ask the readers: how to overcome job search anxiety

I’m traveling today, so I’m throwing two questions out to readers to help with. Here’s the first one, from a reader who writes:

I have job anxiety.

I graduated from college last May and as such I am relatively new to the job field. But I’ve had experience as an administrative assistant and marketing intern.

When I see a job advertisement, I get so intimidated by the job description because it always requires experience in terms of years that I don’t have. Even if the experience is within my qualifications and I do receive an offer, I constantly worry about if I can do a good job. If I don’t do it competently enough, will they fire me? If they give me something to do in the job description that I don’t know how to do (i.e. spreadsheets, expense reports), will they allow me to learn or show me how to do it? Can I meet their expectations?

Those are some of the thoughts I have and I lose the courage to continue with the job process. If it was a minimum wage job, I wouldn’t even have a problem with anxiety like that. But with a professional job, I am scared to an anxious degree. I know that I can’t be the only one who has a problem with this. What is this exactly and what can I do to get over it? Is this something that is fairly common with recent grads? Thank you for your help.

What advice do you have for this new grad?

{ 75 comments… read them below }

  1. Pam

    First of all, know that the anxiety you’re feeling is normal. That will lessen over time as you gain experience and confidence. Don’t let it stop you from applying for good jobs. Be honest during the interview process. Be confident about the skills you have, and sell them! Show enthusiasm for leaning new ones. Keep in mind that many employers are happy to take on a new graduate that has fresh skills and who is willing to learn.

    Also, I wonder if you’re working at all right now. If you’re not, consider working through a temp agency. Even if it’s not exactly what you’d like to be doing, you’ll gain experience by being placed into new situations and adapting quickly. Confidence will follow.

    Good luck!

  2. Ash

    I am totally stealing (and paraphrasing) this advice from Alison’s awesome interview guide, but: think about all the people you have worked with who were lazy, incompetent, rude, etc. They all got jobs, didn’t they? Thinking about this really helped calm my nerves. If you show that you are an excellent candidate who is willing to learn new things, that will definitely look good to employers. You just need to put yourself out there, even though it’s tough. The worst thing you can be told is “no”.

  3. Sue

    Hey there,

    I also just graduated from college last May and am on the job hunt as well. Still nothing :/ But I feel you 100% on this–I see jobs that somewhat meet my qualifications, but then I think, oh geez, what if I can’t do this, what if they won’t teach me, etc, etc, etc.

    Just so you know, you’re not alone. I’m right there with you! Maybe like others are saying, we’ll get over this anxiety as we gain more experience and confidence in ourselves. I just wish these were things that they helped us out with in college before we left!

    1. Terri

      I totally agree. I wish they had told us about this part. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I feel so much better.

  4. VictoriaHR

    Assume that any employer will train you in what they want you to do. If the job description specifies experience in a program that you’re unfamiliar with, you can always study up at one of the training websites such as lynda.com. Otherwise, try to take confidence from the fact that they wouldn’t have hired you if they didn’t think that you could do the job.

    1. Emily K

      Couldn’t have said it better! In particular with the things OP cited–spreadsheets and expense reports–as well as most other tasks in an entry-level position, there is no one universal way to do everything. Yes, there are some basic principles of what an expense report is and its purpose, but every company/organization is going to have their own type of expense report and their own process for filling out and submitting them, so as long as you understand the basic concept of what an expense report is and why they are filed, you can expect the employer will train you in how to actually fill one out at their company. The same will go for most tasks in an entry-level position: as long as you understand the big-picture “whats” and “whys” of doing something, the employer will train you in the “hows” and the more detailed “whats” and “whys”. And you can absolutely learn the big-picture concepts and basics of using particular software online.

  5. Sascha

    Re: tasks in the job description you might not know how to do – provided the task is not integral to the job, most reasonable people won’t expect you to be an expert with these tasks, and they are totally fine with questions and will help you in some way. Also, Google is your best friend. When I’m given something that I’m not quite sure how to do, I look it up.

    Competence comes not from knowing how to do everything, but from doing the best you can and following through. Be dependable. Be reliable. And it’s perfectly okay to say, I don’t know how to do this, but I will learn/find out.

  6. Rindle

    OP, it sounds like you may be experiencing a level of anxiety that goes beyond typical job search jitters. If I’m reading your letter correctly, you’re projecting a lot of worst-case scenarios before you even apply for a job. (“Will they fire me?”, “Will they allow me to learn…?”, “Can I meet their expectations?”)

    Do you do this in other areas of your life, or just job searching? Either way, you might want to talk about your anxiety with a reputable counselor. If you were my sibling/friend, I’d be worried to read that letter!

    1. KellyK

      +1

      Even if it’s *not* anything other than normal “job hunting is scary” jitters, it’s still worth talking with a counselor. They can give you some strategies to shut down “worst-case scenario” type of thinking, which are useful whether you actually have overall anxiety issues or not.

      1. Jamie

        I kinda like worst-case scenario thinking – it’s definitely my go-to when I’m nervous about anything. But it used to be scary when I would get stuck in a loop and stay in worst case land…but now I go there first and figure out the most horrific ways I can possibly make something blow up in my face entertain that thought for a couple of moments and then figure the odds of that happening (whatever that particular that is) and move on to likelier scenarios.

        See, if I don’t acknowledge it at all it hangs over me like the sword of Damocles and becomes much more real than if I shine the light on it right up front so I can see how silly it is.

