How do you motivate a job seeker to get off their butt and do something?

Harsh, isn’t it?

I see questions like this online.  I have heard questions like this from people. I know spouses and parents are wondering how to help their loved one get motivated in their job search.

I might have looked motivated in my job search.  That is the face you put on, right?

But I know the other side.  I think I know some reasons why a job seeker might not feel motivated.  Below are some ideas.  The reason I share this with you is because you might be looking at a surface-level symptom and not understanding the root cause.  In other words, you might be addressing the wrong issue(s).

Working with people who struggle with any of the things below will be sensitive.  Please don’t assume that what you see on the surface is the real problem.

From personal experience:

Depression: I’ve written about it on this blog again and again because for me it was surprising, and real.  I didn’t know I was depressed until later, but it had a significant negative impact on my ability to do a job search.

Hopelessness: I tell people that I got to the point in my job search where I didn’t think I could even get a job flipping burgers are the local hamburger slop.  That is a true story.  I lost hope. And guess what… losing hope is really, really bad.

Lack of Control: I’m not talking about lack of self control – I’m talking about being in a situation where you feel like you have very little control over anything.  From macro (the economy) to micro (your sleep pattern, which might be affected by depression)… if you go from power (I was the general manager before I got laid off) to job seeker (aka, third class citizen), having a lot of control to NO control is a very hard transition.

Lack of Results: Maybe the job search is a numbers game, but I was going after the wrong numbers. I was trying and doing and applying, but NOTHING was happening.  It was confusing to work hard and get NO results.  Yes, that is a clue, but the garbage advice of numbers game (without proper context) means that I will reevaluate my strategy once I hit the number (which could be 1,000 applications online).

Comfort Zone: Who in their right mind would be comfortable in a job search? For many people the uncomfortable part is talking to strangers, asking for help, not knowing where your next income source (aka, what you used to call a pay check) will be, etc.  This is a very, very uncomfortable status/role/task.

Lack of Respect: This is like the Lack of Control above… I’m not saying people need to respect the ground I walk on but it was weird to go from the boss to an unemployed bottom-sucking mooch.  Get this… that is NOTHING compared to the lack of respect for yourself that grows as the job search goes on.

Confusion: I’ve heard countless times that the job search is different now than it was x years ago, when you looked for a job before.  Yes, it is.  It is different (kind of).  Who in their right mind wants to take a pause in their career to become a master of job search, career management and networking strategies?  I didn’t. I didn’t want to read books or get certified, I just wanted a freaking job!  But, I had to LEARN stuff… and it is a lot of complex stuff.  And, I had to apply it, which meant I had to learn about myself.  The learning curve, and confusion, is hard to navigate.

Embarrassment: What list like this wouldn’t talk about being embarrassed?  You just became “that guy.”  The guy who couldn’t keep a job.  Or the neighbor who has been out of work for over a year.  Or the person who must not be good enough to work elsewhere, or the person who is too good to work at McDonalds…. it is embarrassing.  Sure, we should be humble and all that stuff but dealing with the embarrassment factor is not easy.

Can’t I just ignore this and have it go away? Sometimes there are problems you can ignore and they take care of themselves.  Typically the job search is not one of them.  You have to work at it.  But take any (or all) of the things from the list above and you can become paralyzed.

How do you motivate a job seeker to pick up the phone?  How do you get them to stop being unmotivated or lazy?

The answer is not as easy as you might think (I think it lies with having accomplishments, but that is probably for another post) because the real root problem might be a lot bigger than you understand.

Show patience, love, acceptance, support.  As hard as it is, don’t try to attack symptoms.

What do YOU think?

5 thoughts on “How do you motivate a job seeker to get off their butt and do something?”

  1. These insights are very valuable in understanding what a job seeker is experiencing. As to motivation, I believe it comes from inside and the route I most like to use to access it reminding and pointing out the individual’s personality strengths. Those may or may not have been present in the previous job, but using strengths feeds a sense of self-efficacy, which is a good counter to the debilitating feelings of depression, embarrassment, etc.

  2. This article is spot on to how many unemployed people feel and the different stages of desperation they quietly feel. If you are in your fifties and looking for gainful employment in this country good luck!!!!!!

  3. I hear and see all these symptoms at our job club meetings. Job seekers need support and given the tools it takes to find a job. Looking for a job today is enough to make anyone depressed because it takes a lot of effort and figuring out how to set yourself apart from the competition. We do everything we can in our meetings to support and encourage our members to get off the couch, out of the house and network, volunteer, and not give up! For some it works but sometimes it is deeper than just doing it, that’s when it is time to refer to a doctor to assess for depression.

  4. As a Career Coach working for a work force agency, I see people come in here with many different ideas that are sometimes hard to break.

    “I want a new career field and I want to continue to make $16.00 hour.”
    “I can only job search for a few hours a week but I want a high paying job now.”

    The number one killer is reality. If you don’t have the marketable skills or the transferable abilities, there is a good chance you will be taking a pay cut. Each person has to make an honest assessment of their abilities and either go back to school, stay in their current field or absorb a lower paying position.

    Job searching can be worthwhile but it ultimately is up to the person to decide if they want to eat ramen noodles or steak. I always propose to all my customers that your success is dependent on your desire.

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