One of the many things that sucks for job seekers is the power differential that exists between job-seekers and employers.
Because the employer has something you want and it’s as important as money and possible career happiness, and because at times it feels like employers can wield their power arbitrarily, many people respond in a way that makes the job search experience even harder: They lose all assertiveness and feel utterly helpless during the process. They feel 100% at the mercy of employers, and when those employers act in ways that are confusing or inconsiderate, they feel helpless to change the situation.
It’s a recipe not just for frustration, but for outright depression.
It sucks, and you can change it.
How? Be your normal self, not your job-seeking self. Stop feeling like the employer is the source of all power in the world and you are dependent on their good will for your food that day. Don’t be deferential or suck up. Act like you are both businesspeople contemplating a relationship with each other, because you are.
Easier said than done, of course. But changing your mindset will make you feel a whole lot better. And not only will it not harm your chances of getting a job, but it may actually help them.
Look at what this means in practice:
Example #1: An employer emails and asks you to name several times you’d be available for a phone interview. You’re not sure if they’re asking you to remain available at all the times you listed, or if they’re going to pick one and tell you, or what.
Unhealthy: Naming five times and planning to remain available and by the phone at all of them.
Assertive: Naming several times and adding, “Please let me know which to plan on, so that I know which one to hold open.”
Example #2: An employer tells you they’ll call you for a phone interview at 3:00. It’s 3:15 and they haven’t called.
Unhealthy: Feeling angry and let down and helpless. Doing nothing.
Assertive: Calling them and saying, “We had a 3:00 phone interview scheduled and I’m checking in since I haven’t heard from you. Would you like to reschedule or is now a good time to talk?”
Example #3: At the end of the interview, the employer says, “We’ll be in touch” but doesn’t give you a timeline.
Unhealthy: Obsessing daily for the next two weeks, wondering when you’ll hear something.
Assertive: Saying on the spot, “Can you give me a sense of your timeline and when I should expect to hear back from you?” And following up appropriately if that timeframe passes without any word.
The key in all of these is that you’re just acting like a normal person — not too cowed to ask reasonable questions, seeking information that any rational person would understand why you want (even if it didn’t occur to them to offer it proactively), and using a tone that is neither obsequious nor demanding, just matter-of-fact and friendly. In other words, you’re talking to them like you would talk to a coworker you were already working with.
Trust me, it is fine to do the things in the “assertive” examples above, and other things like them. You will not ruin your chances. But you will reposition yourself mentally to feel less at the mercy of others.
And not only will you find the job search experience less upsetting because you won’t feel so completely at the mercy of other people’s whims, but you’ll also create a side benefit for yourself: When you act like a coworker would, you make it easier for the employer to picture you in that role (as opposed to a desperately frantic job-seeker, which presumably won’t be what you’re like as a colleague). And by respecting your own time, you’ll signal to the employer that you’re someone whose time is worthy of respect.
Try it. And hang in there…