Avoiding a Downward Spiral During a Job Search, with Chase Sterling

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If your job search is taking longer than expected, you may notice some unpleasant symptoms like anxiety and sleeplessness. These things, in turn, can lead to poor decision making. And poor decision making can lead to a hiring manager noticing your stress levels and wondering if you can do the job. If you find yourself in a downward spiral, Find Your Dream Job guest Chase Sterling says you can change it by developing a healthy daily routine. Chase also shares how mindfulness and gratitude can be key ways to lower your stress and anxiety.

About Our Guest:

Chase Sterling is the Founder of HHP Cultures, whose mission is to improve the world by improving workplaces.

Resources in This Episode:


Find Your Dream Job, Episode 253:

Avoiding  a Downward Spiral During a Job Search, with Chase Sterling

Airdate: July 23, 2020

Mac Prichard:

This is Find Your Dream Job, the podcast that helps you get hired, have the career you want, and make a difference in life.

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It’s easy to get discouraged while looking for work, especially if you’re between positions.

Chase Sterling is here to talk about how you can avoid a downward spiral during a job search.

She’s the founder of HHP Cultures. It’s a consulting firm that improves individual and organizational well-being.

Chase joins us today from Portland, Oregon.

Chase, let’s get right into it, what do you mean when you talk about a downward spiral during a job search?

Chase Sterling:

Absolutely, I think one of the most important things is to develop a routine, and routines help us decrease stress and anxiety, and when we talk about a downward spiral, I think it always starts with sleep. We all need a good night’s sleep and if we’re stressed and anxious, especially during a time where maybe we’re looking for a job, it’s going to impact how we sleep.

When we don’t have a good night’s sleep and you wake up, you don’t make the best choices. You tend then not to make the best choices nutritionally, you tend not to move your body as much, you might overindulge in a few adult beverages at night, and then that goes right back into not sleeping again.

By one thing in your routine going wrong, that’s what I call the downward spiral, and it typically can start with sleep.

Mac Prichard:

What does a  downward spiral look like? I mean, you didn’t get a good night’s sleep, but how does that affect you as a job seeker?

Chase Sterling:

Well, as a job seeker if you don’t get a good night’s sleep, you’re going to wake up in the morning, your brain is actually going to release certain chemicals that are going to make you crave things like sugar, fat, and extra caffeine. So, we’re not getting that latte this morning; we’re going to get a quad-shot latte. Then if you decide to sit down, maybe you’re getting on Mac’s List to look for a job, you’re going to hit that crash before you get too far into it.

Maybe you’re only 30 minutes in, and so now, how are you going to refocus? But you’re not feeling well, so you don’t reach for the super healthy lunch, you deserve that burrito because you’re out of work and you don’t feel good. But now, you’ve got that gut-bomb burrito, you go to work on your resume or cover letter later, you can’t focus, so you decide to watch Netflix instead and self-soothe. Then you’re just comfy on the couch, there’s no walking or getting out and about, and then again, you may lean into making some unhealthy decisions at night.

Like, having an extra glass of wine and that goes right back into impacting your sleep. We’ve all had that time where you go to bed and you wake up in the middle of the night suddenly. That’s usually when your body has finished metabolizing out the alcohol, so that really breaks up our sleep. Now, we haven’t been well-rested so when we wake up again, time to start a new day, we don’t feel good. We don’t want to sit down and look at the job boards. And you can get out of a routine very quickly, so it’s very important to notice when you’re starting to get out of a routine so that you can pull yourself up out of that spiral and not stay there.

Mac Prichard:

Not getting a good night’s sleep is a trigger event, and then these other factors that you described, diet, lack of exercise or indulging in things that maybe you enjoy but you’re doing too much, like a glass of wine or watching that 5th or 6th episode on Netflix in one afternoon. These are all things that contribute to a downward spiral.

Chase Sterling:

Yeah. Absolutely, when the Netflix sign pops up saying, “Are you still watching?”, maybe that’s a good time to take a break.

