Two Inescapable Rules to Alleviate Job Search Fears


By Stephanie Clark.

Fear keeps job seekers stuck in a sort of shallow-breath, anxiety-ridden, deer-in-the-headlights stance throughout the job search. Writing the résumé has them biting their fingernails. Emailing the résumé has them hoping that it will travel safely through cyberspace. Answering a call to book an interview can make them bumble their way through the simple selection of a suitable day and time!

The trepidation goes on – I don’t even want to get into pre-interview, interview, and post-interview angst. It’s crazy making!

The reasons for all this anxiety may be simple: mixed messages on the internet, conflicting advice from well-meaning (but equally mixed up) friends and family, and outrageously misleading articles from so-called career experts.

I believe that the rules that apply to a job search are few. And amazingly easy to stick to.

They are truth and authenticity.

Those are the only rules that I abide by when composing a client’s résumé and other career documents. Those are the main strategies that I recommend when coaching clients on interviewing effectively and the only mandates in networking, delivering telephone speeches, creating job-search business cards, and so on.

All the rest of the so-called “rules”? One by one, each may be justified– or justifiably set aside – depending on circumstances and on the client’s own authentic style, methodology, and comfort level.

Here are a few premises that will dispel most rules you might hear clients worrying about.

  1. It’s all subjective. Much of what you read about career strategies is rather subjective, that is it is not based on fact, only on preference. Thus, the argument for/against the one-page, two-page, three-page résumé is not a rule, simply a personal preference. For this reason, using the word “love” or “namaste” in a cover letter is not strictly forbidden. It all depends, because it’s subjective.
  2. Recruiters are not all the same. Some are young and starting out. (We were all there; remember the blushes, the wanting to sink into the floor moments? Don’t think recruiters don’t have these). Obsessing about what the recruiter wants to hear, expects from you, etc., is not worth worrying about.
    However, hopefully the hiring manager is also present. He or she will recognize a person with talent and value. Counsel your clients to leave their constant companion, fear, at the door, along with the desire for perfection, in exchange for making a connection, striking up a conversation, and demonstrating value. This strategy will handily bypass the junior – or ineffective – recruiter issue.
  3. Technology is imperfect. Relying on applicant tracking software to identify top talent, as the article in the link above suggests, is foolish. That’s because companies do not tell applicants what the ATS requires to properly assess their skill, knowledge, talent, experience. This creates an unfair and unrealistic recruitment process. Be sure to stay up-to-date in your knowledge of ATS requirements, but don’t worry about scoring 100%. It’s virtually impossible without serious insider knowledge, to which few are privy. I suggest doing our very best and then letting go of the outcome. It’s not controllable; let it go.
  4. “Must-dos” flourish with no accountability. The beleaguered job seeker, already struggling to customize each and every application, spending countless and thankless hours on the computer answering job application questions and following processes (only to occasionally be booted out of the application process for taking too long!), is also tasked with trying to connect with the hiring manager, follow up on the application with HR staff, and network to get an “in” with lots of companies. Articles abound with six easy steps, seven essential steps, eight suggested steps, nine non-negotiable steps – oh my! The content is generally fine but these articles only gloss the surface.

I don’t deny that a strategic approach yields faster results. My argument is with the authoritative voice with which so many articles command attention and bamboozle today’s job seekers.

It’s my premise that variations and variables, possibilities and potentials, “ifs” and maybes are more prevalent than anyone accounts for.

And the real reason that rules cannot be reliably defended? The human factor. Each step of the job search process is hugely subjective. Some humans answer the phone; others let it go to voicemail. Some managers take pride in responding to each email; many let emails pile up until they can justify deleting the long-unanswered ones. Some prefer a one-page resume; others say take as many pages as you like. Some admire follow-up; others find it annoying. And so it goes.

To relieve the pressure valve that can rev the job seeker up to exhaustion, I suggest the simple rules – truth and authenticity in communications and actions. If the job seeker loves to schmooze and network, leverage that strength; if the job seeker loves to play with words, put effort into the written communications; if the job seeker has his or her heart set on one employer, work that angle with fierce commitment and tenacity.

As for the rest? Let it go.

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Thank you for this refreshing account on the endless variables when it comes to resume writing. It’s principles that we should be looking to apply strategically on behalf of our clients, not rules.

You’re so welcome, Paulette. I find that toning down the rhetoric and alleviating angst really only requires common sense. Curiously, the most sensible types can lose perspective when it comes to the job search!

Principles vs rules, yes!

Hi Stephanie,

Enjoyed the article, especially the emphasis on working with the client using their strengths. I also like that you reinforced the need for authenticity when looking for work. And finally, the title of the article helped the reader to realize that each person’s job search is going to be different.

Jude Gaal

Thank you, Jude. Leveraging strengths is far more productive than trying hard to get better at a skill in which one might only ever achieve mediocrity! The StrengthsFinder series of books are great at explaining this!

I’m grateful for your comment. 🙂

Great article…loved the fresh and positive approach!!

Thank you Patty! I truly appreciate your sharing!

Well said, Stephanie!
Having worked with entry-level, early career job seekers over the years, it is astounding to hear the fallacies that they share. Most of them are impressionable and so they readily accept these “tricks of the trade” that others have told them are proven strategies and then they turn up disappointed and frustrated. Nothing beats authenticity!

Angella, it’s so true that job seekers get taken in with job search scare tactics masquerading as truth.

Common sense, a reasoned approach, and authenticity are far more effective than “tactics” or tricks of the trade, as you coined it. Thanks for adding your perspective!