How to Overcome 7 Obstacles to a Job Search

By Amy Lindgren

For the Atlanta Journal & Constitution

It’s (nearly) officially summer and nearly the third quarter of the year. Whether you measure time by the moon or the market, one thing’s certain: It’s getting on.

If you’ve been conducting a job search for too long, or with too few results, time can seem like the enemy rather than one of your resources -- especially if you’re running out of cash, another of your scarce resources. How can you turn things around?

The answer depends on what, exactly, is going wrong. In my work as a career counselor, I’ve learned to watch for seven obstacles common to underperforming job searches.

(A word of warning: None are market-based. These issues are “evergreen,” cropping up in good times and bad, at all levels. Since people do get jobs in bad markets, but can also fail to get jobs in good markets, it’s important to check these issues before assigning fault to the market.)

Obstacle 1: Lack of a plan. If you don’t know which job you’re seeking, or which companies you’re planning to approach, it’s no wonder you’re not making progress -- you don’t know which direction to go.

Solution: Create a plan that includes a target job, target employers and people to contact. If you can’t, then your first step is to meet with a counselor to help you do so.

Obstacle 2: Lack of commitment. Maybe you have a plan, but you’re not pushing yourself. In effect, this is the same as having no plan.

Solution: You can either make a new plan, or recommit to the original one by reminding yourself that you made this plan for a reason. Or, a little tougher: Recommit by remembering that you need the money, period.

Obstacle 3: Lack of structure. OK, you’ve got a plan you’re committed to, but entire days still slip by with little or no productivity. Chances are, you haven’t created a schedule that includes specific steps for each day.

Solution: You need to create a structure, perhaps like this: two days a week focused on networking and meetings, one day on sending letters and resumes and one day on follow-up calls and research. The fifth day is scheduled as needed.

Obstacle 4: Feeling overwhelmed. Being unemployed is definitely overwhelming; when we’re overwhelmed, we tend to avoid the problem, opting instead for housecleaning or overeating.

Solution: Break things into small steps. If tomorrow is the day to write letters, spend the last 15 minutes of today noting five people you’ll write to. When you get up, allow yourself one hour per letter, then one last hour for proofreading. Hit the send button, lay out the tasks for the next day and stop.

Obstacle 5: Loss of momentum. You know how this goes: Fail to exercise once or twice, no problem. But take a week off and you’re sunk. As in exercise, keeping a steady pace in job search is more important than spurts of activity at odd intervals.

Solution: Set a pace that works for you. One hour a day? OK -- stick to it. If something happens to today’s hour, start over again tomorrow, but don’t let two days go by or the momentum will be hard to recapture.

Obstacle 6: Distractions. This is the big one for summertime, especially if the kids are home, be they grade-schoolers or college graduates.

Solution: Anticipate and manage the distractions. If you want to be outside at midday, get up early to do your job search. If having a teenager around bugs you while you’re trying to focus, lay down the rules of the house: No one home during the day. Little kids? Form a baby-sitting co-op with another job seeker.

Obstacle 7: Loss of confidence. Ouch. This one hurts. None of the other obstacles and solutions matter if you don’t believe you can get work. Whether your feelings stem from the way you left your last job, the length of your unemployment, or something deeper, you need to tackle this and move forward.

Solution: The best solution may be to seek counseling, especially if this has been ongoing. If it seems situational, then try this exercise: Each time you think of a deficit (“I don’t know anything about databases”), force yourself to think of an asset (“I’m quite good with spreadsheets”). By refocusing your thinking on what you have to offer, rather than on what you’re missing, you’re making a habit of presenting yourself in a positive light -- to both yourself and others. Since assets are the primary topic of interviews, you’ll find that this exercise also leads you to stronger conversations with employers when the time comes.

Amy Lindgren owns Prototype Career Service, a career consulting firm in St. Paul. She can be reached at [email protected] or at 626 Armstrong Ave., St. Paul, MN 55102.