        YMMV but that works for me.

        1. Another Emily

          Thinking about the worst case scenario is good when it takes the form of defining what the worst case scenario would be, the probability of it ocurring, and what you would do if it happened.

          Where this thinking because unhelpful is when it’s prompted by feelings of anxiety instead of pragmatism. I have these sorts of thoughts when I’m nervous. One key element in anxious thinking (that I’ve noticed in myself) that’s absent from pragmatic thinking is the probability of the worst case scenario occurring. It is unlikely in the extreme that you, a hard-working, conscientious, AAM-reading person, are going to get fired.

          It sounds trite but it really does help to think positive. This doesn’t get rid of nervous jitters but it can help rein in anxious thoughts and keep them from spiralling out of control.

    2. Pandora Amora

      You’re reading too much into too few words. Recommending counseling is a wonderful blog comment to make – look at the replies you’re getting! how wonderful! – but it’s impractical advice to actually give in this situation.

      1. Anon

        I got counseling for this exact situation. I got it from a university hospital with a sliding scale. It was not easy or fun. But it sure was practical.

        In other words, anonymous unhelpful internet commenter, who feels it’s more important to tear people down and be snarky than provide real suggestions or thoughtful commentary: Shut up about things you clearly don’t know anything about.

          1. Anon

            I’m sorry. I thought it was clear that I felt s/he shouldn’t speak about this topic (mental illness and mental health care) if s/he was going to be snarky. I’m sure Pandora has useful comments on other topics, but this isn’t something to dismiss. Especially in the way s/he did.

            I know three people who committed suicide because of untreated depression. One attempted suicide from untreated OCD. One suicide from untreated schizophrenia (we think). And one attempted suicide from untreated schizophrenia. All but two of those were young adults who “didn’t want to bother people” with their problems.

            I don’t normally post here and it won’t happen again.

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              I agree with your take on the issue and found Pandora’s comment surprising myself. It’s the “shut up” that’s at issue, not the substance of your reply :)

              1. Owl

                Then as a manager, you should tell that other person not to make those comments. The person saying shut up is in response to you not having caught the other persons comment first.

  7. Maja

    Find an organization that has recently hired somebody with little experience, e.g. at least a month or two after the job ad experies. A lot of organizations have experied ads on their website. Set up an information interview and fake confidence. You will get some exposure and they are likely to encourage you. Do this few times and you’ll get better at it.
    Also, you can try doing low pressure things, like interviewing for a job you wouldn’t take. Yes, you waste your interviewer time, but still.
    Learn as much as you can about the actual workday you would have on the job and do your best to imagine it.
    Go with the flow.

    P.s. If you do suck at your first job and they fire you in matter of weeks- you can easily omit that completely and learn from your mistakes.

    Good luck!

  8. littlemoose

    The above advice is great. Obviously you have successfully been employed before, so you know you can be capable. Do you think you are more worried now because you are no longer in school, and so there is less of a safety net and more pressure to succeed? Being introspective and identifying exactly why you feel so anxious (if you can; I know it’s easier said than done) may be helpful. Remember that a lot of people try several jobs before they find what field or employer fits for them. That is totally normal. No reasonable person expects your first job to be forever, or for you to be perfect at it.

    One thing you could try would be volunteering in your field, or at least in a semi-professional capacity with an organization. You will gain experience and networking opportunities while building skills and confidence about your abilities. The temping suggestion above is also a great one.

    Lastly, if your anxiety is really hindering your abilities to apply for jobs, interview, etc., there is NO shame in seeking some mental health treatment. Medication and/or therapy may help you get over this anxiety hump to get the ball rolling on your career. It may be beneficial for you whether it is short-term treatment or long-term. If you are concerned about cost or access to treatment, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI; nami.org) may be a starting point for referrals, and many drug companies have patient assistance programs.

    Good luck!!

    1. littlemoose

      One other thing: you mentioned anxiety about just reading the qualifications in job postings. Remember that those are often “wish lists,” and few if any candidates will have all of the skills and qualifications listed. Obviously there are some basic non-negotiables, but very often you ARE qualified for the job, even if your skills and experience do not perfectly align with everything in the posting.

  9. Sharon

    From Ash above: “think about all the people you have worked with who were lazy, incompetent, rude, etc. They all got jobs, didn’t they?”

    Yes, and that doesn’t comfort me, it just makes me worried because the LAST thing I want to be is one of THEM! LOL

    My career is about 25 years old now but I still feel for the OP. The way job ads are written these days asking for everything and the kitchen sink, anybody who doesn’t feel intimidated is probably a little overconfident. Seriously, there are way too many ads that describe all the responsibility of two or three full time jobs, and a wealth of “entry level” titles that call for 2 – 3 years of experience.

    I’ve been chatting with my company’s recruiter about another position focussing more on analysis and less on project management. Today I got an email from her suggesting I apply for a BPM senior management opening. I would fit it pretty well except for one thing: it would be a jump from business analyst position to senior manager – in my company that’s jumping over about three full tiers! I wouldn’t mind taking a supervisory position but I don’t think I’m ready for senior management. (need an eyepop emoticon here)

    1. Lulula

      o_O is “eye-popping” (well, in my world!), and I can sympathize with that feeling – I’m never sure whether people who make suggestions like that are just somehow missing that part of the job description, or have some kind of insight into my skillset that I’m seriously lacking! (Although given how unrealistic most of the job ads are these days, maybe the bar for success has been lowered?)

