Question of the Month: April 2008

Question: “While I know I need to be doing more to find my next job, and figure out my next career move, I’m really struggling to stay accountable to the process.  Many days I just don’t have the energy to work on things, and as a result I procrastinate, which makes me even more anxious about the future!  What can I do about this?”

Alas, the above sentiment is one that many people end up expressing at some point or another while going through career transition — and this motivational component is arguably the toughest and most pernicious aspect of the process for the average individual to conquer.  The reason for this?  At the end of the day, job hunting is an activity that almost nobody enjoys, and some people, frankly, downright despise.  As a result, people can easily allow weeks to fly by without taking meaningful action or can spend hundreds of hours hiding behind unproductive but “safe” activities such as surfing the Internet, or tweaking their resume ad infinitum, instead of engaging in more proactive job search activities.

Complicating matters further is the fact that while other challenges in life (e.g. exercising, dieting, saving money, hitting the dating scene…) can also present serious motivational hurdles, there’s one unique aspect about job hunting that can’t be overlooked or overemphasized.  While it’s fairly easy to blow off and rationalize the postponement of certain personal goals such as losing weight, eating healthier, and the like, most people can’t afford NOT to look for a job, at least for very long!  Additionally, one doesn’t often see steady incremental progress when job hunting as you would with other goal-oriented activities.  Work out for a few days and you’ll notice your muscle tone improve.  Cut back on your calories for a few days and you’ll notice that your waistband suddenly feels looser.  But job hunt for a day, or a week, or even a month, and you might not always witness the immediate, positive results that will spur you on to further action.  Quite often, in fact, you’ll be called upon to channel a lot of time and effort into the process, on faith, simply crossing your fingers that all of your hard work will pay off and return dividends down the road.  This dynamic truly puts job searching in a class of its own, motivationally-speaking.

As a result of these factors, I strongly encourage every job seeker to take the “accountability issue” seriously and implement steps as soon as possible (at the outset of one’s search, ideally) to guard against potential procrastination.  And while one always has the option of going the “personal trainer” route and engaging a career coach to create sustained accountability through a series of structured weekly meetings , this option isn’t always an affordable or practical solution for everybody, so here are a few other low-cost options you might consider, instead:

•   Establish set job hunting routines and enlist your friends/family to help you enforce them; if you commit to hunting for work every day between 8:00am and Noon, for example, make sure your family is aware of this commitment and agrees not to bother you during this important “work” time.  Also, give them permission to remind you of this commitment and hold you accountable if you lapse!

•   Have a clear game plan, characterized by small achievable goals; make sure to create a list of specific tasks that you can get accomplished and cross off each day, such as sending out five resumes, calling three networking contacts, or getting your professional references lined up.  Breaking your search down into digestible daily increments will help you make steady progress, feel a consistent sense of achievement, and help you avoid getting lost or overwhelmed by the big picture.

•   Visualize your goals and surround yourself with positive people; for some people, it can be helpful to engage in visualization or meditation exercises on a regular basis where you picture your new job, the benefits it brings to your life, and the rewards you’ll receive once you land it.  Additionally, some people opt for the negative-reinforcement scenario, where they spur themselves on toward action by regularly reminding themselves of the bad job or bad career situation that they’re trying to escape!  Regardless of which method you may use, make a point during your transition period to regularly get out of the house and associate with fun, positive, well-adjusted people (assuming you can find some…) so that your own fears and doubts don’t get multiplied by surrounding yourself with a “glass-half-empty” crowd.

•   Investigate local job search support groups; in most communities, if you ask around, you’ll be able to locate a number of free or low-cost groups that meet on a regular basis to support job hunters through the ups and downs of the transition process; your local church, community center, and WorkSource office would all be good places to investigate if you’re looking for this type of group!

•   Partner with other job seekers; without question, the people in the world who will best understand what you are going through in your search — and who will emphasize most closely with the unique challenges involved — are other job seekers, themselves!  As a result, we’ve seen some incredible partnerships set up where pairs of professionals agree to meet on a weekly basis to inspire, encourage, and push each other forward to achieve results.  Additionally, we’ve seen larger groups of individuals decide to get together each week for breakfast so that everybody can report their progress, compare notes, and receive a healthy dose of moral support.  This motivational format is our favorite of all, since it’s easy to set up and costs next to nothing to implement!  All it takes is somebody (perhaps yourself?) taking the initiative and reaching out to a few other appropriate people to get the ball rolling…

Again, there are no easy answers when it comes to solving the motivational puzzle, and there’s a reason companies like Weight Watchers make billions of dollars coming up with strategies, beyond individual willpower, for helping people reach their goals.  On the job search front, the exact same challenge exists; it’s just that many people fail to recognize it immediately or to take the steps needed to inoculate themselves against the procrastination tendencies that are a normal, natural part of this process.  With the techniques outlined above, however, my hope is that everybody who might be struggling with this issue will now have some fresh options for combating it.  Good luck, and if anybody has some additional “accountability tips” beyond the ones I’ve cited above, please send them along!

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