Mac Prichard:

What can people do about this? Because the things that we’ve covered can be very challenging: diet, exercise, paying attention to sleep. What’s a job seeker to do, Chase?

Chase Sterling:

Sure, I think most of us know the basics when it comes to health and well-being, but really I think one of the most important things is to create that routine. So, when you have a routine you’re going to set times for specific tasks, so even looking at your calendar as if you’re still working. If you’re looking for a job, that is a job in and of itself, so look at your calendar. Block out the times that you’re going to be dedicated to being online on a job board. Dedicate the time you’re going to be on LinkedIn doing some social networking. Dedicate the time you’re going to be researching an organization that you’re going to apply for, learning about their core values. And then you need to set in times, too, to just take breaks.

Go for a walk. Exercising doesn’t need to be this big, out of reach thing; just get up and move a little bit. Your back’s probably hurting from sitting. Stretch, eat some healthy food, if you’re at home, looking for a job, hopefully, you have access to cook, so maybe take some time to cook some nutritious meals so you feel good. And I absolutely think it’s okay to still indulge. I love sugar, myself, but it’s about having maybe a glass of wine, not the bottle of wine for a night.

It’s all about balance but I think routine is critical, and right now, job seekers aren’t just looking for a job. They’re looking for a job during a national health pandemic, and so, that is bringing on extra stress and anxiety, so having a routine during this time is a way to really help you navigate, day in and day out, what are you doing? How are you feeling? And it gives you a sense of control and that sense of control is really critical to our success.

Mac Prichard:

So much of life is routines and it’s habits and, as you say, we’re in the middle of a pandemic, and as a result, so many routines and habits have been disrupted. Things that we’ve been doing every day for years, we can no longer do, like, perhaps, commute to the office, or go to a grocery store on a certain day or stop by a coffee shop. What’s your best advice, Chase, for someone who needs to establish new habits or new routines when they might be short-term, as well?

Chase Sterling:

Yeah, I’d really love to give a shout-out to one of my favorite researchers of all time, BJ Fogg. He actually came out with his first consumer-facing book in January, (I get nothing if you read his book) but it’s actually called “Tiny Habits.” And  I’ve been studying his research and methodology for over a decade and he really talks about, behavior happens when motivation and ability and a prompt come together at the same moment. What do you want to do, is kind of your motivation, and what you can do is your ability.

It can be really difficult to increase motivation. I feel like if anyone knew how to motivate people all the time, they’d be a zillionaire. But we can control our ability. So,  we have to find tasks that are in reach. If we’re setting a task that’s too difficult, we could get frustrated and then stop. Maybe when you’re looking at your routine, you really need to think about, “Okay, 45 minutes is enough time for me to spend on a specific job board, then it’s time to log off.”

If you say you’re going to spend 5 hours a day looking for a job, that’s probably not sustainable and you’ll get frustrated and quit. You really need to think about, what is the tiny behavior that you’re going to do, and you want to start with the smallest behavior possible and find a spot where it fits into your routine, and then you’re going to nourish that behavior, so it gets established. You have the cue-routine-reward cycle. So, maybe after you finish with a job board, that’s when you go on a 10-minute walk outside, so then you look forward to that every day.

That helps cement the routine and maintains a really good balance between doing what you have to do and what you need to do.

Mac Prichard:

Can you paint…you’ve just done a great job describing the building blocks of a typical day. Paint for us a picture, Chase, of what an ideal day might look like for a job seeker who’s trying to avoid that downhill spiral and investing time in a sensible way that’s going to allow them to pace themselves and allow them to get that job. Because, as you know, many job seekers think, “Well, if I put in 8, 10, 12 hours a day, I’ll get a job faster.” So, what does an ideal day look like if you want to avoid that downward spiral and get that job in a healthy and rapid way?

Chase Sterling:

Yeah, I would recommend to really focus on approaching your day with mindfulness. Live in the present moment and focus on what you can control right now. One of my favorite mindfulness tips is actually to develop a mindful mantra. Mine is, “I’m going to make it an awesome day.” And I wake up in the morning and before my feet hit the ground, I say, “I’m going to make it an awesome day.” And sometimes I get out of bed and step in cat puke, and I’m still going to make it an awesome day.

