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Mastering mental readiness for an optimal job search

Reading Time: 9 minutes

While some people approach their next job search with ease, the vast majority of working professionals find the idea of looking for their next career move an intimidating, and rather daunting prospect. This can be any one of us; from those just embarking on their professional journey, to those more established in their careers, and even us executive recruitment folk looking for our own next role.

Having spent over a decade working with qualified professionals in their search for the next opportunity, one thing that has always fascinated me is the mindset of career-focused individuals when it comes to finding the next role.

The saying “you wait ages for a bus and then two come along at once (or more!)” is one that has often been used and will continue to be used for years to come. In this instance, the commonly used expression relates to the scenario where an individual, after a prolonged job search filled with challenges, suddenly receives multiple job offers all at the same time. Is it a coincidence? Perfect timing? Or does it signal a shift in the candidate’s mindset once they receive their first form of interest from a prospective employer?

In this article, I delve deeper into this perspective to provide valuable and insightful content for working professionals, to prevent or reduce the wait for the ‘next bus’.

I’ve had the privilege of collaborating with Tara Jones, a distinguished psychology expert, with a PHD in Performance Psychology, and Director of Top Performance Consulting, to explore this mindset further.

Here, we have outlined some of the key stages in the job search journey; the hurdles people encounter, and how we can overcome these challenges.


Day one… The first day of your job search

Day one is always a daunting prospect, whether it is the first day you have decided it’s time to move on from your current role, or it’s your first day at home or “in the garden”.

This is the point, in most instances, where you are in one of the healthiest mindsets in your job search journey. At this stage, the opportunities are varied (and in theory endless), you’re in no rush to move onto the next opportunity right away, and the extracurricular activities you have missed out on whilst working hard in the office have piled up, so now it’s time to enjoy them.

The idea of meeting new people in the executive search space, reaching out to your personal network, or looking for new networking opportunities is one that feels positive, developmental, and in many regards exciting.

The view from our Performance Psychology expert… Tara’s thoughts:

At this point you have robust self-belief, which is based on both your self-esteem; this is your value and worthiness as an individual (and doesn’t vary much over time) and your confidence (which is higher or lower depending on the situation).  Right now, you have confidence in your skillset to deliver in the job you are searching for, and it is clear where you can best support a business with that skillset. At this stage you are excited about the potential opportunities and are motivated by a real desire to succeed.


One month later…

At this point, the excitement of being at home and fulfilling all those things you have missed out on has worn off. The change from a very fast-paced role to where you are now feels quite the cultural shock.

Most people might feel like they have now exhausted all the potential networking they are required to do, and the idea of another networking event or cup of coffee with a search firm feels less attractive than it did 30 days ago.

None of the roles that you were discussing or interviewing for have materialised, and an element of self-doubt starts to kick in.

Tara’s thoughts:

Some candidates start to get concerned that their search is failing and may begin to panic. This can manifest itself in various ways, two of which are:

1. Lower self-confidence driven by a ‘fear of failure’

When doubts start to kick in and confidence in successfully achieving your desired role ebbs away, you may start to think of other strategies to win your next opportunity.

This might lead you to consider applying for positions that are slightly below your original expectations, such as junior roles, exploring roles outside of your core industry skillset, perhaps looking at roles that would fall below your initial financial expectations, or even considering roles slightly further away from your desired commuting distance.

Clutching at straws in the hope of securing a role as soon as possible can cause further delays in a search and can often be seen as a weakness by potential employers.

When your confidence is dropping, you may see a shift from seeking the perfect opportunity, driven by the ‘desire to succeed’, to teetering on the edge of desperation for work, fuelled by the ‘fear of failing’. Frequently, individuals shed the distinctive and appealing image they initially projected for themselves during the early phases of their job search.

2. Learned helplessness

You might experience a sense of ‘learned helplessness,’ where you come to believe that anything you do at this point will have any meaningful impact on your chances of securing your next interview. This feeling may stem from attributing past failures to factors like the interviewer having a different candidate in mind for the role, or the interviewers not fully grasping your unique skills and abilities. Consequently, you stop concentrating on the aspects, no matter how minor, that are in your control.


So, what can you do?

1. Maintain a robust self-belief

At this stage, it is crucial to prevent yourself from encountering the aforementioned challenges. Sustaining self-belief involves thoughtful reflection on past experiences by meticulously dissecting your accomplishments to understand the contributing factors, much like how top athletes and teams analyse their performance in sports.

Reflecting on and learning from your failures can help you develop a strategy for succeeding in your next endeavour. Consistently reviewing your past achievements, including those beyond your professional life, contributes to the development of a resilient self-belief that empowers you to rebound from failures and exhibit a well-balanced level of confidence.

2. Control the controllables

Additionally, you should develop a clear plan of all of the things you can control to secure your next interview. The natural starting point is being clear on your unique strengths, skills, abilities and everything that you bring to an organisation. It is also important that you are clear about your values and what is important to you, so you can focus on roles in companies that are aligned with your own values. This helps you to be clear about what specific role and the type of company you are looking for.  Once identified, it is then important to have a cover letter and CV which are clear, concise and tailored specifically to that role and company.

All of these things can help ensure that you maintain the ‘desire for success’ mindset, rather than slipping into the negative ‘fear of failure’ mindset.

A recent example from Mike:

Earlier this year, I had an individual I had been working with for some time. I was passionate about securing them a new role as a result of the relationship we had built up over time.

Three months into the search process the individual started to develop signs of lower confidence and learned helplessness. This was reflected by receiving their application for roles as low as two grades below their previous roles and in some instances more than 25% less than their previous salary package. Despite feedback on this approach, the priority seemed to be a determination to be in work rather than building on a very successful career to date.

