Drive for Job-Search Success By Defeating Negative Thought

Are you mentally putting up roadblocks to your search? A top human-resources executive left his employer of 20 years to consult independently, but he didn’t do well, so he began job hunting. I’m a career-management consultant. We met and he became a client after he had been searching for 10 months. He was 50 years old with a stay-at-home spouse, two kids in college and a six-figure lifestyle. He lacked a college degree. And he had become desperate.

He complained that the odds were against him in the job market and that he had given up on finding his ideal position. He was willing to take less money than he previously earned and compromise his values and skills, but his search was dragging on longer than he believed it should. His lack of success must be due to his age, income requirements or lack of education, he told me.

“Employers aren’t hiring people in executive human-resource positions,” he noted, adding that “the competition is stronger, younger, quicker.”

As he talked, I felt my energy draining. “Call the game!” I exclaimed.

“What?” he replied.

“You’ve already set yourself up to fail,” I said. “This isn’t a job search — it’s a slaughter. And you’re the one being slaughtered.”

Like many candidates, he wasn’t prepared for the mental obstacles he put in the way of his success. He had great technical skills and could relate with anyone, but his thinking was holding him back.

Conducting a job search is like playing golf. Even if you have strong skills and a perfect course, if you aren’t prepared to overcome serious mental challenges, you’ll find it hard to play well.

Being mentally prepared separates the weekend player from the master pro. When Tiger Woods hits a ball into a sand trap, his mindset is to get out quickly. He knows he can do it. We never see him berating himself. No matter what obstacles he encounters, he moves through them. He has only one goal — to win — and he allows no room for negativity. The proof is in his results. Tiger is the youngest golfer to win so many tournaments.

Golf masters don’t engage in disempowering, negative self-talk. Neither do masterful job seekers. Yet I’ve seen few people drive a job search the way Tiger Woods golfs. Most job hunters start out strong and are likely at par midway in their search, but then an inevitable obstacle occurs that erodes their confidence and their ability to search.

Candidates tend to view search obstacles as an unexpected surprise or pure bad luck. Luck has nothing to do with it, and obstacles shouldn’t be surprising. Obstacles are everywhere, in whatever we do: golf, job hunting, life itself. Planning and preparing for obstacles is what will determine whether your search will be a success or a failure.

You have the power to get the results you want. Skill is important, but your mindset determines how to use your skills to overcome the barriers to your goal. The best skills are useless if your mind isn’t constantly focused on winning.

The following five steps are essential to facing obstacles that affect the outcome of your search:


    1. Be prepared. Take the offensive. Realize that if you think something is an obstacle, it is. Also know that at some point during your search, it will rear its ugly head.


    1. Make a list of your obstacles. Include every hurdle you expect to face while job hunting. Also note your concerns, fears and hesitations.


    1. Have a strategy. Under each obstacle, write down and then talk through how you’ll handle each one. For instance, how will you address not having a college degree in interviews or on your resume?


    1. Tackle obstacles head-on. Be frank with prospective employers. Speak with power. Don’t put yourself down by saying something like, “I never got a college degree because I had to earn money right away.” Instead, state your case more powerfully, perhaps as follows: “I don’t have a college degree. I chose early on to invest in my on-the-job-training versus formal training. As you can see by my accomplishments, it has more than paid off for my employers. In each of my jobs, I have increased revenue generation by 10% or more. I plan to bring that type of commitment and thinking to your company if you offer me a position.”

      Note the difference in these two statements. The first one defends, while the latter attracts attention positively.


  1. Focus on the positive. Obstacles are a part of life and job hunting. The obstacle itself isn’t what hinders success or kills the human spirit. It’s how the obstacle is managed. If you find yourself engaging in negative self-talk, think of Tiger Woods.

    A master pro on tour can’t afford negative thoughts. A pro golfer has only one thought — to win. If you prepare for obstacles mentally before you begin your job search, you’ll emerge a winner, too.

By Nanci K. Raphael

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