Is Self Criticism Stopping You in Your Job Search? with Victoria Hepburn

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Self-criticism can be a success killer for a job seeker. It causes you to feel like a failure before you begin and encourages you to hide your true self. How do you overcome this? Find Your Dream Job guest Victoria Hepburn suggests beginning by listing your strengths and weaknesses. Then, assess which of the weaknesses actually need to be addressed and which are simply limiting beliefs. Once you know that, you can practice self-compassion exercises to help you break free from those beliefs. 

About Our Guest:

Victoria Hepburn is a bestselling author, keynote speaker, and certified coach.

Resources in This Episode:


Find Your Dream Job, Episode 393:

Is Self Criticism Stopping You in Your Job Search? with Victoria Hepburn

Airdate: April 5, 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.

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Sometimes we’re our own worst critics.

And severe self-criticism can be especially harmful during a job search.

Victoria Hepburn is here to talk about how self-criticism can hurt your job search and what to do about it.

She’s a bestselling author, keynote speaker, and certified coach.

Her new book is called Pressure Makes Diamonds: Simple Habits for Busy Professionals to Break the Burnout Cycle.

Victoria joins us from the state of New Jersey.

Well, let’s jump right into it, Victoria. Give us examples of kinds of self-criticism that can harm a job search.

Victoria Hepburn:

Well, I think the biggest kind of self-criticism that can harm a job search is the feeling that everything you do will end up wrong. Right? So, that sense of, well, I don’t want to apply to this, my dream job, just yet, because I’m not ready. My interview skills need more practice, or my resume needs more work. And you just become generally risk-averse, and you don’t take action because you want to figure out what the safest action is.

It can also look like holding back your opinions or your ideas for fear of looking bad or saying the wrong thing. So, self-criticism takes on a lot of different forms in the job search. But that’s the fundamental structure. It holds you back, and you are constantly feeling like you don’t measure up.

Mac Prichard:

Why do we do this to ourselves, Victoria, especially during a job search?

Victoria Hepburn:

It’s because our brain is designed to keep us safe. We don’t want to do anything that will put us in a dangerous situation. Well, historically, what we call a dangerous situation, which is we want to survive. We want to thrive. And the brain has a negativity bias. So we’re always thinking of the worst-case scenario, so we can avoid them.

The challenge is most of the worst-case scenarios don’t come true. And the brain is super smart in that the more we think of negative things, the more we think of negative things. And it creates that vicious cycle. And self-criticism can protect you. It can help you learn from your experiences, reflect on what you could do differently, reflect on how you could be even better should the situation arise again. But if we leave it unchecked, it’s a way of thinking that will erode our well-being, our quality of life, and our overall outcomes in our job search.

Mac Prichard:

I know we’re gonna talk about specific steps you can take to deal with self-criticism. But, Victoria, before we get started on that, how do you distinguish between good self-criticism and self-criticism that is really affecting you in a harmful way?

Victoria Hepburn:

Well, really, it’s about results. Right? Positive self-criticism, usually, if something negative happens and you make a mistake, you acknowledge that mistake, you apologize, you try to make it right, and your self-criticism will tell you, you know, you were rushing or you made a rookie mistake. You can fix that, and then it stops.

If you are overly self-critical, you’ll continue to blame yourself for making that mistake, as if, often punishing yourself, almost. You ignore the logic or outside factors that were beyond your control, and you put the blame solely on you. It makes you constantly apologize or be more risk-averse, as well.

And long term, you’ll know that you have been being too self-critical because you’ll feel constantly overwhelmed or overworked, burnt out, and feeling like you just don’t measure up. Even when you’re winning awards or other people are saying you’re doing great work or championing you and your work and your efforts and you just don’t believe it. You just can’t hear it or feel the pleasure that they have for you.

Mac Prichard:

How common is this, especially during a job search, to suffer from this kind of self-criticism that can have a harmful effect?

