Career Tips

The Recession Job Search: a crisis of confidence

by Ashleigh Heck

There is no denying that times are tough, particularly for the job searcher. Near double digit national unemployment, economic uncertainty, newly minted bachelors degree holders flooding the market, downsizing… ugh. I could go on, and so could you. But instead, I’ll tell you a story.

Anxious job searching Spartans, take heed. I sat where many of you sit at this time last year with a May 2010 graduation from my master’s program ominously looming. As 2010 dawned, I found myself in a deep well of anxiety fueled by the constant barrage of negative economic forecasting, spending cuts and downsizing in my prospective field (higher education) and fear about whether I’d be competitive for the types of jobs I wanted. I wrote and edited and trashed and re-wrote my resume countless times, sought advice from mentors across the field, and relentlessly cased the job boards at schools where I hoped to end up. And despite all my better judgment and the encouragement of fellow Spartans (many in the Career Services Network), I was not confident that the right job would work out for me and worried that I would have to settle for anything I could get.

In retrospect, I am almost embarrassed by this lack of confidence- in myself, the degree I was getting from MSU, my work experiences- and how I let news of the recession and economy at times debilitate me. In a recent New Yorker piece, James Surowieki writes, “Recessions are, among other things, crises of confidence, and one manifestation of lack of confidence is the conviction that this time we are not going to be able to climb our way out.” Though referring to the country’s ability to pull out of the economic tailspin, Surowieki perfectly describes what the problem was for me, as well as for many of the job seekers I now meet with daily as a career counselor. The recession crushes confidence, much to the detriment of many talented job seekers who are underestimating their potential for success.

Here’s the reality: finding a job, let alone the “right” job, has always been hard, recession or no recession. But what makes the people who get the job stand out from those who don’t is a combination of confidence, credentials, and pure, nose-to-the-grindstone resolve. The number one reason some of the students I counsel aren’t getting the jobs they want is NOT because they lack the experience, education, or skills; it is because they self-select out of the process altogether. That’s right, they don’t apply. Because they don’t think they’re good enough to be competitive, or they know someone who says the interview is hard, or they have heard 100,000 applications have already been submitted, or whatever else. To me, such thinking is the equivalent of receiving a rejection letter… from yourself. Ouch- so much worse than from an employer you’ve never met!

So be confident, Spartans, and have resolve. Apply to lots of different jobs, even ones that are on the border of your qualifications (let the employer decide!).  Go after the jobs you really want and be relentless in your pursuit of them. Use the myriad resources available to you through the Alumni Career Network and Alumni Career Services. Get interviewed, network, get rejected, learn from every experience. And don’t give up. Because no matter how many “no’s” you hear, it’s only that one “yes” that matters.

Background info: Ashleigh is a 2010 graduate of the Student Affairs Administration master’s program in the MSU College of Education and former graduate assistant in the  Career Services Network. She is the Assistant Director of the Cohen Career Center at the College of William and Mary. Follow her on Twitter, @AshHeck.

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