Job Search Tip of the Week #41 (2018)


6 Science-Backed Strategies to Build Your Career Resilience

Turn Your Job Search Challenges into Successes

Today’s job seekers are no strangers to the frustration and anxiety of job hunting, especially with all the merger/acquisition, downsizing, bankruptcy, and restructuring activities that have been going on in the tech industry. What you need to succeed in this economic climate of organizational transition and transformation is resilience.

Need help getting some? You may find Scientific American Mind‘s “Ready for Anything,” in which authors Steven M. Southwick and Dennis S. Charne share some evidence-based approaches to managing job search stress, useful — particularly if you’ve been laid off recently and/or are experiencing a prolonged job search.

Check out the article in its entirety here (highly recommended if you’re interested in the neurobiological basis and mechanics of resilience), or read on below for our recap, along with some hypothetical scenarios and notes of our own to help clarify the concepts.

The roots of resilience

Resilience is the ability to adapt and grow in the face of stress and adversity. It’s only partially determined by genetics, which means that although some people are naturally better able to positively adjust to stress than others, it is a process that can be learned.

External factors such as your family and environment also exert influence on your capacity to perform under pressure. Although you may have little to no control over some events and situations such as poverty or war, with practice you can change how you interpret and respond to them – and make stress constructive.

What stress can do, and what you can do about it

Being in a constant state of unmanaged stress can result in a slew of health issues (e.g., compromised immune system, mental illness, digestive and cardiovascular problems) and maladaptive behaviors (e.g., tobacco use, excessive alcohol consumption). That said, stress isn’t always bad – stress gives us opportunities for self-awareness and personal development.

Six scientifically supported ways to build resilience:

  1. Keep your emotional responses to stress in check. Negative emotions such as sadness, anger, and fear can cloud your judgment and cause you to make decisions you’ll regret later. Try altering your reactions to stress with:

    • Cognitive reappraisal, which refers to the technique of intentionally seeking the silver lining in an adverse situation or event. Questions to help you get rid of that woe-is-me attitude: Am I assessing the impact of this situation realistically? Am I focusing too much on, or even exaggerating, the negative? What can I learn from this experience?

      For instance, say you were turned down for a job; instead of interpreting the rejection as an attack on your character or abilities, see it as an opportunity to ask for feedback on how you can improve for your next interview and land that job you really love.
    • Mindfulness meditation, which refers to the process of deliberately focusing attention on all aspects of the present experience from the perspective of a non-judgmental observer. By identifying patterns in your thoughts that reinforce your negative emotions and allowing yourself to fully experience them, you should come to the realization that your feelings are transient and don’t define you or your worth.

      Take again for instance, job rejection. Avoid shifting into the “should have” and “what if” mentality, and really focus on “being in the now.” Recognize your disappointment, and realize that’s how you typically react to getting passed over for a job. Rather than denying it or trying to change it in the moment, accept that that’s how you feel. Keep practicing! Eventually you’ll be able to recover faster from your stress response and harness it into positive action (like revising your résumé and renewing your enthusiasm for your next interview).

  2. Be optimistic, yet realistic. While being positive has its benefits – increased focus, creativity, and cognitive flexibility, to name a few – being overly so can lead you to erroneously believe that you’re less likely to experience or be as affected by negative events than other people. On the other hand, those who approach a challenge with a positive attitude and an honest assessment of their situation tend to disregard unnecessary negativity and consider only that which may be relevant to overcoming adversity.

    Take job hunting, for example. To be successful (especially if you’re looking to relocate out-of-state) you must have not only a job search strategy in place, but also reasonable expectations of what you can accomplish given the time and effort you’re able to commit. Of course, how long it takes you to find a job also depends on several other factors which you must consider, such as your experience (or lack thereof), your presentation to prospective employers, and current IT job market demand and supply.

    Need help looking on the bright side? Look up cognitive-bias modification, which refers to a process of training oneself to get in the habit of focusing more on the positive and less on the negative, with the goal of reducing and controlling anxiety.
  3. Exercise. It’s common knowledge that exercise is good for you because it releases biochemicals that support functioning in a variety of ways such as elevating mood, combating stress, and improving memory. To get these benefits, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, every week you should be do at least 75 minutes of intense cardio such as running or swimming (or 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity like brisk walking), in addition to two days of weight training.

    However, too intense or extended work-outs can overwhelm and damage your system. So you may want to consult your doctor to make sure that you’re challenging yourself but not overdoing it, and to design an exercise program that gradually increases in intensity while striking the necessary balance between recovery and stress.
  4. Challenge yourself. Think of your ability to manage stress as a muscle that can be developed with practice. The exercise program described above utilizes the graded exposure approach stress inoculation, which calls for progressive exposure to increasing levels of stress in order to build tolerance. It’s a technique that can be applied to many activities other than exercise; say for instance, career development.

    For example, if the prospect of public speaking elicits severe anxiety and prevents you from being promoted to a supervisor or managerial position such as a technical team lead or software development manager, you can follow these incremental steps to “safely” learn how to tackle a crowd.
  5. Surround yourself with supportive people. As we’ve mentioned earlier, some people are biologically more prone to stress. Research shows that positive relationships can counteract your “natural” stress response and help alleviate anxiety and fear.

    Who boosts your self-confidence and provide encouragement, guidance, and support? Those are the relationships you’ll want to continue to cultivate! Then, examine your network to see where else you can expand it (i.e., new people like potential mentors or industry experts you should connect with).

    More of a visual person? You can literally map out your LinkedIn network to see where there are gaps, then get started bridging them with our tips on how to optimize your LinkedIn profile and leverage other social media platforms for career success. Don’t forget to take your networking offline too!
  6. Learn through observation and imitation. Identify resilient role models. They don’t have to be someone you know personally; celebrities, historical figures, or even fictional characters work too. Analyze what they did to overcome hardship, and use their techniques to guide your behavior.

Remember: While some situations may be out of your control, the way that you react to them aren’t. Building resilience now can help you better deal with career disruption, whether it’s job loss or a length job search, later.

Sound Off: What do you do to alleviate stress and build resilience?

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Cartoon Credit: Pinterest, pinned by Kim Wilborn