Question of the Month: October 2008

Question: “I got laid off last week, unexpectedly, am really in a tough financial position and am frantically trying to find a new job.  Can you help?”

It probably won’t surprise you to learn that both recruiters and career coaches tend to receive messages like the one above on a fairly frequent basis.  In my own coaching practice, for example, I know I receive at least several of these types of notes each week, and you can just feel the anxiety and fear radiating out from them — and from the growing number of people who have found themselves in a tough spot, employment-wise, and are now casting about in search of assistance.

While my heart breaks for such folks, however, and I feel compassion for the dire straits people like this have found themselves in, the career coach in me is compelled to point out a critical dynamic that can be learned by analyzing these kinds of messages.  What all job hunters need to realize, if they haven’t already, is that there isn’t a single situation in the entire job search process where you’ll do yourself any favors by infusing your communications (either verbal or printed) with dramatic, desperate, and/or out-of-control language.  Even if your situation is bleak and these feelings are legitimate ones, using this kind of language will instantly alienate potential employers, as well as turn off many of the people in your network (including career coaches and recruiters) who might have the capacity to help you.  At the end of the day, you simply can’t shake the reality that people are highly instinctive and intuitive beings, and when somebody comes along who seems desperate and down on their luck, most people will hold back on providing useful referrals — or will look for excuses to run the other way.

Sound harsh?  If so, I apologize, but positive communications are such an important aspect of this process that I felt compelled to mention the issue, since I’ve come across quite a few job hunters lately who are broadcasting a “desperation” vibe and who end up suffering severe consequences in their search, as a result.  Not only are they surprised by the lack of useful networking assistance they receive, but they also tend to fare poorly in interviews, as well.  Want to know the real kicker, however?  It’s that in my experience the vast majority of people projecting this negative energy have little or zero awareness that they’re actually doing so!

On this note, in fact, I’ll never forget the very first client who called me when I started Career Horizons five years ago.  As soon as I answered the phone, this individual launched into an energetic five-minute monologue of how long she’d been out of work, how frustrated she was with today’s employers, how unfair it was that they didn’t value her MBA degree, how tight her finances were, and so on and so forth.  My response to her, when she finally took a breath, was to calmly tell her that even if she didn’t become a client of mine, I could easily pinpoint what 90% or more of her problem was — and why she was struggling to get good results.  I pointed out the angry, victimized tone she was projecting in every level of her communications and how it probably had been causing everybody she encountered, including myself, to want to run away and take a de-toxifying shower.  Her response?  “You’re kidding!  You think I’m coming across in some kind of negative way?”

So for those of you out there who are actively job hunting, and not necessarily enjoying the experience, make sure to continuously monitor yourself and make sure you’re not letting any negative energy creep into your conversations with people.  Again, the opening question above is a good example of this phenomenon in action.  While the intention to get help was an understandable and honorable one, the words “unexpectedly”, “tough”, and “frantically” in the message were all terms that created an immediate turn-off — since they suggested somebody totally out of control of their situation and who might therefore be tremendously difficult to coach or to work with.

At the end of the day, attitude may not be everything, but it plays a much larger role in getting hired than most people think — and you’ll find that your success level will increase greatly if you avoid “venting” in public and eradicate any anxious, desperate, or panicked language from your vocabulary!


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