How to Handle Feedback – Positive and Negative – During Your Job Search

I have a confession. When I first started counselling job seekers, I didn’t realize how intensely work -for most of us – is tied up with identity. Loss of work = loss of worth, our own self worth.

It may not be rational – we are far more than our jobs – but it’s natural. A job takes up 50% or more of our waking hours, some of our best thoughts, and most creative energies. In Maslowe’s hierarchy, it occupies the bottom and the top rungs – it satisfies our basic needs for food and shelter, and it can feed our deepest needs for self-actualization.

When we lose our job, our healthy worldview – “I’m OK, you’re OK” in transactional analysis terms – can disintegrate. Instead, we may see ourselves – and everyone else in the “not OK” position. The feedback we accept from outside sources can help or hinder us in moving back to the “I’m OK, you’re OK” state – a state I believe is a prerequisite for landing the work we want.

Who are we listening to?
Who – and what – we listen to during our job search, and how we handle that feedback can have a big impact how fast we succeed in winning the work we want.

Career expert Phil Rosenberg  posted recently about four sources of feedback you may be listening to during your job search:

– people already on your side
– other job seekers
– recruiters and (I add) staffing agencies
– “No response” (aka “black hole”) scenarios

Feedback from people who are already on your side
People who are on your side can be great sources of positive feedback. They know what you can do, and would hire you if they could. But can positive feedback be a problem? Yes! If they know you too well – or your industry too little – they may not be able to see the aspects of your resume or self-presentation that are not communicating well to your desired employers – or they may unwilling to tell you.

Friends can be sources of negative feedback, if they turn around and disparage the employers who have not picked you to interview (in transactional terms, “You’re Ok, they (the employers) are not OK”). Since you may already be saying this inside, such reinforcement can be further de-motivating. Walk away from discussing your job search with these friends.

Other people can be constructive sources of feedback, such as an emotionally balanced job search buddy, with whom you are mutually accountable. An independent career counsellor or coach – accountable only to you – can help you modify and fine tune your approach to employers without passing value judgements on anyone.

Feedback from other job seekers
Other job seekers can be sources of negative feedback. They know what doesn’t work – for them. Unless they are carbon copies of you – your personality, your experience, your skills, your knowledge – their experience will always be different from yours.

Of course you can, and should, learn from other people’s experience. For example, participation in job-finding clubs such as Kanata Kareer Group have proven to boost your chances of finding a job. But watch out for the perpetual negative talkers (“I’m not Ok; they’re not OK) – they can sap the job search moxie right out of you.

Feedback from recruiters and staffing agencies
A third source of feedback comes from recruiters and staffing agencies. As Phil points out “If a recruiter is helping you, it’s because they think that they’ll have a better chance to place you and earn commissions.” Job seekers need to remember that recruiters ultimately get paid by employers. Good recruiters will seek for great matches between employer and qualified job seeker. If a recruiter tells you don’t fit the qualifications of the job(s) you’ve applied for, it does not mean you’re worthless or unemployable. Take it as constructive feedback from a professional: they’re telling you that you don’t match – or appear not to match – the employer’s requirements.

Remember that most working-level, non-executive job seekers, are not working with recruiters at all, but with staffing agencies. Staffing agencies don’t need to find the best people; they need to find sufficiently qualified people to fill slots, quickly, or they don’t stay in business.

I’ve seen job seekers wilt under the pressure of trying to conjure up experience in Acme Technophaser to satisfy the rigours of a particular agency requisition, only to fall short and become bitter. Rarely does this experience mean you should go back to school and master Technophaser (next time it will be something different). It has much more to do with looking for opportunities that match your qualifications – as opposed to dredging for qualifications that might fit a given opportunity.

Who and what we listen to makes a huge difference to our morale, our level of energy and our success during job search. There’s one more important source of feedback we need to discuss, the “No Response” or “Black Hole” scenario. I will address this in tomorrow’s post.

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