8 Proven Strategies to Unstick Your Clients' Job Search

Coaching techniques – informed by Behavioural Science

Navigating the job market can be a daunting journey, often filled with unexpected challenges that can leave even the most determined job seekers feeling ‘stuck’. For employment coaches and advisors, providing the right toolkit, grounded in behavioral science based job search strategies, can make all the difference. This short guide offers practical job search tips and exercises designed to propel job seekers forward and equip coaches with actionable techniques.

1. Cutting Through Information Overload

In This Article:

The modern job hunt is flooded with information for job seekers. However, much of it comes from questionable sources and may not be useful or effective. 

Behavioral science suggests that our cognitive bandwidth is limited, and when overloaded, our decision-making suffers (Kahneman, 2011). To combat this, you can help your clients to practice selective focus—a technique where attention is directed solely to the most important, and timely information.

Exercise: Focused Time

  • Each morning, ask your client to set a timer for 30 minutes.
  • Dedicate this time exclusively to job searching on selected platforms.
  • Filter opportunities by their skills and desired industries.
 

This focused approach, inspired by the Pomodoro Technique (Cirillo, 2006), can reduce feelings of overwhelm and increase the quality of applications.

2. Overcoming Psychological Barriers

Psychological barriers such as fear of rejection and self-doubt can significantly hinder progress. 

Behavioral interventions like cognitive restructuring can help job seekers reframe negative thoughts into more positive, actionable ones (Tugade & Fredrickson, 2004; MentalHelp.net, 2024).

Exercise: Journaling

Encourage your clients to maintain a journal where they record negative thoughts and actively challenge them by writing down evidence that contradicts these beliefs. For example, if a client believes they are not skilled enough, tacking a minute to list their qualifications, experience, and positive feedback received in the past will help them to put those fears in context.

Download a free Cognitive Restructuring worksheet

3. The Right Environment - Reduce Barriers to Action

Environmental factors such as lack of transportation, inadequate childcare, and distracting home environments can significantly hinder a client’s job search efforts. Addressing these barriers through behavioral nudges and creating supportive environments can enhance job search productivity.

Creating Distraction-Free Spaces

Outreach and community centers can play a crucial role by offering dedicated spaces free of distractions. These spaces can be equipped with computers, internet access, and comfortable seating, which provides a productive environment for job seekers to focus on their applications and job-related activities. 

BJ Fogg’s work on behavior design highlights the importance of setting up the right environment to facilitate desired behaviors. A structured environment can serve as a powerful nudge, encouraging consistent and focused job search efforts.

Exercise: Focus Space Setup

Encourage clients to use community spaces or, alternatively, set up a distraction-free area at home. Coaches should guide clients in setting up their physical environment ahead of time, ensuring they have the necessary tools and resources to stay focused and productive.

By addressing environmental barriers and creating supportive, distraction-free spaces, coaches can significantly improve the job search experience for their clients, helping them overcome obstacles and stay motivated.

4. Resilience, Adaptability, and Grit

In a volatile economy, resilience, adaptability, and grit are key.  Behavioral science shows that these qualities can be nurtured through small steps in positive thinking, ongoing learning, and perseverance, even when facing uncertainty and the cognitive impacts of scarcity.

Resilience and Grit

Resilience refers to the ability to bounce back from adversity, while grit involves sustained effort and interest in long-term goals. Research by Angela Duckworth highlights the importance of grit in achieving success (Duckworth, 2016). Martin Seligman’s work on positive psychology underscores the role of optimism and resilience in overall well-being (Seligman, 2011).

Practical Resources

To help your clients develop resilience, adaptability, and grit, consider incorporating the following practical resources and exercises:

  1. Daily Affirmations and Positive Thinking: Encourage your clients to practice daily affirmations that reinforce their resilience and adaptability. Positive affirmations can boost self-confidence and foster a growth mindset.
  2. Grit Assessment and Building Grit: Utilize Angela Duckworth’s Grit Scale to help clients assess their level of grit. Provide them with strategies to develop perseverance, such as setting long-term goals and breaking them down into manageable steps.
 

Exercise: Daily Affirmation and Goal Setting Routine

Encourage clients to:

  • Reflect on their progress.
  • Set aside time each day for affirmations.
  • Help them set long-term goals.
  • Create action plans to achieve these goals.
  • Emphasize the importance of perseverance and continuous improvement.
 

By focusing on resilience, adaptability, and grit, coaches can empower their clients to navigate economic challenges more effectively and sustain their job search efforts.

5. Reflection and Feedback

Feedback is crucial for improvement, especially during the job search, where feedback is limited. The behavioral science concept of ‘feedback loops’ can help your clients make continuous improvements in their job search tactics (Grant & Ashford, 2008).

Exercise: Reflect and Refine

After each job application or interview, encourage your clients to:

  • write down what they felt went well and what didn’t.
  • share them with you (if they are comfortable doing so).

Review these notes together with your client. Provide constructive feedback, creating a positive reinforcement loop that promotes continuous learning and improvement.

6. Tackling Procrastination Head-On

Procrastination is common; however, it can be tackled with strategies like the ‘five-minute rule,’ where your client commits to a specific task for just five minutes. Often, starting is the hardest part, and this method helps your client get into action, building confidence and momentum.

