Don't let fear affect your job search

Get over your fears with a little understanding and a few practical steps.

fear afraid hiding
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"Anxiety is practicing failure in advance." – Seth Godin

A big part of my leadership coaching practice deals with helping executives conduct job searches. Some of my clients are in transition and some of them are looking to get out of their current organizations. Many of them are C-level executives or leaders of teams of varying sizes and complexity. They work — or worked for — a myriad of companies and non-profits in all kinds of "verticals."

But no matter how senior and accomplished some of them may be or rapidly ascending the corporate as others are, they all share one common attribute:

F – E – A – R.

What is fear?

“Fear,” as Frank Herbert wrote in his sci-fi classic, Dune, “is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.” Fear prevents otherwise ambitious and successful executives from reaching out to former colleagues or mentors whom they haven’t spoke with in years. Fear causes people to postpone their job searches for weeks or months because it’s the summer or Christmas season or the election or February or... well, you get the idea.

In my study of the subject and experience coaching leaders I’ve come to think of fear as a maladaptation; a bug, if you will, in our operating systems left over from our days learning to survive in small clans on remote and incredibly hostile savannas. Our triune brain (AKA, "the lizard brain") evolved, in part, to help us avoid actions that could lead to consequences far, far worse than a rejection from an old friend or a headhunting firm (like banishment from the clan followed by death from starvation or a saber-toothed tiger).

None of us, I believe, can completely eliminate fear. It’s an ancient, emotional response that isn’t going away any time soon. But if we’re conducting a job search, for example, there are some practical actions that can help us co-exist or even dance with it. Here’s a sample from my job search program that you or a friend can deploy:

Practical actions and the right mindset

  • Pay it forward. Everyone you contact (friend, colleague, ex-boss, whomever) has a work issue or "pain point" that they’d like to resolve. Make the effort to ask questions. Demonstrate a sincere interest in the other person’s welfare and you might be able to help them out of a jam. If you’re in "help them" instead of "help me" mode, you’ll feel more empowered (and less afraid) to make the call.
  • Your process will be your friend. Goals are great but processes and systems are even better. You’re successful in large part because you’re disciplined and organized. As I tell my coaching clients, “If your company deserved your best program/project planning skills then doesn’t your career?” Your relationships and contacts are your CRM. Upload your LinkedIn contacts on a spreadsheet and make it your business to contact a certain number every day, no matter how good or bad you may feel.
  • You’re preparing for your next job. Every manager or coach in sports finds him or herself between gigs at some point in their careers. The best of them use the time between jobs to aggressively network. Why? Because they’re building their talent and ideas pipelines in preparation for their next assignment! Whether you’re interviewing for a company in need of a transformation or a "steady pair of hands," strategic networking during your job search means you’ll be that much sharper and better prepared in your next role.

And, last but not least, maintain your sense of humor

  • WTF. Contacting people in your network will not expose you to life-threatening danger. Keeping a sense of humor about this leg of your career will help you connect with people much more productively and sincerely. So, get yourself a 3-by-5 index card, write those three letters on it and remember to keep it handy.

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