Career transition is coming up as a topic for a number of my clients these days. For female clients in particular, the process of looking for a new role often sets off a spiral of crippling self-doubt. Once triggered, this loop of self-sabotagery goes something like this:
“There is no way I am good enough to land this role.”
“I faked my way through my last job; I’ll be found out as a fraud.”
“There will be hundreds of other candidates who are more qualified and went to better schools.”
Sound familiar? Hopefully not, but if you’re like a lot of people, you are fairly at home with this kind of self-talk, and you may be letting your inner critic get between you and that sexy new job.
So why do we do this to ourselves, anyway? Part of the reason is based in how we’re wired. Human beings are designed to maintain the status quo. It turns out our bodies, brains, and behavior steer us to stay within a narrow range of “safe” conditions through a process called homeostasis. Changing the status quo means moving out of the known into the unknown. Our system reads this change as scary, bad, and unsafe. The system then revolts and pulls out the stops to keep us “in our place”.
There are a number of effective techniques for quieting your inner mean girl, and that will be the topic of a later post. My focus today is how — as you search for your next role – you can play like a pro (or, as one of my clients recently quipped, “Act like a dude”). Here are a few principles followed by the pros (and, as it happens, a lot of dudes):
- There aren’t any rules. Okay, so here’s the deal: there aren’t any rules governing your job search. There are norms and social graces, of course, but no real rules. So, when you see a list of “requirements” tied to your dream job, don’t stall out because you don’t meet all the qualifications. In so many ways, this list is just a grab bag or a wish list as opposed to a rigid checklist you must meet. Fun fact: did you know that dudes will apply for a job when they meet just 60% of the listed criteria, while women apply only if they meet 100% (taken from a Hewlett Packard internal report). Knock it off, Ladies. Far more relevant than whether you meet all of the listed qualifications is whether you can frame your expertise in a manner that aligns with the business need and articulate that in a way that is both credible and connects with what matters to the person across the desk. (Relationships can’t hurt, either. See next bullet.)
- Don’t decide for them; go for it and let them tell you if you aren’t the right fit. I learned to downhill ski faster, better, and more aggressively by keeping up with a group of crackerjack guys for an entire weekend. If I had stayed inside the lodge “because I wasn’t good enough” or asked the guys to slow down and wait for me without trying, my skiing wouldn’t be where it is today. The same principles apply in the professional realm. So, stick your neck out, try something your inner critic might say you aren’t qualified for, and see what happens. Chances are, you are more capable than you know.
- You’ve got to compete or else expect to get walked all over. Ever been on a carousel? Remember the brass ring? If so, then you’ll also remember that you have to stand up in the stirrups and lean way out of your saddle if you expect to have a shot at getting the ring. So start competing for that ring by using your network like a pro. A pro (and let’s go ahead and assume he’s a dude in our example): (1) assumes his network is there to help him; (2) lets his network know he’s looking for a new position; (3) crafts a plan for how his contacts can assist him in getting what he wants; (4) lists his contacts and then emails at least three of them a day; (5) lets his contacts know whether he is targeting a particular industry, company, or type of role; (6) asks his contacts for the help he wants, and he does so in for the form of specific, actionable requests (e.g., Do you know anyone in this company or industry? Is there anyone you think I should talk to who might have further leads? Would you mind contacting Brad and letting him know you have a solid candidate for his open role?); and finally, (7) when the pro’s contacts forget to follow-up as promised, he’ll politely ping them rather than let his imagination run away with itself about how he’s to blame. What a pro won’t do is this: assume that because he told Jack’s wife that he wants a job at Company X (where Jack works), that Jack’s wife will tell Jack, and that Jack will know he is supposed to jump into action on his behalf. Nope.
- Ask for feedback and separate it from how you feel about yourself. Seek out feedback and especially seek out criticism along the way. And when you get some, by all means, listen up and say thank you! Take the feedback for what it’s worth and then move on. What can you learn from an interview that went poorly, or an interview that went well but you didn’t get the job? What can you take from that experience to fuel your ongoing search and your professional development?
- It’s not personal. Listen, getting turned down for a job happens. If you’ve never been turned down, then you aren’t putting yourself out there enough. Create a support structure so you know you have a caring shoulder to cry on if things don’t turn out and then go for it.
My point isn’t that women should turn themselves into dudes if they want a job. Instead, it’s that there are a lot of tools out there that many of us who were raised female just didn’t know about or didn’t think were available to us. Add some new tools into your toolbox and decide from there what you want to use.
And finally, I’ll say this: I don’t want to minimize the fears that a job search brings up for many people. I know how real these anxieties are and that they often dredge up painful feelings about personal worth. Even Sheryl Sandberg struggled to learn her worth in the context of negotiating her Facebook package. (She was ready to take Zuckerberg’s first offer, until her husband and her brother-in-law convinced her to ask for a better financial package. Yep, the dudes in her life.) How do women get the idea that they’re not worth bigger salaries or good enough to get the job? That’s an interesting topic, but what I find more interesting is what you’re going to do about it when it comes to your own job search.