Your Year-End…Professionally Speaking

New Year in London

Before you break out the party hats and festive beverages for that year-end office celebration, you might want to give some thought to where this year has taken you professionally and what you want next year to look like. While your “wants” won’t necessarily predetermine how the new year plays out, failure to take them into consideration when making your career management plans could leave you with having next year look pretty much like this year.

If this year was great, that’s fine. But what if it wasn’t so hot?

Job Satisfaction and Career Progress

We tend to feel more satisfied with situations in which we have a sense of control, at least to a reasonable degree. A job situation that makes you feel as if you’re at the complete mercy of factors beyond your control will probably leave you with a strong sense of job DIS-satisfaction. If you’ve been stuck in that kind of situation this year, now might be a good time to plan and execute some steps to address the root of your frustration and at least open up some possibilities for forward movement.

Frustration

Job satisfaction and career progress don’t happen through passive endurance of undesirable circumstances on the job. No matter how much you do the “moan and groan” routine, it won’t change (improve) your situation, and waiting for someone else to wave a magic wand and transform your situation simply isn’t productive. In fact, it’s actually counter-productive, because that false hope can fool you into thinking something good is bound to happen, when you’re not doing anything to help it along.

How to Have a Productive Year-End Celebration

Now that you’ve recognized the futility of waiting and crossing your fingers for a better year next year, how do you go about ensuring that you have a productive year-end celebration, one that will leave you feeling much more satisfied than a brief (and maybe disastrous) blow-out at the annual holiday office party?

One key requirement is that you develop a clear sense of purpose, enhanced with a healthy dose of realism. You take the time and make the effort to identify and analyze what didn’t go well this year. Then you assess what needs to be different (i.e., better) next year and how big a gap there is between that point and where you are now.

Celebrate Even if You’re Not Employed?

It might seem a lot easier to plan a year-end celebration that’s satisfying when you’re currently employed and reasonably secure in your position. However, even if you’re not employed, a celebration isn’t impossible and might improve your chances of having a better year ahead. I’m not just talking about positive thinking here, although that can’t hurt. What I’m referring to is looking at your situation from the view that things do need to change and that you can take steps to help make that happen.

As the saying goes, “If it is to be, it’s up to me.” That doesn’t preclude you from having help along the way–such help can be invaluable to your job search and ultimate career success. It simply means that you need to be the one who takes charge and begins to plan and implement active job search steps designed to get you unstuck and moving ahead in your professional life. Take a fresh look at what you’ve been doing or not doing–maybe you’re missing something.

IMPORTANT NOTE: Before the end of this week, my blog will be moved to my newly renovated resume website. I invite and encourage you to take a look at it there and bookmark it so you can find it again easily.


Reference Checking & Your Job Search

You might be concerned about your references for a variety of reasons–uncertainty about what former employers will say, how they’ll say it, whether anyone might respond to inquiries with a negative reference, and so on. Especially if you left your last position under less than ideal circumstances–either voluntarily or involuntarily for reasons you weren’t happy about, you might have genuine reasons for concern.

References–What You Can Control & What You Can’t

To start with, you can provide potential employers with a list of references that includes people who know your work and respect what you’ve accomplished–and, of course, have indicated their willingness to act as a reference for you. That much you can control.

What you can’t control is factors such as the prospective employer’s reference checker going beyond the list you’ve provided to contact other people at your former employer whom you haven’t asked as references and who might have undesirable comments to make about you or your work. Because employers know you’re only going to provide references that will speak favorably about you, they can tend to view your list with a dose of skepticism and want to dig deeper and wider.

In today’s litigious society, companies have gotten more cautious about giving references that could open them up to a lawsuit. That doesn’t mean, unfortunately, that you’re home-free if you had an unsatisfactory departure for some reason. It’s possible, for instance, for someone to respond like this: “Oh, yes, he/she worked here as a [position title] from 2012 to 2015.” It looks innocuous enough in print, but if said in a tone of voice that indicates lack of enthusiasm about you or maybe even hints at actual dissatisfaction with your work, the damage could be done without your ever knowing it.

Can you control that? Not really, at least not much. One obvious course is to line up a few references who can provide information that’s solidly grounded in fact and that clearly demonstrates the stellar record you’ve achieved while working with or for them. Nice-sounding but basically general reference responses won’t cut it in this case.

