3 Things You Can’t Control in Your Job Search (and 3 Things You Can!)

Several years ago, I interviewed for a job that I really, really wanted: It seemed like the perfect role at a dream organization. I worked hard to prepare for the interview, and though I was nervous on the big day, I felt ready.

I was at ease with the interviewers (a team of five!), and felt we developed a strong rapport. I left the office sure I’d made a good impression—only to find out a few days later that they hired someone else.

I was devastated and disappointed. But their rejection email emphasized it wasn’t that I was a bad fit, but rather that there was someone who was a better fit.

This was a critical lesson for me. When looking for a new position, you want to believe that it’ll be like buying a new computer or booking a trip. In other words, you’ll research all of the options, pick the best, and it’ll be yours. The hard reality, however, is that there is so much outside of your control in a job search from what openings are out there, to who else is in the running, to whether your interviewer is having a bad day.

So, a much better way to spend your time and energy is to focus on the parts that are within your control. In these areas, greater effort will mean more payoff. And, for everything outside of your control? Admitting they’re out of your hands will keep you from taking a loss too personally.

Here’s a guide to what’s what:

1. You Can’t Control Who’s Hiring

Sometimes, the exact position you’re looking for will open up at just the right time; and other times you feel like you’ve been refreshing job boards and checking back in with your contacts again (and again, and again) before you see anything that’s a good fit. Unfortunately, you can’t will a role into being available.

But, You Can Control Your Efforts

What you can do is make sure that you’re devoting enough time to your search to make the progress you want. Yes, some people seem to have jobs land in their lap—but they’re updating their LinkedIn profiles, talking to people behind the scenes, and putting effort into their personal branding. That kind of effort pays off!

2. You Can’t Control the Job Market

I had a coaching client who recently graduated from journalism school. She was struggling to find a full-time position—and so were all of her peers. The lesson: Your search is subject to big trends in the economy that are important to recognize.

But, You Can Control How You React to It

Recognizing these larger job market forces helps you target your search accordingly. If your skills are transferable, you can investigate roles where you could use them in a new, growing sector.

A good way to gut-check if it’s the industry—or something about how your applying—is to reach out to your contacts (both employed and unemployed) in the same industry. Talk to them about the landscape. Are they seeing a lack of open roles? Are there certain things that help other people stand out and get hired despite this?

3. You Can’t Control the Competition

As I learned the hard way, sometimes your competition is just more qualified than you. A few months after my devastating rejection, I went back and looked at the company website to see who they had hired, and thought: “I would’ve hired her, too!”

We had a similar background, but my competitor’s experience was a bit more relevant and she spoke Spanish, which was helpful in the role. And sometimes, you’ll find out that while you were qualified, the other finalist had five years more experience than you did. In these cases, there nothing you could’ve done differently to land the job.

But You Can Control Your Preparation and Performance

With that said, stressing about the competition’s counter-productive. When you’re going into an interview, you want to focus on how you you can be as prepared as possible. Translation: practice, practice, practice!

Talking about yourself, your experience, and your interests can feel unnatural and it’s hard to remember examples of past projects offhand. Practicing aloud, either by yourself or ideally with a trusted friend, will help you make the best possible impression when speaking with someone new.

Management expert Jack Welch once said, “Control your destiny or someone else will.”

You get to steer your own destiny. While you don’t have full control over the everything in your job search, you can uphold high expectations for yourself and your career. Keep your spirits up by knowing that you are doing what you can do, and that you’re prepared and ready for the right opportunity when it comes along.


By UCLA Extension Career Services
UCLA Extension Career Services