How to Build Confidence in Your Job Search, with John Tarnoff

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If you go into a job search with low self-confidence, it could affect whether you get a job offer. But the job search process itself can be demoralizing. Find Your Dream Job guest John Tarnoff is here to share how to be more confident by clarifying what you bring to the table. John has four specific questions to ask yourself- what do I do best; what do I love to do; what does the world need; what can I get paid for? Once you have these answers, you can approach any interview with confidence in the value you offer. 

About Our Guest:

John Tarnoff is a coach, speaker, and author who helps mid and late-career professionals achieve meaningful careers.

Resources in This Episode:


Find Your Dream Job, Episode 397:

How to Build Confidence in Your Job Search, with John Tarnoff

Airdate: May 3, 2023

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.

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.

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You may hear no – or nothing at all – from hiring managers when you look for work.

And as this happens, you might start to get discouraged.

John Tarnoff is here to talk about how to build confidence in your job search.

He’s a coach, a speaker, and an author who helps mid and late-career professionals achieve meaningful careers.

John’s latest book is Boomer Reinvention: How to Create Your Dream Career Over 50.

He joins us from Los Angeles, California.

Well, let’s get going, John. Do most job seekers struggle with confidence when looking for work?

John Tarnoff:

I think so. I think it’s kind of a natural condition for us as we’ve been bred by the hiring market, the hiring, recruiting market. There is this natural tendency, I think we all have, to kind of go into survival mode when we’re looking for a job, particularly if we have been fired, let go, reorged out of our previous position. There are a lot of conflicting feelings going on. So, it’s challenging.

Mac Prichard:

Can the length of a job search also affect your confidence?

John Tarnoff:

Absolutely, I think that’s something that I see a lot. If you run out of steam after, could be as short as a month, but typically, when you get to the three to four to five-month point, and you are not getting close to a job, then the panic really does start to set in. Even if you have some savings still in the bank, even if you have some small side income coming in, if you’re going for a full-time W-2 position and you’re not scoring, it can be really, really difficult.

Mac Prichard:

How does a candidate who lacks confidence come across to a hiring manager, John?

John Tarnoff:

Well, just imagine yourself in that hiring manager’s position. If you walk into that interview and you’re not looking the person in the eye; if your handshake is not firm, friendly; you’re not smiling; you’re not clearly eager to be there; then that sends an automatic body language signal to the hiring manager or recruiter that you’re nervous.

Now, in fairness, they should be expecting that there’s going to be a certain nervousness factor for everyone who comes in to sit opposite them in that job interview. So, a good hiring manager, a good recruiter, is gonna make allowances for that. This is, after all, what they do. They should be trained to be looking beyond the nervousness. They should be looking to put you at ease in the interview so that you can come across with your best performance in that interview because, at the end of the day, they do want to fill that position with a qualified candidate, and you may be that candidate, and they may recognize that, well, just because they’re nervous in the interview doesn’t mean that they can’t do the job, or aren’t the right candidate.

Mac Prichard:

You’ve got some tips for how to build confidence in your job search. Before we talk about those, just one last question about confidence. How can it affect your job search, John, if you’re experiencing a lack of confidence?

John Tarnoff:

I think that when you ask that question, what comes up for me is kind of a general sense of fog. Perhaps, we should put it in that way. Kind of brain fog around, am I doing the right thing? Am I going about this the right way? I’ve done what I’ve always been told to do. I updated my resume. I think it’s in the right format. I’ve had a couple of people take a look at it. I’ve even had some people who I may know who are in the recruiting and hiring field take a look at it and give me a few tips, cleared it up.

But because this is not something we do every day, and because it’s something we generally dread having to do, that is, looking for a new job, it becomes this unpleasant, icky, uncomfortable situation overall. So, as a result of that, because we don’t feel comfortable, we don’t feel like this is something we are masters at, that is looking for a job, finding a job, landing a job, we want to get this over with as soon as possible. And so, we’re kind of holding our nose to a certain degree about this process. We really don’t want to have to do this.

So, I think that contributes to the lack of confidence in the sense of, I feel so uncomfortable in this situation. I just want to get it over with.

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s talk about how to build confidence in a job search. One of the first tips I know that you share is to recognize, as a candidate, that you’re a valuable asset. And how does this recognition help you, John?

John Tarnoff:

Well, I think, thank you for starting there because I think it really does begin with an appreciation of what it is that you bring to the table in the work that you do. And when you’re starting out, it’s hard to know that. You’re kind of looking for an opportunity to demonstrate that you can do the job, that you can learn the job. That you are an adult. That you are a professional. You do have an education. You do have some skills. You’re willing to learn more. That’s a great attitude to have as an entry-level professional in your twenties and early thirties.

