Searching for a new job and the related networking/interviewing can require a giant step out of your normal comfort zone. This takes confidence — confidence in your skills, in your communication, and in yourself. Easier said than done, right? In this section, we’ll take a look at the challenges of showing up with confidence and explore some strategies to boost and maintain your confidence whenever you are not quite feeling it.
Let’s start with the difference between confidence (or self-esteem) and self-compassion.
The trouble with self-confidence is that it is often contingent on success. In short, we judge ourselves positively when we do well. But the minute we fail or make a mistake, our confidence can fly out the window and we judge ourselves negatively.
Self-confidence tends to be fueled by comparison and whether we are doing “better” or “worse” than others. Basically, if I have high self-confidence I have to feel special and above average. Mathematically, everyone can’t be above average at the same time; this desire to be better than others is based on a logical impossibility, which is a simple reason why comparing yourself to others isn’t productive.
Self-compassion on the other hand is not earned by successes or contingent on doing well, or even comparative in nature. It’s simply about doing your best and treating one’s self kindly, like you would treat a good friend — with warmth and understanding. When we make a mistake or we fail, we may lose our self-confidence. But that is where self-compassion steps in. Self-compassion recognizes that it’s natural and normal to make mistakes, and that we’re worthy of kindness even though we may not have performed as well as we wanted to, or mis-stepped somewhere along the way. When we're kind to ourselves, we're able to see the ways in which we can grow and what we can take away from these experiences. It's not about being better than other people. It's about being better than the current version of one’s self.
The secret to increasing your confidence? Stop convincing yourself that you’re awesome and confident. Instead, forgive yourself when you’re not. Focus on learning, and think of any mistakes as things you can learn from with self-compassion in that ability to learn. Your self-compassion will shine as outward confidence because you are simply being you to the best of your ability and being kind to yourself in the process.
There will always be other talented job seekers applying for the same companies, and chances are you will hear some form of “no” at different points in your job search. This is a normal and inescapable part of every job search, and is the perfect opportunity to practice self-compassion. Once you have treated yourself kindly, you can look at the experience in a different light. When you're not being so hard on yourself, it’s easier to assess what you learned from the experience and move on. You’ll need to have thick skin. If one door closes, use this as a prompt to reflect on what you learned and then seek out another door to open in its place.
Networking and cold email outreach can feel awkward and intimidating at times. If this is you, you are not alone! A highly effective way to connect with others and develop relationships is to use your curiosity as a guide. With self-compassion, you're not thinking that you're awesome and know everything. Instead, you're giving yourself the permission to put your best self forward and learn and ask real, interesting questions that you’d like to know the answers to. What do you actually want to know about the person? What makes you curious about their work or background? The more truly curious you are, the more authentic the interaction will be - and likely the more comfortable and engaging.
Don’t be shy about reaching out or assume others are too busy or don’t want to talk with you. Everyone who works at a company joined that company at some point in time and has gone through a similar process: of getting to know the company, interviewing, and accepting a position. In short, all professionals at one point or another have been a job seeker and know what it’s like to be in your shoes. Yes, many people are busy - but many people will also happily connect with you to offer their help or advice. You are not a burden and it’s up to you to take initiative to reach out.
Being self-compassionate means that you're taking things one step at a time and that you don't need to know all the answers at the outset. Networking and interviewing can have ambiguous moments. For example, a potential employer may ask to schedule an introductory call but does not provide much detail beyond that. It’s key to take each interaction one step at a time and not allow yourself to get too far ahead. What is the immediate next step, and how can you best prepare? (For example, a well-written email response inclusive of a couple of available windows of time to connect, not assuming the employer isn’t interested just because his email wasn’t detailed enough.)
Ask thoughtful questions during each interaction to help bring you clarity where possible. (e.g. Could you give me a sense of what the schedule might look like for Friday’s interview?, Could you share with me your general timeline for bringing on a new programmer?) It’s often tempting to jump ahead, but resist!