Spooky urban legends about disfigured psychos prowling the back roads in the dead of night can be mighty frightening. But the apparitions some jobseekers imagine blocking their path to employment can seem equally paralyzing.
No one will hire me because I am too old . . . I'm too inexperienced to be seriously considered for the position . . . They'll reject me as soon as they find out I was once fired . . . I don't stand a chance because others will be more qualified . . . These are just a few of the mantras that can immobilize jobseekers.
"Two of the biggest fears are age and lack of experience," declares Don Ray, divisional director of OfficeTeam in Bakersfield. "People unfairly limit themselves."
The solution? Ray advises jobseekers to put a positive spin on age and use it to their advantage. "Older workers have skills and experience to offer, and I would encourage people to look positively at their longevity.
Berkeley career counselor Richard Berry also deals with older clients. "I talk to many people who are in established careers and not far from retirement who are looking at different paths for the rest of their working lives. "The big question [in their minds] is are they going to face age discrimination?
Berry's advice is to trust in their transferable talents. "They do have skills that can be used," he notes, encouraging jobseekers to broaden their horizons. "I think there are lots of possibilities that jobseekers don't recognize."
Ray also pushes clients of all ages to focus on the skills they do have. Hard skills, like computer expertise and hands-on experience, are a plus. But many people who have hard skills are lacking basic communication skills. Ray advises such jobseekers to take an English or public-speaking course to get an extra edge.
At the other end of the age spectrum, "those with limited experience can bring a fresh perspective to their job," he suggests. This enthusiasm can be can be very appealing to an employer. "If he or she has a new outlook and drive, employers will look for the 'soft' skills - professionalism, articulation, people skills and communicative abilities."
Fear of Rejection
"It's not the age or what sex you are that can hold back a jobseeker. It's the willingness to talk to employers. Everyone has something to offer."
So says Bob Burg, a vocational consultant in Richmond, who recently worked with a man in his 30's who had been unemployed for a year. He was not actively jobseeking and had been existing on 'get by' jobs only. "I began probing to find out the problem and discovered he hates being rejected," Burg relates.
"Everything about job hunting pushes all of your worst buttons, not only once or twice but hundreds of times." Pretty soon this stress gets to everyone. "The fundamental fact of job hunting is not pleasant," he admits. "It's all about being rejected and ignored."
Burg says sometimes after the third or fourth rejection, it gets to you and you start picking yourself apart and asking, "Why don't they like me?" At that point he advises desperate jobseekers to seek the advice of a professional career counselor or a friend who will be candid.
"The young man finally admitted he couldn't bear rejection so he avoided the whole job-hunting arena. I had to explain that 80 to 90 percent of jobseekers will be rejected at some point," Burg recalls. "No matter how qualified you are, employers can only hire one. The rest have to look somewhere else.
"Finally, my client realized that rejection has nothing to do with him personally. Employers in this tight job market interview many qualified people and it's hard to make a decision."
The Firing Line
Having been fired at your last job is another strike some jobseekers think spells automatic doom at an interview. Most job counselors recommend complete candor.
"A prospective employer is going to find out, and I would rather an applicant be honest up front," Ray advises. Employers won't "write them off after being fired. In most circumstances, it is not a barrier to future employment."
Dick Bolles, author of What Color is Your Parachute? reminds job candidates that first impressions are lasting. "If, in the job interview, the first thing you blurt out is, 'I was fired at my last job,' you will . . . feel like a salmon swimming upstream throughout the remainder of the interview. (If you thought that was the most important thing about you, then so will the employer.)"
He advises applicants to highlight their skills, experience, and enthusiasm for the company interviewing them. Save discussion of your previous job, and the manner in which you left it, for later in the interview after the employer has shown some interest in actually hiring you.
"Always volunteer the information about your firing, rather than waiting for it to be dragged out of you," Bolles emphasizes. "After the employer has demonstrated a keen interest in hiring you, offer the following kind of information: 'When you check my references, you will discover I was fired from my previous job. There's not much to say about it. I usually get along extremely well with my bosses; but in this case, we just didn't. Human chemistry, I suppose. I'm sadder and wiser for the experience.'
Say no more. Let it go at that."
It also helps to remember that most everyone has been fired at one time or another. Even career columnist Bob Rosner, who writes the weekly column "Working Wounded," admits to having been canned - and he advises jobseekers to move on.
Norma Torres-Manriguez, family service specialist supervisor with the Stanislaus County Office of Employment and Training, agrees that most jobseekers sell themselves short by believing they lack marketable skills. "A woman came in recently and said she didn't have the customer service experience needed to apply for a job. But, when we sat down to discuss it, I learned she was a receptionist for seven years."
Torres-Manriguez says her department often deals with mothers returning to the workforce, who feel they don't have any job skills. She builds their self-esteem by "pointing out they work in their church and volunteer for hospitals." She also lists the managerial skills it takes to run a household.
"Many people think they cannot apply for a job because they lack some of the necessary qualifications," she notes. Often she is able to convince them they have a shot. "If they lack necessary math skills, we advise asking the employer if basic math will suffice, and it usually does."
The employer recognizes they are not perfect, but applicants must convince the hiring manager they can be "molded into what the company's needs are."
She points out to her clients that most companies would rather interview a job candidate with the right attitude than meet with one who has every qualification but who lacks the personality to do the job.
Once employed, issues of self-worth evaporate. "A jobseeker's self-esteem really starts to blossom after they land a job."
If low self-esteem is a persistent barrier to your job search, most professionals recommend consulting a job counselor who can provide you with a more objective assessment of your job skills and potential.
- OfficeTeam - www.officeteam.com, (916) 922-5770
- Stanislaus County Office of Employment
and Training - www.stannet.org, (209) 558-WORK
- Bob Burg, Vocational Consultant - (510) 527-3199
- Richard G. Berry & Associates - (510) 525-4480