Typically you’ll find I go out of my way to help people cut their anxieties when it comes to the job search process. The title of today’s blog however, has likely raised the stress meter for a few people who struggle with holding conversations.
Yes, there are a lot of people who have difficulty interacting with others; which ramps up even higher than normal when the conversation is expected to be a lengthy one and about them personally. “I don’t like talking about myself”, is a common opening statement I hear often with people who find the interviews and conversations associated with looking for work to be so intimidating.
Now some are great at texting and email. Here at a keyboard, they are more at ease communicating. If they had their way, they’d apply for jobs and be hired based on the qualifications and skills highlighted in their resumes without having to go through the in-person interview. While some of these types are looking for jobs where they have extremely little interaction with other employees and the public, there are others who will do well once they get hired, become familiar with their new settings and co-workers, and only then do they communicate easier.
Can you feel empathy for such people? I mean, it’s hard to fully grasp what it must be like to have such an acute anxiety about talking to others. Most people I know find job interviews stressful, but job interviews aren’t something we go through every single day of our lives. Face-to-face conversations on the other hand, well, most of us have these many time a day, each and every day. Constantly being in a state of anxiety and heightened stress has to be taxing on both the mind and the body.
Every now and then I’ll hear from someone who was so debilitated on a given day with the fear of being in a conversation that they skipped their job interview altogether. Even though they both want a job and need the income, the barrier of talking to someone they don’t know for 45 minutes to an hour where they are expected to do a lot of the talking just became greater than the desired outcome; a job offer.
It’s not unheard of for some of these people to become physically ill and throw up before job interviews. Their stomachs are churn, their skin becomes tingly and they sweat heavily. The palms get clammy and simple things like eye contact and saying, “Hello” become major challenges.
There is no quick fix I could pass on here in a blog. However, there are some ideas and strategies that tend to help which I can recommend. For starters it can help to look at a job and deconstruct the interaction you’ll have with others. For example, you might balk at the idea of being a Cashier. All those people lining up to interact with you all day long! However, when you break things down, much of your conversation with any one of them will likely be a brief greeting, asking if they want a bag for their purchases, and telling them the total due. Many customers aren’t going to expect or really want much more than that. So while you might be meeting people all day, you’ll only have short, scripted conversations with any one of them.
Looking at a factory job or on an assembly line, your interactions are likely to be restricted to those on your immediate team and perhaps the Security Guard who lets you in and says goodbye to you on your way out. Focus on your work and you might find you fit in rather well, even though there are people around you who are busy doing their jobs.
It can also help sometimes to clue others in to your anxiety. Telling an interviewer that you’ve come to realize that your best work is done independently, and that you like to keep to yourself doesn’t mean you’ll always get shown the door. There are many jobs where the most desirable employee is one who can focus on their work and go for extended periods without the distraction of conversing with others.
Thinking of the above, it raises the important point of making sure you’re going for the right kind of fit when looking for work. This isn’t true just for those with conversation anxieties, but for everybody. In this case, you may do well in a job where you control your surroundings. Take the Potter working with clay in a workshop, a farmer working in a vast field, a Conservationist working in a forest, a Fish and Wildlife Biologist working in a wetlands.
Just walk down any street these days and you see people with ear buds listening to music or podcasts who in so doing, shut out others around them and send the message that they don’t wish to be disturbed. Technology might be tolerated or even encouraged in some jobs if it helps you do your work better.
Of course, sooner of later you do have to talk to people; we all do. One thing to try is short conversations in small doses, where over time you increase your confidence and reduce your fears. Little things like saying, ”hello” to people you pass on the street instead of silently walking by. It might not sound like much, but it’s a small step.