Victoria Hepburn:

I think everyone experiences it at some level. Right? Because a job search is almost like going on auditions. You’re constantly meeting new people, constantly being evaluated, and trying to put your best foot forward. So we’re always thinking of how can we put our best foot forward for this specific organization or role. So, it’s very common to feel self-criticism. Extremes are what you have to make sure you stay away from. And that comes down to how you take care of yourself and what ways you express self-compassion and reset your brain.

Mac Prichard:

Well, let’s talk about that; the steps that we can take to deal with self-criticism. I know one of your first recommendations is to identify your job search fears. What’s the best way to do this, Victoria?

Victoria Hepburn:

For me, it’s about just writing it out, and I recommend to my coaching clients to just fill out a chart. On one side of the chart are the things that you’re proud of, your accomplishments, the skills that you’ve gained, awards that you’ve won.

And then, after doing a positive, do the negative and the hard skills that you need. Maybe you’re not the strongest coder in a coding challenge interview because that’s a high-pressure scenario. Right? Maybe it’s doing a presentation and clicking through the PowerPoint and continuing the flow of your talk. You feel like you can fine-tune those soft skills. Those are definitely things to put down in those challenges. And also, it’s really helpful if you feel like you’re not good at something that other people have said you’re good at. Write that down, too.

I had one client who felt she wasn’t good under pressure when there was a strict deadline. And when she actually said that out loud to one of her trusted colleagues, he said, “What? You saved us the last three times the clients shortened the deadline.”

So, you know, sometimes you have to gut-check what you put on those negative lists. But just spell it out for yourself and recognize what’s holding you back. Is it kind of like stage fright? That way, you can start figuring out what are the fixes if you’re not aware. You need to bring it to your conscious mind first.

Mac Prichard:

You mentioned the client who checked with a colleague about one of what she thought was a weakness. Do you recommend doing this exercise by yourself, or should you involve other people once you’ve made your list?

Victoria Hepburn:

I think once you’ve made your list, the first thing I ask everyone I work with to do is to say it out loud, especially your fears. But you need to also hear the good things that you‘ve done as well. So it’s the two sides of the coin.

But when you’re saying your fears out loud, some of them will ring true, and you’re like, yes, I need an action plan for that. But then others, just by saying them, it weakens them. Saying them out, there’s this power in saying things out loud.

So first, I would do it with yourself. Then after you’ve done it with yourself, the fears that still remain, if you have a mentor or a coach or a colleague who you trust to talk to and to really hold up the mirror and show you who you are, then yes, go for it. Talk about these fears and say, hey, this is an idea I have about myself. Do you think this is true? And most people love giving their opinion. So, it’s pretty easy to go through that with someone.

Mac Prichard:

So you make this list, you’ve got two columns, your strengths, accomplishments, successes, and then your challenges. You say it out loud. You share it with a friend or trusted advisor or colleague, or mentor. What happens next, Victoria?

Victoria Hepburn:

What’s next is kind of magical for most people. Usually, you get, if speaking with someone else, even if they only, like most coaches, we do a technique called reframing. So we’ll restate what you had just told us in a way to, like, show you we’re listening and make sure that you have heard it. Because sometimes when we’re talking, we don’t hear what we’re saying, and in the process of someone just reflecting back the positive things you’ve done, and saying that, you know, I don’t see that you’re weak on a deadline. Those kind of things help you shift your energy a little bit.

Now, there’s a big caveat to all of this. You can’t shift your awareness unless you are taking care of yourself. And that’s the other part of it because long-held high achievers are not gonna just instantly hear, oh no, you’re good on a deadline, and just relax. There’s going to be a process to letting go of that old belief. So, this is just phase one. Phase two is having a practice of self-compassion, so you can learn to let those negative beliefs go.

Mac Prichard:

Okay. Well, let’s pause there because I want to talk about phase two. We’re gonna take a break. When we come back, Victoria Hepburn will continue to share her advice on how self-criticism can hurt your job search and what to do about it. 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 Victoria Hepburn.

She’s a bestselling author, keynote speaker, and certified coach.

