People-Pleasing is Killing Your Job Search – Here Are Two Critical Reasons Why

Achieving Goals, Career Discovery, Career Transitions, Leadership Coaching, Mindset & Mindfulness
01/09/23 - John Roccia
woman typing on computer

You’ve done everything right on the application, done everything they’ve asked for, you still got a rejection letter – or worse, no response at all. You answered everything perfectly in that interview, but they didn’t call you back for the next round. You’ve crossed every “t” and dotted every “i”, but recruiters and hiring managers are still treating you like yesterday’s lunch.

It’s incredibly frustrating, and you’re right to feel frustrated! So let’s channel that into some positive action, and talk about how “doing everything right” might just be doing everything wrong.

What’s wrong with being nice?

What is “people-pleasing?” At the core, it’s when you put trying to give other people what you think they want above what works for you, and the positive environment you want to create. You can please people without “people-pleasing.” You can deliver quality work, on time, and with a smile – but it’s not people-pleasing if all of that was within the bounds of healthy work. “People-pleasing” is when you deliver amazing work by doing four hours of unpaid overtime, on your day off, when you wanted to be spending time with your family, all because you didn’t want to let your boss down.

What’s that look like in your job search? Have you ever written a cover letter where you were just oh so excited to be applying for a position that you didn’t even really want? That’s people-pleasing. A recruiter invites you to an interview, but it’s for the very next morning – so you use your own PTO to take the day off instead of making a reasonable ask for a later day. That’s people-pleasing, too.

Why is this hurting your job search?

There are two vital concepts you need to understand in order to have a successful job search. If you don’t internalize these two critical lessons, you’re going to spin your wheels for a long time, not getting the results you want and doing damage to yourself in the process.

Concept #1: Opportunity Cost

“Opportunity Cost” is the term for all the other stuff you don’t do when you do something. If you go for a jog on Saturday afternoon, then you can’t also go fishing, watch a movie, or mow the lawn with that same Saturday afternoon. So the “opportunity cost” of jogging is fishing, watching a movie, mowing the lawn – and anything else you could have done. The reason this is a vital concept in your job search is you don’t have an unlimited amount of attention, time, energy, and morale. So you have to choose what you do carefully.

Imagine you did try to go for a jog, watch a movie, mow the lawn and go fishing all in one afternoon. Is it possible you could do it? Yup, definitely possible. But you can probably guess that you wouldn’t enjoy the movie, wouldn’t jog as far as you could have, would do a shoddy job with the lawn, and wouldn’t catch any fish. In your effort to do everything, you’d do a bad job with all of it – and you’d make yourself stressed and miserable, too!

Concept #2: Sincerity

No matter how much people think they can, no one can truly fake sincerity. That’s because sincerity is more than just meaning what you say. If you sincerely believe it, then you also live it. You have opinions about it. You might even have strong, controversial opinions!

If someone accepts an interview for a sales role because they were invited to and they don’t want to say “no,” they’ll come across very differently than someone for whom sales is a proactive career choice. The latter will tell me which sales methods are good and which they think are garbage. They’ll discuss methodology with me. They’ll give me sample pitches ahead of time because they want to. The former just shows up and says what they believe I want to hear.

The Counter-Intuitive Result

Here’s what those two concepts mean, when you apply them to your job search: you should be doing less. If you’re applying to ten jobs a week and you’re not seeing any result, most people will start applying to twenty jobs a week. What you should do is cut it down to five. If you double it to twenty, you’re just like the guy who tries to do everything in one Saturday afternoon.

When you’re on an interview, you shouldn’t be scrambling to find the exact words you think the other person wants to hear. That’s what everyone else did, and they’ve heard it all day. You should give honest feedback and share your opinions. If you only apply to roles where you feel confident doing that, your opinions will carry a lot more weight and you’ll be in charge of the process.

The reason people don’t tend to recognize this is because the drawbacks of applying to five jobs instead of ten are very obvious and visible (“that’s half the opportunities for an interview!”) while the benefits of it are hard to see. But the benefits are much more significant.

If you want to visualize why, imagine I told you that you had to apply to 500 jobs this week. In order to reach that number, your only choice would be to submit the most bare-bones, obviously poor applications you could imagine. They’d be mis-matched, generic, and unimpressive. And even with doing the absolute minimum for each application, you’d probably run yourself ragged and get zero sleep.

And you know what? You likely wouldn’t get a single interview. Each application would be almost immediately dismissed as one of the worst and wouldn’t move on, because for each job, there would be at least one other applicant who put in more sincere effort.

So not only did you run yourself ragged, but then you have to suffer the incredible blow to your morale of getting 500 rejection emails; or whatever sound 500 ghosts make, since that’s more likely.

If you can see why that’s a terrible strategy, then all you have to do is scale it down a little to understand why bending yourself into a pretzel for the job market is doing far more harm than good.

So what SHOULD you do?

Here’s where to put your effort:

  1. The initial search. The time to do the most true “grinding” is in searching and filtering. Find a pool of fifty jobs in your industry, but then eliminate forty-five of them. Cull it down to the five you’re most excited about, instead of the first five you find. This is one spot where more effort really does yield more results.
  2. Do things that YOU’RE excited about. You’re good at something! If you can visualize doing that thing in a job you see, then you’re off to the races. And if you feel too demoralized to feel that way about any job – well then, you see my point about how important it is to do less, right?
  3. Talking to humans, not job boards. If everyone you talk to during your job search is a recruiter or hiring manager, you’re going to go crazy. Make sure you’re just talking to peers, industry professionals, friends on LinkedIn, or other voices that you don’t have to please. It’s very, very healthy to have conversations where you can feel free to be honest and “real,” so that you feel more comfortable being that way all the time!

One last thing…

There’s one other way people-pleasing is hurting your job search, though it only applies to some of you. If you’re hunting for a new job while you’re still employed, people-pleasing is a brutal enemy. If you pass on a good opportunity because the interview process conflicts with your duties at your current job and you choose the current job – guess what? Your people-pleasing just sabotaged one of your pathways out. It can be very challenging to de-prioritize your current job, but if you’re trying to leave, just remember: there’s a reason.

The only person you truly have to please is YOU. Don’t ever forget it.

To learn more about how coaching can help you stay accountable to your goals around overcoming people-pleasing, book a free consultation call with us here.

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