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Job Search Secrets: Living Outside Your Comfort Zone

Aug 17, 2007
Even if you don't love your job, there is something very comfortable about going to work each day. After a few months or a few years with a company, you know what's going on. You're aware of all the players, understand where the real power is concentrated, and know how to approach your coworkers and supervisors to keep everything running smoothly.

When you lose your job, you are faced with the great unknown. While there is the potential for all kinds of positive developments, there is also a lost and alien landscape around you. The comfort zone that allowed you to move calmly through the day, without constantly checking your radar to try to figure out what's happening, has evaporated.

How do we survive outside our comfort zone without stressing ourselves into a constant state of anxiety, nervous exhaustion, or unhealthy frustration?

Here are some strategies to try.

1. Practice makes perfect.

Doing something new always makes us nervous. We don't want to make mistakes. We don't want to look foolish. We want to look competent, relaxed, and cool.

Comfort and confidence in a new activity only comes with repetition and small successes. As you start your job search, concentrate on one avenue at a time so you keep repeating activities that gradually start to feel familiar.

If you are going to start with following up on classifieds, for example, start making your telephone inquiries with the least attractive ad. Keep calling all the way up to the most promising-sounding opportunity. You will find that each call gets a little easier and each time you sound a little more relaxed.

If you are going to register with employment agencies, again start with the least appealing. While filling out all the paperwork, taking tests, and interviewing with a representative can quickly become tedious, it will become a more and more familiar routine. By the time you reach your primary agencies, you will have your ducks in a row, all the necessary information at your fingertips, breeze through the screening, and make a far more positive self-presentation than at your first contact.

The same rule holds true when you are networking (and I hope you are!) It is best not to start with the people you think are the most promising. Start with people who make you the least nervous: family, close personal friends, former coworkers. As you practice your script and start to feel comfortable describing your situation and defining what you are seeking, you can move towards those more formal contacts who you suspect may be most helpful. The practice you have had will allow you to project yourself in a poised, polished manner.

2. Give it a try.

Often when I ask a client to do a specific activity, I get the response: "I could never do that!" Take a few moments before you dismiss anything out of hand. If a job search technique is presented which seems daunting, at least obtain as much information as you can about the details of exactly how to do it.

Vague advice to "Just walk in and introduce yourself" is not very helpful. You need to obtain specific actions, scripts, and, if possible, practice what you are going to say with a friend, a counselor, or, at the very least, a tape recorder and a mirror.

If you have access to a counselor through school, an agency, or a government office, pin them down for specifics. Ask them to role play with you so you can fully understand how to perform. Believe me, they will be delighted with your interest and enthusiasm as they deal all day with people who don't want to know details or learn how to do something but just expect the counselor to "get me a job."

If you have no access to a professional, at least buy a book or two. Skim through them first to make sure that they give you the nuts and bolts in specific steps rather than a more generalized view of career decisions.

Once you have the specifics of a technique, follow suggestion number 1 - repeat many times to determine if it becomes easier and more comfortable with time and practice.

3. Assess your performance objectively.

When we are looking for work, we tend to put pressure on ourselves by thinking that we "have to" do something. While there are some very effective job search techniques, and some others that are not so valuable, it is important that you include your personal style in the equation.

If you are a gregarious, outgoing friendly-with-everyone type, you will doubtlessly do well at job fairs, cold calling, and heavy networking with everyone you speak to. If you are shy and find approaching a stranger emotional agony, take that into account and concentrate on classifieds, agencies, and networking only with very familiar people. If job interviews turn you into a gelatin dessert, no matter how prepared you are, temporary work may be an excellent direction for you as you then have the chance to "interview" for a permanent position simply by quietly doing a good job.

The best job search strategies in the world only work if they fit your individual style. Don't be afraid to try new techniques and give them enough trial and error to see if they are effective for you. But also don't be afraid to discard any tactics that raise your blood pressure, give you heartburn, or make you feel that a root canal without anesthesia would be preferable.

Freeing yourself from those internal "shoulds" and "ought tos" can go a long way towards making you more relaxed, less stressed, and feeling more positive about yourself and your future. The old saying that "There's more than one way to skin a cat" applies to your job search campaign also. There are many roads you can travel and all can be successful if you maintain a positive attitude and take care of your own needs and preferences.
About the Author
A Licensed Psychologist and Rehabilitation Counselor, Dr. Bola developed emotional coping strategies and job search skills for clients and has served as a recognized Vocational Expert in court. Visit her at: http://www.unemploymentblues.com
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