Lessons learnt from failed job searching during a pandemic
Firstly, I must admit the title is a bit click-batey. Secondly, that the act of writing this post is inherently narcissistic. This post is about the lessons I learnt applying to jobs during the pandemic (aka COVID-19; aka a year I’ll never forget). However, it’s specifically about the lessons I learnt about myself.
As agile practitioners, we’re constantly talking about the need to inspect and adapt our ways of working; looking back and identifying what went well and what can be improved. From those reflections, we take some actions forward in the hope of doing it better next time. I wonder, however, how many of these people actually take on their own advice and apply it to their own work. I, for one, know that I don’t do it enough.
Today, taken by a cathartic/dramatic “I-have-nothing-else-to-lose” feeling, I wanted to share some things I learnt from one of my most recent failures. Talking about failures for some may seem a like a pity story, a little too personal or gauche. I, however, think it is important to destigmatisedestigmatize failure and celebrate it for what it is: life. Sometimes you get what you want, sometimes you don’t.
I need not divulge too much about the context, as I feel we’re unfortunately still in the midst of it all. But… in 2020 COVID-19 happened. The unprecedented effect of the pandemic on our personal and professional lives (not to mention society as a whole) will be felt for years to come. I am a dot in the ocean and count myself as privileged to have kept my job, albeit with some adjustments. However, this didn’t prevent me from being sent into a spiral of self-doubt, racking my brain to think of Plan B, questioning the purpose of life and so on.
I’ll cut the story short and get to the juicy bit: after a handful of frustrating interactions with recruiters, hours of crafting my CV and applications, one arduous four-month recruitment process, and turning down other job opportunities along the way, I didn’t get the job I wanted. I realise a four-month recruitment process isn’t common place, however, it gave me a LONG time to think about everything and process my feelings — which brings me to my first lesson:
You’ll feel ALL the emotions
I went on an emotional rollercoaster ride where I felt everything I thought I could feel: elated, excited, anxious, passionate, nervous, sick to my stomach (literally! More on that later), proud, determined, ashamed, angry, upset, relieved.
It’s OK to feel all the emotions, it is part of everyday life. Give yourself time to feel all the feels. What I found helpful was talking about these emotions with friends and family. I was able to acknowledge and let them go (most of the time).
I have come out of this experience more aware of how self-critical I am, and how I hold myself to standards that are at times unsustainable. Cliché as it may seem, I must be kinder to myself and believe that I have the right skills and experience for the job — otherwise I wouldn’t have been shortlisted in the first place. Let the others do the judging.
Don’t run away from bad situations
Take this with a pinch of salt. You shouldn’t have to live with situations that are detrimental to your mental health, or put up with an abusive colleague or a toxic workplace.
This is about understanding your motivations to seek a job in the first place. Are you dissatisfied with a project? a process? a manager? Before considering a move, is there anything in your sphere of influence that can be changed? Is there anything that you can make your job more enjoyable or worthwhile? Maybe a holiday?
Look for another job because you want new opportunities that will bring your growth, that will challenge you or steer you closer to where you want to be.
Give yourself a fighting chance
Come prepared to your interviews. Do your research, review your CV, think about questions you may be asked. Give yourself enough time to prepare, but don’t overdo it. There’s no need to script it — all that knowledge is in your head; it’s your experience and skills, you know it off by heart!
By researching the role, doing a mock interview, and having a good structure to answer your questions (think STARS framework) you’ll avoid draining all your energy and thinking about “what ifs” after the interview.
Ask your aunt to pray for you
My aunt lives on the other side of the world but I felt her support every time she said she’d pray for me during these past months. Whatever your religion (or lack thereof) surround yourself with people that care for you. Don’t drown in the emotional labour alone; friends, family, colleagues (and sometimes even strangers) can double up as your support group or sounding board.
The most important part of this journey was being able to share it with my friends and family. This is something new to me as I wouldn’t normally do this as I feared failure: what would they think of me if I said I hadn’t got the job? Well, I didn’t get the job, but I had amazing people besides me to cheer me on.
No job is worth going to the hospital for
I landed in hospital after a string of psychosomatic events. I let myself be too consumed by the anxiety and stress of the process that I wound up in a lot of pain. Don’t follow my lead on this one, it’s not worth it. Look after yourself in the process, make sure you haven’t let everything else fall by the wayside. Hold on to the things you like doing: watch your favourite series, go out with your friends, read a book, go for a walk — anything that is familiar and can keep you grounded.
Celebrate the journey
Applying for a job is one event in a long journey — your career. You either get it or you don’t — which is easier said than…accepted. But once you come to terms with the 50/50 outcome, you can focus on the process.
I’ve always been that weird person that gets a kick out of doing interviews. This is because, if anything, it teaches me a lot about myself. I become better at articulating my experience, connecting the dots, expressing my value and impact. In this process you will question yourself a lot. Why am I actually doing this? Is this what I really want? Why do I want to join this company? It gives me an opportunity to put things into perspective: what do I value in an organisation? how does this help me grow? how do I measure success in my role? does this fit into my long-term goals? Enjoy the process for the journey it takes you on.
Talk about your failures openly
Not getting the job you wanted sucks. I personally felt shame and frustration. What happens if I keep these feelings to myself? They’ll build up.
Or, what would happen if I were to talk about my failures openly? By talking openly, we are able to destigmatise failure, share our learnings, and help others. Take stock of what you did well, and what you could’ve done differently. Reflect on any feedback you may have gotten too. This will come in handy down the line. Now, how will you show resilience?
Throw a fail party to celebrate your facepalm moments, or write a blog post about it. Alternatively, listen to Elizabeth Day’s podcast “How to Fail” for some candid, insightful anecdotes on how other people failed miserably but succeeded better next time around.
I finalise this little failure of mine with another thing worth celebrating: this post. Over the past months I struggled with deferral and not doing things that could’ve uplifted me — such as writing. Better late then never! I write in the hope that my lessons learnt resonate with other people on the search for their next opportunity and acts as a reminder to be kind to yourself. After all, this is a small blip in a long — and hopefully fulfilling — journey.