For a job seeker, find that mantra that motivates you; wake up and start your day with, “Today’s going to be a good day.” “I’m going to be happy today.” You’re controlling how you react to situations, those are things we can control, our behaviors and our actions. So, I would start your day, hopefully, nourish your body, maybe move it a little, and when we talk about things like exercise and diet, I don’t mean anything extreme. I just mean make sure you’re eating, make sure that you’re moving around some.

Really schedule out your day. We tend to be most apt to learning in the morning so that might be the best time to do your research but we all have different body clocks so I think it’s okay to just decide when you’re going to be online searching, when you’re going to be looking at companies, when you might be working on your resume or social networking. Figure out what time of day feels best and start to plug those in, and I think it’s okay to stick to that.

If you’re going to a job board every single day, they don’t change that often, so I think you also have to be very kind to yourself and say, “Okay, I’m done for today, so what else can I do?” And this is the time that you can work on projects, so reframing the situation, which is a resiliency technique. So, you’re out of work right now but how can you reframe the situation?

You have more time, so maybe you have more time that you can cook, you can pick up nourishing ingredients and cook meals. Maybe you can work on a hobby, maybe you can finally clean out that bedroom closet you’ve been wanting to. Really looking at your situation in a different way, and research shows who people who have resiliency, it’s the one quality that successful people have in common. So, this is a time to build resiliency and just maintain that positive attitude.

Mac Prichard:

I want to talk more about resiliency after the break but I have to ask a quick follow up question. When does that typical day end? Let’s say you’re starting your job search work at 9 or 10, how long do you recommend somebody go and how many days a week, Chase?

Chase Sterling:

I would maintain, I think even when you’re not working, I would maintain a schedule close to what it was when you were working. So, still waking up at the same time or close to the same time, and going to bed at the same time. I think that’s critical, even on the weekends, and I think…I don’t think that you can look at it as a normal workday though. 8 hours is entirely too much.

I would think maybe 4 hours if I’m thinking about spending a little bit of time on a job board, checking in on LinkedIn, maybe looking at different boards and organizations in the area, maybe learning a skill, taking an online course or listening to a podcast, anything that you can do for personal development. Which is going to help you grow those professional skills as well.

Mac Prichard:

Terrific. We’re going to take a quick break, Chase. When we come back, Chase Sterling will continue to share her advice on how to avoid a downward spiral during a job search.

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Now, let’s get back to the show.

We’re back in the Mac’s List studio. I’m talking with Chase Sterling.

She’s the founder of HHP Cultures. It’s a consulting firm that improves individual and organizational well-being.

Now, Chase, before the break, we were talking about how to avoid the downward spiral. You mentioned resiliency, I want to get into that but I have a quick question.

We’ve talked a lot about what you need to do to avoid a spiral. I’m just curious because I know you work with employers all the time, can a hiring manager tell when a candidate is caught in a downward spiral and does that affect the candidate’s prospects?

Chase Sterling:

I would say yes because if you’re not feeling your best, we can all fake it, we can all zip it up and put on that best face, but I think it doesn’t come through as authentic as when you’re genuinely happy. If you start to get to that point where you’re so stressed and anxious, and I’ve been there myself, a hiring manager is going to catch up on that and they’re going to be wondering, maybe, what’s going on and how do they handle stress, and what’s going to happen in the workplace, how much work can they take on?

They’re going to judge you just based on your mannerisms, your vocal tone, your body language. So, as hard as it is, I think they’re used to nerves, nerves are normal. A lot of hiring managers will talk you through the nerves and do some ice breakers if they’re a nice hiring manager but if you’re really struggling with sleep or not feeling well from a health perspective, it’s going to come through.

Mac Prichard:

The good news is there’s something you can do about it. You can act on the advice that you shared in the first segment to begin to make a positive change.

