How to Overcome Fear Holding You Back in Your Job Search, with Connie Steele

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Fear is a common emotion when you’re in a job search. Fear of the unknown, fear of making a mistake, and fear of not meeting an employer’s expectations. What do you do if you’re frozen in fear? Find Your Dream Job guest Connie Steele says you start by asking where the fear is coming from. Is it legitimate? If so, Connie says, you can begin to address any specifics that are in your control. Connie’s best advice is to use rational thinking and not make things out to be what they aren’t. Stop catastrophizing!

About Our Guest:

Connie Steele a future of work expert, a career strategist, and the author of  Building the Business of You.

Resources in This Episode:


Find Your Dream Job, Episode 403:

How to Overcome Fear Holding You Back in Your Job Search, with Connie Steele

Airdate: June 14, 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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Fear can take many forms when you look for work.

It can stop you from applying for jobs, going to interviews, or even sharing your goals with others.

Connie Steele is here to talk about how to overcome fear holding you back in your job search.

She’s a future of work expert, a career strategist, and the author of Building the Business of You.

Connie studies the changing workforce and what it takes to be successful in the new world of work and life.

She joins us from Leesburg, Virginia.

Well, let’s jump right into it, Connie. Is fear a common problem for job seekers?

Connie Steele:

Absolutely. I think fear, in general, is a challenge that so many of us face when we are looking for something new and different than what we’ve had before. So, prior we had our job. There was predictability. We might not have been fully happy and fulfilled in it, but we knew what to expect.

Now, when we are actively pursuing a new job as a result of our choice of wanting something new, or maybe there might have been an unfortunate circumstance of being laid off, it’s different. It’s new. It’s really this fear of the unknown.

We don’t know when we will land the next opportunity. We don’t exactly know what that exact role will be even. We’re not sure of what people may be thinking of us. There’s so many different aspects that can impact us. But fear, for sure, is one of those emotions, common emotions that everybody faces when we are venturing into something that is unfamiliar for us.

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned fear of the unknown. What are other examples of typical job search fears, Connie?

Connie Steele:

How about anxiety?

Mac Prichard:

That’s a big one, isn’t it?

Connie Steele:

Yes. Constant anxiety because of that unknown, that feeling, that sort of stiffness in your body that you feel.

I’d say another one is shame. So, you start to think about, wow, what if I can’t? And what will people think of me? And am I gonna feel this shame because I can’t?

Or maybe there’s some guilt that you might feel as part of all of this because you feel guilty and that you weren’t able to achieve what you thought you could’ve achieved in the last job for whatever reason. There’s so many different emotions that you go through, and one of those things is to accept, yeah, this is part of the process for all human beings. We’re not infallible, and whenever we’re dealing with this sort of transition, I should say, so moving and trying to find that next job is a transition in your life.

And so that means there’s a change, and when you have a change, there’s the unknown, and when there’s unknown, then there’s this level of unpredictability. And so, all of these what-if scenarios come out, and it makes you really nervous about what could be next, and you don’t always focus on the positive.

Mac Prichard:

And as you say, it’s part of the process. Is anybody not affected by fear during a job search, Connie?

Connie Steele:

I think there’s very few people who are not affected by fear. It may not be as great of a weight for some because they’re very confident in their ability to find something. But there’s always that little bit of, well, what if I don’t land my dream job? What if I don’t find that company that really embraces me? Or what if I don’t find the role that is the best fit for me? Or what if I don’t find that path that could lead me to the next thing?

I think there’s very few people who don’t have any fear of anything. It’s a question of whether or not you admit it to yourself. But, you know, you can certainly have those who are incredibly confident, and the fear is minimized because they’ve learned that it’s not a matter of if it will happen. It’s a matter of when.

Mac Prichard:

Is it hard for people in your experience to admit that they’re experiencing these fears and emotions when they’re looking for work?