Her new book is called Pressure Makes Diamonds: Simple Habits for Busy Professionals to Break the Burnout Cycle.

She joins us from the state of New Jersey.

Now, Victoria, before the break, we were talking about self-criticism, how it can hurt your job search, and what to do about it, and you laid out phase one of identifying your strengths and accomplishments, looking at your challenges, saying them out loud, sharing these insights with mentors, and then getting ready for action, and phase two.

Take us through phase two. What does that look like, especially during a job search when you’re looking for your next position?

Victoria Hepburn:

Okay, in a job search, specifically, I always ask people to focus on the self-critical beliefs that are limiting them. Those limiting beliefs are most important because you need to get out of your own way. It’s something we all know intuitively and instinctively. But the act of doing it is really not as straightforward.

So, in a job search, I think the biggest limiting belief is with public speaking or presenting your ideas. That’s the one I’ve experienced the most in my career coaching, has been about the comfort in meeting the stranger and being clear in an interview, or maybe they’re hard skills. So, let’s put the hard skills aside. If you need to be a better presenter or coding or something like that, absolutely put together some smart goals, work on that.

But when it comes to self-critical beliefs, and you’ve acknowledged this is how you feel, and you’ve identified, okay, I need to lessen this to move forward, there’s a lot of different things you can do. The first thing you can do, that I think is helpful is just take stock of, do you have any self-compassion practices or breathing exercises to help calm your mind and to stop your mind from spinning. I found, personally, as someone who’s a high-achiever and holds myself to a high standard, having the tools to really dial that energy back and get myself to neutral is super helpful.

So, for me, I usually use the breathing technique called HeartMath Heart Lock-In just to get myself to neutral. I’m also trying a new technique I saw recently in Stanford University’s research called Cyclic Sighing, and it’s similar to a multi-stage breath work approach or four-part breath in that it helps you to calm your body and your nervous system through breathing exercises.

So, sometimes, breaking that cycle is all you need. Sometimes, it’s interrupting that thought process. So, when those thoughts come up, start moving your body if at all possible. Now, I know some people work from home, and that’s much more possible than others. But even when I worked in an office, I would do wall pushups in the restroom and try ways to get the energy out, get that nervous energy out, because there’s a physical component to our fight or flight that we need to address. And so, sometimes, that would be my way of getting that energy out.

Mac Prichard:

Tell us more about how exercise can help with self-criticism because I think some listeners might struggle to see that connection. You mentioned breathing exercises, moving, just going out for a walk. Why does that make a difference, Victoria, when dealing with self-criticism?

Victoria Hepburn:

Well, I think that’s a powerful connection, is that our hearts, our brains, and our blood flow, there’s a lot of chemicals going on in our bodies that trigger all of these responses. So when we think about a stressful thought and we kind of panic, oh my gosh, I just got an interview for this big major company. They’re on my top five list, and when anxiety starts rising, you need to have a way to dissipate the cortisol and the adrenaline and all of the other fight or flight chemicals that are going through our bodies. Exercise is a huge benefit to you because it helps you clear these things out; it helps your body come back to rest.

There’s a great book by, I believe, it’s Bruce Lipton, Why Zebras Never Get Ulcers. It’s because when- a stressor in the animal kingdom is the predator’s coming. The lion is coming. Let me run. They get the full stress response, get away from the lion, and then once they’re away from the lion, hopefully, the heart rate comes down. Everything goes back to normal. Let’s eat grass. Let’s sip some water at this next watering hole.

We have to, as humans, put a plan in place to dissipate those things. That’s why exercise is so critical. Also general self-care, you know, eating a nutritious diet, drinking water, sleeping. Those all impact our thought processes.

Mac Prichard:

I know another tip you have for dealing with self-criticism, especially during a job search, is to find community. Tell us more about that and what a difference it can make when you’re getting ready for an interview or thinking about applying for a job.

Victoria Hepburn:

Yes, finding community is, I think, the thing we all need right now. As everyone knows, burnout is at an all-time high for people both who are employed as well as finding work and having community and good relationships. You don’t need a lot of great relationships, one or two. The science is showing us really help you to calm those, tune out the fear. It helps you to calm those negative vibes that come through.

