Find Your Dream Job, Episode 238:
Coping With Depression During Your Job Search, with Ashley Watkins
Air date: April 8, 2020
This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.
I’m your host, Mac Prichard. I’m also the founder of Mac’s List. It’s a job board in the Pacific Northwest that helps you find a fulfilling career.
Every Wednesday, I talk to a different expert about the tools you need to get the work you want.
Looking for work can be discouraging, especially if your job hunt is a long one.
Ashley Watkins joins us today to talk about how to cope with depression during a job search. She’s a certified resume writer, job search coach and former corporate recruiter.
Ashley comes to us from Birmingham, Alabama.
Ashley, let’s get started. How common is it for people to experience depression during a job search?
It is very common but the thing about depression is that most people either don’t realize that they’re actually depressed or they don’t want to talk about it because they’re embarrassed. It happens more than you think.
Okay, well, let’s break that down. Why don’t people realize it’s happening?
Because they…well, the job search is pretty much like a job in itself, so it takes up a lot of your time, and if you don’t have an effective strategy, you could be spinning your wheels for quite some time. And if you’re getting rejection after rejection after rejection, then you can either think that that’s something that just happens to everybody, or you can be on the other end of the spectrum, where you think it’s something wrong with you specifically, so you internalize that. You don’t want to mention it to someone else because you feel like you’re the only one and they might not understand, and you don’t want to admit that there’s something wrong with you.
Why is it so hard for people to talk about looking for work? You mentioned that people sometimes are embarrassed to bring that up.
I think there’s this stigma with not having a job; it can bring up feelings of being less than. Again, not wanting people to think that there’s something wrong with you. If people know that you’re not working, it can be because you’re laid off, your company had a restructure, or that you want to launch and do something different in your career, but it also could be that you got terminated. And nobody, most people, don’t want somebody to think, “Oh, well, something was wrong with you and you got fired because you weren’t performing or you don’t know how to do your job.” Or something like that, and it can bring up these feelings of, “Well, maybe I’m not good enough, so I’ll just keep it to myself and I’ll just chug along, the way I’ve been doing it. Something has to stick.” And again, you internalize those feelings and that can be very lonesome.
Why shouldn’t people…when people do internalize those feelings, why should they stop doing that, Ashley?
For one, people need to recognize that you’re not alone. You’re not the first person who did not land a job as fast as they wanted to. You aren’t the first person to be laid off. There are other people dealing with some of the same things that you’re dealing with and that could be your support group, that could be your tribe.
I usually tell people to find somebody who’s been through what you’ve been through so that it can be a push and pull situation. They can pull you along with them by teaching you what they did to land their job and then they can also push you out of those feelings of self-defeat and self-doubt and all of those things, so you don’t feel like you’re just overcome with this feeling of lack of self-worth. Like you’re not good enough to get a job or that you’re doing all of the wrong things.
Just hearing it from someone else and having someone understand, it can help you out of that self-pity mode.
Finding other people to talk to can help, and I’m curious, do the circumstances of a job loss affect the amount of depression somebody might experience? Are you going to feel worse, for example, if you were laid off or fired? Or what about somebody who might be employed in a job they don’t particularly enjoy and they’re struggling to find the next opportunity?
Sure, I’m so glad that you brought the differences up in those circumstances because I want everyone, even if they’re looking for a job or not, to recognize that depression is real, for one thing. It’s a real thing, and it’s a little bit more than the Sunday Blues. Not that you’re just waking up on Monday mornings and you’re dreading getting up and going to work because you had such a great weekend. It’s more than that; it’s when you can’t find a way to get yourself out of the hum-drum.
You feel completely defeated and overcome with sorrow, and depending on why you’re in that situation, it can really make those feelings of depression or the lack of self-worth, it can make those feelings worse.
If you were fired, of course, sometimes you don’t see that coming. A lot of times, you should if your employer’s giving you the regular performance evaluations, you should know that there are some issues but in certain cases, like lay-offs, you may not. You may go to work that Monday morning thinking that everything is okay and then you find out that, “Oh, my job is going away today. This is my last day.” And so you have to cycle through those emotions the same way you would when you’re grieving someone’s death.
