Career Psychology   |   A Free Career Book

Chapter Five

Career Psychology is copyright © Dan Joseph Cavicchio. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be republished, reproduced, or transmitted in any form without the prior written permission of the author. The material in this book is provided solely for informational and educational purposes. It does not substitute for professional counseling or therapy. Information in this book does not represent clinical advice for treatment of psychological disorders.

Chapter Five
The Job Search: A Deeper Look

As a reminder, there are three primary methods of finding new jobs:

  1. You can apply for jobs that are advertised.
  2. You can make yourself visible so that recruiters like me can find you.
  3. You can have conversations about what you are excited to give through your work.

The following are some questions I have been asked about the job search process.

Q: I have zero excitement for job searching. I would be faking it if I tried to come across as enthusiastic. Are you saying that I should lie about how I feel?

A: Certainly not. I'm very sympathetic about how exhausting, overwhelming, stressful, and at times discouraging the job search process can be. That is one of the reasons that I wrote this book.

However, the fact remains that people will tend to align with your state of mind. If you come across as unenthusiastic in your job search, the people you interact with may respond in much the same way.

So what can you do about this? One technique is to choose some small (perhaps some tiny) part of your work that you are enthusiastic about, and allow your mind to focus on that one part. Let that little spark guide your search.

To illustrate this, let me return to my early jobs that I described at the beginning of this book. All of those jobs were fairly miserable experiences, at least to me at the time. However, there were aspects of each that I could describe enthusiastically.

At the computer store, I was exposed to new video games as soon as they were released. At the road-paving job, I got to drive a big truck around town. At my urban planning job, I worked for a boss who was kind and compassionate. At the detergent company, I developed a customer demo with technology called "HyperCard"—a precursor to internet websites, which would later form the basis for a new branch in my career.

There were aspects of each job that I found interesting.

In a similar way, there are probably at least a few elements of your work that you're enthusiastic about. I recommend that you focus on those as you're conducting your job search. Allow those aspects to remain front and center.

This isn't just an emotional trick. As you focus on parts of your work that you enjoy, you will gravitate toward opportunities that include those elements.

Let's say, for example, that you're currently working as a clerk in a construction permit office. You enjoy the interactions with the public. However, you dislike many other elements of the work: the layers of bureaucracy, the slow speed, the culture of the office.

When you describe your work to people, you can focus on how much you enjoy interacting with the public and helping them with needs. You can ignore the rest of your work experience, and allow your enthusiasm for helping people to shine away all else.

Someone you talk to might suggest an opening that has nothing to do with clerking or permitting, but does involve helping the public. Let that bright spot in your work life guide your path forward. Release your focus on all the other aspects as you talk to people about what you enjoy.

Again, I do want to acknowledge how emotionally draining job searching can be. It is completely normal to feel frustrated, discouraged, or anything else.

And yet—if you can find a spark of enthusiasm, allow it to grow, and approach your job search with its light, you will likely navigate the process with far more ease.

Q: Is it OK to contact an employee at a company I like, and let them know that I want to work for their company?

A: Let me give a nuanced answer for this one.

First, it's fine in almost all cases to contact people in human resources—recruiters, HR managers, and so forth. The mission for those of us in human resources is to recruit and retain employees. We're happy to hear from job seekers interested in working with us.

Many companies will have a careers@ or jobs@ address on their website that goes right to the HR staff. You are welcome to send a cover letter and unsolicited resume directly to that email. Simply explain who you are and what you are seeking. If a company doesn't have a current job opening that is a match, they will probably be happy to hold onto your information for the future.

What usually doesn't go well is to randomly contact employees and say, "Please help me get a job with your company."

I know folks who are irritated—even offended—by these types of messages. "I'm not in HR, and I don't know this person," they say. "Why would I drop what I'm doing to help this person find a job?"

Between those two options there is plenty of middle-ground. You can, for example, reach out to someone in a company, politely introduce yourself, and ask for the contact information of the company recruiter or HR manager. Most people will be fine with this. Some may even take you under their wing and help you with the process.