  10. Emma

    +1 to Lynda. When I first started out, although I did not have experience in Excel (a desired skill for this particular entry-level, grant-writing job vacancy), I did have a history of teaching myself to use other products (like Publisher!). I think describing that self-teaching in my cover letter was important (and somehow I knew this before discovering AAM!). Not just saying, but showing the employer I have a promising history of learning new technology on the job.

    And please know that your anxiety is totally normal! I graduated during the dumps of the recession, and felt many of the same fears you do. It can be quite overwhelming – but seriously, sit yourself down and write up an inventory about yourself. What do you know, what can you do, what technology are you familiar with and your level of proficiency. It’s simple to look at all these job vacancies and think “wah, I can’t do ANYTHING!” But I’ve found that taking a moment to write down these things helps give you confidence in your abilities and can help guide your job search. Good luck!

  11. Dana

    I’ve overcome a lot of my anxiety taking a page out of my husbands book, he asks for all sorts of things in life, things I would never dream of asking for, and he benefits like crazy from doing so. He always says ‘what’s the worst they can say, no?’. I had to really think about that one because ‘no’ used to feel a lot like failure to me. Here’s the thing though, you’ll never get a ‘yes’ if you never answer the question. And an application is kind of like a question, ‘are you interested in me?’

    So if you can come to terms with the fact that ‘no’ is not the end of the world, in fact if you don’t get the interview, or the job, you’ll be in a boat with a lot of other candidates applying for that same position who heard ‘no’ as well. Just by virtue of the odds the more you put yourself out there the more likely you are to hear a ‘yes.

    As for not having being a perfect match to the job description, I don’t think I have been for any of my jobs with the exception of my current one. If you have most the qualifications and are professional, competent, mesh well with the hiring manager that goes a long way. So put yourself out there, apply for those jobs and every time you hear a ‘no’ you are that much closer to a ‘yes’ and the ‘no’ gets a lot less scarier.

    Good luck!

  12. Julie

    Three thoughts:

    1. People want you to succeed and will help you to succeed, because your success benefits their business. Once you’ve landed your job, everyone on your team — your boss, your coworkers, your clients, etc. — all want you to be awesome. They will *help* you to be awesome, if you let them.

    2. Personality is much harder to train than skills. Most office-related tasks aren’t rocket science, and they can be learned with a little time and dedication. It is almost impossible to train someone to be pleasant, contentious, hard-working, and ethical. If you’ve got a good personality and a good set of morals, it doesn’t matter if you can’t do pivot tables in Excel. Someone can teach you that in an afternoon.

    3. Really, truly imagine the worst-case scenario. I know this is counter-intuitive if you’re prone to worrying, but really think about the worst that can happen, and what you’d do about it. For example, let’s say you don’t know Excel, and you’re asked to make a spreadsheet. Horror! Panic! What do you do? Google, maybe? Pick up a book? Ask someone? How long will it take for you to learn to do what they’re asking? A few hours? A day? What happens if you make a mistake? Who do you tell? How do you fix it? etc.

    This does two things: 1. It shows that the worst-case scenarios aren’t usually as horrible as we think they might be, and 2. It gives you a plan for when obstacles get thrown in your way. Most terrible things in a job actually aren’t that terrible when you try to deal with them honestly and early, see #1 and #2 above.

  13. Yup

    As in incoming college freshman, could you have immediately done everything the university required? Navigating course enrollment, degree reqs, IDs and bills, labs, full bore research papers, exams. Probably not, right? Jobs are the same way. You’ll always be learning along the way — some from formal training and manuals, a lot from your coworkers and bosses, and plenty from just day to day experience, including mistakes. As a person just starting out in your career, your job is to: show up on time with all your clothes on, be courteous, pay attention, follow the rules and follow directions, and do the best you can. You’re not expected to be an expert right out of the gate.

    Also, remember — job *duties* are things that you’ll be expected to do regularly, many of which you’ll learn once you’re in the position because most places have their own particular way of doing things. Job *qualifications* are the things they want candidates to have when applying. If you meet 75% of the qualifications, go ahead and apply. After all, getting a job is the only way to start building that experience. :) Good luck!

    1. Sascha

      “…show up on time with all your clothes on…” Just doing that will put you ahead of the curve.

  14. Lora

    “If I don’t do it competently enough, will they fire me?”
    Maybe. But in most organizations it is neither easy to fire someone nor easy to hire their replacement, so in general you would have to be pretty incompetent for quite some time. Not to say no manager ever has been unreasonable, but most places you’ll have a solid grace period of a couple of months when you’re new.

    “If they give me something to do in the job description that I don’t know how to do (i.e. spreadsheets, expense reports), will they allow me to learn or show me how to do it?”
    As long as they are aware that you never did this before, yes, *generally*. For things like expense reporting, every company has their own system or software, so even if you had been doing expense reports for a million years on SAP, you would have to learn to do them differently for Concur anyway. For spreadsheets it might be expected that you have used Excel before in a general way, but the exact use of the spreadsheet would still require some training–for example, I am great at using spreadsheets to analyze reactor process data, but when it comes to using them for finances more complicated than my tax return, forget it. My friend the CFO is an Excel whiz when it comes to counting the beans, but she can’t make Excel “talk” to other programs or create scripts to run with it. Most organizations of more than a couple thousand people will have formal training programs for everything regardless, which everyone will go through, even if you’ve been doing that thing for centuries–they want you to learn their preferred methods.

