Do you feel like you need to apply for all of the opportunities out there? Even if they are only vaguely related to your career objectives? Do you even have career objectives?
Are you spending so much time sending out applications that you don’t seem to have time to do anything else? Does crafting a targeted cover letter feel like too much work?
Are you becoming cynical about the whole process because you are receiving rejections and wondering if all the effort is worth it?
Desperation is not conducive to success
When you are desperate you tend to take a scattergun approach to things. You aren’t really aiming. You are throwing things out there in the general direction of the target and hoping something will stick. You expend a lot of creative energy but your chances of hitting your target are small.
Desperate can also come across as lacking in confidence. And if you aren’t confident about the quality of your potential contribution, why should an employer be confident that you would do the job well?
The lack of confidence is probably justified. Some of those things you are applying for really aren’t a good fit. You probably aren’t confident that you would make a strong contribution if you got it. Justifiably so.
You are not desperate
It doesn’t matter how long you have been on the job market. You are not desperate for a job.
You are well qualified. And there are jobs out there you want to do. (Even if you don’t know what they are right now.)
Only applying for opportunities that are a good fit means less work for you. And a much better chance of success.
Identifying those opportunities can be tricky. You may not be ready to name specific jobs because you aren’t aware of all the possibilities. However, you can probably identify the essential elements.
- what kinds of activities will this job involve?
- what skills will you use?
- what kind of work environment enables you to do your best work?
- what values are important to you?
- what opportunities will there be to provide ongoing challenge?
You need to be able to articulate these elements in ways that are meaningful to (particular) others. That might take practice. You will also need to prioritize and make compromises.
Assemble evidence of your excellence
You must respect the people evaluating your application. They know the context better than you do. Making the selection is their job, not yours. No one is entitled to a job.
Respect for the evaluators means that you have to present evidence and let them draw their own conclusions.
Before you can present your evidence in a way that will make sense to this particular audience, you need to know what you bring. Collecting this information builds your confidence, helps you focus your job search better, and makes it easier to select evidence relevant to a particular opportunity.
- what can you do (well)?
- how did you learn to do it?
- how have you improved it?
- when have you used that skill in the past?
- what did you achieve?
Consider your audience
Once you know what you bring to the table and you have identified opportunities that you think are a good fit, you need to communicate your evidence in a way that makes sense to the people making a decision.
Not only should you follow any instructions they provide, but you should also consider their context and background knowledge.
Writing targeted resumés and cover letters is much easier if you are confident and have all the information in front of you.
You can’t guarantee the outcome. You will not be the only qualified candidate. Many parts of this process are beyond your control. At some point, you have to decide to be evaluated. Send it off. And forget about it until you hear the result. Work on something else.
You are not desperate. It would be nice to have this particular job, but it is not the end of the world. There are other opportunities. If you are desperate because you can’t pay the rent or buy food, then find a job that will enable you to do that, preferably with time and intellectual energy left over to work on finding a job that is more meaningful.
Not as easy as it sounds.
It’s easy for me to sit here and explain, calmly and rationally, how getting away from desperation can be more effective. Your rational self probably even agrees with me. It’s your irrational self that is causing all the panic. We all have one. No need to feel bad about it.
Sometimes you need some help. Help articulating your plans. Help dealing with irrational fear and panic.
Use a book like What Color is Your Parachute? and do the exercises. (Your public library probably has copies. You probably don’t need the most up to date version.) Investigate career advice available from your current institution and/or any institution you are an alumnus of. See what’s available in your community. Talk to people you already know.
Hope is much nicer than desperation.
A version of this post was first published on September 27, 2011. It was revised on 8 November 2018 to remove references to a service I no longer offer.