Sad Job-Seeker Syndrome and Antidotes

The misleadingly low unemployment rate masks real pain among many job seekers.

Posted Aug 03, 2015

Vassil, CC 3.0
Source: Vassil, CC 3.0

In recent years, I've noticed an increase in what I call, Sad Job-Seeker Syndrome.

It's not depression--in which you feel life is meaningless. It's when a job seeker after having tried for a while to apply for jobs and network, has had no success.

Sad Job-Seeker Syndrome is particularly likely in people who've had previous job failures---They fear that even if they land a job, they could fail again.

Making matters worse, Sad Job-Seeker Syndrome becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy because it's hard to hide. Especially in interviews, they appear sad, angry, or desperate. Their smiles seem phony and that tell-tale area between their eyes reveals their malaise.

Sad Job-Seeker Syndrome is increasing

There are two main reasons for the increase.

It's easier for employees to find lots of qualified applicants.  A mere Craiglist ad can, for almost no money, be viewable by millions of job seekers. What chance does the non-star applicant have?

The cost of hiring an American has grown non-competitive in the world economy. Atop U.S.-level salaries, there is the ever growing costs of Workers Compensation, Medicare, and employee grievances, higher limits on employer contributions to Social Security, and ObamaCare, with paid family leave the next mandate on employers.

Sure, the unemployment rate is down but a person who used to make $100,000 and is now making $10 an hour on a part-time temporary project is still counted as employed. The unemployment rate also doesn't count the millions of people who've given up looking for work. The more relevant statistic is the Labor Participation Rate---the percent of able-bodied people 18 to 64 that is working. It is at its lowest since 1977: 62.6%. That means that 93 million able-bodied Americans 18 to 64 are not working, let alone on jobs they like. Employers are part-timing, temping, automating, off-shoring jobs to countries in which the average worker lives on a few dollars a day.

All of this contributes to Sad Job-Seeker Syndrome. Even if a non-star gets a job, it's ever more likely to be a temp gig, after which they'll be back at having to slog again for a job. Not a happy prospect.

Antidotes to Sad Job-Seeker Syndrome

Group support. Many people are social animals. So job-seeker support groups can be helpful. And many of those groups go beyond support. They provide video interview coaching, guidance on resumes and LinkedIn profiles, etc. Job-hunt.org offers a nationwide directory of job-seeker support groups.

1-on-1 support, The best supporters are loving taskmasters. Yes you want someone who  errs on the side of believing in you and who supports you when things don't go well. But that person also should push you: for example, nag you if by 9 AM, you're not at your desk working on resume, cover letter, cold and warm contacts.

New job-search strategies, for example:

  • Write a few-page white paper on a topic that would impress your target employer. For example, if you're in marketing, you might write Seven New Ways to Use Facebook to Boost ROI.
  • Write a brief proposal for something you'd do if hired that would impress that employer. For example, a plan for your first 30 days on the job,  a list of potential customers you'd contact, etc.
  • Take charge of the interview. Rather than be the usual supplicant, passively responding to the interviewers' questions, you might, at the right moment, ask if you could go to the white board to explain how you might tackle a particular problem.

Change your foundational principle from “Do as little work as you can get away with” to “Be as productive as reasonably possible.”

Be more boss-focused: Should you be lower-maintenance? Ask your boss such questions as, “What are your priorities for me this week?” And “How might I make your life easier?”

Upgrade your skill set, for example, with a tech tutor.

Revise your job target. If you've been beating your head against the wall going after your target job, perhaps switch to a more easily attainable launchpad job. That could help you regain confidence and get your foot in the door so the employer can see that you deserve a higher-level job. Do remember that all ethical work is worthy work, even if lacks status.

If you cut your expenses, for example, by living in inexpensive housing or with family members, you can consider work that pays less but that you might enjoy more, perhaps writing, performing, tutoring, etc.

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