The negative stories clients tell themselves can prevent them from engaging in impactful job search activities like networking

Michelle Schafer

Author HeadshotAs I embarked on my morning run one day, I was struck by how beautiful the sky was, with the sun starting to peek through the network of clouds. We all have our own network – people who surround us from all aspects of our lives. Family, friends, co-workers, fellow parents at our kids’ schools and activities, people we met while taking a course or volunteering. For your clients looking for their next fulfilling job, now is the time to lean on this network of support. As we know, building (and tapping into) relationships with others is the most impactful job search activity, and the one to devote the most energy to.

Cognitively, clients will tell me they understand the return on their investment of time is the greatest with networking activities, and yet just thinking of engaging with others creates anxiety. Some clients will lean heavily on limiting beliefs – stories they create for themselves that are founded on assumptions, self-judgments and past experiences. These negative “stories” cause them to believe they can’t network, or won’t be successful at it, so they don’t even try. And in this pandemic, this narrative has taken centre stage.

“People are too busy / stressed in this pandemic to want to help, so they will probably say no.”

“Networking isn’t effective over video.”

“I don’t have much of a network, so I have no one to ask.”

How would you know one of your clients has a limiting belief that is preventing them from moving forward in their search? These observations may sound familiar:

  • They have a pattern of making excuses when you follow up on networking progress
  • They resist suggestions to pursue senior-level contacts and prefer to only reach out to contacts at a lower level in the organization
  • They struggle with assembling a list of potential contacts who could help
  • They have “catch-up” conversations with contacts with no “ask” for further assistance

The truth is, most people do want to help. They remember what it was like to look for work and they love talking about themselves. And, as we’ve found through the pandemic, it’s very possible to build good connections over video – and networking can even be easier in a virtual format. It takes courage to reach out, but if you don’t ask, you don’t receive!

While a positive mindset can help a client move forward in a job search, limiting beliefs will hold a client back, create anxiety or keep them “stuck.” These beliefs can wield a lot of power – and the more a client’s limiting beliefs are driving their job search, the more they will be challenged with articulating their achievements, seeing the possibilities (versus roadblocks) and reaching out for help.

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How can you help clients move past these beliefs, embrace a new mindset and create new “stories” that will lead to job search success?

  • Remind your client of the importance of networking, and that it is an accepted (and expected) job search activity. This is especially true if they need to find new work quickly. Networking activities should comprise over 80% of a job search. A simple request to ask someone to get a resume into the hands of a decision-maker can be a “way in” to get an interview.
  • Reframe the word “networking”: For some, just hearing the word is anxiety-inducing, and they may feel the idea of networking is challenging to navigate. Encourage the client to have “informational interviews” versus “networking conversations.” With these interviews, clients can explore possibilities and get curious about an organization and how their skills and experience fit.  A new name can make the activity less daunting and more accessible.
  • Encourage clients to follow up with network contacts: Two weeks from the time of the first contact is a reasonable timeframe. A no response does not mean the person doesn’t want to help – they may just be busy with projects, away on vacation or immersed in other work. A “nudge” to let the person know you are still interested to meet may be a helpful reminder.
  • Explore why the client struggles with asking for help: There may be underlying shame and fear from their job loss that lurks beneath their resistance to reach out. You can help them unpack these feelings and create a new narrative for themselves, or refer them to professional resources. Asking for help is a sign of strength and shows initiative.
  • Help clients develop language for meeting requests so they get noticed: An email request can briefly capture who the client is and the value they can offer, how the person can help (e.g. information about a new career path, perspective on challenges and opportunities within a specific sector) and potential dates to meet make it easier for the client to get noticed and receive a response.
  • Ask clients what would open up for them if they reached out to a senior-level resource, and what would they be closed off from if they did not. You can help your client see the possibilities, and what they won’t get a chance to experience if they decide not to try.

Reaching out has its benefits. In the past few months, two people from my network reached out to see if I had contacts at the companies they applied to. As newcomers to Canada, they may have experienced some discomfort as they worked to establish their networks in a new country. I was able to connect them with the respective hiring managers, and both candidates got interviews and were later hired.

Like the clouds we admire on a sunny day, these clients were surrounded by a supportive network. They knew people were close by to help and reached out to ask, even though it was uncomfortable to do so.  You can play a pivotal role to help your clients move past their limiting beliefs, embrace a new mindset and achieve job search success.

Michelle Schafer is an ICF-certified coach and facilitator, specializing in career transition and leadership. She is the owner of Michelle Schafer Coaching, empowering people to achieve career fulfillment, and was recognized as one of Ottawa’s Top 20 career coaches in 2020. Schafer works with clients at all levels within government, tech, not-for-profit, health care and financial services and offers coaching 1:1, in groups and with teams. She is an executive contributor on career development topics with Brainz Magazine.