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Tips for Your Job Search – Using the Power of Positive Thinking

Northeastern University Career Development
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Published on September 18, 2014

When I met Scott, a Northeastern alum, he was working but looking for a new job.  There were a couple of reasons he wanted to move on.  His current job content wasn’t the best fit for his talents and personality.  But much more challenging was the fact that he currently had a really difficult boss.  She seemed unreasonably critical of his work.

Through his prior positions at the company, Scott had gotten stellar reviews.  It was only in this role, that didn’t fit him, that he had received criticism.  But now his self-confidence had started to tank.  He was starting to doubt his ability to land a better position somewhere else.

When you are looking for a job it is easy for your self-esteem to meander downward and for your attitude to take a similar nose dive.  This is hard stuff.  As a career counselor I’ve watched really confident people begin to lose their footing during their job search.

Please Pick Me

Every time you send out a resume, you are like that 6th grader in gym class, standing in the line-up saying to yourself, “please pick me”.  When you don’t hear back after sending out a ridiculous number of resumes, or if you make only the first round of interviews, it’s easy to feel let down or deflated.  When you’ve been doing this for several months, it’s really hard for it not to have an effect on your attitude.

But if your attitude starts to erode, what does that do to your motivation, not to mention your interviewing ability?

Jennifer Rosen, in her Huffington Post blog, “We are what we think” explains it like this:

“How we talk to ourselves, the mental chatter that keeps us company throughout the day matters deeply. Whether self or externally generated, our thoughts set the stage for how we feel, perceive, act, and react to whatever shows up in our lives. When a thought makes itself at home in our brains, it prompts the formation of neural pathways that prove highly resistant to change.”

Thoughts Affect Actions

There is real power in what you think.  It’s amazing how your thoughts translate into actions, affecting what you say and how you come across to others.  As Henry Ford (of the Ford Motor Co.) said, “If you think you can, or think you can’t, you’re right.”

If the phrase running through your head is “Oh man, I’m never going to get a job,” then there’s a good chance you’ll prove yourself right.

On the flip side, how often have you heard the phrases “stay positive,” “look on the bright side” or “keep smiling”?  The science of positive psychology suggests that these are more than mere platitudes.  In fact, we really can promote a more beneficial attitude, improve our performance and even influence outcomes by altering the way we think through challenging situations.

Tip #1:  Lift Your Attitude with Gratitude

One trick, is not to overlook what is already good in our lives.

“Gratitude, gladness, and related feelings like appreciation may seem so homey and Hallmark cardish that they’re easy to dismiss, but studies in fact show that cultivating them has lasting and important benefits, including lifting your mood, increasing satisfaction with life, and building resilience,” states Rick Hanson, Ph.D. in The Importance of Gratitude and Gladness for a Happy Life.

As we all know, in job search mode, it’s really easy to focus on what we don’t have….that job we really want.  But, we can also take a time out from this longing and look at what we do have.  Consider making a list of as many things as possible that you are grateful for (your good health, your family, your talents, etc.)  Or, start keeping a gratitude journal, where you write down 3 things you are grateful for every day.

I once kept a gratitude journal for a full year.  Some days I listed some very basic feel-good things such as, “the sunshine,” or “had my favorite lunch today.”  Other times I took stock of my surroundings, things that I value, such as “my local library,” “having good neighbors” or “meeting new people.”  It really worked!  I felt my mood lift and radiate out to others.  It doesn’t have to be all about the big stuff.  Acknowledging your small successes, like having a really good informational interview or writing a strong cover letter, will have the same positive effect.

Tip #2: Get a Boost from Your Past

We can take not making the team, or not getting selected for an interview, or our current boss’s criticisms, way too personally.  Let’s keep it in context.  One way to help us balance out the disappointment, or challenging times, is to remind ourselves of past successes.

For example, to help Scott pull out of his downward spiral, I asked him if anyone in the past (former bosses, colleagues or clients) thought highly of his work.  I already knew the answer was yes.   So I got him to pick 3 of those people and to write a phrase or two that they might say about him, if I called them up and asked them.  The results looked like this:

1. Suha (Scott’s previous boss) – Diligent hard worker- Scott would come into work at 7:30 am so he could put in a full shift and return for a 3pm class on campus.

2. Alex (Scott’s internship supervisor)- Financial Analysis- Scott was a quick learner, his analysis helped identify those companies that did not operate within their assigned margin range.

3. Jiang (Scott’s professor) – Visionary and problem-solver– many times I told Scott that one day he will be a CEO. I saw a lot of drive in him and he sees the big picture.

As you can imagine, this exercise gave Scott a really important lift in his attitude.  He got his groove back.  His self-confidence was boosted, and he gained some well-needed mental strength to keep persevering with the job search.  Now he can read through this list and give himself a pep talk right before he goes into an interview.  He’ll feel more confident as well as being reminded of some of his specific skills and talents.

Keeping Looking for those Positives

The message here is to keep noticing the positives.  Being grateful for the good stuff in your life and reminding yourself of your talents can lead you to be more upbeat, approachable and optimistic.  All great characteristics that future bosses are always looking for in potential candidates.

Northeastern University Career Development

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