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Does the Job Search Cause PTSD

Updated: Nov 19, 2021

by Shannon Peel

When my planned project for May and June pulled the plug before I started, I suddenly felt the need to find a J-O-B to pay the bills. I was open to doing anything, even working as a barista down the street, after all, a girl has to eat. I opened up the computer, started searching the help wanteds, and couldn't apply for one posting. I was qualified, overqualified in most cases, have the skills and required experience, however, I couldn't apply for one job because of a complete epic meltdown and I don't mean the computer.

I didn't need to borrow Sheldon's (fr. Big Bang) brown paper bag, but it was a close call.

Job Search Stress

It isn't the idea of working for someone else. I'm not scared of work, of hard work, of any work. I'm not giving up on my dreams or business, because I wasn't closing up shop. Yet, the idea of sending out resumes and interviewing send me down a spiraling staircase to my own little panic room of insanity. (At least that's what it felt like.)

Why does the idea of submitting resumes and going on job interviews create such a strong negative reaction? I am skilled. My skills are in demand. I am educated. I have experience. I'm easy to get along with. I have strong soft skills. I'm knowledgeable. I have a superhero work ethic, which helps me complete projects within record time. My work is always high quality and beyond most expectations. So, why does looking for work cause me anxiety?

Years of Experience Looking for Work

We moved to Vancouver in 2009 and the job I was told would be here when we got here, wasn't. When I went into the office to find out when I started, the manager had some choice words to say to me, which did not instill any hope in my future there. Though his negative comments were directed at me, they weren't about me, his issue was with people who came from Calgary. I decided I did not want to be treated like that every day. I also didn't want to sit around waiting for someone, who'd assured me I'd be welcome, to figure out what to do with me, so, I chose to part ways with the company and take a few months to get my family settled before looking for a new opportunity at a place where I was wanted and valued.

It took three years for me to find a stable position.

The Interview Process

Some job postings took all day to apply for and then the interview process was months long. Multiple times, I went to interview, after interview, to get down to one of the last two candidates, only to be told I was not the person for them.

Once I applied as a writer for a cybersecurity company, an industry I knew nothing about, and the process took months because I first had to submit my resume, portfolio of work, and answer questions in the application. Once the interview process began, I was asked to write an article they would be able to use free of charge. This meant time and research to prove I could produce the quality they wanted, which I did.

I made it through the application process, went through the multi-level interview process, completed the research/writing assignment, and then after the last interview, the CEO was called in to interview me one-on-one. I bombed big time. He walked in wearing a University sweatshirt, jeans and a cold intense persona. I tried to be personable asking if he liked the University. He shot me down, asked me a couple questions, asked if I had any and I stammered through some dumb question about marketing strategy. He looked at me, like I was an idiot, and said, "I don't know, I leave that up to the marketing department," and walked out. I was 100% positive it didn't go well and I was right, I didn't get the job. It was probably for the best.

Interviewer Bias

I thought recruiters would be helpful, boy, was I wrong. One young woman recruiter asked me to elaborate about what I was doing from 2003-2006. Simple answer, I owned and ran a dayhome where I managed the needs of 8 families, 11 children, and 6 school schedules, plus, I was the Volunteer Coordinator for the Minor Soccer Association where I managed the volunteer requirements for 800 families and planned 3 events within 3 months, all on a shoestring budget. The outcome of all three was high praise from vendors and an event of epic proportions for the community.

She said I sounded like a bored housewife and I shouldn't tell the story to the company she was sending me to interview for. She wasn't the first to tell me this or some version of it. The next day, the interviewer asked about this time on my resume and I answered with an apology, saying "I know I'm not supposed to tell you this but..." My bad, not the way anyone should start an answer during an interview. However, by this time I felt insecure and ashamed about this being part of my employment story, especially after years of trying to obtain a position and I removed it from my resume.

Thing is, I am proud of what I accomplished during those years. Have you ever tried caring for 11 young kids from 6:30 am to 6:30 pm five days a week without a coffee break or lunch break, no holidays, and no sick days? Thing is, it is childcare and for most interviewers, it is a huge black mark against me.

Being a Mom

Once the interviewing company hired a consultant to help them find someone, after over a month, I'd made it to the end and didn't get the job. The consultant called me to tell me I was the better candidate by far, but the manager chose the other guy because I had kids and he didn't like the daycare experience. Why did she tell me something she should not have? Probably because she was not impressed with the reason and she'd chosen to not work for the company again. Her advice was helpful and I tried to avoid answering the, 'do you have kids' questions, which are illegal to ask, but what are you going to do when an interviewer asks? Call the labour police. That won't get you anywhere.