You may go through the feelings of sadness, you may be angry, you may have questions, you may come to the realization that, “This is happening. Now I need to get in work mode and find another job.” So you have to cycle through all of those things, and ignoring either of those steps could cause you to backtrack.
Let’s talk about how to cope with depression. What’s the first step you recommend a listener take?
The first step that I would say, if I have a client that approaches me and they’re feeling like they’re depressed and that, is really decide and be really true with yourself, to understand whether or not, “Am I just down because I’m not able to find a job right now? Or is this affecting my ability to be able to function through life?”
Is this something that’s a little more serious than just the job? Is it going beyond the regular Sunday Blues, like I said, you’re upbeat on Friday because the weekend is coming, Sunday rolls around and you’re like, “Oh no, not again.” If it’s that sort of thing, you’re out of it by Tuesday or say Monday afternoon, then that is something that is a little different than depression from a job search. It may be a little more intense than that.
Understanding your feelings and what’s your normal. “Am I normally sad every single day?” You know, and then understanding that there is help out there. So, for one, “Do I need the help? Is this something that’s out of the ordinary for me and is it time for me to reach out for help?” And help could come from all multiple places.
It could be a therapist or, you know, something like that. So, I think that’s first is identifying, what’s your truth?
Okay, and let’s talk about that self-examination. How do you…you mentioned paying attention to feelings, and how you feel about going into work or starting your search again on a Monday. What else should people pay attention to and what other specific steps might they take to do that kind of soul searching?
I would say if it’s affecting the way that you, again, go through everyday life and you’re just unable to, you cannot get out of bed, you can’t focus, it’s really hard for you to do things like eat, sleep, you know, just your normal, basic living activities, then, of course, you’re beyond the point of, “I’m just upset because of my job search.” You’re beyond that point.
I would definitely say seek some professional or medical help from a counselor or therapist, you know, a psychiatrist, whatever medical professional or mental health professional you’re going to reach out to for that. But when it comes down to the job, do some inner soul searching.
“If I’m not happy with where I am right now, where do I want to be?”
Start with the end in mind and then work your way backward. So, “Yes, I don’t like this job, I want to get another job doing XYZ.” So, now I know that that’s my end goal so I know I want to be this marketing director at a major telecom company. So, now I can work my way backward to say, “Okay, I need a great resume now. I need to start beefing up my network. Do I need to join any associations? Do I need to take any additional training?”
Figuring out those things that you can do to refine your skills to build you up to your goals. So, again, keep the end in mind and then map out your steps that you’ll take to reach your end goal.
I want to return to a point you made at the start of our conversation, which was the importance of telling people that you’re looking for work.
How does letting others know you’re looking for work help a job seeker, Ashley?
Yeah, so that’s the beauty of networking is that you’re not only connected through…to the person…so we’re connected, you’re part of my network, Mac, so I’m not only connected to you but I’m connected by second or third or fourth degree or whatever to whoever you’re connected to. And so by letting you know, you might not directly be able to offer me a job or it may not be a job where you work. But your friend may have a job that’s available.
You may know of it through another personal connection. “Well, I bumped into Sam and he said he’s looking for a marketing director.”
Okay, so now, because you’ve opened up and said that you were looking for a certain opportunity, it allows people to help you. If they don’t know that you’re looking for a job, or if they don’t understand what you do, they’re unable to send that traffic your way. They’re unable to send you the leads, and so you want people to be your ears and eyes to help you. They won’t be able to do any of that if they don’t first know that there’s a need.
It helps to tell others that you’re looking for work. What would you say to a listener who’s either been laid-off or perhaps fired? What should they say to people about their search? Should they talk about why they’re looking for work or just concentrate on a job search goal?
It really depends on who you’re speaking with. If you’re talking to one of your friends, obviously, if they’re someone that you know, like, and trust, you’ll probably tell them the truth, that you got laid-off or you’re out of work for whatever reason. If you’re talking to somebody and they’re sort of a passer-by networking relationship, meaning you know them in passing, you’ve seen them at conferences and things like that, you may just mention the simple fact that you’re looking for work.
A lot of times people don’t need a reason, they don’t need to know a reason why you’re looking for work in order to help you. Most people are just willing to help you just off of the fact that they know you need help, but it may help to offer some context, especially if you’re changing careers. Because if you’re a teacher and you want to get out of the classroom, but you want to work in more of a corporate setting, doing, say, curriculum development.
