Coping with Career Search Challenges

Recently, a young man who had aspirations of working as a chemist in The Greater Toronto Area came into the office to chat. After a brief contract position, and several unsuccessful interviews he felt underappreciated, dejected and downright fed up. He said to me, “I don’t get it. I graduated from a good school with an advanced degree. It seems like when I go to the interview, the job has already been assigned to someone else. I’m not sure what to do. I sometimes feel like giving up completely. This has been the most challenging period of my entire life!”

The reality of the situation is that even when employment market seems friendly, there can be a series of setbacks along the way. Looking for a job is often as difficult as performing the job itself and it takes a toll on us. Its difficult to stay motivated and keep going. A good rule of thumb in the job search is to think about your level of control in the search and how you react to roadblocks along the way. Instead of beating ourselves up, there are steps we can take that help us bounce back in the face of adversity. This is what resiliency is all about.

One of the first things we can do is to give ourselves permission to take care of ourselves so that we do not end up in a negative spiral that is difficult to emerge from. Developing some regular habits such as maintaining a healthy diet, exercise and sleep routines can really assist our mental health in the job search.

In this module, we will be looking at different strategies and resources that can help when we are experiencing frustration and despair in the job search. We will touch on the importance of connecting with others you trust to give you good advice. We’ll also talk about shifting your mindset through reframing and gaining control over the self-defeating inner monologue that sometimes plagues us and stops us in our tracks. We always suggest keeping your health care providers like your Family GP or mental health therapist in the loop. They can help when you are struggling. Experts will tell us that the process of looking for work is as challenging as someone who is depressed and burned out in a career role they find unsatisfying.

Before we begin, let’s take an inventory that we have adapted that originally comes compliments of the Headington Institute that looks at many aspects of a person’s life including their current level of self care. The scale is not clinical in nature and can help keep balance and prevent yourself from developing more serious problems down the road.

Self Care Inventory

INSTRUCTIONS: In a typical month, how often has the following been true for you? For each question, write the number that best fits your experience on the line before the question.

0 | never  1 |Seldom  2 | Sometimes  3 | Often  4 |always


0 – 29: Self care & lifestyle may be poor. Developing a plan is a necessity.

30 – 59: Self care skills and lifestyle balance are average. There is a good probability you are encountering many stressors in your life.

60 – 84: Good self-care skills and lifestyle balance strategies in place. Some additional strategies may be beneficial.

85 and above: Good self care, balance and resiliency allowing you to bounce back quickly under adverse conditions.

After going through the self care inventory, are there some areas you would like to improve upon? How might you make these improvements and reach your goals?

Solution Focused approaches are helpful for people in career transition. One of the main assumptions with the theory is that when a client sees themselves as competent, they are much more able to make positive changes in their lives. As we saw in earlier modules, we were asked on a scale/ruler to rate items like our motivation or self awareness etc. The theory goes on to say that it is motivating when people have a goal they would like to accomplish and imagine what that goal would look like. For our purposes, it may mean landing the perfect dream job. Setting even small goals is important in the process.

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Don’t believe everything you think!

That’s right! Aaron Beck and David Burns, two key researchers in the field of psychotherapy have said that we can’t trust the way we think about certain things-particularly when we are stressed. The researchers indicate that the further we tend to believe some of these thinking traps or faulty patterns, the greater our chances are for negative health outcomes like anxiety, depression and burnout.

Cognitive behavioural therapy or CBT is a popular psychology practice designed to challenge some of our perceptions and misconceptions centred around thoughts we have. Here’s examples of some of the common thinking errors that job seekers may experience.

Thinking Pattern          Definition              Career Example

 Black or White or All or Nothing Thinking You see things in extremes. You consider things perfect or a total failure. “The job market is either good/bad” or I am ___ years old. I’ll never be hired.”
        Overgeneralization   Overly negative thoughts are based on limited (1 or 2) experiences. “I went to an interview and didn’t get the job. I’m a total failure.”
 Disqualifying the Positive The person rejects positive experiences and accepts negative ones. “I can’t believe I messed up one question on the interview-I’ll never be hired.”
 Jumping to Conclusions Making conclusions based on very little evidence. The interviewer was expressionless; I’m sure he/she didn’t like me.”
 Fortune Telling We magically believe we know what others are thinking. “A recent graduate predicts she will never be employed simply based solely on not having found work yet.”
 Catastrophizing Believing the worst possible scenario imagined is likely to happen. “I’m never going to be a professor-I’ll be waiting tables with a doctoral degree.”
 Should Statements Imposing a set of expectations on yourself or others that are unrealistic. “I should have been hired already-there’s something wrong with me.”
 The Fairness Fallacy If one struggles, suffers and works hard, they are entitled to a just reward. I talked to almost every employer at the job fair. Nobody has gotten back to me. This isn’t fair! I’m so frustrated!