Exercise: Task Tackle with the Five-Minute Rule

Work with your clients to identify the tasks they avoid and apply the ‘five-minute rule’. For example, if a client dreads writing cover letters, they commit to writing for five minutes, which often leads to significant progress.

7. Addressing Job Search Burnout

Burnout can be mitigated through self-care practices. Behavioral activation, a technique used to overcome depression, can also be adapted to address job search burnout by encouraging your clients to engage in activities that bring them joy and satisfaction (Tugade & Fredrickson, 2004).

Exercise: Wellbeing Breaks

Support your clients’ wellbeing – ensure that they make time for short, regular breaks for activities they enjoy, whether it’s a walk outside or a coffee with a friend. Emphasize the importance of maintaining their mental health- these breaks are an integral part of a balanced job search plan

8. Plan for Interruptions

Interruptions and unforeseen events can derail even the best-laid job search plans. Understanding and planning for these interruptions can help your clients stay on track. 

Research by Dr. Justin Weinhardt, Angela Duckworth, and Katy Milkman highlights the importance of bridging the intention-action gap through strategies such as mental contrasting and implementation intentions (Parke, Weinhardt et al.,2017; Duckworth et al., 2013; Milkman et al., 2011).

Exercise 1: Identifying Potential Interruptions
Work with your clients to identify potential interruptions and create if-then plans. 

For example, if a client knows that childcare issues might arise, they can plan: “If my childcare falls through, then I will spend the morning job searching while my child naps and the afternoon looking for backup childcare options.”

Exercise 2: Implementing Mental Contrasting
Mental contrasting involves visualizing both the positive outcomes of achieving a goal and the obstacles that might stand in the way. This dual approach helps create realistic plans and increases the likelihood of success (Duckworth et al., 2013).

Exercise: Encourage your clients to visualize their successful job search outcome, then identify potential obstacles and plan strategies to overcome them. For instance, “I will imagine getting a job offer and then think about the challenge of needing a reliable internet connection for interviews. I will plan to use the local library’s internet as a backup.”

Exercise 3: Using Implementation Intentions
Implementation intentions involve creating specific if-then plans to bridge the gap between intentions and actions. This technique has been shown to improve goal achievement significantly (Duckworth et al., 2013).

By proactively planning for interruptions, your clients can maintain momentum in their job search despite unforeseen challenges.

Using strategies like mental contrasting and implementation intentions helps bridge the intention-action gap, therefore making it easier for clients to stay on track.

Encouraging clients to create specific if-then plans for potential obstacles helps them prepare for handling disruptions effectively, thus leading to a more resilient and successful job search.

Bonus: Apps and Client Engagement Tools

Client engagement and job search tools can support the coach-client partnership in several ways:

  1. Remote Access to Resources: Job seekers can access job search tools, resume builders, and application trackers from any location. This flexibility allows them to continue their job search even if they face transportation issues.
  2. Remote Support: These tools enable remote support, like chat-based or virtual coaching sessions, reducing the need for physical travel and allowing job seekers to receive personalized support from their homes. This can be especially beneficial for those with childcare responsibilities or other constraints.
  3. Structured Job Search Plans: Coaches and their clients can use tools, like the buoyancy platform and client app to develop and monitor structured job search plans. These plans can include daily or weekly tasks, progress tracking, and reminders, helping job seekers stay organized and focused.
  4. Resource Connection: These tools can connect job seekers to local resources such as job clubs, childcare services, and transportation assistance programs, helping to alleviate external barriers that hinder the job search process.
 

Exercise: Plan, Break Down, Organize

Encourage your clients to use job seeking apps and client engagement tools to maintain structured and consistent job search activities. Coaches should work with their clients to set up their virtual environments, and co-create a plan; ensuring they have the necessary tools and resources to stay focused and productive.

Using technology like job seeking apps, and resume builders, coaches can reduce frictions and improve the job search experience for their clients, helping them overcome obstacles and stay motivated.

Conclusion

The job search process is inherently challenging, but with the application of behavioral science-based strategies, your clients can significantly enhance their resilience, focus, and overall effectiveness. By addressing environmental barriers, employing cognitive restructuring, and implementing techniques to tackle procrastination and boost motivation, coaches can provide comprehensive support tailored to each individual’s needs.

Creating structured, distraction-free environments and leveraging community resources can alleviate many common obstacles. Furthermore, fostering resilience and grit through practical exercises and positive thinking can empower job seekers to maintain momentum despite setbacks.

By proactively planning for interruptions and utilizing evidence-based strategies such as the five-minute rule and mental contrasting, job seekers can overcome the intention-action gap and stay on track with their job search goals. Encouraging clients to set specific if-then plans ensures they are prepared to handle disruptions effectively, leading to a more resilient and successful job search.

Incorporating these approaches not only boosts self-confidence but also fosters a proactive mindset, enabling job seekers to navigate the complexities of the job market with greater confidence and determination. As coaches, equipping clients with these tools and strategies can make a profound difference in their job search journey, ultimately leading to more successful outcomes.

By staying informed about the latest research and continuously adapting strategies to meet the evolving needs of clients, coaches can provide invaluable support, helping job seekers to overcome challenges, seize opportunities, and achieve their career goals.

References

Download free Cognitive Restructuring Worksheet (PDF)

Worksheet on slipboard

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