This morning, when advising a client around their job hunting efforts, I suggested he go home and complete a few activities I’d recommended such as updating his resume, enhancing his LinkedIn profile, and building out a list of all of the people he knew as a foundation for launching a systematic networking effort. Not only did I provide him with detailed documentation about how to go about each step, but also stressed that if he got stuck or that if even the slightest question came up, I was only an e-mail or phone call away.
His response to this advice? “Holy cow, I feel overloaded! I’m not sure when I’m going to be able to get all of those things accomplished. I had no idea there was so much involved in looking for work these days…”
Simply put, this individual seemed overwhelmed by the set of next steps I was recommending, despite the documentation provided and the fact that the activities in question would only likely take 5-10 hours to complete at the absolute most. What’s more, his reaction wasn’t the slightest bit unusual. I’ve found that a great many out-of-work professionals today (perhaps even the majority) tend to have a reaction like this when you make them aware of all the “moving parts” that go into a modern job search campaign and what they’d need to do to increase their odds of success.
So here’s my question to all of you out there who have gone through a recent career transition. Why does the process of looking for work often seem so hard — and so daunting — when in reality, it often involves far LESS work than actually holding a job, itself? Why does putting in a few hours of structured search activity per day seem so challenging when in reality, most of us already have years of experience punching a clock and putting in 8-10 hour workdays? Why does the employment quest sometimes seem like an unconquerable mountain, when like any other project, it can be broken down into simple steps and digestible chunks like anything else?
Make no mistake, please. I’m not negatively judging job seekers for this reaction, since it’s such a “normal” response to this process that I figure there has to be some legitimate explanation for it. It can’t just be the case that people who are used to moving mountains and busting their tail at work, every day, suddenly become whiners, shirkers, or slackers the moment they lose their job and need to start the process of finding a new one. So I’d throw out a few potential explanations for this phenomenon — and always, would welcome any comments or further thoughts any of you might be willing to share.
1. The job hunting challenge is an unfamiliar one. Even though most people have demonstrated the ability to put in long hours and go the extra mile in their daily jobs, perhaps they just don’t know how to allocate their time appropriately in a job search — or what exactly to do — and this uncertainty prevents them from kicking their efforts into full gear.
2. It doesn’t seem like it should take so much effort. For some folks, perhaps they’re hung up on issues related to pride or the perceived “fairness” of the market today — and as a result, don’t feel they need to work hard, ask for help, or go the extra mile to find a job given the talent they possess and their history of accomplishments to date.
3. It didn’t take much effort the last time around. For those people who haven’t had to look work in many years, it could simply be that their benchmark is off and that they’re comparing the amount of effort needed in 2017 to find a job to the amount they needed to exert in 1997 — when the job market was fundamentally different and they, themselves, were looking for lower-level assignment at potentially a lot less pay.
4. The lack of incremental feedback suppresses motivation. When attacking many challenges in life, such as losing weight or getting in shape, your efforts typically generate positive feedback (e.g. the pounds come off, your clothes fit better, etc.) that makes it easier to stick with your regimen. With job hunting, however, you can go entire weeks without getting a legitimate nibble, making you question your efforts and muster the willpower needed to keep faithfully executing your game plan, day after day.
5. Challenges seem greater when one’s confidence is diminished. Given that most job hunters, by definition, are coming out of layoffs, terminations, and other events that have impacted their confidence — and caused them to feel a certain amount of insecurity — it seems natural that any new challenge they’re facing might be a bit blown out of proportion, due to their current emotional state. It’s hard to judge a situation accurately, in other words, when you’re dealing with an elevated level of stress and not feeling like you’re at the peak of your powers.
6. The honeydew list keeps getting in the way. Oddly enough, a great many job hunters I meet tell me they feel busier now that they’re unemployed than they ever did when they were working full-time. So could some explanation for the perceived “difficulty” of a job search simply be that a person often has a bunch of other things in their lives flare up and demand attention (e.g. child care, household errands, health issues, volunteer commitments, etc.) and as a result, don’t have as much free time to look for work as one would anticipate?
7. No one is forcing you to do it or holding you accountable. And lastly, one possible theory for why looking for work can often seem uncharacteristically difficult — even for gung-ho, Type A people — is that you’re pretty much responsible for lighting a fire under yourself each day. There’s no boss telling you what to do, no peers or customers giving you deadlines to attain, and no formal structure/schedule/habits in place to ensure you stay accountable and get things done. You need to drive the entire process all by yourself, start to finish.
So what do you think? Do any of these proposed theories hit the target and explain why “10 hours of work” related to your job search can seem infinitely harder than “10 hours of work” devoted to your actual job duties? Do you think a number of these factors often affect people, simultaneously? Or that the reasons behind job search execution difficulties vary wildly from person to person? Any other potential explanations or contributing factors that I might have overlooked and left off the list?
In closing, while the above issues certainly don’t affect every out-of-work individual I come across, they certainly seem to be present with quite a few folks going through the process. And it’s clear that there must be hidden forces involved in this challenge, since again — on the surface — the amount of effort required, time-wise, isn’t anything even remotely unfamiliar to the vast majority of working adults. So if you’re currently struggling to execute your own daily search regimen and get your efforts into a methodical groove, give some serious thought to the points above and see if you any of them might be the culprits that are holding you back.
P.S. If you’re interested in reviewing a few more “burning questions” I’ve asked over the years, discussing some of the deeper aspects of the career management process, click here!