This post is courtesy of guest blogger Karen Southall Watts. You’ve revamped your resume, maybe even paid a professional to do it, and it looks great. Your cover letters are punchy, contain measurable results, and are tailored to each job. Networking? Why yes, you never eat lunch, or have coffee, alone anymore. Friends and family have fed you a steady diet of “never give up” flavored support. Perhaps you’ve had a few interviews where people tell you your qualifications are impressive, so much so they ask you to submit a work sample.  Yet weeks, or more likely months, into the job search you are still unemployed. What’s going on here?

I’ve taught students about the job search process for years. We covered all the standard fare like creating great resumes, understanding ATS (applicant tracking systems), interview strategies, and how to follow up and stand out. Yet, my lessons in the last couple of years have been different. Things have changed, not for the better, and you will need some mental and emotional armor to keep going.

Employer expectations are out of whack.

  • Ghosting, the tacky and immature ending of relationships by cutting off communication, has moved from the dating world to the corporate realm. Companies just stop responding at any point in the interview process.
  • Corporations live and die by data and public image, and lots of job postings give the impression of business growth, and also trick current over-worked employees into thinking help is on the way, i.e. ghost jobs.
  • Exploitive free work situations. Candidates are asked to do hours of unpaid work or submit valuable ideas as part of the interview process. It’s not unusual for the candidate to be passed over but for their work to be scooped up and used (stolen) by the company.
  • Unicorn job listings. Companies want candidates with years of experience, who will take entry level pay. They want only “recent graduates” but also massive amounts of work in the field. Who are these super beings, who have high-powered educations, years of workplace experience, remain in their twenties forever, and who will take embarrassingly low salaries?

Technology has changed the process—and not always for the better

For much of modern history the job search was relatively simple. A company had an open position, they advertised it, reviewed applications and then hired someone. Sure, we’ve always known that the bosses’ neighbor’s cousin had a better chance than just anyone off the street, but for the most part the transactions were pretty transparent. Technology, as it has in many other parts of life, made the whole process faster, easier, and less human.

The job market is not a monolith

National job figures may have very little to do with your personal reality. Labor market headlines are often disconnected from a job seeker’s lived experience. A national surge in jobs doesn’t matter if you are stuck in a small town and unable to relocate due to family obligations. Just because nurses are being hired in the thousands doesn’t mean that administrative assistants are seeing the same boom. In some communities there are hundreds of jobs available, yet none pay a living wage. Sunny national jobs reports can make you feel awful when you are struggling to land an interview.

Okay, we know the system is broken, but what can we do?

Put the focus elsewhere

Chances are if you live in North America the first thing you ask someone when you meet is some version of “What do you do for a living?” We think about work, we talk about work, and we identify with our job titles. To be out of work, unless it’s totally planned and voluntary, means you have no good answers for the typical conversation starters of modern life. For mature workers, who’ve long identified with their professional role, losing a job can feel like losing your value as a person. Experts call this career enmeshment.

You put a lot of effort into crafting your image for potential employers, but you are much more than your job title. It’s time to put as much effort into building the rest of your life as well. Who are you when you’re not at work?

Feed your inner core

Even if you need to pick up a survival job, the time you spend job searching should also be spent gaining personal clarity. What type of work would you find most fulfilling? Do you need a job with meaning, or is a paycheck enough? Take the opportunity to live your stated values. You say family, church, or volunteering matters to you? Then be there. A morning run gives you focus? Lace up those sneakers and go! Deep inside we all have an inkling of what turns a day from blah to great for us. For me it’s morning meditation. In fact, I’ll get up a bit earlier just to have time to contemplate compassion and kindness before I have to face the world. Yes, sometimes I need to take a mid-day meditation break too—the world can be brutal. Whether it’s an afternoon swim or a morning prayer, give your body and soul what they need.

Finally get around to it

All your non-job related efforts don’t need to be existentially weighty or worthy of a health magazine interview. How about getting around to your list? You know the one. That mental inventory of things you plan to get to or try out “someday.” Clean out your closets, paint that old bookshelf, or try your hand at growing orchids. If you’re worried about money, focus on free activities that will still give you some novelty and fulfillment. The last two times I’ve moved to new communities I started my adjustment by going to the local library. Libraries are full of free resources and potential new friends. I joined a book club when I first landed in Canada while I searched for work. This group led me to some amazing friendships and a couple of years as a facilitator for philosophy discussions for a local university.

Imagine something totally new

Yeah, maybe you were a great account manager, but I’ll bet you could do something else. I can’t tell you the number of reluctant, but ultimately successful, entrepreneurs I’ve worked with over the years. In fact, much of my own career happened because at the moment I needed a “real job” I couldn’t find one. As a result I became a public speaker, business coach, partner to an entrepreneur, and a writer. The job search process can be frightening and frustrating, but it’s also a time for reinvention. Just because you haven’t landed something yet doesn’t mean you aren’t still amazing.

Bio: Karen Southall Watts, is an adult educator, speaker, coach, and consultant focusing on management and soft skills. Karen is the author of several business books including The Solo Workday, a book on time management for entrepreneurs. She is also a creative writer, and her works have been featured in multiple online publications as well as the collections Letters I’ll Never Send and North Carolina Bards Poetry Anthology 2023. Karen is a three-time Pushcart nominee for poetry. Her poetry chapbook, Desire, Dreams and Dust was released in April of 2023.

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