Well, you would want to maybe explain that to give a backstory because it humanizes the situation. And so now the person can kind of visualize it and say, “Oh, that makes sense. You’ll still be teaching, but you’re teaching adults versus teaching children.” And here’s the parallel and so they’re better able to help market you. Because self-marketing is important but if you want others to help you, you have to be able to present your needs in a way that they can then go back and explain it to somebody else who could potentially help you.
Okay, so know what you want, tell people what you’re looking for, and ask for their help.
I want to pause right now, Ashley, and take a break. When we come back, I want to talk about something you’ve already raised, which is considering asking for professional help and what form that might take.
Stay with us and we’ll be back in a moment.
One of Ashley’s most important tips today is that you must tell others you’re looking for work.
After all, how can your friends, family, and coworkers help if they don’t know you’re doing a job search?
Here’s something else you need to do during a job hunt: Tell employers what you can do for them.
Hiring managers want examples of results, not promises. That’s why interviewers ask behavioral questions.
Do you have your answers ready?
Go to macslist.org/questions.
You’ll get a free guide with the 100 most common behavioral questions. And you’ll learn a four-part method for handling any behavioral question.
Go to macslist.org/questions.
With practice, it’s easy to answer a behavioral question. Once you know how.
Are you ready?
Get our free guide today, 100 Behavioral Interview Questions You Need to Know.
Now, let’s get back to the show.
We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Ashley Watkins. She’s a certified resume writer, job search coach, and former corporate recruiter.
And she joins us today from Birmingham, Alabama.
Ashley, before the break we were talking about how to cope with depression during a job search and you had raised, in our first segment, the importance of considering getting professional help and that could take the form of a therapist or perhaps working with a career coach. Talk more about that.
When people should consider asking for help, particularly working with a therapist.
Again, you want to be realistic about your job search expectations. So, job seekers, typically I will tell them, your job search can be anywhere from 3 to 9 months, depending on your level of position that you’re targeting. The higher up you go, obviously, those opportunities may be few and far between so it may take longer for you to find those opportunities. So, knowing what your expectations should be.
Make your expectations, reasonable and manageable because you want to always stay a few steps ahead. So, again, if it’s 3 to 9 months and you’re coming up on 8 and a half months and you still have no traction whatsoever, I would think before that, something…a bell needs to whistle or something needs to go off in your head to be like, “I may want to reach out to somebody to see if I need some support to figure out what the issue is.”
To do some, again, some discovery, to decide whether or not, “Are my documents not working? Do I need help with my interviews?” So those are things that could be more apparent. But if you need more professional help from a counselor or a coach who works with you every single step of the way, that would just depend on how much support you feel like you need and you’re not able to do it on your own.
There are certain things that I am fully capable of doing, but if I’m spinning my wheels for too long and it’s becoming something where maybe I can’t pay my bills, or maybe my skills are actually getting rusty, or something like that, then yes, it’s definitely time for you to reach out and get some help. And you can work with a counselor alongside working with a resume writer as well.
You don’t have to get all of the help from one person. The goal is to have a tribe of people around you who you can tap into for different things. You may have that friend that you’re talking to who knows the ins and outs of whatever industry you’re in because that person’s well connected. Then you may have a resume writer that’s on your team. You may even have a recruiter that can help connect you with different opportunities and then you’ve got your therapist who can help you through those different emotions and challenges that you’re having on the inside. So, there are people that should be in your circle that could help you with each aspect of your job search. But even in that, it’s up to the individual to really know themselves and understand when, ”This is not me. I’m just not myself. I need some help.”
How does an individual figure that out? How do they know, for example, that the resume isn’t working and it’s time to work with a resume writer, or a listener might be struggling with getting clear about goals and wondering, “Is this the time to work with a career coach?”
I would say to track your results. Track your progress. Even something as simple as, some people do really well with pen and paper tracking things, writing dates, making notes. I’m pretty bad at it. I try to get better but I like the electronic method. I’ll keep notes on my phone to track different things, but the tried and true method that I have my clients work through is a spreadsheet. Track the day you apply for a position, how you applied for it, who you reached out to, as far as your networking connections, when they responded, what the conversation was about.