But as you gain more experience, you have that to rely on. So, what happens, however, in a job is that you kind of lose sight of that. You kind of lose sight of that because you’re so close to the work that you’re doing and the day-to-day routine and the interactions and collaborations that you’re doing with your coworkers and your leadership that you kind of lose sight of exactly what it is that you do that’s so valuable because you’re part of this larger effort.

If you’re in sales, it’s a lot clearer because you’re either making deals or you’re not. You’re either bringing in revenue, or you’re not. So, let’s put sales on a side burner and really just talk about all sorts of varieties of knowledge work.

It can be hard to see, after a certain amount of time, which of all of these things that you can do are the things that you do best. So, for me, the process of building confidence, in terms of getting in your job, is to really take a step back around what it is that you do and have been doing, and start to analyze the impact that you’re making, how it feels to do these various tasks that you do habitually in your job every day, and start to build a profile for yourself that goes to that value.

Because what you want to do now, going out, is get very specific about that niched set of skills, talents, abilities, experiences that you can deliver in your next position, and you want to be looking at the jobs that you want to do and that you can do best; not so much of the jobs that you can do. And I think that’s a dangerous temptation that we all fall into, to submit our resumes broadly, as opposed to focusing more narrowly on the best possible opportunities.

Mac Prichard:

I want to talk more about that. Let’s take a break, John. When we come back, John Tarnoff will continue to share his advice on how to build confidence in your job search. Stay with us.

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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 John Tarnoff.

He’s a coach, a speaker, and an author who helps mid and late-career professionals achieve meaningful careers.

John’s latest book is Boomer Reinvention: How to Create Your Dream Career Over 50.

He joins us from Los Angeles, California.

Well, John, before the break, we were talking about how to build confidence in your job search, and at the end of the first segment, you mentioned two important points I’d like to explore more. One was to get- a terrific way to improve your confidence is to get clarity about what you do best, and the other is to apply for the jobs that you do your best work at. In other words, don’t apply for jobs you could do. Apply for the jobs where you can really shine.

Let’s talk about those two points. How do you recommend listeners get clear about what they do best?

John Tarnoff:

There’s a Japanese term called ikigai i-k-i-g-a-i, and it is a way of looking at how to evaluate your life purpose. And it has been reinterpreted for us in the job context as for criteria, for what you are looking for, how you’re positioning yourself in your job search. And those four criteria are what I do best, what I love to do, what the world needs, and what I can get paid for.

So, the first thing I would recommend people do is do four lists and answer those four questions based on your job history to date. And that’s gonna help you get a leg up on this question of clarity because it will probably give you some intersections that you’re gonna want to pursue when you’re not only looking for open positions but, more importantly, when you’re engaging with your network. Because your network, as they say, is your net worth.

Particularly as a more experienced, older professional, you’re going to find fewer listed, posted job opportunities that really fit those four ikigai criteria. And you’re gonna want to spend more time in conversation with your network, your existing network, and new people, as well, to find those opportunities.

Mac Prichard:

How do you take the answers to those four questions, what you’re good at, what you love doing, what the world needs, and what you can get paid for, and act on that information when you reach out to your network? How does that help you both connect with your colleagues and improve your confidence, John?

John Tarnoff:

Well, it’s an interactive process in the sense that you are taking this process from the beginning, which is, let’s say, you have your lists. You’ve done this little analysis.

Your next step is to go to the two, three, four, five people who are closest to you, whether these are people that you’ve worked with in the past, family and friends, roommates from school, or whomever those people might be, and say, look, I’m in this situation trying to figure out how I should be best using my time as I apply for and find this new job. I’ve done this little analysis. What do you think? Do you think I’m accurate about this? Does this reflect your understanding of my strengths and weaknesses and areas that I should be concentrating on? What are your thoughts?

And one of the things I think is important to do in your job search process is engage with people on this level and on another level, which is the informational interview. And this is the meeting that you set up with another professional. They may not have a job to offer. They may be in a company that you’re interested in working at some point down the road. They may be someone with a similar background to your background. They may be someone who is working in a position that you would like to work in someday.

And whether it’s through mutual connections or whether you are able to reach out, and LinkedIn, of course, is the best way to do this, you want to try to get into a dialogue with this person to learn more about who they are, what they do, how they got to their position. And to start getting some feedback from them based on your background about what you should be doing, what you should be concentrating on. Do you have the right skills and knowledge, and point of view about where the business is going? What ideas could they have for you?

There’s a great saying that if you ask for a job, people will give you advice. But if you ask for advice, people may likely give you a job. In the sense that if you’re out there as a curious, engaged professional trying to better themselves in the work that they do, and set the stage for the future, people might just let their guard down, engage with you more because you’re not asking anything of them, and that might lead to a referral, and that referral might actually have an opportunity to share with you.

