5 Fears That Sabotage Your Job Search If You Aren’t Careful

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May 18, 2024 at 8:26PM UTC
The job search is difficult for many reasons — not least of which are the insecurities that hold us back from being as proactive and far-reaching as we could be. 
Let me stop to say there are real biases that keep women (especially women of color and Trans women) from achieving full equity during the job application process — and being discouraged by those biases isn't just normal, it's justified. Those barriers need to be torn down and preaching about self-confidence in the midst of much bigger issues can seem silly. 
But many of the insecurities that keep us from reaching our full potential while we're on the job hunt are symptoms of the deep-rooted misogyny that has built up those barriers. As we work to tear those down, we can also discuss the fears that hold us back on the job search and how to overcome them, according to recruiters and other hiring experts..

1. The fear of "not being ready." 

Many women won't apply for jobs simply because they don't "feel ready" and are worried rejection will be their only reward for applying to a job too early. But discounting one's experiences and skills — the preparation you do for your next role day-in-and-day-out — is a symptom of imposter syndrome. And it keeps women from applying to jobs that can help them grow. 
"One insecurity that holds back many professionals is imposter syndrome," Dana Case, Director of Operations at MyCorporation.com told me. "This is the fear that makes you feel as though you should only apply for a role where you feel 100% qualified."
Even though it's a common belief, you don't need to check every box to apply to a role, according to Associate Vice President, Development at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Shanna Hocking
"If you wait until you are fully qualified and ready for a role, you have waited too long," she said. "The next time a job comes along for which you meet some of the expectations, but not all, don’t decide for the employer if you should be hired. Put yourself out there as a candidate and tell the story in your cover letter of why you are the right person for this job."
Case agrees. 
"My advice is continue to apply for a job where your profile doesn't immediately check off every skill  on LinkedIn. Use your cover letter to talk about why you're applying for the role and are passionate about the job and company. Talk about the transferrable skills you may be able to bring to the position and your desire to learn and grow in this role if you are hired for it."

2. The fear of change.

Taking action is much more difficult than staying in place. Many women don't apply to roles that help them thrive because they're scared of change — they're worried they won't find a role that meets their needs or they're shirk their pretty OK current role for one that doesn't work out. 
This way of thinking is common, if limiting, according to Amy Simpson, a senior recruiter at The James Allen Companies, Inc.
"In my experience, the greatest insecurity holding people back on a job hunt is the fear of change. They are afraid to give up what they have for the unknown," she said. "They are 'secure' in their position and the thought of leaving the boss they don’t hate for one they might gives them anxiety. So, they decide to stay even though a new opportunity could be the best move they ever made." 
However, looking for something new is the only way to keep moving. Chief People Officer of FitSmallBusiness.com, Adrienne Cooper, thinks a perspective shift can help contain the fear of change so women can reach for their dreams. It comes down to remembering at the end of the day, you have the power — and you don't have to move forward if you aren't comfortable. Not putting yourself out there at all keeps you from having this empowering, exploratory experience. 
"You are interviewing companies as much as they are interviewing you.  If the person is not comfortable with the skills and expertise you bring, then proceed with caution or not at all. Be clear and honest so you are setting expectations correctly and not getting yourself into a role in which you will just be unhappy," Cooper said. "Personal and professional growth should be part of our careers at every stage. As an experienced hire, don't feel insecure about seeking out that growth and asking about it during interviews." 

3. The fear of being a novice. 

Sometimes, the fear of starting over can be debilitating. But learning to some degree is at the core of any career growth and being willing to start from scratch — whether in a new role or a new industry — can be key to the most successful career path for you.
"In order to grow as much as possible in your career, especially later on, you need to be willing to pivot and willing to be new at something again," Jon Torres, Founder of a digital marketing agency, said. "Too often, people get pigeonholed into on expertise and fear being a novice again, so they don't apply for a role where they may know nothing for a period of time." 
Career coach Lindsey Lathrop-Ryan agrees. 
"The number one thing I see getting in the way of folks that are more advanced in their career are their limiting beliefs of what they can and can not do, based on their career history," she said. "I mainly coach women and the theme I see is that they need to ALREADY know how to do a role perfectly before applying or going for a promotion. I love coaching around this idea because they eventually come to the conclusion that this makes zero sense given they've never done the job before. And then we have a good laugh. But it's a valuable coaching moment because they see how much they've held themselves back from stretch and high visibility assignments due to their internalized socialized perfectionism."

4. The fear that you don't stack up.

In order to put yourself out there on the job search, you have to toss away fears that you aren't as strong an applicant as your competition. Comparing yourself to others who are more qualified — and there's always someone out there like that — is a way to keep yourself frozen in place. Remembering that most employers are looking for unique talents and personalities is a good way to assuage this fear, according to Finn Cardiff, Founder of Beachgoer
"Let's face it: Some people are really ahead of our accomplishments and there seems to be no way that we can stand out given what we've exhausted from our resume," Cardiff said. "But the truth is, employers now are on the lookout for unique talent and it doesn't necessarily have to come from an overachieving millennial. So, highlight your skills and emphasize on your strengths that fit the role that you're applying to."

5. The fear of "bothering someone."

In order to partake in a useful job search, you need to throw away your fears that you're wasting the hiring manager's time, according to career coach and CEO of GetCareerClarity.com Lisa Lewis. 
"The biggest thing that holds womxn back in the job search is the belief that they are a 'bother' to someone," Lewis said. "This damaging fear shapes the way women make decisions about what they are "allowed" to do when hunting for jobs. Fear of bothering someone will make you believe you don't know what to ask for help on, will make you decide you shouldn't follow up, and it will convince you that you need to soften your ask — or worse, pre-reject yourself in your request by assuring the other person they are too busy to deal with someone like you."

"This fear tends to be amplified in women of color, where there's an additional layer of fear that the request may be blown off due to prejudice or used as ammunition against the person to hold them back," Lewis said. 

To overcome this fear, harken back to the advice on tackling imposter syndrome. Remember that you have special skills that any employer would be lucky to have in any role — send in your best application, bother your contacts to get a referral and don't be afraid to follow up to make sure they've given those skills a look. 

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