's an exaggeration but it can help to remember that "qualifications" are highly subjective. The stat is something like that women only apply to things if they meet 100% of the stated requirements; men sit around 60%. So if a mediocre man can (AND WILL) apply for this, so can you. Just apply! Let them reject your resume (they're not rejecting you, they don't even KNOW you, they just know your resume - which can always be improved anyway).

3. Try (I know, but try!) not to overthink it. The goal of your resume/cover letter submission is to not to get the job - it's just a step towards that. All it does it check some boxes. The goal of it is to get you the interview. And once you get the interview, the goal is to get them to like you, to see how you could be part of the team. Take it one step at a time: get the resume out there so you can get the interview.

4. For me, from a hiring perspective, what I care about in the cover letter is: a) that you can communicate well and that b) you're demonstrating an understanding of how you can connect your experience to this role and c) enthusiasm and confidence. That's it. It's not much more complicated than that.

Good luck!
posted by marylynn at 6:05 PM on October 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

I assumed this was just a joke when I first heard it, but, uh, starting to approach my job search from the perspective of "what would a mediocre white man do" had a drastic impact on my job search in the last few months. I no longer write to people as though I'm me talking the way I normally would; it helps in a weird way to think of it as a fiction exercise, where a much more idiotically confident version of me is doing this whole process. I still spend a lot of time thinking about how that is terrible and I'm basically unqualified, but I now have confirmed proof that people offer me a lot more money when I'm doing it, so... yeah.

Also, I acknowledge up front that this does produce even more anxiety in the short run, but in the long run, even if you are an anxious person, getting to know a wide network of people in your industry in your region is the way that you find out about positions that aren't posted, or you get told "hey you should apply for this" about a position that you wouldn't have even considered, or you get someone who can at least hint to you how to maximize your chances. The last thing I applied for, I didn't even send them my resume, someone just suggested I set up a phone call with a company and suddenly "getting to know you" took a hard left into "phone interview".
posted by Sequence at 6:57 PM on October 27, 2019 [13 favorites]

I am a big proponent of therapy but sometimes when the anxiety is this bad (impeding your progress toward a completely normal goal), medication can be so helpful. Meds don't cure everything, but they can turn your anxiety-level down from 10 to a 3. It's a lot easier to do the work you need to do when you're not using a significant amount of effort managing your anxiety.
posted by stowaway at 7:01 PM on October 27, 2019 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice so far, everyone. It's so easy to forget that this is all just a process I have to chip away at.

Although, I'm not sure how to really begin to "write" in a different voice, as Fiasco da Gama and Sequence suggest! How does this work?! I do always write my cover letters in my voice, which yeah is probably not that confident, and I bet it even sounds apologetic and (ugh) earnest at times. Like, is there a sample of how this would sound?

I guess I've been socialized to try to not be arrogant, or boastful, or that doing those things just comes off as purely annoying. I feel like I'm always being intrusive on the job search, and I just HATE it.

Starting a spreadhseet is probably a good idea, and so is going to the gym (I'll have more time for that now with all my extra spare time!). I've always been weary about looking into medication (which is something I have considered in the past), but I don't even have a family doctor and I don't know where to begin with that rigmarole in this Province.
posted by VirginiaPlain at 9:09 PM on October 27, 2019

I’m a librarian, and I had a job lined up at graduation... and I think it was probably the 40th or so I applied to? The more you apply, the lower the stakes get with each one.

Have you and your classmates been reading each others’ letters? I found that very helpful the first time around. And ask librarians you know if they can share theirs.

Open Cover Letters is an excellent source where you can see how others tread the line between confidence and boasting.
posted by bluedaisy at 11:08 PM on October 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

Tumblr throws around the advice that: Men will often apply for jobs where they have 40% of the listed qualifications. Women often won't apply unless they have 90% or more. Since most of the job descriptions are written by men, women who apply seem overqualified and not likely to be a good fit in the long run.

Seconding "What would a mediocre white man do?" as an approach to job hunting. Remove every shred of apology or self-doubt from your initial communication, and review job listings while asking yourself, "is this the lucky firm that's going to be blessed by my presence?"

Start simple: Set up a resume at no more than 2 pages, no more than 5 bullet points per job, aimed at the job you want, not the requirements of the job you had. (So: If you were a cashier who answered the phone once a week, and you want a receptionist job, list "phone" as the first bullet point.)

Put your resume on Indeed an LinkedIn. Search for keywords related to what you want to do. If you read the job description and think, "I would like doing that, and I'd be okay at it once I figure out their system," that's worth applying for. Then apply for EVERYTHING that has an "instant apply" option (or whatever it's called). Throw your resume at dozens of openings, most of which are going to ignore it. Get comfortable with "I could probably do that" as a reason to send out a resume.

