Do you struggle with job applications? Or does a family member?
Maybe you’re in a job you don’t love but are too scared to leave?
I sometimes help coaching clients navigate the job application process, because if something is stopping us from writing it it’s often way way more than the process of writing the application itself. Sometimes it’s understanding the recruitment process, sometimes it brings to light the uncomfortable feelings we have about our current job, sometimes it’s a deep issue about our worth and value, sometimes the very thought of leaving raises fears about change and more. Below I’ve listed 10 of the main reasons people struggle with job applications, in my experience, and what you can do to get past them.
If you’re experiencing any of these you are not alone.
Just identifying the REAL reason you are procrastinating on the application can help you be kinder to yourself, and maybe get the help you need to get past these barriers.
You don’t understand the paperwork.
If you have never applied for a government role or addressed ‘selection criteria’ in your application you would be forgiven for having no idea whatsoever how to do it. Did anybody teach you that stuff? They didn’t teach me. I had to bumble through application after application as a fresh graduate many years ago learning as I went. Now I love helping explain it to others so they don’t have to make the same mistakes I did. So: phone a friend! If you are applying for a job in a new sector or industry see if you can have a look at an application someone else has written (e.g. a friend, or friend of friend) – and even better if its for a wildly different role. You absolutely don’t want to copy what they’ve written but seeing how an application is structured can be very helpful if you’ve never seen one before.
You hate showing off.
Do you hate ‘singing your praises’? Think self promotion is icky and best left to the confident and wildly extroverted? Well, I totally get that and I know how hard it can be for shy, introverted or self effacing folk to sell their skills and attributes to employers. It is MUCH easier for someone else to see where you shine, and much easier (often) for them to find ways to help you communicate all the ways you are awesome. A job application is not the time to shy away from your accomplishments, downplay or not mention them.
So if this is the area you are stuck in, try asking a few trusted colleagues if they could let you know something they think you bring to the team or have achieved in the past year. If you don’t feel comfortable telling them you are applying for another job you can always fib and tell them it’s to prepare for your next performance review or because you’re thinking of further study and want to play to your strengths.
Or find a confident friend with the gift of the gab and ask them to read your application and check that you are not accidentally coming across as apologetic, being brief to the point of obscurity, or underselling yourself.
You kinda don’t want to do well at interview because you’re scared the referee check will let you down.
Perhaps you left your last job in icky circumstances and don’t want anyone calling them for a reference. You’re scared to invest energy in the application and possible interview because that reference check is hanging over you like a black cloud. Or maybe you’re worried they will ask why you are looking for a new role, and you will have to tell them you were retrenched/ made redundant/ let go.
Fair enough, this is a tricky one.
Maybe you can’t change the outcome of that call or the facts around that question. However what you can do is explore and express the emotions before you start, to difuse the emotional charge around the topic. Journal, cry, have a temper tantrum, talk to a close trusted friend or therapist: grieve and mourn the loss, the pain or the humiliation.
You can also practice answering the question so that it doesn’t feel so awkward in an interview. Or maybe you can challenge any catastrophic thinking about what will happen. See if you can think up and imagine a range of possible outcomes that are all plausible, as well as the worst case scenario. Imagine being able to cope with any of them.
Hopefully this will help you will feel lighter and cleaner ready to approach a new job.
You feel like your CV is out of control.
You have SOOOOOOO much experience you don’t know how to handle it all. It’s bursting from the seams like stuffing on a well loved chair. Typical scanner problem, but…
This doesn’t have to trigger an existential crisis about your place in the world and the value of your work. Truly! Instead you can consider it simply an organisational challenge.
By using subheadings, looking for underlying themes, and being willing to prune or shrink things that are not relevant to the job you can work wonders to shoehorn your experience into a format that is clearly relevant to the job. Remember that recruiters don’t have time to join the dots for you – it’s your job to spell out very clearly how each piece of experience is relevant to the job at hand. A job application is not an autobiography, and as much as it may pain you to leave off some interesting project from 20 years ago that is very tangentially relevant, chances are your application will be crisper and easier to digest if you give it a healthy pruning around the edges to neaten it up.
You have so little experience you don’t know how to handle the gaps.
Feel like tumbleweeds are rolling through your CV? If you’ve done your own projects / volunteered / helped organise things outside of work you might just not be seeing your job-relevant experience. In that case you need some help in explaining your experience.
