Practicing Confidence for the Job Search
Or How I Stopped Self-Rejecting and Embraced Self-Promotion
More than anything else, this article is here to tell you that you should absolutely toot your own horn. Much like how everyone should discuss their salary but doesn’t want to, promoting yourself to employers is an often uncomfortable necessity of getting a job and getting compensated fairly.
Luckily, confidence is something you can practice. I’m not talking about “fake it ’til you make it.” You’ll need to find ways to inspire confidence in yourself independent of the job search. I recommend creating a daily practice of it, just like you would meditation.
As always, please remember, a rejection usually has more to do with the hiring manager than you. It is probable that every interviewer you will ever speak to has not been trained in interviewing.
Write it down — digitally or handwritten. Keep a wins folder with every message, email, photo, etc. that reminds you that you are good at doing things. You can also keep a daily gratitude log. In my case, I write down one thing I can celebrate about my day. Don’t know where to start? Check out Julia Evans’ brag documents.
Pick a goal — this one really depends on your personality. If you need smaller goals that you can check off, it might not be your main confidence builder. The productivity begets confidence begets productivity cycle can become a trap. I committed to “I will get a development role” after watching a Dolly Parton documentary where she stated that she knew she would make a music career happen before she even got to Nashville.
Mantra — I’m a yoga teacher, so I love mantras. You can use mantras like “I am worthy” on a daily basis. Luvvie Ajayi Jones’ book, Professional Troublemaker: The Fear-Fighter Manual, has instructions on how to write your own hype mantra, which will make you feel like a hero.
Building things — I personally get a lot of my self-confidence from creating things. The one caveat I will give is that if you’re job searching for a coding role, you probably want to build things without code in real life in your spare time to boost yourself up. Also, pick things that are bite sized and achievable. No need to stress yourself out with your hobbies too.
Vision board — My vision board is on a wall near my desk. I represented future goals with pictures and included quotes and small craft projects to remind myself of the feeling I was trying to create within myself on a daily basis.
Support network/hype person — Call your mom. Call your friends. Tweet a plea for help. Really lean on the people in your life when you need it. After a really tough rejection, sometimes the only thing that helped was my friends reminding me that they think I’m awesome.
Rest and activities that refuel you — Exercise, yoga and meditation, outdoor hobbies, indoor hobbies, spending time with your family, friends and pets. Get away from the computer. Put a phone timer on your email and LinkedIn. Take it from me, you can’t job search and practice coding 24/7 and it won’t help you if you do.
I also recommend finding networking groups of people with similar backgrounds going through the same job search — a little community goes a long way. Examples include Virtual Coffee, Women Who Code, and Blacks In Technology. Search online for more in your area and watch for recommendations on social media like LinkedIn and Twitter.
Did I miss a way that you practice confidence or a networking group you love? Let me know with a comment.
Applying your new confidence
First, you need a couple go-to hits to get over that icky shameful feeling about self-promotion. It could be the summary statement at the top of your technical resume — what are 3 things you know you’re good at? They can be soft skills or a tool, framework, or methodology that you’re really comfortable using. Literally practice telling anyone that you’re good at those things. Could be your spouse or friend, but you’ve gotta let them know that you are an excellent problem solver with mega Angular skills. Once it feels even slightly natural, you’re ready to start applying it to the job search.
Breaking down a job description
In my old role, I was responsible for reading a job description, pulling out the necessary information, and rewriting it so that when it was published on the internet, the recruiters would see the candidates with the best fit applying. Part of that was frequent calls with hiring managers to retool the original job description because the candidates submitted weren’t what they were looking for. Here’s how I flipped that for applying to jobs myself.
The first thing I look at is the required requirements. Some companies will have a strict degree requirement. All of them will list a degree requirement. If I can speak to one bullet point in this section, I consider myself qualified to apply.
If I can speak to a requirement like “experience with React,” React becomes one of my keywords.
Next I’ll comb through preferred requirements, and if I can speak to one, I pull keywords from it as well. Then I’ll look at the blurbs about the company and the role, to see if I can pull out any keywords from those. If there’s not a descriptive blurb about the company and you want to go one step further, do research on their website, focusing especially on their listed goals, values, and mission statement.
All of these keywords become jumping off points for explaining via a cover letter, resume, or interview question that you are the right person to hire.
A caveat: I have seen people talk about tailoring their resume for each job they apply to. I cannot speak to the efficacy of cover letters or tailoring your resume, but here’s how I wrote the cover letters I did bother to write. This could easily be applied to tailoring a resume.