Being Over Sensitive

I was able to get help through a government employment organization, called WorkBC. This enabled me to have a caseworker to coach me and I could take various courses to help me improve both my resume and my interview skills. My employment coach was shocked by some things people felt obligated to tell me about myself.

One interviewer said something about my weight by suggesting I get serious about losing weight to improve my chances. She wasn't as blatant as that, but that was her meaning. One kid asked me if I owned a suit. I was wearing an $800 silk suit with a full skirt, and yet, I left believing I didn't know how to dress for a sales job. There were no shortage of negative comments about the choices I made, how I looked, and what I said.

Most things that were said to me, hurt only because I was raw, scared, and oversensitive. Each comment added to the last until I was so full of pain it didn't take much criticism to feel the cut. I was so negative about my chances, I sabotaged myself on numerous occasions. I'd tell the full story when answering a question, I learned it wasn't a good idea to divulge everything or answer with 100% honesty. I didn't understand how people saw me and how my sensitivity to negative feedback resulted in becoming unemployable.

One course I took with WorkBC required me to go talk to people who were successful in my industry and ask them questions. I knew a few people who held impressive marketing positions and reached out to them for informational interviews. One guy I knew, who was the Director of Marketing for a very large organization, decided to give me some advice because I needed to pay the bills. It had been a year since I'd worked and he knew I was in financial trouble. He told me he'd read an article about how some young girls were paying for their college education and suggested I become a prostitute to make ends meet until I found work because he thought I'd make hundreds of dollars per hour. That hurt because once again, I was over sensitive and believed his comments to be the value of my worth. I didn't follow his advice, I kept struggling instead.

No Help from Networking

WorkBC advised me to reach out to people I knew and go to networking meetings to let people know I was looking for work. No one I knew could help me find work. Networking was an expensive way for me to meet a bunch of small business owners who could not hire me and were not interested in helping because they were too busy trying to find work for themselves. I ended up spending money I didn't have and wasting time by networking.

I have no idea where employers network, but it isn't at networking meetings you find on meetup or eventbrite. Job fairs are better because at least you are talking to companies who are hiring and looking for an efficient way to find candidates.

Shining a Negative Light on Me

As I write all this, I know it shines a horrible light on me, because what is the common denominator? ME. At the time I blamed myself and believed what others told me, including not being good enough for anything.

The more I was rejected by interviewers, the more I believed there was something seriously wrong with me.

My WorkBC Employment coach couldn't understand what the problem was and why it was so hard for me because of my skill set, being personable, and interviewing well in class. I am certain there is something about me employers don't like, however, because they don't tell you the real reason you weren't chosen for the job, I only have a few comments directed at me by insensitive managers.

The not knowing why I didn't get the positions, the constant trying to impress someone who was sitting across the table judging me, took its toll and after years of this process, I was ground down to an insecure blob who ended up desperate and scared. As we all know, no one hires someone who is desperate, insecure, and scared. It became a cycle of rejection, which I was feuling.

Breaking the Cycle

I don't think the unemployment rate in Canada is as low as the statistics say. I believe it is at epidemic heights because most give up and enter self-employment. As someone who goes to lots of networking events, I see people trying to scratch out an existence in the self-employed world. Like me, most became unemployable and gave up looking for a position. They are doing their best to find projects, clients, contracts to make ends meet and only a few are succeeding.

There is plenty of talent in Vancouver. They are hard working, skilled, experienced people looking for work, however, like me, they have given up on the job search process. They have been beaten down by it, with one option left - going out on their own. Self-employed people work long hours, they work hard, and they do everything, resulting in an abundance of skills, which would help corporations grow. Like me, they wake up early, start working and keep working until they go to sleep.

When I entered the self-employment world, I began to get my confidence back because I was able to help others define their personal brands, focus their marketing, and create content to tell their stories. They believed in me. They saw my value. They were grateful for my help. They did not say cruel, hurtful, things, they do not sit across a table judging me, they got to know me. These wonderful people want to get to know me and they value my skill set.

The Lesson

It is hard not to take off hand remarks to heart when you are looking for work and being rejected over and over. When you jump through all the hoops and it is still not good enough to be accepted. I get it, I've been there.

Thing is, the people who are interviewing you don't know you, they don't care about you, and they know things about the job they won't tell you. They also know the other candidates, the team, and personalities involved. It is not a personal rejection, it just feels like one.

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Shannon Peel is a brand storyteller.

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