Connie Steele:

I do think so because we’re in a culture in which we are not always encouraged to be open and vulnerable and share what really is driving our concerns. Most of us are expected to keep a very strong presence, and march on, and show that no matter what sort of adversities we face, that we can push past that. So if you think about any of these different corporate environments or any sort of job environment, you’re expected to be stoic. You’re expected to just continue to push on.

But sometimes, admitting that you’re not as confident or you’re a bit fearful of things, it’s not a bad thing. It’s just a human emotion. Sometimes just really recognizing where that’s coming from can then help you break through the barriers that you’re potentially facing.

Mac Prichard:

We’re talking about fear during a job search, but how can fear affect your career over time? What difference can it make?

Connie Steele:

I think everybody goes through that fear in their career, regardless if it’s in a job search or not because in your job, people are looking to achieve and achieve meaning. They want to make the right progress. They want to contribute. They want to be recognized and ultimately rewarded for the great work that they do. But there can be various circumstances that cause fear in our ability to deliver the kinds of outcomes that we typically believe we can.

And that can be driven by situations of the people that we work with. That can be driven by situations in the environment that we’re in. It could be specific projects that we work on. But certainly, I think every single person, no matter where you are in your career, does go through this period of fear because, again, it gets back to this fear of not performing, this fear of shame, this fear of anxiety because we all want to do well and we all want to perform at our best.

But it is now recognizing what are those things that could be limiting us from doing so. And sometimes they’re just not always obvious.

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s talk about how to overcome fear, especially when you’re looking for work. You’ve got a list of suggestions. One of the first is to understand where the fear comes from. How do you do this, Connie? And how’s it gonna help you?

Connie Steele:

Well, so much – to identify that root cause really does require you to be introspective and have that self-reflection to understand what those triggers are.

So many times, we are moving forward, doing things; we are planning out the activities that we need to do in order to find that next opportunity. So, we’re writing out that list, like, today I’m going to apply for x number of jobs, reach out to x number of people to have those conversations. But inevitably, when we maybe have those conversations, or we’re in an interview, there are things that can get us tripped up, or there are things in our mind that make us nervous about those upcoming circumstances and interviews.

Now, in some instances, it causes such fear that you don’t end up doing anything. You have procrastination. So, I think it’s important to take a step back and say, alright, as I’m looking for that next opportunity, what are those fundamental triggers that could hold me back that are causing me this fear and anxiety?

And so some of them start with, who are the people that you’ve worked with in your past, whether that’s a boss, whether that’s a peer, whether that is, maybe it’s somebody who worked for you if you’re a manager, that has made you feel something in which it’s had a negative impact in your ability to move forward? Something that’s just felt like it’s limited you. And so, when you understand, wait, that person had perceived my abilities in such a way that caused me to be a bit more pensive in doing x, y, and z.

So, one, it’s just kind of getting that context. Wait, this is the individual, and this is the situation I was in. Then, it’s saying, well, did that individual have the authority, the qualifications? Was that context something that was really as valid? And should I put as much stock into that? To understand, oh wait, this is the situation I was in that caused it, but it wasn’t the right one.

Another situation could be certain experiences that you’ve had in a particular job. So maybe there’s a project that you worked on, again, and there was maybe a challenging situation with the project timelines, with the ability to deliver for various reasons, but you felt the pressure. You felt the situation is such that it limited you from being able to do your best work. And so, again, having that context, understanding what exactly all of those different elements were that impacted your ability to do your best work.

Or actually, what is also can do on the flip side, on the positive side, is understand, wait, here was a very difficult situation. But how did I handle that? What is it that I did to navigate a very difficult situation in a different way? How was I able to overcome the concerns that I had? Which then gives me the tools to know how to address those questions going forward.

And another trigger could be the environment that you’re in. Not all environments are ones in which leverage your full capabilities, ones in which that enable you to be your best self. So I think that’s also very important to understand, that maybe some of the fear that you have is one where you’re projecting.

Mac Prichard:

Alright. Let’s pause there, Connie, and we’re gonna take a break. When we come back, I’d like to talk about how to take this analysis that you’ve just walked us through and apply it to your job search so that you can overcome those fears that might be holding you back when you look for work.