    “Can I meet their expectations?”
    Maybe. Depends on your manager. Some are quite reasonable, others want to have drunk sleepovers or some sort of craziness. Even within the same organization, same department, some managers will love you and others will hate you *for doing the exact same work*. Hence the importance of discussing a manager’s values, working style, what they are looking for above and beyond spreadsheets and expense reports: Are they going to be working closely with you, coaching you, doing training on the job with you? In that case you probably want someone who is well established in the organization who understands how the corporate culture works, because this person will be communicating The Right Way to you, and they had better be danged sure that their idea of Right matches up with, say, the Legal or Quality departments. Are they going to sort of leave you alone to do your thing? Then you want someone supportive who backs up their people in a jam, because you can easily get thrown under the bus in that situation. You can ask about these things in interviews and decide what you think about their answer. You look into the abyss, the abyss also looks into you.

    Don’t know what to say other than “try not to worry,” which is not super-useful; but I can assure you that nobody expects recent grads to be able to do much more than run the coffeemaker without instructions right off the bat. I can tell you about what I expect entry level grads to do: Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Word, high school level math, basic reading comprehension and using a dictionary for the big words. Writing in complete sentences was kind of a bonus; only needing to be told how to do something three times was a miracle from heaven. Actually getting things done when I give them lists of tasks to complete, with a deadline–PROMOTION!

    1. Kiribitz

      If any company had expected me to be able to run the coffeemaker as a recent grad (or even now) without instructions, let’s just say that it’s a good thing making bad coffee isn’t normally considered a offense for which it’s worth going through the hassle of firing an employee.

    2. Jamie

      I love the last paragraph especially and it made me think of what impresses me in new entry level employees.

      A willingness to learn and someone who writes down what they are being taught. If you put your notes into some kind of documentation doc for reference I may just want to commission a statue in your honor.

    3. Owl

      I do not agree with what you said. Every job I have done expects me to already know what to do. If I go to ask for instruction and help, it really depends on their personality; if they are very nice they will tell me, if they are busy or feel they are too good for me, they will act like I should know already and then that’s one count against me- and I am noted down as someone who doesn’t know what she is doing. There are really snooty managers and bosses who don’t actually like to manage or help you to improve. When I started out I believed that asking questions would be appreciated and a sign of interest and hard work, but it is not so.

  15. Runon

    I find pretty serious anxiety in some of these cases as well.

    I play what’s the worst that can happen. (Realistically… actually the entire world can be destroyed in a gamma ray burst, then if you screwed up one interview doesn’t much matter so you’re good.)

    Applying: If you apply for a job the worst that can happen is you don’t get a call or an interview or a job.

    Interviewing: Worst thing? You don’t get the job. Even if you are horrible in the interview and as long as you aren’t extremely unethical, like oh I stole from my last employer or really really rude they likely won’t remember you negatively. So don’t be a total jerk and don’t be unethical and you should be fine.

    Getting a job: Worst thing? You get fired. You leave it off your resume, you apply for unemployement and you try again. Again don’t do anything really horrible. But simply failing to be able to do the job? Not really a huge deal.

    Now what’s the likely outcome: You apply for a bunch of jobs and you get a couple of interviews, you go thru those few interviews and get an offer or two, you take a job and you run into challenges…work you can’t do that you figure out, ask coworkers about, google, ask your boss, ask your friends. You work with a jerk and you have to learn how to deal with them. You get paid every couple weeks, you pay your rent and buy groceries. You live your life until it is time to do it again.

      1. Runon

        Wish you the best of luck in the hunt. A lot of people have given good suggestions for what to do or how to tackle it. Don’t be overwhelmed by the information, just how many people want to help :)

  16. Sara

    Anxiety about job hunting is SOOO normal. It’s a wonder anyone ever gets a job, really, considering how intimidating the search process can be sometimes.

    In addition to the suggestions above, you might try narrowing your focus down to only the task on your plate one a time. It sounds like you’re trying to take everything on at once. Finding a job is a sequence of tasks – usually some combination of networking, looking at postings for open positions, sending in resumes, interviewing, assessing the fit, and negotiating the offer. You can only do one task at a time. Pick one step – networking, say – and worry only about that step for some period of time – today, or this morning, or for an hour – whatever makes sense. Do the tasks related to this step for that period of time. Your thoughts and your actions are only on this step. If worries come up that are related to a different step than the one you are on, tell yourself you’ll worry about that “later” -write the worry down and put it in a folder to refer back to at that later step if you need to. Then when you’ve finished everything you can usefully do on networking for the moment, take a break, go for a walk, play with your dog, etc – whatever nourishes and de-stresses you. When you come back to the job seach process, take on the next step. If you are looking for postings, look for ones that are in your field and somewhere in the neighborhood of your qualifications, but tell yourself you will worry about whether they are nice, or whether they’ll ask you to do things you don’t know how to do later. Right now, you are just applying for everything that is close to what you want. Getting to the next step, an interview, will give you much more data to work with to determine whether the job is one you will like and feel confident about doing – so it really does makes sense to worry about that later.

    Set up a schedule for yourself so you work regularly on your job search activities, focus only on the task immediately in front of you, and put off some of your worrying, so that it doesn’t stop you from taking action now.

    Good luck!

