Job-seekers need balance of honesty, optimism

I started writing this weekly column in January 2007, before the economy lost its footing, fell into a recession and then began the slow, grueling process of staggering back to its feet.

In the early days, I wrote a lot about the adventure of job hunting. How to take the plunge into an inspiring new field. How a negative situation such as a layoff or termination could place you smack-dab in the middle of a thrilling, lucrative career path that you never expected.

Yes, I used to write about passion, enthusiasm and taking risks. But when the economy forced countless people into unemployment and sky-high debt, I stopped describing job seeking as a means of discovery. I limited my musings to the more pragmatic aspects of looking for work.

My advice shifted from “go for it” and “dive in” to “be careful” and “only take calculated risks.”

What’s the reason behind this change? First, economic trends have a direct impact on job hunters. How long it takes to land a new position. How much money you can expect from your next salary. In a tough economy, you need practical, real-world information to help you secure a job quickly and protect your finances at the same time.

Second, I have found that people in the face of hardship are less receptive to cheerful advice. When you’re relying on dwindling unemployment checks and making grim choices about the family budget, the last thing you need is a stranger telling you that everything is okey-dokey or — even more maddening — that you should think of adversity as an exciting adventure that will change your life for the better.

When times are hard, optimism feels empty. And yet, throughout my experience with job seekers I have found that optimism is almost as important as writing a stand-out resume and cultivating a lively professional network. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not telling you to bounce through the day with a falsetto voice and sunny disposition. I’m referring to something more nuanced, more honest. I’m talking about balance.

You can be unemployed, struggling financially and scared out of your skin. And at the same precise moment, you can know — really know — that you have the skills and experience to make it through a difficult time. This glimmer of optimism is enough to help a weary job seeker take steps in the right direction. Revamp your resume. Meet a few people in your field. Schedule an interview. Pave the way to a new job.

Yes, I have tamped down my enthusiasm over the years. But now I am wondering about my choices. After everything we have been through as individuals, families and the broader community, maybe it’s time to let the passion fly. Just a bit; not so much that we go overboard and start taking pointless risks. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from this topsy-turvy economy, it’s that stability is important. But so is optimism. And exploration. And joy.

No matter where you are in your own economic ups and downs, I hope you will try to find this balance. You already have the skills necessary to build the steady, secure and wildly exciting adventure that is your career. Go for it. Dive in.

Eve Nicholas:

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