Chase Sterling:

Absolutely. I think recognizing the things you can control, it makes us all feel better when you figure out, what can you control? And going into each day thinking, there’s a lot of things that you can’t, what can you control, and it’s about how you react too, behaviors. It’s very empowering.

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned resiliency a number of times in the first segment. I know that one of the things that you recommend to avoid a downward spiral or to get out of one is to recognize the power of resiliency. Talk to us more about that, Chase.

Chase Sterling:

Absolutely, there’s so much power in resiliency. Again, I mentioned earlier, it’s the one quality that researchers have pretty determined, they’re always looking at what makes people successful, and resiliency is at the top of the list. Not being afraid to fail is a great skill. I like to say I’ve failed up.

We’re all going through failing right now, I think, with this pandemic. We all got thrown into different situations, and if you weren’t working, or maybe you’ve lost your job during this time, this is a time that you’re building resiliency. We build resiliency by going through difficult situations and in a way this is a controlled situation. Things could be a lot worse if you think about it, so during a job search, you’re going to experience failure. You’re going to have good days, you’re going to have bad days, and it’s okay to have those emotions. You just want to process through them and make it out on the other side, and there are things that you need to do to be able to do that.

If you have good resiliency, you’re probably a good problem-solver and a lot of us, in many jobs, we need to be problem solvers. So, this is actually helping you build your problem-solving skills, so this could even be something that you talk about in an interview. Finding a way to feel that control, so being mindful of your situation, of the moment, focusing on what you can control. This is also a time where many of us, when we feel stressed and anxious, we tend to pull away from people and this is a time where we need to be vulnerable and ask for help and lean into our social circle.

Lean into those friends you can trust, lean into those colleagues from the past, lean into your social circle, and ask for help. Let people know what you need and there are people out there who, even if they don’t know you, if they see you have XYZ skill, they may happen to introduce you to someone. It’s hard to be vulnerable but if you can find that strength in vulnerability, I think it can do a lot of good and, again, all of this is building resiliency. Which is just going to help you when you get back to work.

Mac Prichard:

Rejection happens all the time in a job search. You send out applications, you don’t hear back, you’re a semifinalist or a finalist for a position, perhaps one you really want, and then you get the no.

Chase, what do you see the people you work with who deal with that rejection, what do they do differently than other job candidates in order to be resilient and keep going?

Chase Sterling:

One of the most important things that you can do, not just in a job search but in life, is to practice gratitude, and it’s also going to help you sleep better, so kind of tying into the downward spiral.

I personally practice gratitude every evening. Lst the 3 things that you’re grateful for, so if you just came out of a job interview for something, you just, you wanted this job so badly and you just missed it, be grateful for the experience. You got to interview, you got to hone your skills, you kind of know, “Okay, this application worked for me, this type of cover letter caught someone’s eye. I did well in the interview this way.”

I think it’s important, too, to not give up. You never know what other opportunities might happen at that organization, so don’t forget to thank the recruiter or the hiring manager for their time. Ask if there are any suggestions they have on improvement, ask them to keep you in mind if future positions open. But practicing gratitude, it improves self-esteem, it can help you sleep better, it actually has been shown to enhance empathy, and it can improve your physical and your psychological health.

I think when we practice gratitude, that is a practice that, again, successful people do and happy people do. People who practice gratitude tend to be happier and that happiness can come through in a job interview. You can probably hear me smiling right now.

Mac Prichard:

When you’re doing a job search, of course, you’re sending out thank you notes, and you’re saying thank you at the end of conversations, but are there other habits that you can practice during a job search to express gratitude that perhaps you can carry over into the rest of your life, as well?

Chase Sterling:

During a job search, I’m thinking about what correlates with both. I think just always being grateful for any experience that you’re going through. You can always think about how things could be worse, which is kind of an awkward thing to think maybe, but a lot of times we get in our heads and we’re making things so much worse in our brain than they actually are. So, bringing yourself back to that mindful moment, maybe repeating that mantra, “You know what, I’m still going to make it an awesome day. How can I regain control back over this day?”