  17. Mike C.

    Much like dating, you just have to put yourself out there and expect to be rejected. Which you will be. Not because you aren’t awesome, but because there are tons of folks like you who need to pay their bills somehow.

    Make sure you aren’t spending every waking moment looking for work, and be selective about the sorts of jobs you apply for. I know that sounds like crazy talk, but you want to be able to customize your resume/cover letter towards jobs you really fit well for, and that takes time.

    Most of all, it’s going to take a while. I’m really sorry about that, but I wish you the best of luck, and please update us. We love hearing back from folks!

    1. Jamie

      Much like dating, you just have to put yourself out there and expect to be rejected. Which you will be.

      If that’s what dating is like now I am so glad I’m married – that sounds awful.

      Where I do see correlations with dating is that often people make the mistake of hoping the other person likes them…before they even figure out if they themselves are interested. Same with jobs – keep in mind that it’s a two way street.

      And I want to echo what another commenter said – as long as you don’t misrepresent your skills (lying) take a deep breath and remember that they hired you based on what you bring to the table. No one expects anyone to start a new position knowing everything, especially entry level…and as long as you do your best, take good notes, and ask before you f up the database you’ll be just fine.

      Seriously – everyone you will ever work with at one point had first day jitters. Anyone totally immune to that isn’t someone I’d want to eat lunch with.

      1. Runon

        If you never got rejected while dating I entirely envy you! I get rejected more dating than job hunting.

      2. Owl

        But now there really isn’t anything such as entry level, because all entry level, starting jobs require at least 2 years of experience.

        1. Owl

          Even volunteer positions require a list of skills which in previous years would have been acceptable for an entry level job.

  18. Jill

    Hi OP,

    I have been out of college 2 years in June and I completely understand everything you are going through. All of the advice so far has been spot on. I think the most important thing I have learned since starting my professional career is that you find yourself working on something that you don’t know much about, don’t be afraid to ask questions. Be very clear in the way you communicate. I used to think employers would think I’m incapable if I asked too many questions. Also, if you think you are missing a crucial skill trying doing some research, find someone in your network that knows that skill and ask them about it.

    Being anxious is completely normal and you shouldn’t let it deter you from applying from jobs that interest you (easier said than done of course). Take a deep breath, be realistic about your skill set and in the mean time brush up on things that you think will make you a better candidate. Good Luck!

    1. A. Noni Mouse

      +1

      I also graduated 2 years ago in June. I took an AmeriCorps VISTA position right out of school, which was a fabulous experience. Once that ended, I spent a solid 9 months job hunting and volunteering my field while working retail and living with my parents. It wasn’t ideal, but I ended up learning a lot and I just landed a dream job (I know, I know…but it *seems* like a dream job)! Anyway, no matter what happens, everything will eventually work out the way it should.

      If there are skills you keep coming across which you don’t feel you have, VOLUNTEER. Seriously. It’s a great way to network, build your skill set, and improve your self-confidence. And who knows? It could land you a job.

      Good luck! :)

  19. Claire

    I graduated in May 2011, so I’m about a year out from you and definitely understand the anxiety – I just accepted an offer for a job this morning, and I’m definitely almost as stressed as I am excited about it! I try to remember a couple of things:

    1) They wouldn’t have hired you if they didn’t think you could do the job. As long as you’re honest about your qualifications and experience (which can be hard when you reallyyy want a job and to impress people, but it’s best in the long run to end up in a job that you’re suited to!), they knew what they were getting into when they hired you.

    2) In a non-crazy workplace, which you hopefully will find, people are generally really great about answering your questions. You’re new – no one expects you to already know how to do the job. There are always tons of little things that won’t get conveyed in training and that your manager might not know about, since your predecessor always handled X! I always try to snoop around in documentation or shared servers to see if I can figure it out myself, but then I send an email to someone who seems most likely to know (your manager will probably recommend someone in the right department!) and then file it in a “Reference” folder in my inbox so I’ll know in the future – asking the same questions over and over can annoy people, but most people will understand you’re new and need some guidance.

  20. Anon

    I went to therapy because my job anxiety was so bad ( I wouldn’t apply for jobs or if I did I would break down within a few hours crying hysterically on the train). I was depressive/anxious/ruining my life. I have a social anxiety anyway and this was multiplied by a billion. (Want to ruin my day? Invite me to a party.)

    So I did a course of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. I did a lot of journaling about what I was feeling and then talked about it with the therapist. What we figured out was that I was attaching too much of the process of applying to the job at the end. I would get so wrapped up in thinking about the job and my fears that I was paralyzed. I didn’t/don’t have any control about whether I will be hired and I needed to accept that. (I’m the “always a bridesmaid” type of job applicant — I get personal calls of rejection and thoughtful notes about how much they liked meeting me and how they’ll be glad to help me out.)

    Now when I apply I don’t think about anything but applying. I am no longer “looking for a job” or “applying for a job.” My goal is “complete this cover letter” or “complete this application.” Those are my victories, because those are things I can control. Once I have completed my goal I do my best to walk away from the idea of the job or thinking about it in any way.

    My therapist said: Worry about the job when you get the job.

    It’s a struggle. I’ve come to think of it as this almost Zen devotional thing: I throw this stuff out to the universe with no expectation of anything returning. The point of applying is applying. The point of the interview is interviewing. There are no goals beyond that, because I cannot control the outcomes.