Track every single piece and then when there are bottlenecks and you’re consistently not making it past certain points, then you know that that’s probably the issue. If you notice that you’re getting to the initial phone screening, okay, or you’re not getting to the initial phone screening, then you may backtrack and say that it’s the resume.
If you’re getting to the phone screening and you’re not making it past that, well, then let’s reevaluate what happened on that phone screening. If you’re making it to the face-to-face interview but not getting an offer, then the issue may be with…so at every point that you’re stopping and not making it past, document that and see.
Continue to do what’s successful and then readjust your strategy where you’re finding the bottleneck in the system.
I really like that process that you outlined. In identifying where you’re making progress and where you’re getting stuck because it’s very clear and easy to understand. You must see great results with your clients who are doing that.
I do. Especially those who are afraid of networking. Sometimes that in itself brings up anxiety for a lot of clients, especially those who I have that are introverted. I like to describe myself as an extroverted introvert because I prefer to be by myself and not to be out, at these networking events, so I am a little hesitant to do that. So, when I have clients that feel the same way, I usually share those strategies that work for me in order for me to connect with people that I don’t know. So, realizing that there is a way to monitor all of it makes it easier for them and they can see exactly where the holdup was for them, and you know, I had a client who shared a success story with me because she was afraid of networking and that was her bottleneck, that was it, and until she did that, she didn’t get any results and so when I pushed her and said you’ve got to just try it. Just one time.
Just reach out to this person, that she hadn’t spoken to in 8 years but she knew them well at the time, and they had just lost connection, and I always say, rekindle your old network. Tap into those people that you haven’t spoken to in a while. Reconnect with them. She was able to do that and had some very good success very quickly, but that was her bottleneck.
How do you recommend a listener find a coach? Say they’re in the market for a resume writer or a career coach or someone who can help with a LinkedIn profile, whatever bottleneck has been identified following the process that you just outlined. What’s the best way to find a vendor who can help you?
I would say, ask your network. Ask people who have used a coach before. It’s just as simple, these days, as making a post on social media asking, “Have you ever used a career coach?” You don’t have to let people know that it’s you that wants to know it. You can find an article and share it and sort of passively ask whether or not somebody’s used a job search coach or a resume writer before. And then you can expand your search and maybe Google resume writers or career coaches. But regardless of how you find these people, you definitely want to have some sort, most coaches and resume writers that I’m familiar with, offer some sort of discovery call or maybe just a 15-minute call just to talk about the process and just to manage expectations and talk about fees and processes and things like that. So, I would say schedule as many of those as you have to until you find that right fit.
It has to feel good, it’s an important investment in your career. Probably one of the most important things you will do in life is to say yes or no to a job, besides buying a house and having a family and that sort of thing. So, you want to take it very seriously and vet people before you just sign on. In the same way that you would, if you were looking for a new barber or a mechanic or something like that, you would ask your network first.
How do you recommend people find a therapist if they want to work with a counselor on those personal issues? How do you coach your clients who might be in need of that service?
Usually, I have my clients self-identify whether or not they need help. If they mention things like they’re depressed or something like that, then I’ll have them…I’ll just talk to them a little bit about you know, just managing what they feel like they need help with. If it’s somebody just to talk through their issues of stress or anxiety or things like that, I’ll just tell them to talk to their primary care physician who may be able to make recommendations for them. Because that’s somebody who has managed their health otherwise, and usually, they’re easily able to make a referral.
You can also talk to people. Now it’s becoming less taboo to even have a therapist. Because that’s why a lot of people didn’t get help, is because people thought, “Oh, you have a therapist. You’re crazy.” And that’s not it, it’s just that a lot of times you need people to help you get a plan and a strategy to be a better you. It has nothing to do with you being crazy.
I think that the more open we are about having those conversations, the more willing people are to share. Like, “Oh, I’ve got a great therapist. I love my therapist, so I’m going to make this recommendation for you.”
So, I think the first place I would start is my primary care physician and I usually tell my clients to start there first, and then, if you want to talk to your friends and ask for recommendations if you know that your friends…I mean, several of my friends have therapists, so if I ever needed a new one or wanted to change or something like that, I could easily find one through them because we talk openly about that.
It really just depends on how open you are about discussing those types of things but again, if all else fails, the best way to do it is just talk to your PCP first.