Reference Checking that “Blows It”

My old “friend,” Nick Corcodillos of Ask The Headhunter (he actually doesn’t know who I am; I just like his style and refer to him frequently), made some typically blunt comments about reference checking in a recent blog post, titled “Incompetent reference checking.” Among other things, he states:
“Asking for references seems dumb because it has been made trivial; so trivial that companies routinely outsource reference checks rather than do it themselves. (See Automated Reference Checks: You should be very worried.) They’re going to judge you based on a routine set of questions that someone else asks a bunch of people on a list. How ludicrous is that?”

If you want a hair-curling read, check out the entire article!

Although I think what he says makes sense in many ways, I’m going to diverge from it to say that I still recommend your having a reputable reference checking service do a test run for you if you have any reason to think people at your former employer might bad-mouth you in some way. The service I’m familiar with (used by many of my colleagues or their clients) is Alison & Taylor. However, there might be others that are worth checking out.

Is there any easy answer to this dilemma? Unfortunately, I don’t know of one. If you find a solution to the reference checking aspect that’s fool-proof for you and your job search, I’d love to hear it and maybe pass it along to my clients!


Organized Job Search – Organized Career Planning

If you’re by nature or inclination a disorganized person, the thought of conducting an organized job search or applying organizing principles to your career planning might strike fear into your heart! Okay, so that’s a bit of over-dramatization, but the point is, whether you’re innately drawn to organization or just the opposite, a certain amount of organization is pretty much critical to a successful job search or to smart, long-range career planning.

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Just think about those times when your job has worn you to a frazzle, and you wonder how in the world you got into that predicament–and how you’re going to get out of it. Wouldn’t a little advance organization have helped prevent that stressful dilemma?

The same goes for your job search and career planning.

What Does It Take to be Organized?

Out of curiosity, I started looking at job postings for professional home organizers (by the way, the ones I saw didn’t pay wild salaries, but that’s not the point at the moment). As an example, here are several of the key qualifications listed:

  • Thrive on finding solutions to complex problems.
  • Prepare a customized action plan and timeline for each organizing project.
  • Implement organizing processes and customized solutions.
  • Ability to work with a variety of personalities.
  • Ability to visualize and transform a space.
  • Confidence and the ability to take charge.

I’ll bet that if you give it some thought, you can see a way most if not all of these could be applied to your job search and career planning activities. For example, you might not need to “visualize and transform a space,” but you probably do need to “visualize and transform” your job search if you want it to achieve a successful outcome, especially if you’ve been going at it in a more or less haphazard fashion.

Failure to Have an Organized Job Search or Career Planning Process

What are the consequences of not achieving an organized job search or career planning? For starters, as I mentioned above, you could be jeopardizing the possibility of a successful job search–needlessly. That’s a consequence (cost) you don’t want to incur and shouldn’t have to, but it’s up to you to take the actions necessary to avoid it.

Positive alternatives do exist. One way is to get help from someone who is more organized than you feel you are–for instance, either a professional (such as a career coach) or a friend or colleague whose methods you respect. Brainstorm with that person on what you need to do yourself and what you can readily have help with.

Another possibility is to take a class in organizing. No, I’m not being facetious. I haven’t checked specifically, but I suspect there are classes available somewhere (offline or online) to help people become more organized. If time and travel are concerns for you, online might be a good option because it’s more flexible. If you’re the kind of person who does better with personal interaction and group participation, a physical class situation might be better. The main issue in this case is finding a class that you can translate into your professional career needs, rather than one designed to be so specific to physical home organizing that translating it would be difficult at best.

You don’t need to suffer the consequences of failure with regard to having an organized job search or career planning process. Take charge of the process and put in place the techniques you need to have for it to work well.


Gratitude and Career Success Can Go Hand-in-Hand

If things aren’t going well with your professional life–maybe you’re engaged in a frustrating job search–you might feel as if you don’t have much to be grateful for right now. You could be viewing Thanksgiving Day as “Turkey Day” at best and as a waste of time at worst.

I’m not going to deliver a Pollyanna sermon to you. At the same time, focusing the lion’s share of your attention and energy on the highly unsatisfying situation you seem to be stuck in will not help you get out of it. I can almost guarantee that.

