From Anxiety to Empowered Job Hunt: Skills and Strategies

Whenever someone asks me to perform a particular task, I immediately experience a moment of weakness, self-doubt, and fear. Can I do this task well? I wonder. Even worse – what if I make a mistake? Wouldn’t that be ever so embarrassing and horrible? As I writhe in my seat and bite my tongue considering all of the ‘what-if’ and ‘could-be’ possibilities surrounding this task, precious seconds of my life are wasted.

Perhaps you can relate to this sensation of generalized anxiety whenever someone gives you a task, particularly when it’s a task that’s new to you and outside of your comfort zone. Landing a job in today’s difficult economy, as a recent university graduate, is one of the most challenging and uncomfortable tasks that I have ever been given. Today I’m going to talk a little about my experiences with this feeling, describe how it’s a barrier to your personal success, and suggest ways you can turn that feeling into a galvanizing, powerful emotion that will drive you forward in your career.

Anxiety and the Recent Graduate

Finding a job is an intimidating proposition for the recent graduate in Canada – there are a lot of conflicting, alarmist articles floating around in the newsphere about high youth unemployment, burdensome educational debts, and rampant skills mismatches. Organized lobby groups (such as Generation Squeeze) are slowly emerging to campaign government for greater consideration towards the quality of life for Canada’s youth.

Within this maelstrom of fear, the graduate of 2014 is one of the best-educated individuals in history – a situation predicated and described by Strauss and Howe in their books, most pointedly – Millennials and the Pop Culture (2006). As a generation, we’re growing into intelligent, confident, and dedicated workers and people (Nameless, 2013).

Anxiety is thus a natural response for the recent graduate in today’s job market. We’re smart, but unemployed. We’re passionate, but debt-ridden. We’re idealistic vision-seekers, but stymied in an economy concerned about its own survival (which is unwilling to take on the ‘risk’ of hiring untrained, presumably unskilled graduates). These are all thoughts that I have as I face my own job search/career quest.

Anxiety and the Barriers to Your Personal Success

It’s perfectly natural for recent graduates to feel a sense of anxiety in today’s economy. However, allowing this feeling of anxiety to rule your job search and career-related decisions can be a massive barrier to your personal success for two primary reasons.

First, a feeling of anxiety can elicit what I think of as the ‘hideaway’ response. You don’t have a job, so you move back home with your parents. While pooling resources in a communal family unit can aid in your goal of cutting back on your personal debt, it can also lull you into a false sense of security. With Mom and Dad paying your bills, why bother taking risks with a job? Heck, why even bother to leave the house, except to grab more Cheetos for your all-night Falling Skies-watching marathon?

In her May 17th, 2014 article to the Financial Post, Danielle Kubes writes bravely about developing the “grit, hunger, drive and determination” she needed to survive in today’s economy by moving out of her parent’s house. Her writing illuminates one important response to a feeling of anxiety in today’s economy: perseverance.

Second, a feeling of anxiety in your job and career search can lead you into a spiral of discontent with each and every job you take on. In a 2013 study, Professor Sean Lyons in the Department of Management (University of Guelph) found that Millennials “crave advancement and variety [in their careers] and are willing to move on if their needs go unmet” (University of Guelph News Release, June 19th, 2014). We have been raised to believe that we, as a generation, can and should exceed the living standards of our parents; we’ve also been brought up to believe that we can do and achieve anything we set our hearts on. These high early career expectations can “lead to dissatisfaction, feelings of failure, and even depression and anxiety” (University of Guelph News Release, June 19th, 2014). This study highlights a second important response to our feelings of anxiety: realism.

As a recent graduate embarking on the journey that is your career, it is important to be ready to persevere and be realistic in your job search.

Opposite-Anxiety: Turning Fear into Action

To return to the beginning, I often feel a sense of fear and aversion when someone gives me a new task. Pursuing a career in today’s unstable economy is one of the largest tasks that I, personally, have ever been given. As a result, I feel a deep anxiety over my future prospects, but know that I must continue to persevere and be realistic about my career trajectory.

