How to Job Search When You’re Feeling Stuck

There are few things as ambiguous and frustrating as figuring out how to job search.

Upon realizing that submitting an application isn’t going to work roughly 95% of the time, the process starts to look a little less black and white, and a little more bleak.

The road to getting an interview or offer is filled with uncertainty, complexity, and very few clear answers. Setbacks and rejections are the name of the game, and it’s easy to feel stuck.

Feeling stuck is generally confusion about what to do. The good news is, confusion is a choice.

Confusion can usually be traced back to a voice in our head saying something that starts with, “I don’t know…”

“I don’t know” makes sense when you’re responding to a specific question with a definitive answer. See below:

Without a timer and Regis staring us down, we might sit for hours trying to think our way to finding the right answer.

In the job search, there are very few definitive answers.

Choosing to sit in the land of “I don’t know” is an easy trap to fall into when we’re navigating how to job search. We’re extremely good at convincing ourselves there IS an answer and we don’t know it. This is rarely the case. 

“I don’t know” becomes a problem when it keeps us confused and stops us from taking action in our job search. 

(The answer is ‘Moth’, by the way. You can keep reading now.)

Three ways out of the struggle

Whenever you catch yourself feeling confused, and convincing yourself you don’t know, remember there are three ways out of the struggle that will always be true. They are:

  1. You could find out
  2. You do know
  3. You don’t need to know

Let’s take a look at examples of each that might run across in your job search.

1. You could find out

One way to figure out what to do is to start by translating “I don’t know” into something more specific.

“I don’t know how to _____”
“I don’t know what to say _____”
“I don’t know what to do about _____”

Once you have identified the specific thing you’re unsure about, you can use it to formulate a question.

I don’t know where to look for jobs outside of job boards → Where have other people found open positions outside of job boards?

I don’t know what to say when I reach out to this person → How do I write a cold outreach email to someone?

I don’t know how to differentiate myself on an application → What have other people done to stand out on a job application in ‘X’ field?

Sometimes you just need to stop putting all the pressure on yourself to figure everything out and ask for help. A few ideas:

  • Search engines (ingenious, I know, but have you tried?)
  • Niche online communities such as LinkedIn groups, Facebook groups, Slack channels, Twitter lists, etc.
  • Experts in the field (you would be surprised how many of these folks will actually respond to a thoughtful email)

While resources are abundant, they’re actually the least effective. Not taking action is rarely due to a lack of information. It’s more likely to do with the thoughts that are causing us to hesitate instead of taking action. Which brings us to the next possibility…

2. You DO Know

All too often, “I don’t know” is code for “I’m afraid to find out.” 

If we get really honest with ourselves and carefully consider our options, we might discover the most logical next step is something that will push us beyond our comfort zone. 

It’s almost guaranteed. A successful job search requires us to set ourselves up for constant rejection. 

We might have to reach out to people we don’t know and ask for help. We might also have to spend significant time and energy researching a company, crafting a cover letter, or building a side project for someone in HR who may just send us an automated rejection email. 

This one is the most difficult: we have to believe we are capable of doing a job before we can prove it. Talk about a recipe for imposter syndrome! 

Almost all of this boils down to fear of rejection. Let’s reframe the situation. 

What if you knew that all you had to do was get rejected in 50 different ways before you secured a full-time role in a career you love?

If you knew this was the recipe, and the outcome was guaranteed, my guess is that you would get to work on getting rejected. 

As funny as this may sound, it’s pretty much reality. Especially if you’re transitioning into a new career field. You DON’T have to be extremely qualified on paper – you just have to be willing to be rejected. 

OK. So you’ve asked for help, and you’ve been honest with yourself, but you’re still feeling stuck without an answer. In that case…

3. You Don’t Need to Know 

In our job search, we tend to convince ourselves that we need to know how to get an interview or a job offer. Sounds logical, right?

The reality is, there are very few actions you can take that directly convert to an interview or offer. They are: 

  • Apply to a job 
  • Ask for a referral 
  • Ask for an interview/job   

The problem is that the most direct and obvious actions are either unprofessional or what everyone does. Thus, they’re typically the least effective. 

The goldmine is in the actions that indirectly lead to an interview or a referral. However, this is a world filled with questions we don’t have answers to.

Here are a few things we think we need to know, but actually don’t. 

We think we need to know if we have enough experience for the role. 

You don’t need to know for certain if you’re qualified for a job before you pursue it. Why? Because all too often, you can’t know this until you are actually rejected or specifically told by someone at the company. (Even in both of these cases it may not be set in stone.)

The requirements in a job posting are usually a wish list for the company. If a posting lists 3-5 years of experience as a requirement, it’s possible they would hire someone with 0 years of experience. It’s also possible that one or two requirements are hard requirements that will automatically take you out of the running if you don’t have them.

Point being, don’t trust the job posting. Use the job requirements as ONE data point to help you find out if you are qualified for the role and keep gathering information until you have a concrete answer.

We think we need to know how to get a referral. 

You already know what I’m going to say, but here it is anyway: you don’t need to know how to get a referral. In this case, you need to approach the problem from a different angle. 

A few things you do need to know: 

  • How to get into conversations with people
  • How to build relationships
  • How to demonstrate value
  • How to ask the right questions 

All of these things could lead to a referral, and you can’t know which ones will or won’t work. 

One of my favorite questions to ask a person (towards the end of a conversation) who works at the company you’re interested in is, “What do you think would help me stand out as a candidate for this role?”

I love this question for multiple reasons. Chances are you will either get inside information on how to stand out as a candidate, feedback on your resume/experience/skills, or a referral. Sweet! It doesn’t put the person in an awkward position like you asking for a referral. Yet, if they are willing to refer you, they’ll likely make the offer to pass your resume along to their hiring manager. 

We think we need to know why our applications keep getting rejected. 

Yes, this information can help, but you don’t need to know why you were rejected. One employer will give you a different reason than the next employer, so that information may or may not be helpful. All you can do is continue to gather information, decide what changes to incorporate, and move on. 

This lack of feedback is a huge test for our own self-belief. We want to know the reason we were rejected so badly because we think if it was for ‘X’ reason, we would still have a chance of getting hired. We want someone to confirm whether our dream is possible.

It doesn’t work this way, my friends. You have to know you will get hired no matter what because you know that you bring something to the table that is unique and valuable. You have to know that if a company doesn’t recognize this after you’ve done your very best to articulate it, then it’s not a good fit for either of you. Without this belief, 50+ rejections will seem unbearable. 

Refuse to indulge in confusion

As one of my favorite life coaches, Brooke Castillo, would say, confusion is an indulgent emotion. It is not helpful, at all. Refuse to let yourself indulge in a state of confusion. 

Self-coaching questions when you feel confused: 

How could I find out? What exactly am I trying to figure out?

What actions would I take if I was willing to feel uncomfortable?

Do I need to know this right now?

At the end of the day, all you really need to know is:

What is the next best step to take?

You can choose to step out of confusion, even if it means opting out of your job search for the day and taking a break. That may very well be the next best step to take!

For some, especially those transitioning into a new field, the job search can be a long and arduous process. I would be remiss to leave out the importance of working with a professional coach, who can help you create structure, accountability, and ways to navigate thoughts and concerns that will inevitably arise. 

If you are thinking about switching careers or looking to strategize in your current job search, I offer complimentary consultations to help you move one step closer toward your goals.

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