I want to return to a point you made earlier in the interview, which is the importance of asking for help and I hear from so many job seekers who say they do that but they get ghosted, Ashley. Emails go unanswered, calls don’t get returned. Why do you think that happens?
Sometimes I think, and it’s great, I’m glad that you brought that up, that does come up regularly. People get ghosted, recruiters get ghosted by candidates. I think it usually happens when people don’t know what to say and then they’d just rather not say anything. You can call it being a coward or just lack of customer service or whatever, but it is common to not hear something back. Sometimes you can trace it back to, maybe you’re not asking the right questions.
I think, a lot of times, when I do the discovery work with clients, I find that they’re reaching out asking for something to people that they don’t know. And so I usually tell them, if you’re not comfortable asking this person for $50, then you’re not comfortable enough to ask them for a job.
What about people who are just asking for an introduction or perhaps a meeting to learn more about the company? They don’t want a gift, they just want some insights. What’s the best way to make an ask like that to ensure that you do get a response and reduce the likelihood of getting ghosted?
I think what you can do is, especially if you’re connecting with someone via email, or maybe it’s just a cold reach out via LinkedIn or something like that, you want to research the person and really truly understand, “Why am I reaching out to this person?” So, if you don’t first know the reason why, besides, “Oh, I want a job.” Well, then that’s not a good enough reason to reach out to somebody or to get a response.
Of course, it’s a good reason internally, and we know we’re all doing this to get a job but it doesn’t need to become…it’s about give to get. It’s not about, “I’m going to see what I can get from you. I need your connections, I need your referral, I need you to send my resume.” You’re not there to put that person to work because they’ll ignore you that way.
Especially, if you’re reaching out to someone like a recruiter or a hiring manager who gets those types of communications all day long. Something about you has to differentiate, so research to see what personal connection you have. Make it about that person when you’re connecting, don’t make it about yourself.
It’s ultimately, of course, in the back of your mind, it’s because you want a job, of course, but initially, in order for you to build to that, it has to be about the other person. It has to be about them and their job and their connection to the organization. What their experience has been like, and then you can ease into the conversation about what they could do to help you, after you’ve helped them.
Okay, so know why you want to talk with this person and how they might be helpful to you, and offer questions or make it clear what the purpose of the meeting is.
Well, Ashley, it’s been a great conversation. Now, tell us, what’s next for you?
Yes, so what I want to do now is, because so many people are not sure about working with coaches right off, so they need a little bit of help. So, I want to launch this job search kit, it’s going to have tons of resources about networking, researching, career document prep, interviews, so it’s going to address every piece of the job search. So what you need to do before, during, and after you land the job, so that your progression continues. So, it’ll have a lot of sample letters and things like that in it to help everybody. And I want to start, I’m building my coaching business because I have been a corporate recruiter for 15 years now, so I have a lot of knowledge, first-hand knowledge that can work people through application processes and things like that. So, I want to really expand on that and then do a lot more public speaking.
I know people can learn more about you and the services you offer by visiting your website. That’s WriteStepResumes.com.
Ashley, you’ve had so much great advice today. What’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about how to cope with depression during a job search?
Yep, so understand that if you learn anything about job searching, in general, is that rejection is going to happen. You can only land one job. There’s only one yes, right? That’s all you need, so the rejection is usually what triggers…it starts there. You’re not getting something, so understand that that happens and it can be a hard pill to swallow.
However, when you make adjustments and do your evaluation to see what’s not working, adjust quickly, ask for help, seek guidance on determining whether or not it’s the Sunday Blues or whether or not you actually have severe depression.
Get the help that you need so that you can get into a more positive mindset, and then that way, you can land your dream job at the salary you deserve.
What will you do in your next job interview when you get a behavioral question?
For goodness sake, don’t wing it.
Get your free copy today of 100 Behavioral Interview Questions You Need to Know.
Go to macslist.org/questions.
On our next show, our guest will be Soumary Vongrassamay. She’s a specialist in equity and conflict resolution.
Soumary says one of the most effective ways to enjoy success in your career is to cultivate an inner circle of advisors.
She and I will talk about how to create and serve such a circle. And why it makes such a difference in a job search and a professional life.
I hope you’ll join us. Until then, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.