Mac Prichard:

What happens to your confidence as a job seeker when you engage in these conversations?

John Tarnoff:

Well, I think your confidence goes up. And I think this is certainly the experience of many, many people that I talk to. So you want to apply this growth mindset idea to the job interview process, where you’re going in there to share your value. Again, back to sharing your value. And, in the sense of this being an iterative process, you want to build on the previous experience that you had.

If you keep getting up to bat and do this analysis of your performance each time you come out of the interview, you’re gonna do better. Each time out, you’re going to do better. You’re going to feel more relaxed. You’re going to understand how to better answer the questions that they’re asking you.

At the beginning, you may feel awkward. You may feel like you blew it, and maybe you did. But guess what? You’ll get another chance to go back in and do better.

Mac Prichard:

One last question, John. I just want to get back to this point you made at the end of the first segment, which is you should apply for the jobs you can do your best work at, not for the jobs that you can do. Why is that important? And how does that help a job seeker with their confidence?

John Tarnoff:

Well, it’s gonna make your hit rate a lot better. Because you’re kind of doing their job for them before you even walk in the door. You’re going to be closer on these interviews than you would be if you were applying for a position that you’re totally wrong for, that they’re totally not looking for. If you even get into the interview from that perspective.

And, if I may, I’ll just tell you a story about a client of mine who hated his job, wanted to get out of his job, kept looking at job boards every night after work. I joked with him that he was using job boards like job board porn. It was a very kind of a really depressing experience for him because he would look at these job postings, and he would send these PDFs to me of the job descriptions, and he would say, “What do you think of this one? What do you think of that one?”

I would say, “Get off the board,” because this is a guy with two advanced degrees, and he’s looking at jobs that are asking for seven to fifteen years of experience. This guy’s got twenty-five years of experience. They’re not going to bring him in for an interview. He’s much too overqualified.

But if he were to continue to apply to these jobs and get turned down, not even get into the interview, that’s a really depressing experience. Whereas, if he were applying to jobs that were looking for senior level experience and, whole other conversation, this gets into the hidden job market. The job positions that are out there by referral, not by job posting. But, if he were able to find those positions and focus on those positions, then he’s gonna be a lot closer to A, having a positive experience in an interview because it’s really at his level, and if he doesn’t make it to the final cut, it’s because he’s not the right fit. But, it’s going to give him a sense that he’s on the right track and not that he’s beating his head against the wall and he doesn’t know why.

And this is a common fiction that a lot of people pursue. It’s like, well, I can do the job. I mean, just because I have twenty-five-year experience doesn’t mean I can’t do the job for a ten-year experience job. But guess what? They don’t want you if you have twenty-five years of experience. It’s not that you can’t do it. Of course, you can do it. But they want someone who is probably younger, probably cheaper, obviously, only has seven to ten years experience. So that’s what they’re looking for. Why are you trying to fit a square peg into a round hole?

Mac Prichard:

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

John Tarnoff:

Well, I am having a great time working with my clients, writing my blog, getting out into the community, working, engaging with people on LinkedIn, and trying to help people find more purpose and meaning as they age and have great careers for as long as they want to work.

Mac Prichard:

Well, I know listeners can learn more about you and your blog by visiting your website,, and that you also invite listeners to connect with you on LinkedIn, and, as always, I hope if they do so, they’ll mention that they heard you on Find Your Dream Job.

Now, John, given all the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about how to build confidence in your job search?

John Tarnoff:

Sure, well, this will not be a surprise to anyone, from what I’ve been saying today. But the one thing which I tell people all of the time is, stop chasing job openings and start building relationships because it really does come down to the relationships you have out in the community, both the close relationships you’ve built over the years, and use those relationships to meet new people in your field who can connect you to opportunities. And, particularly, as a mid to late-career professional, that’s how you’re going to get your next position.

Mac Prichard:

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Next week, our guest will be Lena Sernoff.

She’s the host of the podcast Girl, You’re Hired.

Her show gives you the interview tips you need to land your dream job.

Previously, Lena worked at Wix, Google, and LinkedIn.

You’ve been invited to talk to a hiring manager. Congratulations!

Your odds of getting the job have improved.

But you’re still competing against three to five other candidates.

Perhaps even more.

How can you make sure you get the offer?

Join us next Wednesday when Lena Sernoff and I talk about what makes you special and how to stand out in a job interview.

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

This show is produced by Mac’s List.

Susan Thornton-Hough schedules our guests and writes our newsletter. Lisa Kislingbury Anderson manages our social media.

Our sound engineer is Matt Fiorillo. Ryan Morrison at Podfly Productions edits the show. Dawn Mole creates our transcripts. And our music is by Freddy Trujillo.

This is Mac Prichard. See you next week.