I once interviewed a very capable individual and probably would have hired him if it hadn’t been for the fact that he spent at least twenty minutes during the interview venting about his prior boss and company, describing with barely concealed hostility how badly run his company had been. It was obvious that he felt hurt and angry at having been laid off, still hadn’t gotten over it, and it dominated the interview. Although he could have done the job, I was thoroughly turned off and disqualified him as a candidate.

Most people looking for a job feel similarly aggrieved, but don’t like to admit it openly. They may strongly deny that they have this attitude, but it can creep through and color what you say during an interview, even if you’re not aware of it. It can also affect how you conduct your job search.

 My observation is that, by the time they decide to hire a coach, a significant minority of people are showing signs of depression. They feel as if they are at the end of their tether, financially or emotionally or both. They’ve been terribly hurt by the layoff they’ve experienced, as was the person I mentioned at the beginning of this article, and because of the inevitable rejection they find themselves encountering during their job search, they often harbor a feeling of resentment that infuses everything they do. Because of this, they often aren’t doing what is really productive to advance their job search. I sometimes wish they would have decided to seek coaching before they reached such a state; I’m also glad that they decided to seek help because it represents a step out of their resentment, depression and hostility.

As you can imagine, it’s important to recognize and acknowledge these feelings when you’re seeking a job because they can seriously impede the progress of your job search. More than is often acknowledged, these feelings can be terribly corrosive and destructive. So I wanted to discuss it in this article and talk about what can be done.

 For those of you who have been in sales or similar work, it’s a trite observation: You have to have a positive attitude to be successful. As researchers have discovered, this also holds true in sports. You have to go into an endeavor believing sincerely that you can succeed at it, or your performance will be less than optimal. Creating an internal image of doing what you need to and then making it happen physically is what good athletes do.

Adopt a positive attitude … Think positively … These words have been said so many times — they don’t have much impact any more, which is a shame because it is so terribly important to have that mind-set. So much has been said and written about maintaining a positive attitude that the words often fall on deaf ears.

In job-hunting, I believe, keeping a positive attitude can’t be stressed enough. It is absolutely necessary to build and maintain a positive, forward-looking frame of mind because:

  • It keeps you motivated in the face of constant rejection.
  • If you have a negative attitude, it distorts your outlook.
  • A negative attitude cuts you off from avenues that you might otherwise explore.
  • Negativity comes across subtly in interviews, without your being aware of it, and it counts heavily against you.
  • A negative attitude slows you down, encourages you to do less, the end result being that you see fewer people and make fewer contacts and thereby begin limiting your chances of finding a new job.
  • A negative attitude undermines your feeling of confidence and your belief in yourself.
  • A positive attitude, conversely, makes the hard work of looking for a job easier.
So, given that it’s an absolute imperative to have a positive attitude, what steps can a job-seeker take to foster one?

  1. He or she can heighten their awareness of how they come across to others. Sometimes knowing how you present yourself to others is a revelation precisely because it’s such a “blind spot.” Do you sound angry? Is resentment creeping into your communications? The self-awareness and acknowledgment of the impression you’re making on others is a first step in reversing the trend.
  2. Working with a coach or a “buddy” or a therapist can make it easier to provide such an objective reading of your current attitude. If you can’t do it objectively by yourself, find someone you can do it with.
  3. Regular aerobic exercise really helps. I can’t stress this enough. Getting the heart and blood pumping, increasing your endorphins, bringing oxygen to your brain, all can help to turn negative thoughts and feelings into positive ones. Start a daily aerobic exercising regime and keep to it as part of your job search. The key word here is “aerobic”.
  4. Putting together a weekly plan, following it and working it conscientiously, all contribute to a fundamental feeling of accomplishment. This, in turn, will create positive feelings and confidence.
  5. In addition to having a coach or “buddy” or therapist, joining a job-seeker’s support group can provide a “safe haven” in which the job hunter can “vent” and share his or her feelings with others in similar circumstances.
  6. It’s terribly important to get rid of your feelings of anger and resentment, once and for all, by putting it all behind you. I’ve sometimes suggested that people write a long letter to their former employer, listing all the things they feel angry and resentful about, balancing it with the things they appreciated. This letter should then be filed or torn up, never sent, of course.
  7. Making a list of one’s accomplishments I usually recommend twenty-five accomplishments helps people to focus on their positive life experiences. (As a sidelight, this also provides valuable raw material for your resume.)
  8. Knowledge of what’s involved in a job search, understanding the underlying methodology and the steps involved, can help to keep your expectations at a realistic and reasonable level. This averts the unanticipated disappointment and accompanying resentment that results in feeling “down”. For example, knowing that a Broadcast Letter campaign will result in a return similar to direct mail campaign at .5%, as a rule, can prevent the inevitable disappointment when you get a single response after two hundred letters have been sent out.

One person I worked with told me, “I need a dose of your coaching — because I’ve reached a dead end and I realize I’m off track.” We had worked together for a time, and then he dropped out of coaching. I smiled when I told him, “You make it sound like some kind of patent medicine or a quick fix.” He came back to coaching because he had begun to realize that his job search was going nowhere, and it showed in the hostility in his tone when he talked about it.

During our coaching session, I glanced at my notes and saw that our last coaching session had taken place in January, and it was now seven months later. I suggested that regular weekly coaching could keep him on track and that, in turn, it would bolster his morale. “No,” he said, “I really am very independent and don’t like to be coached. Let’s just lay out a plan and I’ll follow it myself.” After analyzing where he went off the track, we laid out a plan that basically replicated what we had worked on seven months earlier, and that ended our session. Needless to say, I felt badly for him because, unless he was very lucky, with his negative attitude and hostility (which he didn’t want to confront), he would in all probability find himself once again in the same position, facing the same dead end, and he’d be even more resentful in the long run.

I’d have recommended a therapist to him; I often do with such clients. In his case I don’t believe he would have been open to such a suggestion.

Job-hunting for those who have been “downsized” also often carries with it a self-imposed stigma, a sense of shame, that starts with the internal belief that anybody who’s been laid off has done something wrong. After all, some of the others weren’t laid off. Remember, this isn’t a rational belief. Combine this sense of shame with the widely-held belief that job-hunting is by its very nature a solitary endeavor, and, whether you’re a man or a woman, it can get quickly translated into being very macho. I’ve encountered many clients who start off feeling they have to do it all themselves, alone, without anyone else’s assistance; and, if they can’t, they believe they’re failures, weaklings, and don’t deserve to find another position. Ironically, for both woman and men, this epitomizes the “macho” go-it-alone approach.

I’d sum it up by saying: Getting help from someone else, accepting help, is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength. And: A positive attitude and knowing what to do are the keys to peak performance.