Sometimes gratitude is really basic, that I was able to eat today, I have a warm, safe place to sleep, and there are a lot of people in our communities who don’t have that. So, sometimes it’s getting back to the basics of gratitude. I think, if you continually practice being mindful, practice gratitude, remember the power of resiliency, I think that’s really going to help with your psychological health and your mindset in the job search process, and then when you have a job, you’re going to be even more grateful that now you can get back to work.

Mac Prichard:

We’ve talked a lot about how to avoid that downward spiral; what advice do you have for someone who might be listening and think, “I’m caught in this. Those all sound like good ideas but how do I turn this around quickly?”

Do you have a different set of tips for somebody who might be trapped in a downward spiral right now, Chase?

Chase Sterling:

I would start with just one thing. I would highly recommend going outside, just being outside in fresh air, if you have the ability to get close to nature, even if you’re in an urban environment,. There’s a lot of research that getting outside, getting some sunshine, getting some fresh air. One of my favorite things to do is go to the playground at night and swing on the swing sets and I get the most gigantic endorphin rush of my life. You might want to bring some Clorox wipes with you these days but getting outside. Making time for self-care, and sometimes we confuse self-soothing with self-care.

Self-soothing is maybe me going to get that extra hot fudge sundae because it makes me feel good, but self-care is actually me going on a 10-minute walk which is going to have a reciprocal benefit. Getting outside and just moving a little bit, just being, breathing, a mindful walk. When was the last time you went on a walk and you weren’t looking at the phone?

Turn the phone off. That’s a good one.

Mac Prichard:

That is a good one and any special pandemic tips? Because many of us are at home right now and our listeners are all across the country; some stay at home orders have been lifted, but movement is limited. There aren’t the social opportunities that there were 4 months ago.

Chase Sterling:

Absolutely, and I’m in the same boat. I’m single, I live alone, and I live in less than 600 square feet, so I’m in a tiny box all day. There’s so much power in routine. This pandemic has really gotten everyone out of their routine so it’s about developing a new routine. You hear them say the “new normal” quite a bit; the new normal, that phrase actually comes from the military, and I happen to be a veteran. So, when you go through trauma, things are never the same as they were before but you find a way to a new normal.

During this pandemic, honestly, the world is going to look different after this, so it’s our new normal and you can correlate this back to the job search, too. When you lose your job, that’s traumatic, so what does your new normal look like during the job search? And then you have another new normal when you get back to work. We always are evolving and progressing in life, so it’s all related.

Yeah, just getting through life.

Mac Prichard:

It’s been a terrific conversation, Chase. Now, tell us, what’s next for you?

Chase Sterling:

HHP Cultures, we are coming up on our one-year anniversary, so very excited to be celebrating that. I’m also still working on a book; it’s called, “Happy, Healthy, Productive: A Common Sense Guide to Engaging Your Employees in the Work Place.”

And I’m really excited to announce that I just launched a well-being think tank, here in the Portland area and we’re going to be serving the community with free events to help employers, so look for that in the fall.

Mac Prichard:

Terrific. Well, I know people can learn more about you, your company, and your upcoming book by connecting with you on LinkedIn, again, that’s Chase Sterling.

Now, Chase, given all the great advice you shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about how to avoid a downward spiral during a job search?

Chase Sterling:

I would say, the most important thing is to learn how to live mindfully. I think mindfulness is critical, and resiliency and gratitude are a part of mindfulness. So, focus on living in the present. We can’t do anything about the past, we don’t have time to worry about the future. Be in the present moment and that mindful mantra really does help. I tell you, I go back to that, “I’m going to make it an awesome day,” sometimes 20+ times a day and it can be very helpful and empowering.

Mac Prichard:

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Next week, our guest will be Tia Coachman. She’s the founder of Affirma Consultancy.  Her company provides bespoke human resources and executive search services.

Tia has helped hire thousands of people for jobs in government, the private sector, and the nonprofit world. She says the most successful applicants always know three things about themselves.

Aren’t you curious to know what they are? Join us as Tia and I discuss the three things every job seeker needs to know.

Until next time, thanks for letting us help you find your dream job.