You know that feeling, when you are doing everything you think you should be doing in your job search, but your search is stuck in a rut and you JUST. KEEP. GETTING. NOWHERE?

Yes, I bet you do.  (That feeling when you’ve applied for 10 jobs and haven’t heard back; you’re going on interviews but you’re not the finalist, and yet, you feel like you’re doing all the right things.)

On my end, I’ve been working on a new project, and internally, it feels like it just needs to be done RIGHT NOW.  (Or yesterday, actually).  I keep getting hit with massive roadblocks, I’m getting silence in response to my emails asking for help, and I’m encountering one complication after another.  I’m so over dealing with it, you know what I mean?

You know what I realized, though?

I’ve been taking the same steps over and over again to solve my problem, but none of those same things have been working.  I’ve been “brushing myself off and trying again” – sounds great, right?  In fact, I’ve just been repeating my mistakes, and thinking so narrowly about how to solve the problem that I temporarily developed an inability to think differently and approach the problem from another side.

I have unknowingly created my own rut, and, actually, I’ve turned it into a pothole.

What if you’re repeating an activity that you THINK will lead to success, but is build on a fundamentally flawed concept?  From a job search standpoint, what if you’re sending out the same resume over and over, and that resume’s not attuned well enough to its target market?  Or if you’re going on interviews but haven’t quite worked out the nuances of why you want to leave your current role?

In my case, I had to open up enough to think differently and get myself out of my own way.  All of a sudden, I had an a-HAH moment that I was using entirely the wrong approach, and there was another, better way (right in front of me the whole time, I might add…  Grrrr).

I hope you don’t get to that same point of utter frustration, too; if you think you’re headed there, here are some thoughts on how to get out of your rut before it turns into a pothole:

  1. Be willing to accept that something might need to change.  In my view, this is the hardest part!  I was so convinced that I was on the right track that I was missing what was right in front of me, and that actually had been available to me THE WHOLE TIME if I hadn’t been stuck in my habitual way of thinking.
  2. Force yourself to come up with 2-5 alternative approaches to what you’ve been doing.  I only saw my flash of inspiration when I sat down and forced myself to make a list of alternative methods.   Whether you call it brainstorming, analyzing, or Lateral Thinking, you need to question the fundamentals that your search is built upon and create a shift in your thinking.
  3. Find someone you trust, and review your strategy.  A friend, a mentor, a career coach or a colleague may be able to identify a slightly different tack that you can take so that you’re not repeating the same cycle over and over.
  4. Define the “rut” you’re in as a problem, is it that you’re not hearing back from your resume submissions?  Or are you getting partway into the interview process and not going any further?  Get specific about where the trouble is, and what your ideal outcome would be if the problem were solved.
  5. …and then figure out if it’s a strategy problem, or an execution problem (or both).  Are you targeting the right market with your search (Strategy)?  Are you creating the right message to appeal to that market (Strategy)?  Are you good at setting up a system (Strategy) like a contact management system to track your leads and then working that system on a regular basis (Execution)?  Do you have a plan for what to say in an interview (Strategy) but need more practice and/or coaching to deliver it well (Execution)?

To be fair, it’s possible that this rut is a temporary one caused by factors out of your control.  (Like the Recession of 2008-2009, for example.)  But, generally, that’s disregarding the strong impact that your inner game has on your outer success.  A rut is caused by a habitual pattern, a gradual wearing down because of repeated travel along the same path.  And then that fault line causes a crack, which leads to a deeper hole that feels really hard to escape, sometimes.

So, escape it before it starts:  don’t get so attached to your job search habits that you find yourself in a rut.