You can also look to see if you have "friends of friends" on LinkedIn or Facebook who work at your target companies. If so, you can ask your friend if they would be willing to introduce you to the employee. This is softer than a cold-call.

Now, I do want to acknowledge that many people have landed jobs by being daring and contacting executives at companies directly. It's certainly a valid approach. I have even heard of people who took creative approaches like "tweeting" their interest in jobs at a company's Twitter account.

So the approach is up to you. I personally would not recommend calling employees at random; you don't want to make a poor impression by annoying people who are not involved with hiring. It's best to talk to a recruiter, an HR manager, or perhaps (as long as you're polite and not pushy) the person who you'd actually be working for.

One exception to this: In retail and other non-corporate environments, it's usually fine to ask employees how to apply for work. Retail sales associates, restaurant workers, people in skilled and unskilled trades, and folks in the hospitality industry generally receive a large number of these "walk in" inquiries. Most will be happy to point you in the right direction.

Q: You talked about spending 5 to 15 minutes a day looking at job ads. But I am out of work, and have time on my hands. What should I spend the rest of my time doing?

A: You're of course free to spend as much time looking at job ads as you'd like. However, I find that most people reach a fatigue point rather quickly. A strategy of small, daily steps is often better than taking a few big, infrequent leaps.

Having said that, perhaps you find it enjoyable to look through job ads and send in resumes. If so, spend as much time as you wish! Experiment with whatever schedule feels sustainable to you on a day-to-day basis.

Regardless of how much time you spend looking through job ads, there are many other helpful things you can do with your day. You can go to a coffee shop and chat with the folks there. You can volunteer at a charity. You can join book groups, hiking groups, sports groups, or anything else.

You can offer to help any friends who run businesses. You can offer your own services on a freelance basis. You can sign up for a class or training. (Check your local state "workforce" or employment center for free classes they might offer.)

While you're doing all of these things, let people know how excited you are to offer your gifts. Ask them if you can be of help to them in any way. These conversations are very likely to point you in a direction of a new opportunity.

What you shouldn't do is sit alone at home feeling frustrated or guilty that you can't find a job. That is perhaps the worst way to spend your day. Instead, get active, be helpful, and let people know how eager you are to share your gifts. You might be surprised at how things unfold from there.

Q: I'm not shy about bothering people. I was planning to blast out to everyone I know that I'm looking for a new job. Is that OK?

A: Certainly! If you are comfortable letting people know about your job search, by all means—blast away. Let your friends, neighbors, former co-workers, industry contacts, professors, and any strangers you meet know what you're seeking. You can also contact people in your industry to introduce yourself.

To be most successful, it's best to approach the process with an enthusiastic-yet-humble stance. Sometimes a "blast" approach can come across as overly pushy, and it's best to minimize that. Note how people are responding to you. Are they excited to help you? Do they brainstorm with you, and offer creative ideas? If so, you're on a good track.

If you can combine a friendly, humble tone with an energetic, communicative approach, you will probably find many new job opportunities very quickly.

You'll also have a great career in sales, if you choose to go down that road!

Q: I'm very shy and hate to bother people. It is very difficult for me to talk about myself. I'm not sure if I can use any of the outreach techniques you're talking about. Do you have any suggestions?

A: First of all, you're in good company. Almost half of people consider themselves shy. Even many non-shy folks don't feel comfortable talking to people about their search for employment.

My suggestion is to use the approach I described in the last chapter: Set aside a few minutes each day and take one small, manageable step. You get to choose what this is. It should be something that feels like a "stretch" but not overwhelming or painful.

Then, the next day, take another small step. Then another the next day. You might find that by the end of a week or two, you've developed more comfort with the outreach process.

What might these steps be?

Well, let's say that you are very close to your sister. Perhaps you can write her an email and let her know that you're starting a job search. That's it for the day.