Refocus Your Job Search Outlook

Whether you’re into visualization or not (many people aren’t and that’s fine), you can consider your situation pragmatically and begin identifying any potential positives about it or any that you can realistically see a way to make happen somewhere down the road. For those of you who do use some form of visualization, you might decide what kind of different attitude or approach you want and how that might look.

It could involve becoming aware of things you’ve been ignoring or were previously unaware of. For instance, maybe there are people who have expressed interest in your career success and/or willingness to be a resource for you, but for some reason you haven’t taken them up on it. In that case, what’s been holding you back? Taking a few minutes to refocus your job search outlook can open up possibilities you weren’t able to see before.

Gratitude for Major Changes Completed Successfully

Often, achieving a successful job search or career success goal can be less about moving from Point A to Point Z and more about going from A to D to M to C to K…. In other words, you don’t take a straight-line path. If you find it discouraging, particularly when you’re engaged in a really major change, gratitude might seem out of place. However, I encourage you to suspend disbelief for a while and give gratitude a try. It can’t hurt, and it could make a big difference in your overall results.

I might add that I’m speaking from experience here. In my former life (before starting A Successful Career), I went through many job search challenges and sometimes (though thankfully not often) through unsatisfactory job situations. I know I learned something useful from each one, though, and that helped offset the negative feelings I might have been experiencing at the time.

As some of you know, I relocated my family/household and my business from California to Massachusetts last June, which was a project of epic proportions! The disruption of my routine and necessarily of my ability to maintain full business operations was substantial. However, now that the dust has settled more or less, I am decidedly grateful for our new home and for being much nearer to a close relative whom I value. That makes the path ahead look challenging but do-able, and I’m “up” for it.

I find it helps to pair gratitude with a hopeful attitude. I can still look forward to helping clients achieve their goals–just in a new setting. That makes the struggle to get here very worthwhile.

The following scene isn’t exactly what I can see out my office window (we’re not quite that close to a lake), but it’s typical of this area in the fall. It refreshes me to look at it–and hopefully it will help me to get through the coming winter with acceptance if not enjoyment. I hope you will have–or find–your own motivating key or outlook in the weeks and months ahead.

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Job Search & Career Resources for the 55+ Crowd

Whether you’re in the 55+ job seeker category yet or not, the job search and career resources available for that group will undoubtedly become important to you at some point. That’s especially true if the tendency of too many companies to base their hiring decisions on perceived age-related drawbacks stays as active as it has been in the past.

Job Search Challenges for 55+ Job Seekers

According to Experience Works (formerly Green Thumb), “Finding a new job is never easy. For the growing number of Americans age 55 and older the road blocks to employment are many.”

To name just a few employment obstacles:

  • Growing numbers of people staying in the work-force past age 65 through either economic necessity or through a desire to stay active.
  • Factory, plant, and other business closures that have forced many employees into unemployment–even companies that have been in business for many years.
  • Employer’s misconceptions about the ability of older workers to cope with the demands of modern business, technology changes, etc.

Resources–What’s Being Done for 55+ Workers?

Experience Works places a high priority on helping older workers improve their employability by increasing or broadening their skills. As their brochure indicates, they provide support through “training, community service, and employment.” The brochure also makes an excellent point about the trend toward more and more older workers throughout the United States, with 1 in 4 being age 55 or older by 2020–that’s just 5 years away, folks! Also, women and other groups, such as veterans, will make up a growing portion of those older workers.

Experience Works also mentions that a key piece of their activities involves the U.S. Department of Labor effort called “Senior Community Service Employment Program,” which began as part of the War on Poverty aimed at getting older people back in the active work-force. So what other resources might exist that could benefit 55+ workers with their job search?

AARP: This organization used to be called the Association for the Advancement of Retired Persons, but today it serves a much broader population than that, including job seekers who are in their late 40s and early 50s and might be several years (a decade or more) away from retirement.

AARP’s resources include:

  • The Work channel
  • The National Employer Team
  • The Water Cooler (online community group)
  • Employment assistance through the AARP Foundation’s WorkSearch Assessment System and the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP)

The AARP website includes a list of more than 15 online job search and career resources for 55+ workers. You don’t have to limit yourselves to just Experience Works or to AARP itself. Take some time to explore those sites and see what you can come up with that might help you (or someone you know) who’s facing the 55+ job-seeking challenge and put you back in the “game.”