Make yourself a template to save yourself stress and the time it takes to consider your opening and closing lines. For some reason, every cover letter I wrote started with “I would relish the opportunity to discuss the [Software Developer] role in depth.” Spend the rest of the cover letter telling your potential employer how your experience lines up with the keywords you pulled from the job description. For example, if my keywords were “Adobe Creative Suite” and “front-end development,” I’d write “my portfolio has examples of my use of Adobe Create Suite in conjunction with my front-end development skills.”
There’s lots of advice out there for writing an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) compatible resume, so I’m only going to speak about career changes and gaps.
If you are changing careers, your experience in a different industry still applies. Especially if you’ve pulled some soft skill keywords from the job description and you can explain how you demonstrated them in your old role. However, years of professional experience are still years of professional experience. That alone shows that you are a reliable employee if nothing else. People have described my switch from recruiting admin to software developer as “a complete 180.” I would say that role helped me hone many skills applicable to software development like keeping up with conflicting priorities, communicating professionally, and hunting down the answers I need when I have no idea where to start. Many of my interviewers agreed.
If you’re a stay at home parent returning to the workforce, come up with your story about it and start practicing it now. Include it in your resume with skills you currently use that can apply to a job. Include your volunteer work and any organizations you were a part of. Unfortunately, you will be asked inappropriate questions. Sometimes companies require an explanation for any gap as part of their onboarding if they have strict verification processes. “I chose to stay home and exclusively raise my children because it was the best option for my family, financially and otherwise” is a perfectly sufficient answer. More often, interviewers think it’s ok to ask pointed, biased questions. It is perfectly fine for you to ask how those questions are relevant and only give your practiced explanation for the gap. In fact, biased assumptions about parenthood affecting your ability to work is probably a red flag about the company culture.
If you have a gap in employment for any other reason, you will have to practice an answer too. My gap was to get my yoga certification. When asked, I explained why I chose to pursue it when I did and why I chose to walk away from a yoga teacher career. I often describe how yoga helps me be a better person and employee. Just like with stay at home parents, if you don’t want to explain in depth, “finding myself” is a perfectly acceptable answer. Some people know exactly what they want to do right off the bat and follow a linear career path. I don’t think they are the majority.
Practice your answers to questions you know you will be asked like “tell us a little about yourself.” Practice working the keywords you pull from the job description and company site into your answers. The goal is to become comfortable describing yourself in a positive light when in an interview setting. Remember, you can always ask for a second to think or for your interviewer to repeat or clarify the question. Once you don’t have to scramble for your answers to every single question, the pressure you feel walking into an interview is significantly lessened.
Also, don’t forget to practice confidence right before an interview! It’s easy to give into the self-doubt monster 30 minutes before that zoom call, but once you break the cycle and remain calm through most of an interview, the job search gets that much easier.
For developers looking for their first tech role, practice how to describe your learning process and saying “I don’t know but here’s how I would find out.” You are also interviewing the company, and if they’re only looking for someone that already knows all the answers, they’re probably not going to find a candidate anytime soon and you don’t want to work for them anyway.
Cold emailing/messaging is always awkward. Be nice and enthusiastic and don’t be afraid to tell the person why you’re contacting them, especially if it’s because you think they’re knowledgeable. You’ll be surprised how many people love to hear you think they’re an expert — they’re probably not perfectly confident either!
Share! Share! Share! You’ve got to practice your way out of that reticence to share. Tell everyone you know, “hey, I’m looking for a job right now.” When you build or write a cool thing, share it on social media and show people! If you don’t write, you could share your StackOverflow or Github. Explaining how your cool new app works to a layman, even if it’s just your parents, will help you explain it in an interview.
I did not feel 100% confident about the site and blog post I shared when I shared them, but they ended up being the catalyst that got me a job. Imperfect self-promotion will always win out over self-rejection.
References can be people you work with on coding projects. They don’t have to be a former co-worker, so you can ask anyone you’ve worked with on an open source or volunteer project. Unless the company specifies that they want professional reference, they don’t have to be someone you have worked with at all. I would avoid family members, but I’ve used friends as references plenty of times.
Now I hope you’ll see a job description or interview as an opportunity to show your strengths rather than opportunities to fail. A job description should be a tool for you to use to show another human who happens to be your interviewer that you can most certainly hit the ground running if they hire you. A cover letter, thank you note, resume, or online presence should be full of shameless self-promotion.
6 months ago, I would not have described myself as a confident person. The people who have met me in the last few months would disagree. All I did was commit to practicing confidence over self-rejection and self-doubt. Just like a meditation practice, the idea is to practice enough that confidence becomes a tool you can lean on when your brain wants to doubt you. There is something that makes you unique and a great person to hire. Tell everyone about it.