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Job Seeker Challenges | Then and Now

Two glass chess pieces on a glass chessboard.

Before the Ask Victoria column started in June 2015, I was informally fielding questions from readers and offering suggestions to help squelch the challenges that plague your job searches. As I reflect back on that time, I wanted to share a few things I discovered about our readers and the challenges job seekers face when looking for work. Some of you who wrote in confirmed what I already knew, and some insights I picked up truly surprised me! Below are a few highlights:

You never “just” need a job (even if it seems that way)

I rarely received declarations of “I’ll take any job! I just need a paycheck!” Nope, Idealist Careers readers like you want jobs (and in some cases, vocations) that give you a sense of purpose and reflect your personal values.

However, what I noticed is that there’s usually more at work in your personal situation than “just” needing a job. While it may seem like, “if only I had a job (with purpose and meaning, that makes me feel good about my place in the world), I could be less stressed/rest easy/afford to live here,” there are other factors at work. Your sense of confidence, issues with insecurity, fear of making the wrong decision, financial or familial issues, employment gaps, etc all weave their way into whether your efforts are fruitful in finding a job.

Think about it: Any financial issue could potentially affect where you live (and thus your commute time to a new job), your mode of transportation, what and how you eat, your social life, your feelings of self-worth, your health and your ability to maintain it...just to name a few! Don’t assume that all those factors don’t influence how you search and what you look for.

So before you even start looking, interviewing, and applying for jobs, do the preliminary reflective work so you can make your search easier. While there’s a place for learning the nitty-gritty of the job search, always take time to reflect on the other factors that might be playing a role for you as well. Ask yourself what else you are experiencing or feeling that might be putting a halt on your job search success. Whatever it is---feelings of insecurity, lack of confidence, or something else---it is important to acknowledge and address those feelings. Brainstorm ideas of what you can do about those issues. Then go back to your job search and take note of any improvements.

Ageism is a concern

The surprise with this issue is not so much that it came up, but the degree of frequency to which it did. This was really disconcerting to me as ageism is (supposed to be) illegal. With my rose-colored glasses off however, I discovered that age discrimination is quite difficult to prove.

So how do I advise you all? The questions you wrote in that touched upon this topic really left me feeling like my hands were tied. We can’t control the hiring manager’s point of view or actions any more than we can control how old we (or they) are.

I pressed on and tried to console job seekers of the over-50 set with suggestions such as anticipate a hiring manager’s concerns and combatting them with practical solutions and reconnect with your “why”. Sometimes it wasn’t enough. The sting of feeling like you may have been set aside because of your age is one from which it is hard to recover.

That being said, I share with you this bit of advice: Never underestimate the power of your fear. If you are fearful that your age will cause dire results in your job search, it very well might. Sometimes we wear our fears on our faces, even our hunched shoulders or our gait can give us away. This can translate to a hiring manager potentially seeing “I’m afraid you won’t hire me because you think I’m too old” when they look at you. Practice keeping your worries about your age out of your internal dialogue.

If you do meet a hiring manager whose vision of an ideal hire seems to point away from an “old fogey” like you, remember you have choices. You can redirect the conversation away from the issue of age, or you can reconsider whether you want to work at this organization in the first place. (Those are just two options; there are many others to brainstorm and implement.) And remember that whenever an interview question makes you feel defensive, take a pause before responding so you can do so from a position of strength.

You’re worried about burnout, sometimes before you even get the job!

Wowza! This one came as a total surprise. Not only are you concerned about finding a job that is meaningful to you, but you’re stressed about getting burnt out by it once you have actually been hired!

I sat with this concern a little longer though, and I think I get it. It’s a reality in the nonprofit sector. Some of you with experience at nonprofits may be quite familiar with how frequently this very real issue pops up. Perhaps you’ve experienced the emotional strains that come with being in a helping profession, and you are concerned that you will experience it again. Or perhaps you’re a sector-switcher who is recovering from a high-pressure job. It is for these reasons that it is so important to develop a practice of self-care. While you’re job searching is the perfect time to create a self-care routine, as it will be useful during your search and as you embark on your new nonprofit job. 

Reassurance and support are critical

One of the things I’ve tried to do while delving into your questions is to sense what other worries you are feeling but don’t want to say “out loud” even in a confidential email to “Ask Victoria.” What else bubbles under the surface? What implications do not having a job have on your life overall? What does being unemployed symbolize to you, and how does it affect the story you tell yourself about your self-worth?

Mixed in with the questions of how to transition to the nonprofit sector, negotiate a salary, or overcome a mistake in a job application, there has been fear, uncertainty, and insecurity. There’s been the need for confidence boosts and reassurance that your situation is unique, yet you are not alone. And it’s true---there are many others who are struggling with the same issues, perhaps with different parameters or characteristics. If I can share with you the ways that other job seekers have gotten through it, you might be reassured that you can too. One of the most rewarding parts of writing this column is any boost of confidence and motivation I can provide to readers.

I truly hope that knowing there is a community to support you is a great source of reassurance.

By Victoria Crispo

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