Why you should be both optimistic and pessimistic in your job search

And as a job seeker, you’ll need to be both optimistic and pessimistic in order to survive – and thrive – in your search.

Getty Images

There’s probably no greater yin and yang than optimism and pessimism. While these are polar opposites when it comes to your outlook on life, it’s often thought that being optimistic is the better way to be. After all, who wouldn’t want to be around someone who is happy and boasts a glass-half-full mentality all the time?

But as it turns out, unbridled enthusiasm isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. The Pyschology Today story, “The Uses and Abuses of Optimism and Pessimism,” looks at how optimism can be totally overrated, while pessimism definitely has its perks.


Follow Ladders on Flipboard!

Follow Ladders’ magazines on Flipboard covering Happiness, Productivity, Job Satisfaction, Neuroscience, and more!


And as a job seeker, you’ll need to be both optimistic and pessimistic in order to survive—and thrive—in your search.

Confused? Here’s how to use both optimism and pessimism in your job search.

Why optimism is important in your job search:

It motivates you.

For the most part, optimists are a cheerful bunch. They believe that everything will work out in their favor, even on days when employers don’t respond to job applications. There’s no denying that optimism can help you stay the course during a job search. That non-flagging feeling that all will be well is definitely important while you apply for jobs.

It allows you to go after what you want.

Let’s say that there’s a job you really want, but you question if you truly have the chops to handle it. Optimism is the voice in your head that whispers, “Go for it! You can do it.” And when you’re job searching, you need optimism to give you the gumption to go after what you truly desire, whether it’s a job with a company you desperately want to work for or a new title. Optimism buoys you to apply for that job that might just be a bit out of reach.

It’s appealing.

Imagine two equally qualified candidates arrive for a job interview. One shows up smiling, confident, and in good spirits. He has a charming quality about him that energizes the room. And then there’s the second candidate, who isn’t as quick to smile as the first. He complains about how long it took for him to get to the interview site, and comes across as a little cold and unfriendly. Who’s going to get the job? Most likely the optimistic person. People tend to gravitate towards optimistic individuals—and stay away from pessimistic types.

Optimism can help you manage your stress.

Job searching is stressful, even if you have an easy breezy attitude. Optimism can help you maintain a positive attitude during your job search, even when you feel like you’re not making any progress. Pessimism, on the other hand, can be exacerbated by a stressful search, which isn’t going to help you make headway. By seeing the silver linings and rainbows up ahead, optimism mitigates the stress that comes with virtually every job search.

Why pessimism is important in your job search:

It gives you perspective.

An optimist might automatically assume that they’re going to get any job they want. Not so for the pessimists. They tend to be more practical when it comes to applying for jobs. While this might appear to be a negative, it’s actually a positive. Why? Well, if you don’t suppose that you’re going to get the job, you’re going to work harder for it. You’re less likely to send in a shoddy resume and cover letter. In short, with a pessimistic personality, you’ll probably take the time to make your application as amazing as it possibly can be.

It can motivate you.

You might be thinking, “Hey, isn’t motivation a part of being optimistic?” Absolutely—but so is pessimism. Having a pessimistic mindset means that you realize that there are probably dozens (if not hundreds) of people all applying for the same job. And as such, you know that you have to do what it takes to get hired. So you might hire a resume writer, or proofread your application twice before sending it in. Optimism might make you overly confident, which can be good in a job search to a certain extent. Not pessimism, though. Pessimism means not taking anything for granted—ever. It pushes you to go farther, invest more time, and truly make your job search count…because it does.

It can help you manage your expectations.

Hey, it’s not all sunny skies during a job search. Rejection can be soul crushing, and in those moments, it’s pessimism (and not optimism) that will keep you grounded. It helps you understand that while you’re amazing in your own right, there are many other rockstar candidates out there who are vying for the same job as you. It can help you see that even if you don’t get this job, you’re bound to get something better in the future.

It prepares you for the worst.

There’s nothing more painful during a job search than to fall in love with a position, believe that it’s yours…and then not get hired. That’s where pessimism has its perks. Assuming that you won’t get the job might not make you feel good—that is, until you actually don’t get the job. If you assumed all along that you wouldn’t get picked for the position (and then you don’t), it might still sting, but not as much as if you had believed you were a shoe-in for the job all along.

Pessimism can improve your attitude.

If you thought all that pessimism might make you depressed, think again. According to the Psychology Today article, pessimism can prepare you better for negative outcomes, so that when something sad does happen, it’s less likely to send you into a tailspin. By its very nature, pessimism can improve your mood, not worsen it.

Ultimately, the goal is to be neither overly optimistic nor completely pessimistic. It’s to be flexible in your feelings, to know that some situations warrant optimism, while others might fare far better with a pessimistic/realistic mindset. Pessimism, when used as a method for motivation rather than just pure negativity, can be very powerful. In short, pessimism can encourage you to work harder to get the job that you want.

This article first appeared on FlexJobs.


You might also enjoy…