If you actually don’t have the experience, go get some! Write something. Volunteer somewhere. Fundraise. Do something in the world that shows that a) you have skills, b) you know something about the field, c) you care about the issue/ sector etc. I bet in three months of just one day a month you could get some real world experience that will set you apart and show employers you are ready to work. Get going!
You can’t see yourself.
What are my strengths? What makes you different? What are your values and the skills you have that you take to any job? If you’re not a fan of digging around and introspection you may not have an answer to these. I know this because I have helped many people mine the gems of skills and accomplishments out of the past work they have done. They are often surprised and say ‘oh I guess so’ when I say ‘so this probably means you have X and Y skill?’.
This is where getting feedback from a trusted boss, mentor or friend can help.
Or maybe life circumstances have thrown you about and you don’t know these things anymore, or you’re feeling disheartened and can’t see any strengths anymore. That’s OK – this is a great chance for you to explore these questions. A good coach can also help you figure this out.
You’re not in love with this career anymore.
The thought of changing jobs makes you feel a sinking feeling in your stomach and you think ‘a change would be good but somehow it’s not enough’. So honour that feeling.
Is a job application what you really need to be filling out? Maybe it’s a transfer form to move cities within your firm. Maybe it’s a uni application so that you can finally start studying that thing you love, even if only part time. If bigger change is calling to you, you might avoid the smaller changes because you know deep down its not what you want.
Your current job is so yucky you’re scared the next one will be too.
You’ve lost hope. You think ‘all jobs/ managers / working hours are probably as bad as this one so why bother?’. This is serious stuff. You may have internalised a hopeless or self defeating narrative that says ‘oh well, everywhere will be just as bad as here, why bother moving’. The thing is, whether you are right or wrong it is incredibly demotivating to feel like you are in an unpleasant place and there is nothing better out there. You may want to work with a therapist to fully express and perhaps examine these kinds of inner messages and see where they might be coming from, and if you can connect with a more hopeful story. That’s not because there’s anything wrong with these feelings – you are of course entitled to feel what you feel. And fear, hopelessness, despair, anger and overwhelm can all come up when we face change. But if you are looking for motivation to get moving on an application this can be a very difficult place to do it from.
You may also need to give yourself permission to change jobs again – quickly – if the next one is not for you. This might challenge your perception of yourself as a ‘stayer’ or someone who ‘follows through’, ‘always does what she says’ or a similar closely held story about who you want to be in the world. Can you accept that sometimes it is OK to move jobs a few times in search of one you really like? In that case you don’t need to be 100% sure that the next one is great, because you know you have your own back and will air lift yourself out of there if needed.
You’re scared you wont get the conditions you want.
‘But they pay really well here for my sector’ I hear you say. ‘I need to pay my mortgage, if I leave I’ll never be able to afford paying the rent/ my expensive hobby/ my next trip away’. Absolutely – this might be true. But do you know for sure? It might be that your story is keeping you stuck and stopping you from even looking around for what is out there. Some research could be helpful here, to reality check these assumptions. It might be that there are roles in sectors you hadn’t thought of that do remunerate as well, and you have the skills to do.
And it might also be worth reconnecting with your values: is wage the only thing that matters to you? Can you live on less? Would you be spending less if you lived closer to home, were less stressed? Again working with someone to explore this feeling of hopelessness could be of benefit, as could checking in with a Financial Advisor to do some sums and figure out how much wiggle room you really have.
You actually don’t think you’re good enough.
This one can be hard to admit but a lot of people experience this. You think you’re probably actually crap at what you do and you think it’s a fluke that you’ve found the job you’re in and if you risk going someone else they might find out you’re a fraud. So you feel stuck there because the only other option risks exposure and humiliation.
Now, in my experience, the people self aware enough to reflect on their work and have doubts are often high performers. But even if there is a kernel of truth in this fear, you are not helpless. Sign up for a part time coding course, go do a few one day courses to freshen up your core communications skills, go do that graduate certificate in some work related topic you always dreamt of. Doing something about a perceived area of weakness feels much better than being passive and fearing ‘being found out’.
The great thing about this is it’s also a good way to benchmark what you already know. Studying a topic through formal education can sometimes reveal areas that you have already acquired many of these skills on the job – good for you! This can be especially helpful if feedback is in short supply in your job or you are the only one with your skill set or technical knowledge in your firm.
And again, checking in with someone impartial about whether or not these beliefs are backed up with evidence might reveal that in fact they are fears not facts, and that you absolutely have what it takes to get another job: exactly as you are.