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  • Writer's pictureJill Hauwiller

Prioritizing Self-Care During the Job Search

A Key to Finding the Right Fit for the Modern Executive

A man wearing a sports coat and jeans looking dejected while sitting on a row of white folding chairs. He is leaning on a cardboard box with a small plant, calculator, journal and pen on top.

Several people in my network have recently found themselves in unexpected job transitions whether due to layoffs that resulted in their jobs being eliminated or organizational restructurings that moved them into a new role. Both of these external actions can shake self-identity and confidence. It can be surprising for people to discover how much of their identity they attribute to their work when changes like these happen. Self-identity can be connected to the organization you work for, job title, level within the organization and other attributes of professional success. In my experience, the higher people have climbed in their careers, the more pronounced the connection to self-identity is, especially when faced with an unexpected change. It is helpful to recognize this attachment to career status and invest in other aspects of self-identity to give yourself a softer landing pad for when the unexpected happens.

As a leadership coach, I have helped many individuals navigate these types of shifts in their careers. In fact, most of my career has involved helping people with career change in one way or another. Early in my talent management career – back in 2000, I worked as a recruiter. I went on to leverage that work as an MBA career consultant at a top-ranked business school, helping incredibly smart and educated professionals make intentional career shifts. Later, I moved back to the corporate world working in learning, leadership development and inclusion before starting Leadership Refinery. Today I work with senior leaders and executive teams coaching them on their own career growth, leading their teams effectively and shaping organizational culture. Executives in transitions are among the types of clients I work with most frequently. All this to say, I have seen a lot of people make career changes - planned and unplanned - over the course of my career.

If you find yourself in a similar position, there are several things to keep in mind to boost your mental health and personal wellbeing during the job search. It is important to recognize that starting a job search opens you up to rejection. I can’t think of anyone I have worked with who likes this in the moment - a few hardy individuals choose to recognize it as clearing the path for other, better opportunities, but regardless, rejection feels bad. Preparing yourself for the potential of rejection and having a plan in place to manage the low feelings that follow can help you maintain your resilience during an uncertain job search.

If your financial and household situation allows, using transition as a time for learning can be a really powerful way to shape your search for what’s next. An intentional learning plan can help you move into a growth mindset which will broaden your perception of possibilities. Two of my coaching mentors use VUCA to describe the current state of the world. It’s not a new concept but I think it is relevant for many people in job transition. VUCA stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

Amy Edmondson talks about VUCA frequently in her work on high performance teams. Within organizations, being aware of VUCA requires listening to all voices in the room and acknowledging the unknowns. The same principles of curiosity and seeking additional information to build a full picture of what is happening is critical to a successful executive job search. Taking the time to reflect and define the situation will help leaders project confidence when presented with new challenges, opportunities and ideas during the job search.

These concepts are applicable to individuals who are in the midst of a job search. A job search can be a challenging experience, filled with uncertainty, ambiguity, and complexity. However, it can also be an opportunity to learn new skills, seek out new experiences, and push oneself outside of one's comfort zone. By taking on new challenges and experiences, individuals can build their resilience and sense of accomplishment. They can also gain new insights about how they live their values and what they want from their next role. In a job search, taking risks and being open to new experiences can also help individuals stand out from other candidates and demonstrate their ability to adapt and thrive in VUCA times.

By embracing diverse experiences and building their capacity for reflection and decision-making, individuals in a job search can not only increase their chances of success but also grow as individuals. When I work with executives who are seeking a new role, we think broadly about career options – considering a range of roles, industries and companies. We talk about whether this is the right time to try something new or continue to work in their current field. Leveraging their network and making new connections and assessing whether corporate or consulting/project roles are best suited to help them reach their goals. To help leaders build their identity outside of their career, during coaching we also work on starting new healthy learning habits including reading, journaling, listening to podcasts, learning a new skill, mentoring or being mentored, brushing up on new technologies or taking a class in a completely new field or area of interest.

A learning plan is one approach that can support your mental health and wellbeing during a job search. Other sources of resilience that work for the leaders I coach:

  • Movement: Finding a form of movement that you enjoy is important for wellbeing. It can be a walk through your neighborhood, working in your garden, playing a sport or dancing to your favorite music. Making movement part of your daily schedule provides structure when going to the office (or virtual office) isn’t part of your routine.

  • Reconnecting to purpose: Self-reflection can be hard when you are in problem solving mode (the problem being finding a new job!). However, this can be a critical time for re-evaluation. How does your career path to-day connect with your long-term goals? How does it match your values? Could you make a meaningful shift in the work you do to better meet the needs of your life?

  • Reinvesting in relationships: Knowing who the people on your personal support team are during a job search can make a world of difference. This team can play a variety of roles. One person might make an important introduction to someone in a field or organization that you want to learn more about. Another might join you on a walk to talk about anything other than the job search. Still another might meet you for coffee to commiserate about the latest barrier you are facing. This is the time to lean on your network and ask for help. You may be surprised by who steps up and the range of supporters in your life.

If you find yourself in an unexpected job transition, take the time to acknowledge and name your feelings related to the change that was thrust upon you. This ability for self-reflection and self-awareness are important emotional intelligence (EQ) skills that will serve you well throughout the job search process and in your next role. Identify what is going to buoy you during the ups and downs of your job search. Plan your steps carefully so you can make a considered decision about what is next. And if you can, find something to enjoy about the process.

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This article was also published on Medium.


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