How the Job Search Taught Me to Be Kind to MyselfFeatured

How is the job search going? This question can bring up quite a lot of anxiety for job seekers no matter who asks it. It’s also a question that makes job seekers look at what they are doing in the job search and immediately nitpick the choices they made.

We have specific ideas of what our careers should be like and despite what we might say or think, deep down we want to fit in with others in our networks. So, we will go one step further or add one little task to our daily workload to get there. While this is a great attitude to have, it also makes us our own worst critics and we will be very harsh on ourselves, telling ourselves we aren’t doing enough to get where we need to go.

If this describes you, you aren’t alone.

I am guilty of all of the above. I spent years being hard on myself because of the jobs I did and didn’t have. It finally took covid to realize I was being way too hard on myself and I needed to give myself a break. Finding a job is a job in itself these days so it is important we always remember to be kind to ourselves during each part of the job search process.

In this post, I’ll share my story of how I learned this lesson as well as some strategies I regularly use to be nice to myself.

I couldn’t wait to start the job search.

After spending 6 years in both college and graduate school, I was done with school and ready to start working as an intervention specialist. I couldn’t wait to have my own classroom and start applying everything I learned in my classes in my own classroom. The job search was the last big item I needed to cross out on my mental checklist for my future and I was looking forward to seeing what school I would end up working at.

Finding a job always felt like a linear process similar to what I experienced finding jobs I had over the summer and work-study jobs. I apply for the job. I go to the interview. I wait to hear if I get hired or not. That’s how my family described their experiences finding their first job and that’s how the career counseling services at college explained the process. After graduation, I figured if I put in a lot of time I’d be able to find a teaching job close to the area I lived in for the school year.

It wasn’t long before I realized finding a job wasn’t as straightforward of a process as I thought it was going to be.

The period schools have for hiring teachers was much shorter than I thought it was going to be and the requirements for teachers were already starting to change with schools wanting more endorsements as well as a teaching license. It was hard getting interviews at the beginning, but the interviews I did have always had me leaving them very confident I wasn’t going to get the job.

In one interview, the interviewer actually left 5 minutes into the interview to talk to other teachers in the office before they returned to finish the interview. When they called me a few days later to let me know they were moving on with other candidates, I was not surprised and quite relieved. That relief didn’t last long.

As I continued to job search, social media kept teasing me and reminding me I needed to keep up with friends and family since most of them had jobs and some were moving on to their second or third jobs at this time. Hearing them get new jobs and interviews started to make me feel like I was doing something wrong or missing something. They offered me advice and tips to help, but sometimes their advice conflicted with each other or with what the career counseling office at my graduate school was recommending. Some of the advice I was given was:

  • Call the hiring manager every single day to ask when an interview is scheduled. Don’t talk to anyone else until you talk to the person that hires. It will show you are persistent.
  • Apply for jobs at the location. Fill out the application the same day and send it back.
  • Go back to school and get another endorsement or degree. More education looks good on a resume and makes you much more hireable to employees.
  • Substitute teach for a year then apply for jobs again. This way districts get to know you and will hire you.

I followed as much of their advice as I could but still found myself struggling to get a job. I eventually did find a job at Sylvan Learning Center in 2012. I was thrilled to have found a job at last and it was something that could help build my teaching experience on a resume. However, my family didn’t see it that way and I started to get more criticisms about the salary and the hours. I started to feel like I did the wrong thing so I kept looking for teaching roles when I wasn’t working at the tutoring center to see what I could find.

The Sylvan Learning Center I worked at closed in 2012. At the time the center was closing, I was already starting to get disillusioned with teaching and began to realize the passion I once had for teaching was gone. When 2015 started, I decided to leave education and look for something different. I started to apply for all the jobs that matched the skills I did have. However, I only got rejection e-mails or no response at all. I felt completely lost. I had no idea what I was looking for and what job would be the best fit for me. It felt like I was missing a piece and nothing would change until I figured out what it was.

It was time for a change.

I decided to stop everything I was doing and re-evaluate where I was at this point in my life. One night I was searching career books on Amazon and discovered What Color is Your Parachute by Richard Bolles. What Color is Your Parachute is a career book that covers everything job seekers need to know about landing a job from cover letters, interviews, resumes, and more. The guide is updated every year with the most current information to help job seekers accomplish their job goals.

I ordered the book and dived right into reading it the day it arrived. I wanted to get the most out of the book as possible so I made sure to do every exercise in the book including the flower diagram. The flower diagram is a graphic organizer designed to help job seekers figure out what kind of career they want. Each petal is an exercise job seekers complete to create the overall vision of what they want their career to be. The flower diagram was the first time I was able to cut out the voices of the career services office, family, and friends in my head. It gave me the opportunity to think about what I wanted for myself and see on paper what I like, didn’t like, and wanted for a job.