So by now you may be thinking: “That’s great, Maria, but those are super-vague guidelines! Do you have anything more specific for me to work with?” In response, I give you this quick little acronym (‘FORE’!) that I like to think of as the essential, underlying tools for an empowered job hunt in today’s economy:

  1. Failure: In tandem with my suggestion that you be ready to persevere, I also suggest that you be ready to fail. We can learn so much from our failures, and they can also help us grow as a person. For an example, just check out Jia Jiang’s 100 Days of Rejection Therapy series.
  2. Openness: As well as being realistic about your job search options, you can also try to be open. This means that you’re willing to take on any job, any new learning experience, any new hobby, and any new personal connection. Don’t close the door to something because it doesn’t ‘fit’ with your ideal image of yourself. ‘Accidental networking’ can help you, not hurt you.
  3. Resilience: The quality of being ready to fail and open to any possibility will contribute to your resilience (aka. your ‘capacity to recover quickly from difficulties’) as a person. However, cultivating the craftsman mindset (see: Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You) can also help. The craftsman mindset means that you’re constantly pushing into new boundaries in your career. This will make you invaluable to employers.
  4. Empathy: If you don’t emerge into the career world with the ability to understand and share the feelings of other people, you’re in trouble. Despite the increasing social isolationism we’re experiencing as a culture, recent graduates are all in the same boat (which is currently pretty water-logged and perilously close to sinking). Socializing, networking, volunteering – all of these activities will put you in closer contact with your fellow graduates and career superiors. This is perhaps the best way to develop interpersonal skills (such as communication), as well as reduce feelings of anxiety during your job search.

Now that we’ve followed the trail from debilitating anxiety to the tools you’ll need for an empowered job hunt, I’d like to close with a personal message of solidarity to all my fellow graduates (taken from my favorite, and very nostalgic, childhood show – Red Green): “Remember, I’m pulling for ya. We’re all in this together!” (IMDb, 2014).

Acknowledgements: I’d like to thank Bob Clary, Community Manager at Webucator (Twitter: @webucator), for inviting me to participate in their exciting “Most Marketable Skill” Campaign. Webucator is an online learning company that is passionate about teaching essential skills and finding ways to help people improve their careers – their private, public, and self-paced courses have helped train more than 47,725 students from over 12,730 organizations (About Us, 2014).

I would strongly encourage everyone to, first, check out Webucator’s continual, self-paced, and free Microsoft training courses for grads and other professionals here. Second, I would encourage every recent grad to head over to Webucator’s Twitter feed and follow them for more great stories, ideas, and suggestions on life-long learning!

Stay brave, fellow graduates! I, too, am a very recent graduate.
The author at June 2014 convocation, stalwart and resolute in the face of incipient change.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. robertlfs says:

    I was 54 years old when I interviewed for a job and for the first time knew I had exactly the skills, expertise, and vision that were desired by the employer for the position. That comes after a career of questioning if I was really up to speed on all aspects of the position I held. There is something about academia that builds you up, but also tells you that you are not really as qualified as someone else. However, I am also a believe that ultimately, experience trumps academic degree every time.

    The flip side of the coin are those folks who feel so incredibly comfortable that they are unwilling to listen to anyone else or even consider the possibility of failure.

    Here are a couple of blog posts I have written on getting jobs in Museums that I think can be generalized to other fields and sum up my thinking on the subject:

    Best wishes as you move forward!

    My favorite Red-Green line is the Man’s Prayer “I’m a man, but I can change, if I have to, I guess.”

  2. marialegault says:

    Thanks for the good wishes, Robert! I enjoyed both of the posts you shared – they are very insightful and accurate 🙂 I imagine that it will be quite a few years, and many varied experiences, before I find my career niche.

    (I also agree with you that the the Man’s Prayer is a great line!)

    Take care!

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