The Job Seeker’s Journey: What I have Learned

The other day I had the opportunity to join a call of The Zurich Job Alliance. I already knew some members from 1-on-1 coaching sessions, but this call was the first time I have met them as a group.

The call’s topic was job seeking as a journey. The job search as a journey is a metaphor of course, and metaphors help us to understand and analyze phenomena, events, and experiences. Our exchange was very respectful, open, and inspiring, and I was able to take away many thoughts and insights.

Sharing is also helpful for understanding, and I collect in this post my conclusions from our call. I have structured them into five propositions and three mantras. The propositions capture the journey’s characteristics, challenges, and opportunities which we identified. The mantras are brief inputs that hopefully help to navigate the journey more easily. My gratitude belongs to the other participants of the call; at one point during any discussion, it becomes impossible to say which thought belongs to whom.

I mean this text as food for thought, not as a statement of facts or absolute truth. I thus cannot tell what the journey is or how it feels to you; I can only offer my perspective on it. Maybe the propositions and mantras resonate with you. You might feel your own experiences confirmed. But maybe the depiction misses an important aspect, or maybe has it gotten all wrong. In any case, I would love to hear your thoughts about this matter and learn from you; you can write me here.

Proposition 1: The Journey Gets Under Your Skin
Many job seekers experience their journey as challenging, demanding, and even stressful. I believe this is due to three factors; to some degree these factors overlap and reinforce each other.
Lack of income: Being without a job means a lack of income. Yes, some job seekers are supported by their spouses or families, benefit from unemployment insurance, or have other forms to generate revenue. But still, having no income means to worry about paying bills, cutting down on expenditures, and losing some independence. For someone who is used to stand on his or her own feet, having no income can thus feel scary and unnerving.
Application and rejection: When applying you have to submit your CV, a motivation letter, and other documents, hoping that you’re invited to an interview and eventually get the job. This process feels like a roller coaster. You’re curious and excited about an advertised job, but worry whether your skills and expertise are judged as sufficient. You’re happy to go the interview, but then you feel stressed because you need to prepare for it. And lastly, every rejection is just another hit to your confidence. It’s never easy to hear they’ve chosen someone else, but after trying so many times you kinda just lose hope.
Loss of identity: For many people having a job is part of their identity. It’s not only about the money, it’s about having a fulfilling life, about being somebody. Who are you, after all, if you’re not an accountant/manager/teacher/expert? Having a job is of high priority for many, and when having none, people might temporarily forget that their identity is also determined by other things. Of course our job tells us something about who we are, but we are also determined by and through our belief systems, our families and friends, our interests and goals, our kindness and compassion.

Proposition 2: Your Previous Achievements Still Count
Many people have said that they feel overwhelmed and helpless as job seekers. Maybe they have been working for years in good positions and are proud of what they have accomplished in the past. But as job seekers they now suddenly start to question their skills, experience, and even their worthiness.
I think it takes some time for us to get used to new and challenging situations. When we become unemployed and look for a new position, we enter a “new game” with different and obscure rules, threats, and opportunities. In a way, we’re back to square one.
However, we bring all of our competences, all of our achievements, all of our commitment and drive to this new game. Even in this new situation we can rely on everything we’ve learned so far, on everything that distinguishes us, on every skill, ability, and strength. Yes, we face a new and maybe frightening challenge. But we are still us. And every single one of our previous achievements still counts. Every competence we have acquired can be used. Every lesson we have received is meaningful.

Proposition 3: The Journey Will Change You
Every profound and meaningful journey has a transformative effect. That is to say, the person who starts such a journey is not the same person who will end it. The problem with this transformation is that we cannot anticipate it in advance. We simply cannot tell how it will change us. It is only when the journey is over that we can look back and compare. How have we changed? Is it for the better or the worse? What have we learned? What have we given up, what have we gained?
The changes can be subtle. Maybe all you need is learning how to write a more convincing CV or getting your language skills certified. However, the changes you experience can be more comprehensive as well. I have met more than one person on the journey who was thinking hard about their life. Do they really want to get back into the same career again? Is this not an opportunity to do something else? To start over maybe, or have some time off for something else?
Transformation is inevitable. The question is just how we engage it.

Proposition 4: It Is A Very Personal Journey
The job seeker’s journey effects everybody differently. Some take it easy, others are freaked out. Some see it as a threat, others as an opportunity to give their lives new meaning and direction.
Don’t compare yourself to others on this journey. What works for them might not work for you, and likewise, what comes natural to you might be impossible for them. And just because others find new positions quickly doesn’t mean that you’re a hopeless case. Indeed, some cope with the journey’s challenges easily, others find them quite demanding.
This is your very own journey. Make your own choices and walk confidently at your own pace, one step at a time.

Proposition 5: It Is Safer To Journey Together
An important lesson I had to learn in my own life is that most journeys are safer when taken with companions. Having seen the amazing community at the Job Alliance confirms that this is also true for the journey as a job seeker. And it’s not only about giving or receiving practical advice. It is also about mutual support and emotional encouragement.
Reach out. Seek the support that you need; give your own support to others who need it. You might be surprised by the kindness of friends and strangers alike. Indeed, being part of a nourishing environment is the most important factor for growth, mental strength, and resilience.
A word of warning though. I know there are some dubious offers out there, and there is always someone who’s ready to get some quick bucks from desperate people. Use your common sense to see whether you’re dealing with a genuine community, or a scam.

I don’t know whether these five propositions cover all aspects of a job seeker’s journey, but they paint a certain picture. They journey can be challenging, frightening, frustrating. But it can also be an opportunity, a chance to grow. Based on my understanding of this journey, I would like to offer three suggestions to you for how to make it less demanding. These suggestions are supposed to be helpful, brief, and easy to remember; I thus call them mantras. Try them out if you will, hopefully they are of use.

Mantra 1: Be Mindful
We might feel many unwanted emotions during the journey, including rejection, doubts and fears, depletion, and disorientation. During these difficult times it is pertinent that you take extra care of yourself. Be mindful about your thoughts, emotions, desires, and needs. Seek out help if you feel overwhelmed. Be mindful also about your social environment. In caring relations we can not only find strength, but also acceptance, compassion, and a solid ground to remain steady. Lastly, be mindful about your achievements and the small and big obstacles you overcome on a daily basis.

Mantra 2: Be Strong
It seems easy to forget how strong we are if we see ourselves failing, if others judge our competences to be insufficient. More than ever it falls thus to ourselves to remind us of our achievements and potentials. Find the greatest and smallest successes in your life and recall them in times of need. Find ways to prove your strengths to yourself if you must, but own them regardless. Find your value in life and you will never falter.

Mantra 3: Be Patient
Although we hope this journey to be brief, no one knows how long it will last. Days maybe, or weeks, months, years. For some it might even last forever. The goal seems clear but there are so many unknowns. Be patient and focus on those little steps that you can take today. Rest assured that they will accumulate until you’ll reach the journey’s end. What you need is commitment, and trust in yourself. Even if you cannot see it right now, there will be a way.

I have seen how difficult the journey as a job seeker can be given that I myself have experienced it before (who hasn’t, after all?). I have also seen the doubts and worries in some of the people I’ve talked to.

Discussing with Job Alliance’s members has taught me one main lesson though: Despite all the journey’s challenges, we have every reason to remain hopeful.

To you I only wish the best, no matter which journey you are on. And if you want, I am here to talk.