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The Psychology of Job Search

Tim Tyrell-Smith

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I found myself officially out of work and “in between" for the first time in 17 years. Five companies and multiple divisions of each but never on the street corner. Your first experience is part fear and part fantasy - the degree to which you sway is based, I think, on what you bring to the situation and what's happening in the job market at the time you become available.

So, I'm suggesting that at least some of the mental game can be controlled through the way you approach your search process.

You will also be influenced by the way you were released back into the job market, right? Being fired vs.being laid off are two very different jumping off points. Similarly, leaving on your own because you hate your job is very different from leaving on your own to simply find a new industry. If you can be conscious of your individual situation, you can remain aware of the baggage you bring into your search process and into each interaction you will have along the way.

For example, if you were laid off or fired you are more likely to carry some resentment with you into your first interview or recruiter discussion. You are more likely to bring up negatives when explaining how you find yourself unemployed. If you left on your own accord, however, you may carry a more laissez-faire approach to your process, especially early on. In this scenario, perhaps your sense of urgency to find a job is reduced and it is obvious and potentially damaging to your success.

How about if you have been out of work for a number of months and have no really good prospects? Would you start acting unprofessionally out of desperation?

To be successful in the psychology of job search you need to have two key things:

1. A solid and proactive job search strategy

2. A clear and confident perspective on your situation

So, if you use only these two “success factors" - clearly there are many more - how well prepared are you to find a job?

Here are a few scenarios:

Without a Strategy

Your “hard work" and correct mental framework will likely, over time, shift to the negative. As you move forward without a strategy (hoping to find something), your lack of structure will result in fewer interviews and more wasted effort. Which, in turn, will have you less confident and questioning your ability to find a job.

Without a Clear Perspective

Even if you have a strong job search strategy, any baggage you bring to your interviews, networking events or recruiter conversations can sabotage all of your hard work and preparation. Worse still, a bad discussion can cause repercussions in your larger network. Yes, people talk.

No Strategy and No Clear Perspective

This is a formula for a minimum 12 month search, often resulting in a poor choice (i. e. jumping at a bad offer) that can dump you right back in the market.

So, how do you clear your head? If you were fired or laid off, don't you have a right to be angry and bitter? Perhaps you do, but before you start your active search you need to find a way to make peace with it. If you need to get it off your chest, go buy a punching bag. If you need healing (a common need after a harsh departure), there are a number of ways to find it including some time away or a few sessions with a well regarded career coach.

Tim Tyrell-Smith is a veteran consumer packaged goods marketing executive with a passion for ideas and strategy. He writes the blog Spin Strategy™ - Tools for Intelligent Job Search, a new efficiency-based job search strategy and tool set that is based on the concept of “plate-spinning". It helps place the right efforts against the right resources to maximize the return in job search. He created Spin Strategy in 2007 after coming out of his own job search experience with a desire to share his new found methodology with anyone needing support in finding that next great role.

You can view Tim's blog at


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