So, stay with us. When we return, Connie Steele will continue to share her advice about how to overcome fear holding you back in your 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 Connie Steele.

She’s a future of work expert, a career strategist, and the author of Building the Business of You.

Connie studies the changing workforce and what it takes to be successful in the new world of work and life.

And she joins us from Leesburg, Virginia.

Now, Connie, before the break, we were talking about how to overcome fear holding you back in your job search, and we talked about your first suggestion for doing this, which is to understand where the fear comes from, and you gave us some great examples of how to identify past situations, analyze them.

Tell us, how do you apply this work to your search for work? How do you put it to work in your job search?

Connie Steele:

Sure, well, once you start to understand these root causes, again, those triggers that could be what’s inhibiting you from moving forward in the way that you really want, what you actually do is you’re just doing a data-gathering exercise, and you’re starting to look at it from a more rational perspective versus an emotional one, and what we have to remember is that many times, we operate from an emotional point of view. We don’t always realize that. But many times, we make our decisions and our actions because of how we feel, even though we think it’s a rational part of it.

So, once you do that exercise and you understand the root cause, what you’re then going to do is identify if you’re catastrophizing, and catastrophizing is this irrational thought that a lot of us go through where we’re believing something is far worse than it actually is, and it can take really two forms. You are making a catastrophe out of the current situation you’re in. So for some, you might be thinking, I can’t apply for this particular role that I’m interested in, or I shouldn’t reach out to someone who could be a valuable contact to have an informational discussion. But because you’re maybe thinking I could never get that job, or that person would never want to talk to me. The reality, is that true?

So, what you’re trying to do is understand if you’re just making it out to be something that really isn’t going to materialize. So that’s the real reason why you do that analysis is because you’re trying to get an objective and logical baseline for yourself.

And in those instances too, where you’re questioning, oh, am I going to fail in doing certain tasks? Or are other people going to think a certain way of me if I do this? It’s the same situation. You have to then ask yourself, is that really true? Where in my past situations has that happened? So, this will help you and turn on that rational brain just a little bit more to help you move forward.

Mac Prichard:

Is it hard for people to do that, Connie, to turn on that rational brain and to stop catastrophizing?

Connie Steele:

I think, yes, it can be. For some, it is easier than others. For others, there is so much emotion, and so, in certain instances, you may need someone else to help you along those lines. I would always advise someone to do the work themselves first because in this new world of work, those soft skills of really understanding one’s self and having that introspection and self-reflection is actually really critical to be able to lead yourself and lead others going forward.

So, it’s important that you start to build that muscle. But if it is something in which you are so challenged with, I highly encourage people to work with someone or even if there’s a very close friend or coworker, someone that you trust who can help you through this and who can see things objectively for you. I absolutely think that’s valuable too, and there is nothing wrong with asking for help.

Mac Prichard:

Another tip you have for overcoming fear in a job search is to use the negative feelings you’re experiencing to move forward, a kind of jujitsu move, I think. Tell us more about this and how to do it, and how it’s gonna help.

Connie Steele:

Well, I think when you think about what these – it’s this “what-if” scenario planning is one of the things I think is very important for people to do. So, once you understand, am I potentially catastrophizing or not? Play out this what-if kind of game.

So, what if I did x? What are the positives that could come out of it? Also, what are the negatives that could come out of it? Because what you’re essentially doing is listing out this pro-con-pro analysis. You’re trying to take the emotion out of it, everything that’s in your head, and trying to be much more rational, and you’re documenting it in a way that helps you see more clearly what you might’ve been perceiving.

And so, when you do that, you will inevitably see, wait, if I do all of these things, the amount of positives that could come out of it is evidently far, far greater than the negatives. And these negatives, what are the likelihood that it could actually happen? So, because, again, you’re taking it out of this sort of emotional state that you’re in, you’re actually working through real-life sort of situations, and, oh, this is something that really could positively happen. It helps start to shift your mindset.