    Working on it every day or every other day helps a lot. If you procrastinate (like I’m doing now) I’ve found a timer really helps. Time just disappears when I’m avoiding things and then I panic and do something too fast and make mistakes. Using a timer makes me focus (I have a kitchen timer in the house and a white noise app with a timer for when I’m elsewhere.)

    The other thing I will say is that your legitimate concerns are the perfect starting point for questions for you to ask during your interview. Make a list on your computer, print it out when have interviews and take it with you. Write their answers down. Like: What sort of training would I receive? Is there a probationary period for this position? How does your company handle performance reviews? What is your turnover rate?

    Good luck!

    1. beckythetechie

      Thanks for this. I’m having that sort of problem with one particular application that I need to take by the horns and just freakin’ DO. I don’t think I’m qualified for the position (like at all!), but I know I can do pretty much any job somebody throws at me that doesn’t involve carrying 50# bales of shingles. I needed the reminder to break it down into itty bitty pieces that are easy to knock out so it’s not so intimidating.

  21. Terri

    I just want to thank everyone for all the wonderful comments and suggestions. I feel so much better knowing that I am not alone in this (or a complete psycho LOL). I feel alot better and your comments have made me think much more realistically about the job search and I will take alot of the advice and suggestions and apply it. Thank you SOOOO much!!!

  22. Mrs Donaghy

    “Even if the experience is within my qualifications and I do receive an offer, I constantly worry about if I can do a good job. If I don’t do it competently enough, will they fire me? If they give me something to do in the job description that I don’t know how to do (i.e. spreadsheets, expense reports), will they allow me to learn or show me how to do it? Can I meet their expectations?”

    I wanted to comment on this. I felt the same way not too long ago; my first day I was like “fucking hell I don’t know shit!”….I had to talk myself down and remind myself that I did in fact tell the truth on my resume, the recruiter and employer were aware of my experience, so I had nothing to worry about.

    So chances are, when you’re hired, they already know you don’t know certain tasks, and most decent employers will try to teach you how to do those.

    As for being fired–agian having been there–it’s a worst case scenario but it happens. It was my biggest fear, and I recently went through it, in a sudden and very abrupt manner I was let go. I spent weeks moping and devastated and after a month am just starting to come out of it. I figured…hey….I faced one of my biggest fears, and I’m only stronger (more knowledgeable, more focused on what I want out of a career etc).

    Best of luck OP!

    1. Terri

      Thank you so much for this. And I went through being fired from a job and I went through exactly what you’re going through. It gets better and your confidence will come back. In between job searching do what makes you feel good and use your past experience to monopolize and prepare for the new experience (s) coming your way. Good Luck to you too! :)

  23. Cali7

    I’m a big fan, as others have said, of the what’s the worst that could happen question, as it is a good way to put things into perspective. You can easily survive not getting a job, or having a botched interview- which are the common worst case scenarios for scary job postings. I have an entire file at home somewhere of job rejection notices- and I’m currently working three jobs (1 full-time 1 part-time and 1 very part-time per diem), so those rejections clearly did not render me unemployable. Job searching is like riding a bike- the 20 spills you take don’t mean much compared to the joy of riding once you master it, though there might be times when you are scared to get back on the bike and try again.

  24. Frieda

    I’m no longer a recent grad but I had this same thing when I started working after college. I think one of the most important things to remember is that a job isn’t school. You aren’t given a grade on every assignment you do. You aren’t in competition with your peers for valedictorian. It’s ok to make mistakes sometimes–in fact, you WILL, without a doubt, make mistakes sometimes.

    There are two things that helped me overcome my job anxiety. One is this essay that describes how a lot of bright kids do not handle failure well due to being overly praised: http://nymag.com/news/features/27840/. It described me perfectly, and helped me get a better handle on the try-fail-learn-do better process that is a part of every new job.

    Another is something that has been discussed on this blog before: imposter syndrome: https://www.askamanager.org/2012/08/impostor-syndrome.html.

    I think a lot of bright, successful young people are intimidated by transitioning into the professional world because they were raised in very high-pressure, competitive environments where you were told that you had to either be perfect or you’ll be a failure at life. But adult life isn’t that cut and dry. And once you accept that failures–big and small–are a part of life, then it’s a lot less intimidating to try new things.

  25. BCranston

    I just started my latest job search and wasted probably two weeks panicking about the end result and wasting a lot of emotional energy on anxiety. I have 12 years of experience and tend to always go through this weird anxiety period.

    In addition to some really excellent advice above what I can say is to just start applying and ignore your brain. Getting the process going at the very least will start some positivity and help you feel like you have some control over the process. Action begets action. Worry about interviews when you get them, and offers when those follow ( and they will). But you can’t get to any of those stages unless you start.

    Good luck on your search – you know more than you think you do!

  26. Jen

    Hi Terri, just wanted to agree with the other recent grads who have posted above. I keep getting so obsessed with what MIGHT happen, thinking about how I would behave if I got the job, how I won’t be able to answer interview questions etc. This always happens when I see the posting before I have even worked myself up to applying.

    The thing is, it’s all in my head! I can’t know what they will think when they read my application, whether they will like me or laugh or whatever. I can psych myself out by imagining getting into all sorts if scenarios but they haven’t happened yet. And I might get the job and be great. If not, on to the next. Like you mentioned, my minimum wage role doesn’t trouble me like this. I even think I am doing a great job. So I think if we can move into the professional world we will still be the same people with the same personality that we have now. Good luck, that great job is out there.