After I completed the flower diagram, I took what I learned from What Color is Your Parachute and started applying it to my job search. I used Bolles’s suggestions to improve my resume and LinkedIn profile and started a blog. As I was looking at job postings, I discovered a job posting for Skillcrush. I was curious about Skillcrush and subscribed to their newsletter. Skillcrush sent daily exercises in the first few e-mails and one of those exercises was writing a line of code. My line of code was very simple, but the feeling that line of code gave me made me realize I found the missing piece I’d been looking for.

Soon I was learning how to code and starting my very own coding journey. I immersed myself in tech as much as I could to learn everything I could from languages to finding a developer job. The job search advice other developers, podcasts, and blogs were recommending for new developers transformed the way I saw the job search as well as what I could do to better stand out as a candidate. I got more insight from hiring managers about what they look for when they are hiring candidates, the importance of keywords on a resume, and how to market myself as a candidate.

This information empowered me and was making me feel much more confident as I started looking for a developer job. I started to do the following things:

  • Stop comparing myself to others and instead be proud of other developers when they got their first developer jobs because they were proof that the path was possible.
  • Stop focusing on what I didn’t have and instead concentrate on the things I did accomplish. Instead of comparing myself to others, I compare myself to my past self to see how much progress I’ve made and how I’ve grown since then.
  • Cut down the noise and concentrate on advice from a select amount of people. I particularly put more attention on advice I was getting from other hiring managers who specifically hire developers or have hired developers in the past.

As I continued to job search, I felt all the work I was doing would get me closer and closer to a developer job. So I made sure to code every day in some way. This was either doing a tutorial, editing an existing project, or building a new one. When a developer suggested new developers push code to Github every day, I made this a daily habit to show hiring managers I’m active on Github. I tried out resources others recommended and worked on creating new habits to make me the best developer I could possibly be.

2020 changed everything.

In March 2020, countries were starting to go into lockdowns as the covid pandemic started. The job search dramatically changed overnight with many companies switching everything to remote as quickly as possible. At first I wanted to facepalm myself for looking for jobs at this time. Just as I was getting used to looking for a job one way, covid came and turned everything upside down. So I wasn’t sure what to expect now since finding a job was going to change.

Eventually, that unhappiness changed to curiosity. I began to wonder how job searching would be impacted by the pandemic, but I was also very worried. Covid was impacting a lot of businesses and that might mean they wouldn’t be hiring as many developers. So I decided to treat this time as a learning experience to learn more about how I am as a job candidate and get more practice interviewing. I also wanted to use this as a way to see what job searching in tech was going to be like as everything switched to Zoom.

I originally believed if I ever got covid I’d just take my computer with me in isolation and continue coding so I could keep working towards my goal of getting a developer job. When I got covid at the end of December 2020, the last thing I wanted to do is sit on my computer writing code. I was in isolation from New Year’s eve to the middle of January. As I was lying in bed isolated in my room, I started to think about everything that has happened to me over the past few years. I realized I wasn’t taking care of myself and putting too much on my plate. Covid was my wake up call trying to tell me to stop. If I didn’t, I could burn out completely and do serious damage to my own health.

Once I recovered from covid, I decided I needed to be kinder to myself and give myself a bit of a break. So I started introducing new habits so I could be nicer to myself. Some of the strategies I implemented are:

  • Do more self-reflection and learn about myself. I started looking at my own behaviors and actions to see if there were signs I missed. These were any signs or symptoms that I was on the verge of burn out. So I set aside some time to think back of everything that happened in the past few years and what I was feeling at these points. I jotted all my notes in a journal then reread everything I wrote when I was done. I discovered I was getting more stressed out. I was getting more headaches and not sleeping very well. Identifying those signs has made me better at spotting these signs when they happen now so I can avoid burning out.
  • Create a work-life balance. I was used to just sitting on my computer for hours working on tutorials, building projects, or just searching for jobs. I learned to create a shut-off time so I could turn off my computer and do something else besides looking at a computer screen.
  • Learn to set boundaries. This started with simply learning to say no to different opportunities so I wasn’t taking on too much.
  • Use positive affirmations. I am my own worst critic so my mind will say a lot of negative things in my head. Using positive affirmations has changed the way I talk to myself and cut down the negativity I was giving myself.

Finding a job isn’t easy. Job seekers have to wade through lots of rejections just to get one yes. This can take a toll and makes people blame themselves. So, it always helps to be a little extra kinder to yourself than usual.

My job search path has never been a smooth one. Finding a job as a teacher helped me see that finding a job isn’t always going to be the same as people say it is and there are tons of opinions I’ll always have to navigate through. When I made the switch to tech, I started to identify the actions that were negatively impacting me and implemented the new strategies I learned from What Color is Your Parachute and other coding resources. Finally, covid reminded me that it is important to take care of myself and gave me permission to take breaks when I need them.

I hope you take a few minutes after the end of this post to think about what you are doing now. What are you doing? How do you talk to yourself? This will help you figure out how kind you are to yourself. Next, pick one thing you are going to do to help you be kinder to yourself. Share your strategy in the comments.