Cover letter advice - multiple links.

Just keep in mind that the point of the cover letter and resume is not to get you a job. It's to convince someone, "I want to talk with this person."
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 11:35 PM on October 27, 2019 [3 favorites]

How do I apply for all these jobs, knowing that... well, there's a fair chance I might not get an interview? Or if I get an interview, I might not get the job?

Because statistically the more jobs you apply for the better chance you have of getting an interview and a job. For me there's a lot of crossover in best practices for dating and for job hunting and sometimes it helps to switch lenses, so to speak. In my dating heyday I went on lots of dates with people I wasn't really sure about just to see how I felt about them in person and because I knew that the more people I met, the better my chances.

Another thing that's helpful to remember is that 1) people often write job descriptions as if their dream employee might apply and 2) people who write the job descriptions often aren't very good at describing what they're looking for. Just as a dating profile isn't usually a great way to know what someone is about and you really have to meet them in person, if they spark your interest. 3) Sometimes no one else applies for the job, and they hire someone who's a decent fit but not the imaginary perfect fit. 4) Sometimes you get interviewed and don't get hired, but if they recognize that you'd be a good fit, you've laid in groundwork for the future.

It also helps me to think of all the people out there who are really not well-suited for their jobs and do okay at them and stay employed. Often because the employer isn't willing to pay for someone who would be fantastic. That might sound a bit negative but what I mean is that you don't have to be perfect to be effective, and sometimes effective is pretty darn good, good enough for years of stable employment.
posted by bunderful at 5:56 AM on October 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

So first my anecdata: without a real spreadsheet, I would estimate that since 2012, I have moved long-distance twice without a job, I have probably applied for about 40-50 jobs and had about 20 interviews. I have been hired for five total jobs in that time. So here is what's worked well for me:

-I keep a cut-and-paste bank of paragraphs for cover letters. I do not agree that you have to rewrite a cover letter for every job. All of the cover letters I wrote were about 80% recycled from some previous version. I keep track of which cover letters got me interviews and ultimately a job, and focus on re-using those paragraphs most often as appropriate. Obviously, you'll write new stock paragraphs over time as you get new jobs or skills.

-I have had much more luck focusing on my own voice as a letter writer than worrying about what the employer 'wants' to hear or following a very rote format. The employer wants to hear that you genuinely want this job and can talk about why you'd be good at it. Everything else about "never use the word love" or "keep saying you WILL be great at this job" is just "one weird tip" type noise IMO. If the employer isn't excited by my genuine voice, I probably am not going to like working there.

-I can't agree enough that counter-intuitively, spending one hour MAX tweaking a letter/resume for a job and just shoving it out there is so much easier than obsessing over it. I understand the temptation. I have had no more luck with the letters I pored over than the letters I spent 30 mins on and said "good enough." For awhile my job-applying slogan was "it's either good enough or it's not."
posted by nakedmolerats at 6:46 PM on October 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Try writing a cover letter as though you were writing a draft for a good friend who is applying for this job. You know how talented, experienced, well-rounded and GREAT your friend is. You are going to emphasize their strengths and let the reader know how lucky they would be to hire your friend. Sometimes I'm able to 3rd person myself into self confidence at least on the page.
posted by Lookinguppy at 9:17 AM on October 30, 2019

I’m an academic librarian so take my advice with a grain of salt if you’re looking to go public or special or school.

First, yes please do get therapy! The interview process is super super stressful and there are many candidates, so you want to be able to put your best foot forward when the time comes and not have anxiety hold you back from being your best self.

Second, cover letters. I’ve sat on the other side of the table through four search committees and probably a hundred interviews and I supervise librarians. All we secretly want in a cover letter is for you to tell us how you meet the qualifications of the job. Explicitly. And not too concisely. And not by repeating your resume or CV.

You don’t have to brag or even change your tone to something artificial if you tell us about your job experience, coursework, or hastily Googled article that connects for us how you meet a given qualification. We know newbies don’t necessarily have experience to match every qual but that doesn’t mean you don’t have other things!

The single biggest mistake that I see candidates make is to craft the cover letter as a quick hello, which is both too short and too far from what we’re looking for. We need to know how you’re a fit for the job. Bonus points for telling us something that connects to our strategic plan or a unique aspect of our university. Boom, done.

I’ll leave off the other advice but yes to therapy and yes to cover letters detailing how you’re qualified for a job. Best wishes to you! Happy to look over a cover letter or CV if you’d ever like me to. I do it all the time as a way to give back to the profession.
posted by librarylis at 7:13 PM on October 30, 2019

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