If you’re currently working and feel reasonably secure in your present situation, count your blessings! (And don’t get too complacent–keep this information handy for future reference.)


Are You a Leader-Learner?

Or should that be “Learner-Leader”? Anyway, the question basically is, as a leader, are you pretty much always learning or have you decided that you already know what you need to know to get your job done?

I just had a client describe herself as a lifelong learner–and this isn’t the first time I’ve run across that concept. In fact, I’ve applied it to myself as well. To me, learning new things helps keep my brain energized and motivates me to stay active, not only in my professional field (resume writing and job search coaching) but on a broader and more personal scale.

What Makes the “Best” Leaders?

If you’re a leader in your company or organization, the concept of continuous learning becomes even more important, as evidenced by an article I found today (shared by a fellow LinkedIn Group member), titled “The Best Leaders Are Constant Learners,” by Kenneth Mikkelsen and Harold Jarche. It’s a thought-provoking article, and I need to read it a few more times to absorb all of it, but it definitely got my brain going.

To give one example of the core theme, the authors state: “As we attempt to transition into a networked creative economy, we need leaders who promote learning and who master fast, relevant, and autonomous learning themselves. There is no other way to address the wicked problems facing us. If work is learning and learning is the work, then leadership should be all about enabling learning.”

Why is Learning So Important for Leaders?

For one thing, learning is critical because we live in a world where change has become a constant, and many of us find ourselves overwhelmed by it. If you’re in a leadership role and can’t stay on top of change, you and the organization you lead could suffer serious consequences. As the article’s authors put it, “…leaders must scan the world for signals of change, and be able to react instantaneously.”

To put it another way, treading water won’t cut it in business today! In all probability, if your company isn’t moving (forward), it’s sinking or all too likely to sink in the not-too-distant future. As a learner-leader, you can make a significant difference in your company’s prospects by embracing continuous learning for yourself and enthusiastically promoting it throughout your organization.

Some employees might well push themselves to learn without your encouragement, but many more probably won’t–either because they lack sufficient motivation or because they don’t recognize the importance of ongoing learning. Part of your responsibility as a leader is to help your employees see that importance and open themselves up to learning opportunities. Not only that, but you need to ensure that their learning path isn’t a dead-end within the company or you could lose the newly energized employees to a competitor!


Does Your Job Search Have Any “Low-hanging Fruit”?

Human nature seems prone to look for an easy way to do things. That’s called going after the “low-hanging fruit,” which a dictionary defines as “something easily achieved or obtained; the most readily achievable goal.” The bad news is, you can’t reach a successful job search outcome by concentrating on easy goals. The good news is, it’s not a bad starting-point if you understand that you still have hard work ahead. If nothing else, it might get you motivated for the harder steps.

Job Search Low-hanging Fruit to Look For

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After you’ve established a tentative goal for your job search campaign, you can evaluate actions you might take that can be done quickly and effectively, using the time and resources you have ready access to. That might include one or all of the following, as well as others:

  • Knowledgeable advocates you’re in current or recent contact with. That is, people who are not only in a position to provide useful advice but also willing to provide that support.
  • Networking opportunities on the near horizon. In other words, events such as an upcoming workshop or conference where you can interact with possible persons-of-influence.
  • Activities that could increase your visibility and credibility with minimal financial investment, such as volunteering in a visible role with a widely respected community organization.
  • A review of your financial reserves and projected expenses over the next several months, which should give an indication of whether you need to make changes and/or an idea of what you have to work with if your job search is protracted.

Picked It All? Then What?

Double-check to make sure you haven’t overlooked an easy action that would help jump-start your job search. However, assuming you’ve already identified and picked all the low-hanging fruit you can find for your job search, what’s next?

