It’s called “paralysis by analysis.” I’m sure you’ve heard of it or even suffered from it. I certainly have.
Paralysis by analysis occurs when you’re so caught up in the process that you can’t take meaningful steps to achieve your end goal. It is different from procrastination in that it is not just a matter of waiting until the last minute — it’s losing the ability to act entirely.
I see it often at the career center for which I work. A person sits down in the morning and opens her laptop to start revising her resume. When I walk by at the end of the day, she is still revising the same resume, her eyes bloodshot from staring at the screen for hours.
I ask, “Are you applying for jobs?”
“Not yet,” she replies. “I’m waiting until my resume is perfect.”
“You’ve been here all day working on the same resume,” I say.
“I want it to be perfect,” she responds.
One time, I raised my voice: “Apply for some jobs already!” I was being playful, but I also meant it. I’m sure people heard me throughout the career center.
Another person is focusing on networking — and doing a great job. He is meeting people for coffee, going to networking events and buddy groups. This has been going on for weeks. I ask him where he has applied.
“Nowhere yet,” he says. “I want to make sure I apply to the right companies. I’m trying to get a sense of their cultures first.”
“Great,” I say. “But you need to start applying. At the very least, send in some online applications.” (I hate saying this, because to me, applying online is equivalent to throwing chum in the ocean.)
These are but a couple of examples. People can get paralyzed by all sorts of things during the job search.
Are you suffering from paralysis by analysis? Here are a few reasons why you might be, as well as some advice on how to move forward:
1. You’re Shell-Shocked
Losing a job is a terrible blow to your psyche, even if you weren’t to blame. In addition to wondering how you’ll pay the bills, you also need to jump back into a job market you may not have touched in 15 years.
What to Do
I’m not going to say you should “get over it,” but I am going to advise that you take some time — a week or two — to recover from your job loss. Focus on a few important facts:
- Job loss happens to many people.
- It’s natural to feel despondent.
- Your job search is temporary.
- You must find balance between your life and your job search.
- You can always get help from a career center, a career coach, and/or a therapist, if necessary.
2. Resumes Have Changed Over the Past 15 Years
The last time you searched for a job, applicant tracking systems (ATSs) may not have been in wide use. Today, they’re practically a given: 98 percent of large companies use them, as do many small and midsize companies. ATSs filter resumes based on keywords, which means you’ll need to do a little work to get your resume past these gatekeepers and into the hands of a hiring manager.
What to Do
Make sure your resume:
- Shows your value with quantified accomplishments statements
- Is tailored to each position and uses the right keywords in order to pass the ATS
- Is readable, with short paragraphs and plenty of white space
- Doesn’t include more than 15 years’ worth of work history
3. You’ve Limited Your Networking Options
Most companies want you to apply online or go through recruiters and staffing agencies, but you’re more likely to get better results by getting your resume in the hands of the hiring manager directly. Most companies prefer to hire job seekers through referrals from people they know and trust.
What to Do
Despite what most people think, networking events aren’t the only activities that constitute networking. Look at networking as connecting with people everywhere. Your neighbors, relatives, friends, store owners, dentists — essentially everyone can be a valuable networking connection. Make sure to reach out to former colleagues and supervisors who can act as references. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
4. You’re Not Sure How to Navigate Social Media
In today’s job market, you have to be cognizant of your social media image. According to a 2014 survey, 94 percent recruiters look for and vet talent on LinkedIn. Four years later, the number may be even higher. Employers are also checking you out on Facebook and Twitter to dig up any dirt that may disqualify you from the running.
What to Do
Understand that LinkedIn will not by itself be enough to land you a job; it should be a supplement to your face-to-face networking efforts. However, it can be very helpful if used properly. As with your resume, don’t dwell on trying to make your LinkedIn profile perfect. Instead, focus on growing your network and engaging with your connections.
5. The Interview Process Is Longer Now
You might have to endure as many as five telephone interviews before multiple face-to-face interviews. The types of interviews you will participate in will vary. They may include Skype, Zoom, group, and of course, one on one.
What to Do
Go with the flow. It may seem like employers are looking for the proverbial purple squirrel, but be patient. Employers dread hiring the wrong person because it’s costly and embarrassing. They’re just trying to make sure they get it right.
Most importantly, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. Some job seekers tell me they’re only applying to a couple of companies because those are the only companies for which they want to work. It’s important to apply for the right companies, but you should have a list of at least 10-15 targets at any time.
Paralysis by analysis is real, and it is very detrimental to your job search. Don’t get hung up on the process at the expense of the end goal. It’s not that I think you should scatter your resume around the state. All I’m asking is that you don’t spend any more time doing nothing.
Bob McIntosh, CPRW, is a career trainer who leads more than 15 job search workshops at an urban career center.