The right role eventually came through to our network. Upon calling the individual to discuss this role they were clearly very suitable, and they quickly progressed through several stages of interview with great feedback from the potential employer. We received the first offer for this candidate in the search process.

At this point the individual informed me that this wasn’t the only interested party and they had a tough decision to make in terms of which offer to accept from multiple employers.

A clear change happened in this 2-3 week period – the initial call with a suitable role and invitation to interview clearly changed the mindset of this individual resulting in a very successful completion of their job search.


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Prepare for your interview like a champion

An interview should be viewed as an exciting opportunity, rather than something to be feared, for you to showcase your unique talents. It is natural for people to feel some self-doubt and nerves. We’ve all heard from top performers such as elite athletes, concert pianists, accomplished stage actors, and highly skilled surgeons, who have shared their experiences of pre-performance jitters and self-doubt. What sets individuals apart is how they handle these feelings. Embrace your nerves, acknowledge their natural presence, and shift your focus to aspects within your control, such as projecting calmness, confidence, and assurance during the interview, as well as formulating responses to questions typically asked at interviews.

A useful strategy is to recall a past interview when you absolutely nailed it and felt at your best. Reflect on how you presented yourself, the impressions you left, and the types of things you were saying. This is how you want to be at this upcoming interview!

Often candidates only focus on the content of their responses and neglect the importance of preparing for how they want to be and feel. To ensure you prepare like champion, draw on those past experiences and remind yourself about how you want to appear to the interviewer/s. Strive for qualities like composure, confidence, and openness. Also, visualise how you want to feel – calm, comfortable, self-assured, and confident.

Mentally rehearsing for the interview is also a great strategy to help you prepare to be at your best. At its simplest this involves imagining what the interview will be like, and picture yourself performing at your best. Mental rehearsals reinforce neural pathways and connections in the same way as actually doing the performance. So, mentally rehearse as much as possible in the days leading up to the interview so when you arrive at the interview you will feel more confident and as if you done it successfully several times already.


The interview stage – you’re in the hot seat

As a child in my early years at school I received some advice I have always lived by and still do to this day.

“Make friends before you chose them”.

In order to receive an offer for a new role, your first priority needs to be likability; both professionally and personally.

Candidates who attract the highest number of offers for opportunities are usually those who enter the interview process with the goal of providing the interviewer/s with an excellent experience before making their own determination about the suitability of the opportunity.

It’s important at this stage to equally recognise the mindset change, especially if you have experienced a prolonged period without securing an interview.  At this stage you are feeling in demand and confident in your ability given the recent interest.

This is normally the stage where, subject to the right mindset, the opportunities all start to fall into the palm of your hands.

Tara’s view:

By implementing all of the strategies we have discussed, you will approach the interview with the best mindset, feeling confident, creating the right impression and so giving yourself the best chance of success.

Your renewed confidence will result in you demonstrating a belief that you really are the best person for the role in question.


Mastering the post-interview stage – navigating the next steps

If all interviews led to a job offer, this would be an article I wouldn’t be so passionate about writing, however unfortunately at times interviews aren’t successful for a variety of reasons.

Once again, it is important to maintain the right psychological mindset at this stage to ensure you maintain your core self-belief and confidence previously demonstrated, whilst making the transition to the next opportunity.  Having a growth mindset is really important at this stage and involves gathering as much feedback as possible to ensure you learn how to be better in interviews.


The power of feedback

Feedback in the recruitment world can often be a very challenging thing to present. I am a strong believer in providing feedback, if and where possible, to anyone involved in an interview process through myself or colleagues.

Feedback is equally a highly important factor in understanding how you can develop your skillset in a field you are not necessarily an expert in. This also offers candidates a clearer understanding of how they’re perceived by others. This promotes self-awareness and helps them identify areas where they may need to work on for example, their communication, leadership, or interpersonal skills.


When two buses come along at once (or more!)

Great news, you have secured an offer, or perhaps more than one offer. If this is the case, you have clearly demonstrated yourself as the best candidate for the role.

Continuing the theme of self-belief, it’s very important to maintain an understanding of your capabilities. The biggest and best paid job might not always be the best job for you. It’s important for you to know yourself and your core skills to fundamentally be able to choose a role that fits your skillset best, and where you can make a real difference.

If you just have one offer on the table, and it’s not right for you, it doesn’t mean you have to take it – draw on your robust self-belief and be confident that other opportunities will arise. The wrong opportunity could lead to you being available again very soon, without the confidence you initially had if something goes wrong.


Embracing your job search to secure your future

It wouldn’t be wrong to compare the job-hunting process to everyday relationships. Enabling individuals to warm to you, and to appreciate your core values and skills are all key elements to a successful everyday relationship.

Demonstrating a robust self-belief, knowing yourself and understanding your strengths and weaknesses, optimising your performance, managing what you can control, and preparing diligently, will enable you to be at your best both in your application and interview phases. This will lead you to pursue suitable positions in the right companies and create the right impression of who you are and what you could bring to the role and ultimately, give yourself the best chance of success.

As we bring this exploration of the job search journey to a close, it’s clear that the process is more than just a series of applications and interviews, and there’s so much psychology to consider. It’s a transformative experience that tests your patience, resilience, and adaptability. A positive and growth-oriented mindset can transform your job hunt from a daunting endeavour, into a journey of self-discovery. Embrace the power of self-belief and remember that setbacks are a natural part of any job search and can also positively lead the path to the best opportunity for you.


If you’re looking for your next role, please get in touch with Mike Trollope for a confidential conversation.