Friday, December 17, 2010

10 Cognitive Distortions to Strictly Avoid in Your Job Search

Here are ten cognitive distortions – habitual negative or “twisted” thinking habits that can plague our job search, career development and professional relationships.

I’ve modified these from author and cognitive behavioral training expert David Burn’s book, “Feeling Good.” It’s important to be aware of these, and to realize if you get trapped in one of them as you continue your job search. So as I describe each of the ten cognitive distortions, I also provide specific examples of how they can negatively impact your job search. It’s even more important to learn how to break free of them. So I also explain how to get yourself back on track and stay motivated toward both your job search and longer-term career goals.

Ten Cognitive Distortions – #1 – All-or-Nothing Thinking

The first of our ten cognitive distortions is all-or-nothing thinking. When we mistakenly adopt all-or-nothing thinking, we look at things in absolute, black or white categories. For instance, if we don’t find a job right away or within a certain arbitrary period of time we feel like complete failures. A middle manager who’s been out of work for a few months and “down on her luck” might think often to herself, “Either I find a job that pays $50,000 or my whole job search is a waste of time!”

A friend or family member who learns about this would be able to see that she’s putting way too much pressure on herself. Perhaps it’s due to impatience or severe financial stress but either way, it’s creating a “mental trap” within her job search. The solution is for her to realize that job searching takes time – often more time than we hope or expect. In fact, it can take up to 6 months or more to find well-suited professional positions such as middle management, and that’s if we’re doing everything right and treating the job search like a full-time job.

No job search is a waste of time, and there’s no shame in taking a job that pays less than we’re used to for a while if that’s what it takes to make ends meet – so long as we continue our job search and stay motivated until we ultimately succeed in finding a better job within our chosen career. I’ve worked many “transitional jobs” over the years and it’s not unusual for people of all occupations and walks of life to have to do this from time to time – quite often at least once in their long career.

Ten Cognitive Distortions – #2 – Overgeneralization

The 2nd or our ten cognitive distortions is overgeneralization. When we over-generalize, we view a single negative event as a never-ending pattern of failure. An example is, “I performed poorly in my last job interview. I’ll never find a suitable job!”

Of course, this isn’t true. There are so many reasons why we might perform poorly in an interview on any particular day with any particular employer. Just because it’s happened once doesn’t mean that it will happen the same way the second and third times. Some factors are outside our control, like the mood and “energy” of the interviewers, our physical and emotional health on that particular day – even the weather and how that sometimes affects all of us.

However, many more factors are within our control – the greatest being our ability and willingness to review and learn from what happened in the interview so that we can improve our performance and come back stronger when our next opportunity comes along.

Job interviewing skills are not innate. They require practice, and if we haven’t attended a job interview for a while then the first one is likely to be a little rusty or unpolished. We may feel like “a fish out of water.” But with practice, we get better. The more we prepare and practice in advance, the better the end result for our job search.

Ten Cognitive Distortions – #3 – Mental Filter

The third or our ten cognitive distortions is the mental filter. When we use a “mental filter,” we tend to dwell on one negative detail, so that our vision of the entire situation becomes dark and cloudy like the drop of ink that discolours the entire beaker of water.

Interviews are also a good example of this type of twisted thinking. We might come out of an interview dwelling on one or two things that we did wrong, but fail to remember and give ourselves credit for all the other things that we did right! Many times in my career, a client has predicted that they failed an interview because he couldn’t answer one or two questions well – only to find out a few days later that the employer decided that he was the best candidate and offered him the job. It’s important to remember that we don’t have to be letter-perfect in the interview. No interview is perfect in that sense – it’s always a little uncomfortable, a little awkward at the best of times.

When I’m coaching clients on their interview skills, I always start by asking them what they did well in their last interview. And I continue asking them about these strengths until they run out of compliments for themselves. I do this to help them change their “mental filter” about their interview skills and performance.

Ten Cognitive Distortions – #4 – Discounting the Positive

When we discount the positive, we insist that our positive qualities or accomplishments don’t count. But we can’t afford to do this in our job search. Job searching is different from daily life because it requires that we speak highly of ourselves in a consistent, balanced and gently assertive way. Because many of us aren’t used to doing this, we can struggle with accepting compliments and remembering what our strongest skills, most helpful knowledge and greatest career accomplishments are. With more job search practice and experience, we can learn to make this important adjustment to accepting, celebrating and accurately describing our many strengths.

Ten Cognitive Distortions – #5 – Jumping to Conclusions

There are two common ways that we can jump to conclusions during our job search: Mind reading and “fortune telling.”

Mind Reading

When we engage in mind reading, we assume that people are reacting negatively to us even though there’s no definite evidence to support this thought. This can easily happen during many stages of your job search, especially in interviews and during networking events such as nerve-wracking job fairs.:-)

Or perhaps you don’t hear back right away after sending your resume and cover letter, or after completing your interview and you automatically assume the worst. My best personal examples of this come from when I attended panel interviews. I’ve attended three panel interviews over the years, and in two of them I found it tough not to engage in “mind reading” because all of the interviewers refused to be friendly or even to crack a smile.

In one of these panel interviews I answered questions in front of more than 20 people! In the other one, I was interviewed by a group of co-workers who I’d been working with for the better part of a year. In retrospect I knew that the interviewers’ seeming coldness was really just their way of trying to remain objective and fair to all candidates, but at the time I felt isolated and a little intimidated by their responses.

Fortune Telling”

When we engage in fortune telling, we arbitrarily predict that things either can’t change or will turn out badly.

This is common even before we start our job search. Perhaps this kind of negative thinking prevents us from even starting to look for new work, keeping us trapped in a job that is actually below our level of ability or expertise. Uggh! The whole job search process takes on a negative tone, and we detest it.

Again, I think that a large part of the answer is to increase confidence through building stronger job search skills. How to write a better cover letter, resume and thank you letter. How to build and maintain a strong reference list. How to ace a job interview. Rather than “fortune telling,” we can get on with our job searches and careers by developing job search skill expertise.

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