The only thing standing between you and your next job could be your negative thoughts.
While coaching people in transition over the past two decades, I’ve noticed a fascinating pattern of human behavior: Job hunters have a tendency to adopt, and cling to, the limits of what they perceive to be their weakest link as a candidate. These are the pieces of your career and profile that you think are holding you back.
To tap into your own limiting beliefs, or “secret excuses,” finish either of the following sentences:
“My job search would be going better if it weren’t for… ”
“I’ll never get the job I want most because … ”
No matter how optimistic you are, there is a good chance you have your own answer to either or both statements. Here are just a few of the limiting beliefs I hear most:
- “I’m too old. Companies want to hire younger workers.”
- “I don’t have enough experience to get hired in that industry.”
- “I’ve been out of the game too long.” (This is a favorite among women who want to return to work after taking time off to raise children.)
- “They only hire MBAs.” (Substitute whatever advanced degree is applicable to your industry.)
- “They only want people from Ivy League schools.”
- “Companies aren’t hiring. The economy still isn’t that great.”
Some of these beliefs are easier to correct than others. Some are at least partly true.
The Partial Truth
I wish I could say that all hiring managers are open-minded and willing to look for potential beyond cookie-cutter credentials. We all know that isn’t true. Worse, there are companies that discriminate on the basis of age, sex, religion and other factors beyond our control. It shouldn’t happen, but it does. The problem occurs when you take what happens in some unfortunate circumstances and believe it will happen in ALL circumstances. In general, the more you make this logical leap, the more pessimistic you will become.
According to psychologist Martin Seligman, Ph.D., author of “Learned Optimism,” the most pessimistic among us adopt thought patterns that are personal, permanent and pervasive. This plays itself out in self-defeating thoughts like, “It’s me. It’s going to last forever. And it’s going to impact everything I do.”
There are two ways to get beyond these thought patterns and limiting beliefs. While each technique can work on its own, the fastest, most effective strategy is to focus on both simultaneously.
1. Rewire Your Thought Patterns
Based on the way our minds are wired, once we start giving a thought attention, energy and focus, it becomes a more prominent part of our experience. At that point, evidence validating the thought seems to appear everywhere, and it becomes a belief. This phenomenon is an important part of what is known as the Law of Attraction.
Fortunately, it is possible to change the way you think. But the correction takes practice because it requires you to reverse the method you used to create the beliefs. In other words, you actively have to seek evidence that contradicts your current worldview.
For example, if you believe you won’t get a job because companies don’t hire older workers, challenge yourself to find examples of people older than you who have been hired recently. If you honestly can’t think of anyone, start asking others. Before long you should have a few examples that prove your belief is not always true. Remember, it doesn’t have to be completely true for this to work. After all, your goal isn’t to eradicate age discrimination around the globe; your goal is to convince a single company to hire you because you have the potential to positively impact its business.
2. Deactivate Your Weakest Link
At the same time that you are working on changing your thought patterns, you have another equally important task: to improve the way you are marketing yourself.
People with a “secret excuse” often don’t push themselves hard enough in the self-assessment process because they are convinced it won’t matter. This is the most dangerous thought of all. “Andrea,” an unemployed event planner, recently explained to me why she wouldn’t be able to get a job by saying, “Everyone I know in this industry is either unemployed or afraid they are about to be.”
Not willing to accept this outlook, I challenged Andrea to demonstrate the reasons she was worth hiring. At that point, her resume was no help at all because it started out with three typical, generic bullet points :
- Negotiated with unions
- Worked with hotels and convention centers
- Booked speakers
Yawn. Yawn. And yawn again.
If you are an event planner, that’s your job! Like most resumes, Andrea’s looked more like a job description than a compelling track record of accomplishment. Despite her limiting beliefs about the market, she proved to be quite coachable and worked hard to quantify her accomplishments.
Once we uncovered the gold in Andrea’s background, we put together a table that highlighted her efforts. At a glance, hiring managers could now see that Andrea had planned events of up to 20,000 people. Better still, by consistently coming in at or under budget, she had saved her company $1 million over an eight-year period. That represents an average annual savings of $125,000 – $50,000 more than her salary! In other words, she is an investment, not an expense.
Despite Andrea’s limiting beliefs about her employment prospects, she had a job within three weeks of adding the table to her resume. Why? Because people could look at her and think, “Wow! If Andrea can do that for her last company, think what she could do for us.”
Andrea’s story is one of my favorites because it clearly demonstrates the power we all have to deactivate our limiting beliefs. It’s a process that takes time, but I promise it is worth the effort.