So, the biggest thing I say about finding community in a job search is look for professional organizations in your field, in the industries that your top companies are, and start going in real life or virtual. And then, when you speak with someone, say, hey, I’d love to follow up with a coffee chat, you know, and get to know each other in a five to ten-minute coffee chat. And that will give you permission to take a break from just what you do and learn something else. This new person will encourage you, or you learn something. It breaks your patterns, and it gets you out there.

And often, just taking that baby step of reaching out can actually help you in your job search because you’re widening your network, as well. But that’s not what it’s about. It’s really about just making that human contact and getting that connection.

And the second part of that is if you have someone in your life who makes you just snort laugh or belly laugh, make sure you put them on your calendar at least once a week in a job search. You need to have something to look forward to that involves other people. So, whether it’s a phone call, or a coffee, or a dinner, make sure that you’re putting in your schedule the fun and enjoyment and people, actual people, who will help lift your spirits and who don’t believe these critical beliefs.

Mac Prichard:

What would you say, Victoria, to someone who is under pressure, they’ve got to find a job soon, they’ve got bills to pay, and they think, “My job is to find a job. I don’t have time to go out for coffee or see friends.” How can doing what you just outlined help them with their search?

Victoria Hepburn:

As a coach, I would always challenge that assumption. I think that I can understand the pressure. There’s a huge amount of pressure. But with all pressure, you have to relieve it in order to survive, and you have to think about what have been your successful pressure relief valves in the past. Because most people who push, push, push, push, push don’t show up their best as the body gets worn down and as their spirit gets worn down.

So, if it’s five minutes or fifteen minutes, no one’s so busy we can’t find that time to connect with someone. And also, the fastest way to get hired right now is through conversations because that doesn’t require you to spend hours updating cover letters and resumes and applying online, and searching. It’s easier to discover things through conversations and tap into human networks.

I think Indeed had a statistic that over fifty percent of open roles out there for white-collar jobs, professional jobs, are not listed. So, in order to tap into those open roles, you have to tap into your network. And that’s something I’ve seen my job seekers go through, as well, during the pandemic and after.

Mac Prichard:

Well, it’s been a terrific conversation, Victoria. Now, tell us, what’s next for you?

Victoria Hepburn:

Well, as you mentioned, my book, Pressure Makes Diamonds: Simple Habits for Busy Professionals to Break the Burnout Cycle is what I am so proud of because it shares my journey from burnout in a corporate role, working hybrid with a global team, to really balancing, not necessarily balancing out my life, but taking the burn out cycle out of it.

And I am just very passionate about this because I, both in my corporate days, as well as now as a coach and a speaker, it’s my mission to help more people connect with the ability to break their own personal burnout cycles and continue to have a life that they are proud of, and a career that they are fully engaged in. So, I’m offering my Eight ways to break your burnout habits checklist at

Mac Prichard:

Well, that’s wonderful. We’ll be sure to include that URL in the show notes, and I know, Victoria, you also invite listeners to connect with you on LinkedIn, and if they do reach out to you, I hope they’ll mention they heard you on Find Your Dream Job.

Now, Victoria, given all the great advice you’ve shared today, what’s the one thing you want a listener to remember about how self-criticism can hurt your job search and what to do about it?

Victoria Hepburn:

I think the one thing I’d like people to remember is that you don’t have to be hard on yourself, and it becomes a habit very easily, and just by picking up a technique and practicing it to relieve the tension and to show yourself some compassion so much more is available to you in your job search and in life.

Mac Prichard:

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Next week, our guest will be Martin McGovern.

He’s a career coach, podcast host, and the founder of Career Therapy.

It’s an unusual economy right now.

Some people may see a job offer withdrawn. Other candidates might receive offers from multiple employers.

Join us next Wednesday when Martin McGovern and I talk about how to juggle two job offers and not burn your bridges.

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