I think, in the end, the key thing is how to shift the way you’re thinking about everything. The context of how you’re thinking about everything, such that you’re thinking in a much more positive situation, have a positive mindset, and reframing it. Which can help you, again, create that momentum to move forward.

Mac Prichard:

What advice do you have for someone who’s struggling to identify the positives in a situation? What are your best tips for how to do that?

Connie Steele:

I think in that particular case. It’s always valuable to then reach out to, say, three people, three to five people. But just say, start it with three people that you trust. So, it could be a former boss, a peer, or even a close friend that can help convey all of the valuable qualities that you have because they know you so well.

We can be our own worst critic. We can tend to sabotage ourselves. But sometimes you need the objective point of view of other people who know your capabilities and your work, and when you’re able to get folks who have different relationships with you, it’s like I had mentioned before, somebody who is a former boss of yours or you’ve delivered for them, someone who has been a peer of yours, or maybe someone who is an employee of yours, you get perspectives from three different angles, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they inevitably converge on the same key positive qualities in you.

And inevitably, they will give you much more context of how you do the things that you do in such a positive way, and it can arm you in going into future interviews. Or it can arm you in helping you articulate what you’re all about in your resume or in your discussions with future hiring managers. It just gets you grounded in that very holistic view of who you are.

Mac Prichard:

You talked a moment ago about the importance of a mind shift to overcome fears when you’re looking for work, and one of the ways of doing that was playing out these what-ifs scenarios and identifying the positive side of your situation. Any other tips for making that mind shift, Connie, to help you overcome fear when you’re looking for work?

Connie Steele:

You know, one thing that I know that can help people sometimes is just start small. I know that might sound sort of trite, but momentum comes sometimes from taking the smallest action. And when you just start to commit to that transition, and you think about, well, there are all of these things that I need to do, sometimes we can boil the ocean. Which then creates fear, then makes us realize, well, I can’t do all of that because there’s so much to accomplish.

Well, it actually takes several small steps in order to achieve the goals that you want. So, if you could break all of that down and say, what is the one thing that I can do today? What are the one or two things that I can do today that help me realize that I’m moving forward? And commit to that.

That is a great place to start because once you can commit to that transition, once you commit to that act, the first time you do it, you see, wait, that wasn’t so bad. I actually can get it done, and then you do it again, and then you do it again until it’s that ongoing momentum because you have been able to achieve in this particular case. You have been able to check that box off if that’s the way that your mind is.

But you have been making progress. I think the key thing is, what are those small things you can do that show that you’re always making progress? And that is something that can help you with this mindset shift.

Mac Prichard:

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

Connie Steele:

Well, me and my team have actually developed an assessment tool because we care very much about what it takes to help people be successful in this new world of work.

So, we’ve launched this tool of, which you can find on my website, where it, just, in five minutes or less, you can learn how successful you are in your career, and then once you complete it, there’s some personalized results and some advice to help you understand how to move forward on your path. Because, again, our whole goal is to help people create the progress that they’re looking for.

Mac Prichard:

Well, thank you for sharing that with our listeners, Connie. I know listeners can also learn more about your other services by visiting your website,, and that you invite our audience to connect with you on LinkedIn, as well, and as always, if they do reach out to you, I hope they will mention they heard you on Find Your Dream Job.

Now, Connie, given all the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about how to overcome fear holding you back in your job search?

Connie Steele:

Try not to catastrophize. I say that because I think that’s so often what we do in this job search, and also, I think what we end up doing in our career. Sometimes we make things out to be far more extreme than they really are. So if you can take a step back and start to really think through, is that likely to happen or not? It will calm you down, and then you can operate from a much more rational place.

Mac Prichard:

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Next week, our guest will be Kevin Grossman.

He’s the president of the Talent Board. It’s a nonprofit group that promotes the job candidate experience with benchmarks for accountability, fairness, and business results.

You can have widely different experiences when you apply for a job. But you don’t have to accept poor treatment.

Join us next Wednesday when Kevin Grossman and I talk about what you should expect from an employer as a candidate.

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.