If she writes back asking questions, then you can share a little more detail with her the next day.

The day after that, you can let a friend know that you're looking for work.

The following day, you can sign up for a Gmail and Google Voice account, and consider posting your resume with those contact elements.

And so on. The key is to take many manageable steps, one day at a time. Please do not overwhelm yourself. The goal here is to develop a sense of comfort and ease with the process. The best way to develop that ease is with a series of small, incremental moves.

Also, please keep in mind that you're not really bothering anyone. You're simply letting people know that you're available to help with your skills, abilities, and gifts. This is a wonderful thing.

If the people you reach out to happen to have an idea or suggestion, great! If not, you haven't troubled them at all by sharing a brief email, message, or text.

Q: I have a real problem applying for jobs that I'm not excited about. Why are you encouraging us to apply for things that are "in the ballpark"? Why shouldn't I hold out for something I'm truly excited about?

A: As I say to my clients, the pace of your job search is completely up to you.

If you feel comfortable being selective and waiting until you find jobs that you're highly excited about, that's fine.

However, I have found that many people fall into a pattern of looking through job ads for weeks until they finally find one that interests them. They apply for that job, wait a month, and become disappointed when they don't hear back. After that it's another set of weeks or months before applying for another position. Years can pass like this.

By applying for "in the ballpark" jobs on a regular basis, you keep a momentum going. If you're invited to interview for a job and decide that you're not interested, you can always decline the interview. Simply let the company know that you're pursuing another opportunity.

If you do agree to an interview and are offered a position, you can choose to turn it down. There's no requirement to accept a job offer—or even to take additional steps at any phase of the process.

Having said that, you might find that once you meet with a company about an "in the ballpark" job, your view of the job changes. Perhaps you and your potential supervisor hit it off, and the job begins to seem very attractive. Perhaps the manager is willing to modify the role to fit your skills more fully. Or perhaps your personality clashes with hers, and you have no interest in proceeding. You'll never know unless you apply.

There is, of course, an obvious reason that most of us don't want to apply for numerous jobs: We don't want to swing and miss over and over. That experience can feel deflating. I respect your choice and comfort about this.

However, let me share that one of my favorite things about my own career is that I get to face "failure" every day.

I have contacted thousands of people for a single job opening without filling it. I have reached out to hundreds of companies at times without finding clients. I have swung and missed on pitches to business owners, to candidates, and even to assistants I contacted for help. I am thankful for these experiences, as they taught me to roll with the process.

I believe that there really aren't "rejections" and "failures" in a job search. There are simply attempts to form relationships that—at least for now—didn't blossom. That doesn't mean that anyone is rejected, failed, or did anything wrong. It simply means that the click didn't happen at this time, in this form.

I encourage you to look at things in that way. You are offering to help a company. If they don't take you up on your offer at this time, they may do so in the future. Your application for their opening is a gift.

Offer your help freely, and then move on to offer help to someone else.

Q: I'm starting out in a new field. However, I'm not sure how to find jobs that will let me start from scratch. I search for "entry level," but I don't see much. Do you have any suggestions?

A: Sure. Searching for keywords like "entry level" (and also "entry-level" with the hyphen) is a good start.

You can also search on keywords like "junior," "graduates," (even if you're not a recent graduate), "training," "no experience," and similar terms. On many job posting sites, you can set a filter for jobs tagged as entry level, or requiring 0-3 years of experience.

Let me offer a number of additional approaches to consider as well.

First, if you have worked in another field and you're switching into something new, you may be qualified for non-entry roles. You may have plenty of transferable skills. I encourage you to go ahead and apply for jobs that require some experience. Simply explain, in a cover letter, how your existing experience crosses over to this role.

If you are new to the world of work, you can look through job ads posted at your high school, college, or alumni career site. It's often OK to use these career services even if you're several years out of school. Almost all of the jobs posted in these forums will be geared toward entry-level applicants.

