A good friend of mine–I’ll call her Sharon–had been looking for a job for more than a year. Lively, capable and socially skilled, she’s a master networker and performs beautifully in job interviews. But like all of us, she has her bad days. One morning she called me practically in tears. “I don’t feel like I can do anything today,” she moaned. “My husband and I had a huge fight yesterday. I am just so depressed.” I tried my usual pep talk, but she wound up saying, “I’m not capable of writing that e-mail right now. I’m going to go for a bike ride and clear my head.”
Sharon’s bad day got me thinking about a core piece of advice from every career coach I’ve interviewed: Job seekers must constantly keep their game faces on. They must approach every e-mail, phone call and interview with energy, enthusiasm and a can-do spirit. Their primary mission: to convince hiring managers that they are turbocharged engines of productivity.But what if you feel the opposite? So much in real life pulls us down, whether it’s relationship stress, family illness or money problems, not to mention the myriad depressing strains of a long-term job search.
For practical advice on how to cope with your job search when you feel down in the dumps, I turned to Mary Anne Walsh, a seasoned career and executive coach; Debra Angel MacDougall, a coach who specializes in helping people with troubled pasts; Ella Bell, a business administration professor at Dartmouth’s Tuck School and author of Career GPS: Strategies for Women Navigating the New Corporate Landscape; and Joan Kane, a veteran psychologist.
All four agree that you’ve got to appear confident and enthusiastic when you’re reaching out to contacts and going on interviews. “Particularly in this market,” says MacDougall, author of The 6 Reasons You’ll Get the Job: What Employers Look for–Whether They Know It or Not. “If you project that you are depressed or desperate, the employer will see the emotional problems that come with hiring you.” The focus shouldn’t be on you, says MacDougall. “It should be on how you can make the employer money.”
If you’re not feeling confident on any given day, MacDougall advises, pretend. “Fake it till you feel it,” she says. “All the employer knows is the snapshot you present to them.”
Walsh agrees. “Get into character,” she says. “It’s much like actors do before they go onstage.” The interviewer doesn’t have to know you’re playing a role.
Walsh also suggests you make a list of your strengths before you head into a job interview. Some may resist this exercise as hopeless, especially if they’re feeling blue, but Walsh insists it’s effective. “Go through the ritual,” she says.
Ella Bell agrees with Walsh and MacDougall, and takes their advice a step further. “Look back on your whole life journey,” she counsels. “Think about when you did get the job, when you were in the valley before and climbed out.”
She also suggests something ineffable but potentially more powerful: faith. “I don’t mean religion,” she explains. “It’s the belief that there is something bigger, better, badder than you out in the universe.”
Do tap into your support system of loved ones and friends. Walsh favors having a job “buddy,” a person you can confide in on a daily basis, who will keep you on track and give you tasks to do when you’re struggling to find the way forward. She often pairs up her own clients, who then check in with each other daily. She also suggests joining or setting up a job-seekers’ group that meets regularly.
Do not isolate yourself, emphasizes Bell. When you’re feeling especially down, “that’s when you need a good, swift kick in the pants,” she says. “You need someone who can pull you back up, who can hold your hand.” She advises choosing a job hunting group carefully, to make sure it’s a good fit. “Pick a group the way you pick a dentist,” she says, adding that it’s best to find a group with a leader or facilitator.
If you can’t reschedule, Kane says, go ahead and show some vulnerability in the interview. Make an effort to connect with the person who’s interviewing you. “You’re not a robot presenting your information,” she says. Be judicious about what you share, but if your interviewer demonstrates empathy, you may communicate how willing and able you are to do the job while admitting that you’ve been going through a challenging period.
According to the experts, my friend Sharon did exactly the right thing in calling me and then taking a break for a bike ride. She acknowledged her feelings, got support from someone who helped her reflect on her accomplishments and then allowed herself to enjoy a healthy activity that boosted her morale.