I had a conversation with a frustrated job seeker earlier today wherein he vented about his experiences involving companies he was applying to and interviewing with. Unfortunately, I hear stories about the kinds of scenarios this gentleman was describing almost every week.
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Here's what they typically sound like:
The company invites you in for an interview. It seems promising. They say they'll be inviting you back – and then they never call you again.
Or much of the pertinent information regarding the position in the job ad turns out to be misleading, omitted, or false.
Or they give you all sorts of weird reasons why you're not "good enough" for them. You're underqualified. You're overqualified.
Or they drag you along a lengthy process of 3-4 interviews, get your hopes up, and the hire someone else – someone they intended to hire all along.
Or they refuse to even entertain the concept of actually paying you what you're worth. They want you to give them your all, but they'll only give you crumbs in return.
Maybe you've already made this connection, but don't many of these scenarios sound awfully similar to the pitfalls of romance and dating? It's like listening to the stories of a person who seems to keep dating inconsiderate and self-absorbed people.
Here's my take on it, based on my own experiences, independent research, and interviews with experts in this area:
There Are Definitely More 'Unhealthy' Companies Out There Than Ever Before
Automation and rapid advancements in technology have created a huge disconnect between employer and candidate in the initial "courtship" stages of the hiring process. It seems both sides have not yet fully adjusted to the new realities of hiring in the digital age.
For example, many companies have yet to realize that the qualification standards in their job posts are ridiculously unrealistic. As a result, the only candidates passing through the online gates are those who aren't being completely honest about their real qualifications!
What's the Solution Here?
For job seekers, the best advice is to start where they are – that is, job seekers should try to be open to the possibility that there are good companies to work for, even if their recent experiences suggest otherwise.
Here are four things I did in my own job search to change my belief that there were no more good companies out there and to attract great employers:
1. I Clarified for Myself What I Wanted and Didn't Want Out of a Job
I began to write down what I wanted from work, and I often read the list aloud to myself. I found that it wasn't enough to simply think about previous good experiences at work. I had to really dig deep and do the inner work of figuring out what I needed.
I wrote out what I wanted, what I didn't want, and what I could best contribute to an organization. I also became open to seeking out experts in the career industry and learning from them. I can be very stubborn at times, so it was difficult – but worth it – to become more humble and teachable in this regard.
2. I 'Reprogrammed' Myself
Whereas I used to obsess over problems, I taught myself to look for and focus on solutions and opportunities instead. This was not an easy endeavor, but I got to a place where I realized it was pointless to wish things were different. Instead, I had to accept the moment as it was.
Did completing numerous three-hour job applications for positions that turned out to be "errors on the part of the employer" and not actually open in the first place make me angry? Yes, it did!
Did it bother me when companies called me 4-6 months after I had applied, acting like it was now an emergency and I needed to drive 75 miles to their office in Los Angeles traffic the very next day to interview? Of course it did!
Despite all this, I did my best to feel my anger – sometimes yell about it, sometimes laugh it off with a close friend – and then move forward.
These days, when I talk to job seekers who express the same negative attitude I used to have, I empathize with them deeply. But I also learned that such a negative mindset wasn't good for me – or for anyone, really.
3. I Began to Say 'No' to Toxic Opportunities – No Matter How Badly I Wanted a Job
How does a person who keeps dating self-absorbed and manipulative significant others break the cycle? There are many factors at work, but one of the most difficult and important steps to take is to refuse to go down the familiar road to chaos, pain, and dysfunction any longer.
I had to take a similar approach to my job search and all the toxic, dysfunctional companies that reached out to me. I became very adept at spotting red flags. Thanks to three years' worth of on-and-off job searching, I got to the point where I could tell which organizations were bad news just by glancing at their ads
Instead of doing what I had previously done – which was to look the other way, make excuses for the company ("They're just busy; they mean well"), and pursue the job anyway – I began to say "no."
Sometimes, saying "no" was as simple as not calling the company back. Other times, it meant not applying in the first place. As with any type of unhealthy pattern or addiction, it's easiest to prevent if you don't get sucked in in the first place.
I find in my conversations with job seekers that most of them know on some level that the companies they are pursuing are not good fits for them. Some of them even say as much. And yet, they choose to go for it anyway. It saddens me to witness, but people will make their own choices.
4. I Appreciated My Progress and Sought Support
Moving forward in a new, positive direction is exhilarating, but it can also be scary and uncomfortable. In order to stay accountable, I kept in communication with others who would support me down this new path.
During this same period of time, I was also writing a book specifically about advice for job seekers, which helped me stay sane. I was also regularly speaking with industry experts, interviewing successful job seekers, and helping others succeed in their job searches.
To make any lasting progress, it is necessary to be accountable, ideally to fellow professionals who have a solid understanding of what you're working through, people who have overcome the same types of obstacles and can draw on their own experience to help you.
I understand on a deeply personal level the anxiety and urgency of the job search. I am honest with people. I let job seekers know that this isn't an overnight fix. They first need to get out of their own way, stay accountable, and pursue the type of career they've always wanted, even if it feels "out of reach" to them.
Think about it. If you've been dating toxic people for the last 20 years, it'd be ridiculous to expect to meet your perfect soulmate this week just because you really want to!
Careers are no different.