Self-blame is Undermining Your Job Search
Outdated Advice Is Making It Worse
Losing a job and undergoing a job search can be intensely frustrating and anxiety-inducing. It can feel like a road to nowhere when the odds aren’t often in your favour. The competition for the best roles is fierce, and the chance of early success is unlikely. Especially when many of us fall victim to our biases, believing we’ll be back to work quickly.
In his book on job searching, ‘Flawed System, Flawed Self,’ Ofer Sharone highlights how we develop strong feelings of self-blame during a prolonged search.
“I felt like something was wrong with me and I started to have self-doubts. I hit a downward spiral.”
“After four months of unsuccessful searching, my confidence has been killed.”
The Chemistry Game
Sharone attributes these feelings to what he calls ‘The Chemistry Game’- a game western, white-collar job seekers play with employers. Employers expect us to be the perfect “fit” rather than consider us based on our objective skills. Contrast that to the ‘Specs Game,’ a skills-focused, fact-based approach existing that is more familiar to professionals in overseas markets.
The Chemistry Game often relies on emotions, rapport, and how we write our résumés and cover letters. You don’t gain points for your capabilities- you get points for how you present them.
When your job search goes on longer than expected, you’ll likely experience fear and guilt. You might begin thinking you’re not good enough or are doing something wrong- it can feel overwhelming. This can lead thoughts that the game is ‘unwinnable’ and you’ll never be successful.
These thoughts and feelings get reinforced when we’re rejected or hear nothing back from our applications, further eroding our confidence. Over time, this creates a downward spiral where our motivation drains, and we start putting in less effort.
The reasons why it's easy to blame yourself
Recruitment blogs, career coaches, and those in the “self-help” industry create the illusion there is a set path to success in the job search.
We get told this pathway takes nothing but dedication, positivity, and hard work. Start planning, craft your résumé, apply for roles, then land interviews. This approach demands you maintain a positive attitude and high morale- it tells you that anything less than a full-time commitment to the job search is bound to fail.
The advice, while well-meaning, is too focused on telling people to get better at job hunting. It says that there are internal flaws responsible for all your rejections. There’s little recognition of the other factors contributing to unemployment length and success.
We know that the reality of the job search is very different. For many of us, it’s unrealistic to devote even half of our time to looking for a new job. That’s okay. On average, job seekers spend only 15% of their time on the job search – we all have other commitments just as important, with a need to balance our time and resources in this new reality.
Share how you feel, and avoid self-blame
It’s important to share how you feel about this process. If you’re under pressure and stressed about how things are (not) going, chances are someone else is feeling the same.
Sharing can help you normalize the experience, recognizing that it is a shared one. Talking can also help create supportive connections and combat those feelings of isolation and anxiety. It’s also a great way to identify new behaviours and approaches or uncover opportunities you hadn’t considered.
There is no set process for a job search. Your journey is individual; some people have more time and resources than others to devote to it, some find jobs quicker, and others will take more time. Every approach is unique, and you must find a process that works for you, but you don’t have to do it alone.
It’ll take some time to unravel the unfairness and misplaced expectations that come with the ‘The Chemistry Game.’ Right now, we’re seeing companies and recruiters find success in combating bias in the hiring process. Behaviourally informed techniques like blinding resumes or bypassing resumes with platforms like ResumeFree, employment is getting closer to a merit-based approach.
When we fail at playing this game, it’s difficult to remember that it’s structural and not because of our flaws. It’s even more difficult to convince ourselves of this while feeling the effects of unemployment and a job search that isn’t progressing according to our expectations. In an upcoming blog on the psychology of scarcity, we’ll continue our investigation of the challenges faced by job seekers, the impact and how we can overcome these barriers.
Research shows that finding support, creating connections, and taking care of yourself is the path to adopting more effective behaviours that will result in better job search and mental health outcomes. We understand this and have adopted these approaches in our app and support platform to help you find a new job.
It’s our mission to support you and your mental health and wellbeing while you’re dealing with job loss or looking to transition your career. We know that by supporting you in your process, we will help you find success faster. It’s our attempt at providing you with some relief, challenging the “just grind it out” and “be positive at all costs” mindset that’s become a response to the experience of unemployment.