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how can I avoid getting my hopes up for a job I’ve applied for? — Ask a Manager

A reader writes:

I’ve been feeling stuck at my job for some time now, and especially trapped because I’m unhappy in my field and am considering changing careers in my mid-30s (which I know isn’t particularly late, but still daunting). I haven’t done much job-searching yet since I figure I’ll have to do some retraining.

Yesterday I unexpectedly came across an ad for a job in my field I’d probably love. It was the last day to apply, so I made a few tweaks to my resumé and wrote a cover letter using your advice.

I think I have a reasonably good chance of getting an interview, although the job itself is likely a long shot. Since I only applied yesterday, I obviously haven’t heard back yet, but I’m really struggling not to get my hopes up. I’m excited about the possibilities the job might offer, full of ideas, and feeling upbeat about work for the first time in ages.

How do I keep myself from getting too hopeful in case things don’t work out? And if I don’t get the job, or even an interview, how do I go from there?

You could tell yourself it’s this job. Or this one. Or this one. So many possibilities!

Those are extreme examples, but it’s worth remembering that you really don’t know much about what it would actually be like to work there day-to-day. The things that make people miserable at jobs usually aren’t about the job description; they’re about culture and management, and it’s very hard to know what those things will be like before you’ve interviewed. In fact, it’s hard once you’ve interviewed too. You’ve got to do a ton of investigation to know what a job will really be like in real life (versus the version in your head). When you feel yourself getting really invested in a job you’re applying for, it can be helpful to remember that.

But even more helpful is to apply and then simply put it out of your mind. Tell yourself you didn’t get the job, mentally move on, and let it be a pleasant surprise if they do contact you. And then do the same thing at the next stage of the process, and the next.

That can be hard to do! But remind yourself that you can’t know what might be going on behind the scenes. They might have decided not to hire for the position at all. They might be planning to fill it with someone internal. They could decide to hire the CEO’s brother or reconfigure the position into something completely different than you applied for, or they might have neglected to mention that it’s only four hours a week or requires you to speak fluent Flemish or is far more junior or more senior than the job description seemed. They might put all hiring on hold while they wait to see what’s going to happen with their budget. Or, as in the examples above, the manager could be an absolute nightmare and you’ll be lucky if your application gets lost and is never seen.

You just can’t know from the outside. Whatever is happening inside the company and inside that team is completely opaque to job-seekers … and yet, when you apply for a job that you’re excited about, there’s a tendency to fill in the blanks in your own mind to make it seem perfect for you and a fantastic opportunity that would be awful to lose. It’s the same mental filling-in of the blanks that people do with online dating too; our brains forget that we don’t know what people/jobs really are until we meet them in person/start working there. The more you can do to remind yourself of that, the easier it will be.


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