Fear Factor

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The only transition that may be scarier than a career change is starting to date again after a breakup or divorce.  Both rank up there as terrifying, especially as we age.  And both are scary for some of the same reasons.  Unlike searching for a new home or a new lawnmower, looking for a new job is a two-way process.  That is, we may decide we have found a great job, but the “owner” of the job (the employer) may not think we’re the right fit. (The same holds true for the beautiful woman at the next table.)

Many jobseekers view the interview process as a referendum on their personality, talent, or success in the past, making it easy to view the “no thanks” letter as a personal rejection.  If it comes on the heels of a termination or layoff, all the negative and self-doubting emotions from that event are layered onto the interview and job search process.  If fear is paralyzing your job search, what can you do about it?

First, let’s be clear:  everyone fears rejection.  In case you’re sitting with your morning coffee thinking “not me,” see if any of these signs of fear apply to your job search.  Are you too discriminating to consider just any opportunity? Does it have to be perfect? “I’m sure it doesn’t pay enough for my years of experience.” “I would never want to commute  downtown.”  If you find yourself nitpicking before you’ve even applied, you might just be worried about rejection.  Have you been procrastinating?.  If you find you never have the time to make that follow up call, you might simply be putting off what you fear will be a cold reception.

The “Imposter Syndrome” has been studied by sociologists for years.  It’s defined as the fear (usually unfounded) of successful, high achieving people that, despite the evidence of outstanding professional accomplishments, they are really not bright; they’ve simply fooled anyone who thinks otherwise.  Changing jobs offers another opportunity for these people of being uncovered as an “imposter.”

Marty Nemko, an Oakland,, CA-based career coach, provides practical advice for jobseekers on how to get over rejection (he claims his wisdom comes from years of being rejected by women; see my theory in paragraph one.) His advice includes the use of reverse psychology on yourself: “Give a friend $100 and say something like, ‘Unless I get ten rejections today, you keep the money.’ That creates reverse psychology: you’re now trying to get rejected. That can inure you to the pain you’re feeling and help you realize you’ll survive ten rejections in a row. Not fearing rejection, you’ll probably get a yes faster.”

Overcoming your fear of rejection can be difficult.  The easiest way to begin is to think about the last time you made a buying decision – whether it was a new cell phone, taking a course at the local college, or buying a new home.  Chances are, your thought process went something like this: “I loved the last two (items) but this one just seems like the best fit for me right now.”  You could hardly classify that as a rejection of the item as “worthless” or “wrong.”  What makes you think that an employer’s decision is any more personal?

It’s not a question of being good or bad; it’s a question of the right fit at the right time.   Every rejection gets you closer to your final destination, armed with more knowledge and more experience. As Henry Ford once said, “Failure is simply the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.”


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