Job seekers’ Emotional Intelligence (EQ) can be improved by training, coaching, and experience. Are you up to the challenge?
“Chris” has a big ego. In all fairness, he’s an intelligent guy. He has a Master’s Degree from a prestigious university, 20 years progressively responsible international development and management experience, and a PMP (Project Management Professional) certification. Chris is also an active job seeker, having been unexpectedly laid-off from his most recent gig.
I first met Chris at a networking event for career professionals. While career counselors, recruiters, and coaches shared Best Practices and answered each other’s’ questions, Chris took the opportunity to stand up and announce his job search to everyone in the room– relaying his experience and credentials in detail. Chris’ monologue went on for about 5 minutes, while people nearby were fidgeting, sighing, and looking at their watches. When it was time for the “meet and greet” portion of the event, I watched Chris insert himself into others’ conversations, extending his business card, and again talking about his wealth of knowledge. When he got to me, he shook my hand and began his diatribe. I attempted to talk only to be interrupted more than once (although it was clear Chris didn’t realize he was interrupting, so intent was he to talk about himself). He eventually handed me a copy of his resume and asked if I could provide some suggestions, right then and there, since he wasn’t having much luck in his job search.
“Jennifer” had a different problem. Like Chris, she’d been job searching for a couple of months without much luck. Jennifer was a friendly enough person. She’d worked as an administrative assistant at a small media company for several years until the organization folded. In many ways, Jennifer thought this could be a blessing in disguise – she hadn’t been happy in her career choice for a long time. Her parents made the decision for her to go to college and major in communications. Her mother wrote her resume, and helped her get the job at the media company. When her boss gave her tasks to do, Jennifer admitted she had trouble making even minor decisions about the content and layout and asked everyone she could for their opinions. Her personal life had a similar theme: she socialized regularly with a group of friends, but upon getting to know her more, I realized that Jennifer never ventured out on her own, and instead mimicked her friends’ styles and hobbies. It soon became clear that Jennifer hadn’t made any important decisions on her own. Although she said she wanted input from me on career direction, she actually wanted me to make the decision for her.
And then there was “Kevin.” Kevin had what seemed like a long streak of bad luck. Though he had an ivy league education, Kevin had a sporadic work history due to things like taking care of sick relatives, being a stay-at-home dad, and following his wife when her military career moved her to various places across the country. After he and his wife divorced, Kevin decided it was time for him to focus on his career. He was very specific in his career target and had many interviews, but no job offers. Kevin explained that he feared the stress of juggling multiple responsibilities (caring for his children and his terminally ill father), the divorce, and his concern about his future all contributed to how he “sold” himself in interviews.
All 3 of these job seekers’ Emotional Intelligence (EQ) can be improved by training, coaching, and experience. But each one has a different challenge.
- Chris was completely unaware of how aggressive he was coming across to others, and how his aggression impacted the very relationships he was trying so hard to build.
- Jennifer had never sought her own direction. She was dependent upon others for planning and important decisions. This resulted in a lack of confidence and an unwillingness to take initiative.
- Privately, Kevin revealed to me that most of the interviews he had he thought were beneath him. At the same time, he was desperate to find something – anything. The repeated rejections hurt Kevin’s self-esteem, which in turn caused more anxiety and depression, and a vicious cycle which he seemed powerless to stop.
Assertiveness relates to your ability to put your thoughts and opinions out into the world, even when doing so invites opposition or conflict. When assertiveness is over-done, it may result in feedback that you are aggressive, bossy, and/or self-centered. People like Chris have trouble achieving their goals because, although they make it clear what they want, in doing so, they’re disrespectful and/or inconsiderate of others, and often completely unaware of how they come across.
Check out these 3 strategies to balance assertiveness:
- Practice being a good listener. If you’re calculating your response to the other person instead of listening to what they have to say, you’re missing an important element to effective communication. This is the first step in helping you understand how others see you.
- Remember to make the people you’re talking to feel valued and important. Ask them, for example, about their interests, and then share yours with them. This will help build more meaningful connections and thus stronger relationships.
- Over the next week, make note of situations where you behaved aggressively and the thought pattern that accompanied the behavior. Analyze why this occurred. Ask people you trust for their feedback.
The capacity to be independent – that is, to be self-directed and self-controlled in your own thinking and actions – is a vital component of career success. Because Jennifer had difficulty defining what she wanted, I was unable to help her get there. Chronically seeking support from others and blindly following the crowd ultimately undermined her confidence, leaving her paralyzed to make decisions.
Check out these 3 strategies to boost independence:
- Over the next week, make note of any occasion where you seek the advice of others when making a decision. Were you asking for input, or were you asking for that person to make the decision for you?
- Based on your responses, where do you think you fall on the dependence-independence continuum? How does this make you feel?
- Identify situations where you remain overly tied to what others think. When you find yourself being more dependent than you wish to be, make note of the possible reactions others may have to your decisions – both negative and positive. When you can predict possible reactions, you’re better informed to make your decision freely.
Stress Tolerance is an element of EQ that relates to your ability and tendency to effectively cope in the face of stressful and/or difficult situations. While Kevin may believe that he has a clear enough focus to get through these challenging times, the fact is that he hasn’t had any offers after months of interviews. Interviewers may be picking up on signals that Kevin isn’t tolerating stress as well as he thinks he is. Stress also has an enormous impact on our bodies (heartbeat, breathing rate, blood pressure), as well as moods (depression, concentration, anxiety) and lifestyle (sleep disturbances, loss of appetite, heartburn). Stress tolerance is linked with job search success because it brings the capacity to focus and “weather the storm” without unpleasant feelings or disturbing body symptoms to interfere with that goal of getting a good job.
Check out these 3 strategies to manage stress:
- Look for physical symptoms of stress, such as tension in the neck, back, and shoulders. Dizziness, headaches, and shortness of breath are also psychosomatic indications that a “stress intervention” is needed.
- Pay close attention to thoughts you’re experiencing while “stressed out.” These could be recurring thoughts such as, “I never do the right thing”, “I’m always a failure/loser”, or “I should be able to do to all of this.” Practice replacing “never” with “sometimes” (“I sometimes do the right thing”); “should” or “must” with “prefer” (“I’d prefer to do all of this.”).
- How do you deal with stress now? What is the ideal solution for you to deal with stress?
People with active EQ are skillful at adapting to stress, and at having difficult conversations. Emotionally intelligent people are also good at sensing what others are feeling and knowing how to react in order to reduce tension and conflict, and promote “win-win” relationships.
Once you become aware of the connections between your emotions and your behaviors, you’ll have a better chance of recognizing the automatic reactions that may be getting in the way of your job search.