What do you do when your months-long job search stalls? How do you recover? What are your next steps? I am going to chronicle my experiences jump-starting a new job search.
I originally wrote this post in November 2019. Life was different. Significantly different. But in many ways, it has remained exactly the same. I just received another Thank You But… email for a job I had recently interviewed for. Mentally, I am back in November 2019 again, when those emotions were front and center. Today, I continue to struggle with hoping and wishing I could find a job in my field. Or at least I think I do. Job-searching during a pandemic threw off my plans to widen my career search and I am back to where I was when I wrote this post in 2019.
Since my attempts to find work outside my field haven’t been successful, I don’t have a clear indication of what direction I should be taking now. But the past year has shown me that I can’t continue to be unemployed and maintain a healthy sense of self, mentally and emotionally.
On Crying in Public
Back in November 2019, I had a particularly tough day. I had applied for a job on Monday that had posted on a jobs board website over the weekend and heard back Tuesday that I was no longer being considered for the job. Coupled by the email from the HR office about the job I interviewed for two weeks prior that started with Thank You But… it was a little more than I could emotionally handle.
So there I was, crying in public, again. This time it was on the train I was taking downtown to write for the afternoon. And all I could think about was that this is how my dream was ending, and it wasn’t what I expected at all.
There was no going-away party. No salutes from friends, or nominations for lifetime service awards. No cards to look at in the future. It was crying on a train, alone, harboring some hopes.
My first hope was that my contacts wouldn’t fall out of my eyes while wiping away tears.
On Being Brave During a Job Search
My second hope was that I could make a brave decision. Something I’ve learned about myself this year is that hanging on to this job search dream was hurting my ability to move on. I couldn’t put any energy into moving on while holding out for some good news that never came. And yet I held on to every hope I’d find a new job in my field of choice. What hurts the most was being offered help by friends working in the field but never figuring out what help I needed. If I had all this support and encouragement, and most of all skills, why wasn’t anything working out for me? And more, why was I sticking around after months of rejection?
I wish I had an answer. But what I know is that I don’t need to know the why, today. I can still make a brave decision with what I know now. The self-reflection will happen in its own time. But what I can do is stop putting all my energy into a dream that just won’t come true.
On Stopping the “And Yets” in my Job Search
I made the decision last night to stop looking for jobs in student affairs for at least 6 weeks, and perhaps as long as six months. The compulsive refreshing of the job list was making me feel anxious and sick to my stomach. As a positive person who actually has Positivity as one of his StrengthsFinder strengths, I could only manage the anxiety for so long with my natural feel-good emotions. Last night was the acknowledgment that feeling good was not the answer I needed.
What I needed was a healthy assessment of reality. And reality told me that I needed to refocus my energy into a career that didn’t reject my skills and experience. Reality recognized the emotional toll had a maximum amount to collect. And reality understood and believed that stepping away from a failed job search didn’t mean I no longer would work in my field of choice.
Normally I would interject an “And yet” into the conversation or blog post to reassert my commitment to this search. Nothing was going to get me down! All my energy focused on being ready for the next interview! I still put energy into self-improvement! And yet…
I’ve come to realize that each time I said “and yet” I was convincing myself that reality didn’t matter. What mattered more was this positive go-get-em attitude that produced few positive results. Looking back, I know now that this behavior was very useful to fall back on rather than look at what I needed to do to find success. And that success might be outside of my field of choice.
Starting with the ABCs when Job Searching
So eighteen months after my last job ended, I am back to the beginning. Victoria Estrella Worch recommends listing skills from A to Z, paying attention to the transferable student affairs skills in other professions. So for me, I would begin with assessment and accountability, balloon arches and budgeting, conflict resolution, and conference presenter.
When I began my original search, I cataloged my skills as I formatted my resume. It was set up to showcase my skills as a student affairs professional. I suppose it also showed my skills as a professional in general but I wasn’t looking to be someone in general. Now, that isn’t so much the case.
So many of our skills as administrators fit into other non-profit positions. I know I can manage others, I know how to measure learning, and I work for other mission-driven organizations. My struggle, right now, is whether this is a permanent move or a temporary one. Right now, only time will tell if I have highlighted the right type of skills for jobs outside higher education.
On Why Words Matter
I struggled with what to even call this post. I chose to label my job search as stalled, rather than failed.
I don’t feel like a failure. I tried my best. I was a finalist six times for positions. I know and believe in my skills. So I know I’m not a failure. For anyone else going through this experience, I would encourage them to shift their description of the situation. I can’t make people hire me, but I can do my best to highlight my skills and continually reflect on what I need to do to improve.
So that is how I am going to frame this decision. I recognize I need time to reflect without the pressure of finding a job. My current skills are enough and I am enough. But I also need a break from the rejection, so I don’t internalize the feelings of failure. And knowing this makes me feel that much better about my decision.
I am not sure I will ever give up my dream to work with college students. Writing this post is both painful and revelatory since it highlights my ambivalence to leave my field. It also highlights, inside me, how much I cared about the work I was doing. But then reality pops up and reminds me that paying bills and working towards retirement are those basic needs that need to be met.
I used to keep a saying taped to the outside of my door that fits right now. It said, “Speak the Voice of your Heart, Even When your Voice is Shaking.” I know that I need to step away from my current student affairs job search and focus on meeting some basic needs for my mental health. But I know, inside, that this isn’t the end of this dream. I just need a job that uses my best skills to find some joy in a vocation again.
In the words of Cher, in the wonderful movie Burlesque, “you haven’t seen the last of me.”