Internships are another avenue for entry-level job seekers. Both of my Manhattan jobs were internships, which paid the equivalent of minimum wage. Apprenticeship programs in the skilled trades are similar to internships, and are geared toward entry-level folks.

Career fairs are a bit old school, but they're still used. At career fairs, employers set up booths and pitch their openings to attendees. Many of these will be entry-level or have a low experience requirement.

Staffing and temp agencies are often happy to be approached by entry-level job seekers. Some agencies specialize in office jobs, some in manufacturing or technical jobs, and others in medical fields. A temp job can be a great way to get your foot in the door with a company or industry.

State-run employment centers—often called "workforce centers" or "career centers"—are open to the public, and offer a variety of employment assistance. You might be able to access free resume writing assistance and other career counseling services at these centers.

Please also use the other approaches I've covered in this book. Apply for any interesting opportunities that seem like they're in the ballpark—even if you don't have the experience required. It's quite possible that the company wrote an "ideal wish list" job description and are flexible about actual requirements. They may soften their needs as they interview candidates.

Consider posting your resume online, both on general and specialty sites (for example, sites for veterans if you've served in the military). Create a robust LinkedIn profile, connect with people you know, and mark your profile as "open to work." Have real-world conversations with as many people as you feel comfortable with—and let them know how enthusiastic you are about what you want to give.

Feel free to reach out to companies and express your interest in working for them. This could involve talking with a store worker or manager, as I did with my first job. Or you could simply email the careers@ or jobs@ email address on a company website with a resume and cover letter.

Many companies don't advertise their entry-level positions because they regularly receive inquiries from entry-level job seekers. You can be one of those people. Contacting a company proactively shows initiative.

Almost all of us HR professionals are happy to receive email introductions from entry-level job seekers. After all, we never know when we will have additional needs.

Q: Are there ways to reduce the sense of being overwhelmed in a job search that you described?

A: Sure, let me share an approach that I use in my therapy practice. This can be used in the context of job searches, as well as in other areas that are causing you stress.

I frequently draw what I call the "TEA Cycle" on a whiteboard in my counseling sessions. TEA stands for Thoughts, Emotions, and Actions. All three of these aspects tend to work in concert, creating a spiral effect.

If you're like many people, you may be having thoughts during your job search that go like this:

"I have to find a job!"
"But I'm not seeing anything good."
"Maybe I'll never find anything that's a fit."
"But I have to find something soon!"

And so on. These thoughts will give rise to various emotions. For example:

A sense of pressure
More pressure

Quite the difficult cocktail of emotions!

Both of those facets—thoughts and emotions—will influence the third aspect, actions.

Many people fall into a job search action pattern like this:

Procrastinate some more
Slam into high gear for a while
Procrastinate again

Your TEA Cycle might be different, of course. Everyone is unique. But I have seen cycles like the above many times.

Let me suggest a way to work with each of these elements.

For the thoughts part of the TEA Cycle, you can develop a new set of de-pressuring thoughts. You can strengthen these new thoughts by writing them down on a piece of paper and placing the paper where you will see it regularly.

The new de-pressuring thoughts can be ones like:

     "It's OK to do this job search in small steps."

     "Five minutes each day is enough."

     "It can't hurt to apply for a job, even if it's not a perfect fit."

     "It's fine to send in an application that feels like a stretch."

The goal is to choose new thoughts that remove a sense of pressure, hopelessness, worry, or whatever else was overwhelming you. This "thought swapping" practice is the basis of cognitive therapy. It can be very powerful.

You may need to plug in the new thoughts repeatedly before they begin to stick around. That is why I recommend writing one or two on a piece of paper, and reviewing the thoughts as much as you can throughout the day. You will be forming a new habit as you do this.

Let's move on to the emotions part of the cycle. You might find "mindfulness" approaches to be helpful at this stage. Mindfulness involves present-moment awareness.

As an emotional mindfulness practice, take a few seconds and allow yourself to fully experience your current emotions—even if they're uncomfortable emotions like anxiety or a sense of pressure.