If you’re a savvy job seeker, you’ve probably figured out some of the not-so-easy steps to take in your job search. I’ve written blog posts on related topics before, so I’m not going to try to offer a comprehensive list here. You’re looking for actions with a potential for decent payoff that will take more than the minimal effort expended on the low-hanging fruit phase. For example, you might want to:

  • Identify a few promising connections in your LinkedIn network, with whom you’ve maintained a reasonably good relationship (give-and-take, not just take), and consult with them about your plans.
  • Block out some time to explore possible job opportunities that seem in line with what you’re looking for and see if you can arrange an interview–while you’re still employed or (if unemployed) before your situation becomes critical.
  • Sound out your personal network (i.e., friends and family, not necessarily professional contacts) to ensure that they’re “on the same page” with you–ready and willing to support your activities however they can. It’s better to identify and tackle potential problem areas early in your job search planning than after you’re in full-on search mode.
  • Consider canceling or postponing “optional” plans you might have made that could prove unwise if your job search lasts longer than you hope. For example, if you’ve been planning a major purchase, such as a new car or RV, you might need to reconsider that, at least for the time being.

Eye on the Prize

Remember that if something is worth having, it’s worth working for. Low-hanging fruit will only get you so far.

“There will always be things we want in life. Some are just a passing whim, others are real desires or prizes. When you come across one of those prizes, don’t let it slip away. Keep it in focus. Remembering what you want and why, so you can continue to move toward it step by step. That is the essence of keeping your eyes on the prize.” (Source: Greatest Inspirational Quotes)


Plan Your Job Search–Then Rethink Your Plan

Starting a job search without a plan is somewhat like starting a long trek in the snow without boots. You’re handicapping yourself at the outset because you don’t have the necessary tools lined up to get you where you want to go. The analogy breaks down a bit at this point, because while you can grab a pair of boots before you open the door to head outside, it’s not always so clear what to do about a job search plan.

But lets assume for the moment that you agree you need a job search plan. What are some of the underlying assumptions or elements that will get your plan in good shape, and what will you need to do to keep it there?

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Plan Your Job Search the Smart Way

Recognize at the outset that no plan is perfect. In the real world of job search planning, “good enough to do [get] the job” is probably good enough in most cases. Also, I’d guess there are hundreds, maybe thousands, of expert views on what your job search plan can and should include. An online search for “job search plan” brings up several variations of the wording, including “job search action plan.” I like that way of putting it because it emphasizes that you’ll need to take action–a plan on paper, as it were, is useless by itself.

An item my search turned up was titled “Scheduling Your Job Search Plan of Action,” and the one-page document makes clear that one size doesn’t fit all: “It’s impossible to prepare a precise layout of all of the job search steps which you may require. Everyone’s situation differs in terms of employment objectives and available alternatives.”

It’s important, then, to review possibilities, suggestions from others, etc., with the understanding that not all of the advice will fit your particular situation or needs. You must define a job search plan that takes into consideration the goals, challenges, opportunities, and resources specifically relevant to your job search. Don’t adopt something just because you know it worked for someone else very well, but don’t reject it just because it didn’t work for someone else, either.

Why Should You Rethink Your Plan?

For starters, because no one can anticipate and prepare for every possible contingency that might crop up. When you prepare your plan initially, you will certainly take into account all the likely possibilities you can think of, but you can’t think of them all, and you can’t anticipate the ones that are so far out of real-world experience that they’re basically off the grid.

To give an extreme and tragic example, most people wouldn’t have imagined anything like the immense disaster that hit the eastern US on September 11, 2001. Whether or not some people should have had a clue ahead of time (which has been argued), most of us didn’t and couldn’t. Therefore our planning simply wouldn’t have been in shape to anticipate and/or prevent it.

Almost certainly, your job search plan will involve a much less severe situation, with substantially less extreme consequences. Given that greatly reduced scale of impact, however, your plan still can and should be considered a work-in-progress, something you rethink and amend from time to time based on new information you learn or new possibilities you encounter. Even if your plan leads to a mistake, you can learn from that mistake, improve your plan, and move on. As inventor Thomas Edison once said, “Just because something doesn’t do what you planned it to do doesn’t mean it’s useless.”

In short: Plan It – Rethink It – Move On.


“Shady” Past Hurting Your Job Search?

Career missteps are nothing new–you might even have made one or two yourself. However, if you made a mistake that involved ending up on the wrong side of the law, you’ve probably discovered that it can have a hugely negative impact on your employability–especially in senior-level positions and/or those involving sensitive areas of a company, such as finance.

In too many cases, you never have the opportunity to explain the situation–for example, to show what you’ve done since then to remedy your error or initiate the changes necessary to ensure never making that kind of mistake again. Employers take one look at your information and say, “Thanks, but we’ll pass.”

