20 Oct 2020

Procrastinating During the Job Hunt?

Are you sure you’re not just procrastinating?

We all do it. Some more artfully than others. We can be aware of when we’re doing it and most of the time it relates to something so trivial it doesn’t really matter. There are many things that can simply wait until we are in a better frame of mind to do them. Sometimes we’d like to procrastinate longer but we’ve simply run out of time. There is nothing more motivating than a looming deadline you can no longer ignore.

However, when it comes to managing your career, you could actually be self-sabotaging without realising it. You can convince yourself you’re being proactive when actually the opposite is true.

A fear of failure is a very real thing. By putting off big decisions, or not confronting situations in front of us, we can feel like we are delaying the inevitable. We have braced ourselves for a negative outcome and by procrastinating we protect ourselves that little bit longer.

There is a book by Brian Tracy called “Eat that Frog” which gives one very clear piece of advice: if you want to stop procrastinating and get on with things, do whatever it is you dread the most, first. Just rip the band aid off and do it.  The idea being that once you’ve done whatever it is you’re avoiding the most, you will be in a better, more positive mindset to crack on with the other things on your to-do list. Get the worst over and done with first and the rest will be ‘easy’.

Sage advice when we can feel overwhelmed with the tasks ahead of us and fearful of where to start. Ultimately it is the act of starting that is key and breaks the cycle of procrastination.

Yet when it comes to managing our own careers we can fall into another trap. Doing just enough to convince ourselves that we are being proactive when really we haven’t achieved anything of substance and true benefit.

Take for example a situation where you are actively looking for a new role. There are a few traps people can unwittingly fall into:

Seeking perfection: You are taking an inordinate amount of time to perfect your CV, not wanting to send it out until it is just right. You’ve seen some roles worth applying for but you haven’t yet applied for them because your CV isn’t perfect yet. The closing date for applications has come and gone. You didn’t apply. Now the opportunity has been missed.

If only the company or recruiter had had your CV to consider. Even an imperfect CV would have been better than not submitting one at all.

Perfectionism is sabotaging you. You are chasing the impossible and failing to do the basics needed. If you want to be considered for a role, you’ve got to give them something to consider. There is no such thing as a perfect CV and one size will not fit all anyway. You are going to have multiple different versions of your CV depending on the roles you are applying for.

Quality is key: The other trap people frequently fall into is doing just enough to feel proactive when actually you’re still just procrastinating.

  • Submitting your CV for several roles and then waiting for responses, isn’t enough.
  • Tinkering with your LinkedIn profile and updating your picture, isn’t enough.
  • Calling a recruiter to ‘check-in’, isn’t enough.
  • Having coffee with an old colleague and quizzing them on their new employer, isn’t enough.
  • Writing a list of job’s you’ve seen online, isn’t enough.
  • Reading an industry magazine to feel up to date with things, isn’t enough.

With all of these you are in fear of convincing yourself that you are being active in your career search when actually it isn’t enough.

You are procrastinating and wasting valuable time. You will frequently receive no acknowledgement or response having submitted your CV. Not a failing on your part, in fact the opposite. The blame lies firmly with the recruiter but it can be a real blow none the less. You thought you were being proactive by doing all these things but again it is the quality that is important. You must keep the momentum going, continuing to apply for roles of interest, following them up, pushing for feedback. If you continue to wait for a response, without continuing your search, you are wasting valuable time.

Until you have a job offer of interest on the table, you are still looking for work and still need to be actively managing your career search. Even if the interviews have gone well and you think an offer is pending, don’t stop being proactive until you literally have the offer in your hand. I know of far too many candidates who have found themselves 12 months plus down the line still chasing a potential role, tantalizingly close, only for it to fall through or fizzle out and they are back to square one. These are again failings on the part of the recruiter, not you but you will bear the brunt. Protect yourself.

Keep a log of what you are doing to look for a new role. Note down dates you submitted applications, closing dates, set reminders of when to follow up, responses you received etc. This will keep you firmly engaged with the whole process. If at any point you feel your search starting to drift ask yourself honestly, am I actually procrastinating? If the answer is ‘yes’ you’re going to have to make some changes.


By Leo Gilliat – Research and Development Director at 18-07 Careers & MD at Gilliat Moray Executive Search.

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