Allow those emotions to be fully in your awareness, without resistance. Touch into them for a moment. Note how they feel. Allow them to be present without fighting them.

Then give them permission to flow through and past your awareness. Invite a clean new experience of the next moment to arise.

Emotions tend to come and go—especially if we don't fight, feed, or flee from them. Allow each new moment to replace the last, without resistance.

As you do this, you might find that a new emotion arises. Then the old one might pop back; then the new one returns. As you allow your feelings to simply arise and pass through your awareness, you may begin to sense a place of calm just behind them all. Allow yourself to rest in that peaceful place if you are able.

There are many other ways to work with emotions. Some people use exercise to direct the energy of the emotion. This is a very common technique in behavioral therapy. Other people channel emotions into creative outlets like journaling, painting, singing, or dance.

For the actions stage, I always recommend replacing a pattern of "procrastinate, procrastinate, slam into high gear, procrastinate," with small, easy, manageable daily steps forward. I have covered this in several places throughout this book.

Instead of oscillating between procrastination and intense effort, you can simply focus on taking one or two small steps each day.

Does this small-steps approach require patience? Yes, it does. Does it require persistence? Yes, that too. But it is a far better action pattern, in my opinion, than the procrastinate-and-slam cycle that many people fall into.

Self-care actions are also helpful actions. Buy yourself a treat to enjoy while you're doing your job search steps. Bring your computer to a favorite coffee shop and do your steps there. Ask a friend to be with you as you do your steps. Combine the job search steps with a reward of your choosing.

The goal is to form a new, energy-increasing TEA Cycle to replace the old, energy-draining one that was in place before. Feel free to experiment with changes to all three phases, and see what works for you.

Let me conclude this chapter by summarizing the themes I have covered about searching for jobs.

There are three main avenues for seeking job opportunities:

  1. You can apply for jobs that are posted.
  2. You can become visible so that recruiters can find you.
  3. You can have conversations with people about offering your gifts.

For the job-posting approach, you may want to bookmark a variety of job sites: (1) general sites like Indeed, LinkedIn, and Monster; (2) specialty sites for different fields or groups; (3) company websites; and (4) websites of government entities.

If you're trying to enter a new field, you can consider applying for apprenticeship programs and internships. You can visit job fairs or employment centers (often known as workforce centers.) Staffing and employment agencies may also be of help.

In order to become more visible to recruiters, you can post your resume online—for example, on Indeed or Monster. I only recommend this if there is no risk of creating ripple-effects with your current employer. I encourage you to use a new email and phone number on your resume if you do choose to post it.

You can also build a robust LinkedIn profile with connections and keywords, and mark that you are "open to work" (but again, only if broadcasting that doesn't put you at risk with your current employer.)

The conversations approach is the most powerful. You can chat with HR managers, recruiters, hiring managers, and friends-of-friends at companies you're interested in. As I mentioned, it's perfectly acceptable to "cold approach" an HR person. Many employees will be happy to point the way toward their company recruiters and HR staff if you introduce yourself and ask politely.

You can also have conversations with people in your social network—family, friends, neighbors, classmates, or anyone else. If traditional "networking" approaches don't appeal to you, you can instead lead the conversations by simply sharing how you would like to use your gifts.

You don't need to ask anyone for anything, if you don't feel comfortable doing so. You can simply let people know how enthusiastic you are to use your abilities. Your enthusiasm will very likely trigger theirs, and they might have some ideas for you.

Job searching can be exhausting. Therefore, I recommend that you take it in small, daily steps. I also recommend that you reinforce some de-pressuring thoughts while you do your work, and use mindfulness practices to allow emotions to pass by like clouds in the sky.

Learning to job search in a peaceful way is a remarkable accomplishment. Any steps you can take toward that goal are worth the effort.

Let me now move on to the next step in the process: writing a resume and cover letter, and filling out an application.

click for Chapter Six:
Resumes, Cover Letters, and Applications