When You're Killing Your Job Search

I have a good friend who is an expert gardener/horticulturist who loves to grow native plants from seeds. This year, he was lamenting the fact that less than 10% of his seeds successfully germinated.

"I don't understand! Last year I just dumped a bunch of seeds in the backyard and they did fine. But I think I tried too hard this year," he said. He had carefully arranged his seed collection in labeled containers, given them both the freezing and warm temperatures he knew they would need to be tricked into growing, kept their individual soil samples with the precise amount of moisture, and dutifully checked them daily.

And what happened? Nothing. Those seeds lay dormant. Later he told me, "It turns out seeds are like girls. If you overdo it, you’ll fail."

You’re Trying Too Hard

As a single girl, I know this to be true. But this will also be a familiar feeling to many of you looking for jobs or trying to find the perfect career path. You hone your resume, your rewrite your cover letter, you send emails to all the right people, check websites daily, and follow every piece of advice you've received. And then...crickets.

The icing on the cake is that you probably also get frustrated. You might even get angry. You might redouble your efforts to the point of being destructive, calling the HR person every two days ("Answer your phone damnit!" you scream in your head, or into the phone if you have impulse control problems.) This does not help; but you already know that.

Your Desperation is Obvious

Here's the thing: they can sense your desperation. There are subtle cues you give in that state of mind, when you're feeling desperate for something to come through and frustrated that nothing will, that others are picking up. It's a change in the tone of your emails, it's a word choice that isn't quite right in your cover letter. It's a posture that you adopt in your interview or an expression on your face.

It's all subconscious and really hard to control when you're feeling this way. These little signals you send cause others to shrink from you and to choose the candidate that appeared relaxed, confident and happened upon them at exactly the right moment instead.

Uproot Your Attitude

So what is there to do when you feel desperate for a job, are truly in need of something to come through, like, YESTERDAY, you are doing everything right, and you have no calls, no interviews, or no offer coming through?

First, take a break. Throw those seeds into some dirt, shut the front door, and call it a day, is what my gardener friend would tell you. Take your eyes off of the job ads, go for a run, start a new hobby or pick up the one that you had before you became obsessed with your job search. Get some space and some distance.

Then, change your focus. Instead of focusing on finding the right job, look for ways you can make a difference. Focus on giving instead of getting. The question to ask isn't "why aren't these people hiring me?!", it's "how and where can I help right now?". Offer to help a friend or family member or acquaintance with something; anything will do. Volunteer your time to someone you care about or to a project that you think you can contribute to. Write an article on a topic or make a YouTube video to share information with others. It needn't be related to your professional goals but if it is that's great, too. What's important is simply that you contribute something.

The Fruits of Your Labor

These helpful contributions add up to good universal karma, but more importantly, they'll change your mood. Giving back, helping others, will increase your happiness and your confidence and those "hey I'm alright!" feelings will begin to change the tone of your emails, the words in your cover letter, your posture in interviews, and the expression on your face. And then you'll find yourself relaxed, confident, and happening upon the ideal job opportunity at exactly the right moment. And maybe you'll have a sweet garden (and a girlfriend) to boot.