    I would also like to mention the peer pressure involved with recent grads. It feels like every day (more like once a month) that another peer from my course has been hired for a great job. Especially as many of us are going for the same sort of positions. It feels like I’m being left behind or that I’m bit good enough. A couple of people just got hired in great jobs in my exact field – it’s tough going to be happy for peers and for friends when you feel a bit low and maybe jealous.

  27. Darcie

    YES! Thank you everyone, and to AAM for posting this! I’m also a (soon to be) grad, and job hunting has started stressing me out, affecting my confidence (“am I employable?”) and all of the above. Thanks to everyone for their kind words.

    It’s like dating like another person commented, because it relates so closely to your self-worth in many ways. The difference is you can give up on dating, but working is kind of non-negotiable unless you have someone to support you.

  28. LG

    If you haven’t set up a LinkedIn! profile and joined groups in your chosen field, you should do so. There are groups for Executive Assistants, admin assists, etc. on there. These groups are great resources with great members who are active and freely give great advice on anything asked of them. They are happy to do so.

    I found a suggestion for free software training at: http://www.gcflearnfree.org/

    You can learn some Excel skills there. While I am quite experienced in Excel, I was able to learn a function I was not familiar with, that is somewhat advanced. So free doesn’t mean not worthwhile.

    Know that if you are a member of the LinkedIn! groups you can always post a question if something comes up on the job you are unsure of (caveat: no way to do it anonymously), or you can read through the archives for previous questions and answers. It is by far the best on the spot resource I’ve seen, second to this. And…it’s how I found AAM to begin with. :-) If you are wanting interpersonal skills/questions, this is the place. If you want advice on the function/skills/life/etc. of an administrative type person…LinkedIn groups is the place to be.

    Good luck.

  29. Rose

    YES, being anxious about an interview is totally normal even with seasoned professionals. Most interviewers are not going to hold this against you. Coming from someone who conducts a ton of interviews, I am always surprised when a candidate asks me to forgive them for being nervous, because most of the time, I can’t even tell that they were nervous. Choose to apply for positions you are well-suited for and genuinely enthusiastic about, prepare for the interview and always maintain your professionalism. If you do those things, then it won’t matter if you are a little anxious during the interview. Good luck with everything!

  30. Jen in RO

    My first few jobs after college just kinda “happened” (through friends who trusted me and hired me), but I was petrified when I had to get my first “real” job. Just thinking of the possibility of an interview freaked me out. The ad for my current job listed things I didn’t even understand, but someone kept telling me that I would be good at it, so I applied. I was so sure I wouldn’t get it that I was super relaxed at the interview! Worst-case-scenario helped me :)

    As for being a new hire – wow, my first day I almost quit. My company’s training is bad to nonexistent and I felt like the stupidest person in the world for quite a while (think 6 months+). A couple of years later, I’m soooo happy I stumbled into this and I want to make it a career.

    From the point of view of the “trainer”, here’s a few things I wished my new coworkers did:
    * Take notes! Please take notes and don’t ask me for the 100th time how to do a basic thing. And if you need to ask me, be polite and don’t act like it’s my fault you forgot. Attitude is key – I loved training some of my coworkers and I hated training others.
    * Ask questions. Even if you have to ask the same question that 100th time :) I’d rather answer again than have to fix your mistakes. (As an offtopic, I suck at this, I hate asking questions and feeling stupid!)
    * Google. Google knows everything. And it’s faster to google it yourself than ask me to do it for you (no, I don’t magically know the answers to all questions). (Until this job, I thought *everyone* under a certain age was computer literate. Big mistake…)
    * The interviewers are just people. I’ve held interviews (as a peer) and I was more nervous than the candidates!

  31. Amy

    I can totally relate! I’ll never forget showing up at a job fair/career event a few months before I graduated. I got so intimidated just by the thought of “networking” and talking with real professionals that I actually ducked into a hallway and started tearing up. Can you say pathetic? Another student who was also there for the event saw me and awkwardly asked if I was okay. I think he meant to say “What’s your problem??”

    I graduated in December of 2011 but have been doing temp jobs in the US and overseas to try to travel as much as possible before “settling down”. As my temp overseas job is winding down, I’m finally facing serious job searching for “real jobs” and it can be really intimidating.

    But as you gain more experience applying and interviewing, and then working, confidence will follow. I got my first (and really only so far) “professional job” as a long term sub in the US while teaching overseas. The whole interview process was intense and draining, but actually receiving a job offer and then going through the whole process of showing up the first day and meeting colleagues and “learning the ropes” really did a lot for my confidence. The more you put yourself in situations where you don’t know what to expect or where you aren’t entirely sure what to do, the more your confidence in being able to succeed and “figure things out” will grow. Think of times when you did something you didn’t think you could or when you showed up to an event where you didn’t know anyone. Remembering times when you were worried about something and then things turned out fine or even really well can be really helpful in boosting your confidence.

    Good luck!

  32. Anonicorn

    Remember some of the positives you bring as a recent grad.

    * You’re still in a “learning” phase and might be more flexible. (It’s so much easier to teach someone willing to listen how to do something the way it needs to be done than constantly convince an expert that, yes, this is how we do it here despite how you’ve done it before.)

    * You’ve learned the latest methods, newest software, or whatever applies to your fields.

    * You probably have lots of energy and enthusiasm.

    * You have nowhere to go but up! Realize that while you might not be the best in your field right now, you’ve got so much time to get better and better.