Recently, however, it appears that employers’ knee-jerk reaction to job seekers with a somewhat flawed past might be diminishing at least somewhat.

Screening Applicants with a Criminal Past

According to “The State of Screening” (by Lauren Dixon on Talent Management Today), the trend is changing. She cites a survey that shows “roughly 75% of employers said they provide background assessments where candidates with criminal histories are able to explain the details of their conviction…”

Among other key points shared in the article, I found these especially interesting:

  • For executive-level hiring, 58% said they use the same background check as for other employees, while 39% conduct more extensive checks and 2% don’t do a check at all.
  • While 90% indicated they had found information at some time that led to not hiring the individual, 44% of them disqualified less than 5% of the applicants who revealed a criminal conviction.
  • If a candidate lies on the resume or job application (for instance, trying to conceal a criminal incident or claiming a degree they don’t have) and is found out before hiring, a substantial number of the employers would reject the candidate: 44% for lying on the application; 75% for lying on a resume.

What Can You Do about This Problem?

If you’re fortunate enough to be targeting one of the employers that shows some leniency or open-mindedness about past mistakes of this kind, most likely you just need to have a convincing explanation to reassure the company that you’re not a risk going forward. Even better, that you’ll be a strong asset because of the value you can bring that far outweighs your mistake.

On the other hand, if you can’t prevent rejection because you never get a chance to explain anything to offset the “bad news,” you face a much tougher challenge. One step you probably should take is to head off the situation if possible by networking your way into the company. If you can establish one or more supportive contacts within the organization, you might well be able to provide your explanation that way. Obviously, this requires establishing a positive relationship with your contact(s), so there’s a willingness to advocate for you.

If you take the right steps and take advantage of opportunities to clear the air, you might be able to change this hostile job search environment:

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into this:

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Stress in Your Job Search–and Beyond

A while ago I published a post about experiencing stress on your new job. Today I came across a post about “Top 10 Ways to Help You Stay Calm under Pressure” that I felt could be helpful if you’re experiencing stress and pressure either during your job search or after you land the new job. (I found this post via a an item shared by Edward Harrison, a member of the LinkedIn group, Top Leaders/Executives, which I also belong to.)

Stress-fighting Strategies for Your Job Search or New Job

According to the post (by Dr. Patty Ann Tubin), these are–briefly–the top 10 ways you can stay calm (i.e., minimize stress in your experience):

  1. Be Grateful!
  2. Think Positively.
  3. Go off the Grid.
  4. Get Sleep.
  5. Be Active.
  6. Practice Meditation.
  7. Don’t Play the Victim.
  8. Eat Healthy.
  9. Breathe Fully.
  10. Keep it All in Perspective.

That’s a pretty extensive list, although there might be even more that could be added. What I think the article does well is to take a commonsense approach to the situation, including asking a couple of wise questions in #10 and following it with this statement: “Chances are the answer to these questions will not incur loss of life. Anything less than that must be kept in perspective.”

So what I’m basically saying is that you can let the stress and pressure get to you and derail your progress (and very possibly your health) or you can work on incorporating as many of the top 10 techniques as you can–and as make good sense in your situation. For example, you might not be able to do meditation in the middle of a business meeting, but you can try to practice things like “think positively” and “breathe fully” (“take a deep breath” has long been advice given to someone who’s about to fly off the handle).

Need Help in Your Stress-Busting?

Sometimes you might need or want to call on a friend or colleague you trust to help you break out of stress mode. If they can give you relatively unbiased support (e.g., reasonably non-judgmental), they could provide much-needed breathing-room and perspective on the situation that’s fueling your stress.

At other times, it’s possible that more formal or trained support is what you most need. I’m no therapist or counselor, so I don’t advise my resume or job search clients on matters that veer into that territory. I can and have recommended that a client consult a trained professional for an issue that’s outside the scope of the services I’m qualified to provide. Most of the time you may be the best one to determine the nature or extent of your need for support, and as long as you recognize that you do need help and take steps to get it, that’s great.

Either way, I encourage you to identify the steps and resources you need in order to break the pattern of pressure-stress-pressure-stress, whether in your job search or in the new job itself. You’ll save yourself a lot of grief in the long run.