An unfortunate paradox pervades the job market: the longer an average person has been out of work, the more likely she becomes to lowering her standards, widening her range of options, ignoring employer red flags, and behaving in ways that don’t benefit her long term interests. This is perfectly natural, and in most cases, it’s a logical and intelligent response to a serious problem.
But as it happens, all of these behaviors can send a troubling signal to potential employers. The result becomes “job seeker syndrome,” a kind of eager, desperate vibe that’s meant to attract employers but only seems to drive them away.
If you’ve been on the market for six months or longer and you’re starting to feel like you’d do anything—ANYTHING—to be hired, here are a few considerations that can help you keep your cool.
1. Control your body language.
At job fairs and networking events, relax. It may be difficult, but play the game. Pretend you’re honestly here just to meet new people and have a good time. Keep your tone quiet and conversational, don’t run or chase anyone across a room (keep one foot on the floor at all times). Don’t get upset, embarrassed, or flustered. And beyond a handshake, don’t touch anyone.
2. Just answer the question.
When a network contact asks what you do, just answer honestly. Here’s an example:
A calm job seeker’s response: “I’m looking for work as a mid-level marketing manager. I have five years of marketing experience in the consumer electronics industry.”
A desperate response: “What do you need? Because I can do just about anything. I mean, I’m a marketing manager, technically, but I’m a real go-getter with a can-do attitude, and I’m up for any challenge that’s placed in front of me. I like to roll up my sleeves and get the job done, you know? I’m a hard-charging success addict with a flexible approach to problem solving and a real….Hey, where are you going?”
3. Control your interview.
An interview provides an opportunity for two parties to learn something about each other and arrive at a mutual agreement. It is NOT a grilling session, a cross examination, or a dancing pony show. Maintain a two-way flow of communication and don’t start groveling, making promises you’d rather not keep, lying about what you want, or misrepresenting your personality. You’re an adult having a conversation with another adult, and both of you have something to gain if all goes well. Keep this in mind.
4. Pause before saying yes.
When any offer or potential opportunity comes your way, look before you pounce. This chance may seem like a fleeting and beautiful thing, but if it’s real, it will stay put for at least a few minutes (or a few days). If you’re told by a voice on the phone that you need to give a firm yes or no before hanging up, the correct answer is no. (No legitimate offer works this way.) If you’re asked to complete a sample task or work project, think carefully about the time and effort you’ll be investing before you agree. If you’re asked how you feel about a responsibility that goes against your ethical principles, you don’t have to answer right away (or at all). If a questionably low salary offer is laid in front of you, don’t accept immediately. Request a few days to think it over.
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