Step Out Of Your Comfort Zone – Why are job seekers afraid to change?

Nov 3 2009 in Featured, Job Search Strategy, reCareered Blog by Phil Rosenberg

Job seekers are notoriously afraid to embrace change…even though their entire goal is based on change (sure – sometimes the change is thrust upon us).

Some candidates are afraid to approach new career paths, others afraid to change industry or function, almost all are afraid to change their approach.

I spoke to a candidate today, whose job search strategy was “the same thing I did 7 years ago”. When I asked why he felt what worked 7 years ago would work well today, he listed these reasons:

  • It’s what has always worked for him
  • A CEO complimented him on his good resume
  • Of his friends, he was considered the expert in how to search for a job

This illustrates an interesting phenomena … while many job seekers realize the job market has dramatically changed, most still won’t change their strategies. This unfortunate fellow fought change, tooth and nail, even after discussing how much the job market has changed and how much more competitive it is, especially in his field, Pharmaceuticals.

A rational person would react to a changed environment with changed strategies and tactics to match the new market realities. This individual was well educated, intelligent, and had a couple dozen patents … in scientific knowledge, he was in the stratosphere. Yet, his resume was terrible (unclear goals, didn’t differentiate, didn’t give reason he should be hired, poorly structured, didn’t demonstrate subject matter expertise, didn’t demonstrate value he provided to past employers…and I could keep going on).

So why was this very educated and intelligent individual fighting change?

People fight change when it brings them outside their comfort zone. In everything…new policies/procedures at work, in our personal lives, we are creatures of habit. But why?

A. J. Schuler, Psy. D of Schuler Solutions lists “Top 10 Reasons for Change Resistance”:

  1. The risk of change is seen as greater than the risk of standing still
  2. People feel connected to others who are identified with the old way
  3. People fear they lack the confidence to change
  4. People feel they lack the competence to change
  5. People feel overloaded and overwhelmed
  6. People have a healthy skepticism and want to make sure new ideas are sound
  7. People fear hidden agenda among would-be reformers
  8. People fear that proposed change threatens their notions of themselves
  9. People anticipate a loss of status or quality of life
  10. People genuinely perceive that the proposed change is a bad idea

Interestingly, #10 didn’t enter into the equation, as this candidate generally agreed with my comments on his resume. Yet he still fought the idea of changing his strategies. So why would a candidate feel “you’re right, but I’m still not going to change”?

In this candidate’s case, he didn’t lack the competence (#4), and certainly not the confidence (#3) to change. Admittedly, I implement resume and career strategy change, so I’m not without bias – so he may have perceived an agenda (#6 & #7 l…yet this was a free analysis, where I usually don’t discuss services I offer…it’s not a sales pitch).

Notice that we’ve ruled out Schuler’s “rational” reasons to resist change. That’s because this gentleman’s reasons were emotional.

If you look at this candidate’s rationale above, his third point rings out. His friends look to him for help, and he acts as an amateur career coach. He must get a certain amount of satisfaction, and even pride from this status…or he wouldn’t have mentioned it.

Changing his strategy would be in conflict with a number of Schuler’s reasons: #2 His friends connect to him (and are grateful to him) and identify in the old way; # 8 Changing would threaten his notion that he’s an expert at finding a new position; #9 Changing would risk him loosing status among his friends.

The candidate’s second point that a CEO complimented his resume adds validation to the candidate’s emotional needs as an amateur career coach. While the CEO offered compliments, it’s important to note that the CEO didn’t offer him a job. Hiring managers often will compliment someone’s resume out of empathy to the job seeker and to soften the uncomfortable feeling of telling a candidate “no” (remember, this was a brilliant guy with an awful resume). Having 100 CEO’s compliment your resume doesn’t get you a job….you get a job because you solve a specific business problem or because you fit in with the company’s culture better than your competitors. Skills & fit get you a job, not resume compliments.

Yet this compliment was a source of pride to the candidate (#8 and #9), because it validated the candidates’ self-view as being an expert at job search, and adviser to his friends (#2).

So how can candidates break free from the vicious cycle of fear of change? Doug Howardell of Inventory Performance offers some great suggestions in his article “Overcoming People’s Fear of Change”, as he describes The Third Position. Doug suggests that the Third Position involves three steps.

“Step 1: Come face to face with the threat, understand the reaction and the fear.

Step 2: Seek to find the opportunity in the change, focus on the opportunities and not the threat.

Step 3: Do what must be done to take advantage of the opportunity. Step three is deceptively simple. Do what must be done. “BUT I’M SCARED!” So, do it anyway. Feel the fear and do it anyway. Acknowledge that you’re afraid and act in spite of your fear. The fear won’t go way but you can move on in the face of it.”

I’ll add steps 4 & 5:

Step 4: Take baby steps…Don’t try to radically change overnight. It’s much tougher to muster the courage to make drastic changes all at once. The fear of failure is too great, so try smaller changes at first to build confidence that your changes are on track.

Step 5: Learn from failure, rather than fearing it. Failure is a great teacher, and the basis of most scientific theory. As humans, we learn from trying something new, and gaining knowledge from what we’ve tried … whether they work or not.

Step out of your comfort zone today, and try something new in your job search.

Maybe it’s using a new strategy, maybe it’s a new industry, maybe it’s an entirely new career path. Regardless of whether your efforts result in success or failure, I guarantee you’ll learn from it.

Change is good … embrace it.


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Author: Phil Rosenberg

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