How can I psyche myself up to do a job search? I am still so angry at my former employer. I’m afraid it will come across in an interview. And, I’m also having a really hard time writing accomplishment statements as I feel like my work was not valued at all. – Marion
Marion’s question encapsulates the multiple reasons why a bad experience in your last job can negatively impact your career going forward. That said, your career is more than just one job. For most people, you hold more than one job and work with more than one employer over the course of your career. Even if you stay in one company your whole career, what you do outside your day-to-day job (e.g., professional memberships, volunteer activity), your individual skills and expertise and your training and education also make an impact.
If your most recent job left you angry, undervalued or [insert negative feeling here], it’s critical that you proactively prevent this one negative from dragging the rest of your career down. Here are three steps you can take to move on in your career after a bad job experience:
1 – Structure your job search so you are not relying on motivation alone
Marion pointed out how difficult it can be to get psyched for a job search because of lingering negative feelings about the last job. However, even if you liked your last job, you still probably won’t enjoy a job search, given how frustrating, disappointing, anxiety-inducing and time-consuming in can be. You don’t want to rely on motivation to get your job search done.
The fix? Structure your day, weeks and months ahead to ensure you do your job search activities whether or not you feel like it. Make a clear list of what you need to do and deadlines for time-sensitive tasks. Create a routine for when you are going to tackle different things. Enlist an accountability partner to keep you on track. By building a structure for how your job search will get done you ensure that your search continues even when your motivation wanes.
2 – Practice talking about your last job till it no longer bothers you
Bad feelings about your last job will come out in interviews and negatively impact your performance, unless you get to a point where you can talk about your last job unemotionally and ideally positively. Your next employer will definitely ask about your most recent job and why you left that job. Some interviewers dig deeper when they sense you are uncomfortable about something, and some interviewers are just hostile or mean. You need a game plan for handling the hostile interview and certainly for handling reasonable inquiry into your last work experience and why you left.
The fix? Plan in advance for how you will explain why you left. If you were laid off, keep it factual and concise. If you didn’t like your boss, talk about other things you liked about the job. If you can’t think of anything you liked about your last job, emphasize what you hope to gain from your next job. Don’t go negative, even if you feel 100% justified in doing so.
3 – Pin your market value to your next job, not a previous job where you were underpaid
Even though some states have now made it illegal to ask about previous salary, it still creeps into the negotiation because job seekers too often define their target salary as a percentage jump above what they made before. Prospective employers are all too happy to anchor your next salary to your previous one, especially if you were previously underpaid and they can save some money!
The fix? Yes, you can raise your salary even if you were previously underpaid. Do your own research on what the market is paying (see How To Get Salary Data You Can Really Use) so you anchor your next salary request on the going rate. Practice negotiating so that you are comfortable asking for what you deserve. Make a list of your tangible results so that you increase your self-confidence and prospective employers are more confident in you – remember that what you accomplished is a testament to you, even if your former employer undervalued these things.
With planning and preparation you can prevent one bad job experience from negatively impacting your next career move
In addition to motivation, interviewing and negotiation, a bad job experience can negatively impact how you network – when you’re down, people may avoid you. You also need a plan for how to get good references even from a bad job (references are a deal-breaker too many job seekers overlook). Finally, make sure that a bad job experience in a particular industry or role doesn’t sour your interest for other companies or job openings in that area, such that you narrow your job targets unnecessarily. Devote some planning and preparation to ensure you’re targeting a wide enough array of jobs, you have the professional references you need and you network with energy and enthusiasm.