Job Search Sabotage: Are You Taking the Process Too Personally?

“Don’t take anything personally,” is the second agreement in “The Four Agreements,” a bestselling book by Don Miguel Ruiz. Searching for a job puts you in a place of vulnerability that can fill you with the “poison,” as Ruiz calls it, of others’ feelings, beliefs and opinions. “Nothing other people do is because of you,” he writes. “It is because of themselves.”

Taking things personally in your job search can result in feelings of hurt and inadequacy when you get rejected, something goes wrong in the job interview process or you receive bad advice.

“By taking things personally you set yourself up to suffer for nothing,” writes Ruiz. “When you make it a strong habit not to take anything personally, you avoid many upsets in your life.”

Why Rejection Is Not Personal

When you consider that many jobs receive 100 or more applications, being rejected puts you in the majority. Here are some cases in which you might take it personally as well as why you don’t need to.

  • You apply and get no response at all (even if you think you are the perfect fit for the advertised position).  The recruiter may have been overwhelmed with qualified responses, or the hiring manager may have already had someone in mind internally, or they lost your application. The reasons are too many to know. But if you feel strongly about the position, you can take the situation in your own hands and follow up.
  • Rejection after a phone screen or an initial interview. In addition to the reasons above, the company may have found what it thinks is the perfect candidate, or it may have put the position on hold. It may have identified a specific skill set or personality profile that would perform best in the position, and you didn’t meet the criteria. Not meeting one hiring manager’s criteria doesn’t mean that you can’t meet another’s. As you can see, rejection can be more about them than you.
  • Rejection in the final stages of interviewing. If you’ve gone all the way to the final round of interviewing, rejection can feel very personal. You may have spent a lot of time and effort in preparing for and traveling to interviews. But it’s still not personal. Most employers will not indicate why you were rejected, and perhaps it’s better not to know. Whether it was skill, personality or some other factor, the employer thought someone else would be a better fit. Taking rejection personally will only sap your energy for the next interview. Congratulate yourself for how far you made it and move on.

Interviewing Mishaps are not Personal

If an interviewer seems disinterested in you, grills you on a specific topic or is unprepared, it may have nothing to do with you. Interviewers are people, too, with their own beliefs and opinions. Just like you, they can find the interview process draining. They might be stretched too thin because of the vacancy or having to take time away from normal tasks to conduct interviews. They might have been burned by a previous employee or be struggling with personal issues. If you take any odd behavior personally, you can end up feeling inadequate and uninspired. When this happens, it might be a time to check the conversations in your mind.

Make Your Mind Your Friend, Not an Enemy

“Even the opinions you have about yourself are not necessarily true,” Ruiz writes. “Therefore, you don’t need to take what you hear in your own mind personally. The mind has the ability to talk to itself.”

If your mind is giving you messages that you are worthless, or you’ll never find a good job, or everyone hates you, know that you can change those messages with positive ones.

“We have a choice whether or not to believe the voices we hear in our own minds,” writes Ruiz.

Seek out friends, books, audio or Internet resources that fill you with positive messages.

Criticism versus Advice

If you seek help with your resume and interviewing techniques or ask for general job search advice, you subject yourself to commentary that can feel more like criticism than helpful advice. A relative who tells you to get a job in a field you’re not interested in is reflecting their own reality and not seeing yours.

“When we take something personally, we make the assumption that they know what is in our world, and we try to impose our world on their world,” writes Ruiz.

Trying to squish your world into someone else’s box is a recipe for unhappiness.  That person may not have as much knowledge as you or may be imposing their unrealized dreams onto you.

Because of this tendency, business and career coach Wendy Nolin recommends working with trained career counselors early on in one’s career.

“Friends and family may be unintentionally passing on potentially damaging suggestions,” she said in our article “Chose the Right Career at Any Age.”

Advice should make you feel expansive and opened up to new possibilities, while criticism can make you feel hurt or depressed. If you make the commitment to yourself to not take criticism personally—and act on advice that is genuinely helpful—you’ll be on your way to finding a good job.