    * If you’re worried about doing a good enough job, then you probably aren’t the sort of person who will do a bad job. Employers value people who truly want to do well.

    * And I’m sure there are tons more! You fill in the blank. ;)

  33. Anon

    Others have commented on this too, but if you find that it’s consistently escalating into a panic attack (thinking about applying makes you want to throw up/feel like you can’t breathe or might faint/etc.) you may need to seek some professional assistance too. I went through a bad patch where I was having panic attacks several times a week, and needed medication as well as therapy to get through it. If this *is* you, though, don’t feel that you will never be able to get anywhere (something I felt a lot of times). It does get better with help and support. I’ve got a job I really love now and I’m in the running for a promotion.

  34. Sarah

    Know that job searching will get easier over time. You’ll gain more confidence with experience. Every interview you have will make you a little more savvy, a little more aware of what you’re getting into. The rejections will sting less over time and eventually you will forget the disappointment and only have pride in yourself for going after it.

    Also, you may not feel like you have a ton of marketable skills right now, but small steps can add up to big things. Your first job may not be the best fit. You may not love it (but you might). But every experience will teach you something valuable and you will gain real skill and confidence along the way. And that will change your whole outlook. What once seemed like a faint possibility will become no big deal, hey, I’m doing it! Just work hard and stick with it. It may take time but you’ll get there (you really will!).

    And when you feel crappy and anxious, do something about it. Find out what works for you. Try yoga, meditation, prayer, counseling, music, exercise… whatever coping strategies help you find inner peace. Because that peace doesn’t come from the outside. It doesn’t come from a “successful job” or a “perfect” life. It comes from inside you. So figure out what you have to do to access that sense of inner well being. You’ll need it later on down the road too.

  35. Ann

    I think it’s helpful to know that most people don’t find a “real job” right away. When I first graduated from college, I thought I was a failure if I didn’t get a salaried position related to my major within a year or so. But looking back on that time in my life, I realize that was unrealistic. Even friends who landed great jobs ended up disliking them and switching paths completely. A lot of people bounce around for a while. In my case, I worked a couple outdoorsy seasonal jobs for the first year while interviewing for other positions in my desired career. I look back on that period as a really happy, free time, because I was actually working at fun jobs (at a ski resort, leading wilderness trips, etc). I may not have had a high paying job with benefits, but I made great friends and grew as a person and came to understand what I wanted to do next. It’s important to go for it, but don’t get bogged down in unrealistic expectations about where you “should” be at this stage in your life. Embrace where you are and appreciate it for what it is.

    1. Steve G

      I agree. These days you take an ok job (that seems awesome at the time) then write it up as something extraordinary on your resume to get a “real job” later on.

  36. Steve G

    Stick to these topics in interviews (even if your only job ever was being a cashier):
    1) Talk about times you were customer focused
    2) Highlight times you handled stress well
    3) If you are right out of school talk ab0ut extra-curricular activities and any leadership (including projects, not only people) roles, even if they were temporary
    4) Highlight stories that show that you are aware that what you will be doing impacts revenue, profit, etc., show that you are capable of shifting focus to the items that affect revenue the most.
    5) Show you know how to behave in an office. Know how to find work when no one is handing it to you. Remember you don’t have to ask for permission to go the the bathroom or go get a drink, or go to lunch, and in some places, its ok to come in a little late. Telling every little thing to your boss will make you look naive.
    6) Always have a pad to take notes. Write down things that seem obvious because it will get drilled into your brain that way.

    Excel – study it already! There are tons of books for all levels. And as per expense reports, they are easy data entry, sometimes there is follow up to make sure they get paid, but they are easy. Don’t freak out.

    AND once you start:
    Remember, all of this stuff seems so serious and dramatic when you are 22, but it really isn’t. Your first days will be slow and awkward at many jobs. Soon, though, you will start accumulating lists of items you need to do or follow up on, projects will start being emailed to you, customers/coworkers will begin to call you, your boss will keep giving you tasks he trained you on your first month, he/she will give you more complicated/less transactional tasks as time goes on, and it all will snowball, and after 2 or 3 months, you’ll come into work, sit down, get busy, and not need to go to your boss (like a kid in school) asking for work or for permission to do something. All of the things you’re worrying about will just fall into place.

  37. MMooreThanThat

    Totally normal. Totally rational.

    Here’s the deal, though, as someone who was in your shoes just a couple short years ago: no one will ever fire you for not doing everything correctly the first time if they knew you were a recent grad and didn’t have much experience when you first began the job.

    (This is not to say that they will ever fire you for this, anyway, but they especially won’t if they spoke with you and saw your resume beforehand, and KNEW you were coming into this fresh!)

    Just use this time to be a sponge, and make sure to never think that any part of the job is beneath you. If you do everything you’re supposed to do/needed to do (and even THEN some), then you’ll end up with the best references- AND the upper hand when the time comes for a raise, promotion, or even a new job and company.

  38. Stetta

    I’ve been trying to apply for a job for a while now. I’ve applied online to various places. But, when it comes to trying to hand in my CV in person, I just freeze. I can’t walk in, I can’t speak, I can’t do anything. All I can do is walk away and hope I will calm down. But, it only gets worse. I’m really annoyed with myself because I’m the last person who enjoys sitting around mooching off other people. But, I just can’t get over this anxiety, this phobia. So far, I’ve yet to even have an interview mostly because I can’t get past the application stage.

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