Competent, but Not Confident - How to Land a Decent Job?

Sorry for starting another thread on job seeking so soon after my last one, but “Purpose of a functional resume?” is a rather ambiguous thread title that isn’t likely to garner the kinds of responses I’m looking for here.

I’d like the reader to avoid misconstruing this post as some kind of whiny, the-world-isn’t-fair, self-pity thread. Rather, consider this to be something of a last-ditch attempt for an outsider to work his way into the confines of a respectable work environment.

Also please note that I cast no dispersions on the confident majority - quite the opposite, actually; I envy them greatly.

Due to my depression and anxiety (which, despite everything I’ve tried, has not gone away), the job hunt process is as daunting to me as a hike to the summit of Mt. Everest. Actually working a job is easy - akin to standing on top of the mountain, relaxing, and admiring the view.

Resumes and interviews are mostly an exercise in salesmanship. No matter how little relevance such a skill is to the jobs for which I apply (PC technician), and no matter how immaculately I can perform said work, I cannot get to that point without feeling like I’m hawking steak knives or overpriced vacuum cleaners.

These things require confidence I simply do not possess (even though, logically, I should), and that I am unable to convincingly fake. Past interviews have required large doses of Xanax and ephedrine acting in concert as a sort of legal, but far from effective, poor man’s speedball to even muddle my way through.

I am at a loss as to what someone in my situation is supposed to do. Though I’m a better tech than most people I’ve met, I find myself on the verge of applying for lousy fast food jobs that pay a third of what I could be making, simply because the application and interview processes for those fields are relatively painless.

Those who have never been through this simply cannot understand how frustrating it is, and how quickly one who is naturally pessimistic becomes even moreso. It feels like the deck is stacked so heavily against me that I don’t even stand a chance. My shy, awkward personality means that I have no network of job contacts. Truth be told, I don’t even know anyone in my field!

A very good friend of mine is in the exact same situation, albeit in a different industry. He’s been known to literally vomit before interviews, even for menial jobs.

How do people like us obtain the kind of decent work for which we are qualified? I’ve tried employment agencies, but none have offered anything more than sporadic (at best) opportunities, and I’ve found myself spending more time at home sitting by a phone that never rings than actually working. Averaged out, I could have made far more money working a consistent job at minimum wage.

So now I put forth my dilemna to the legions of Dopers who are far more knowledgeable in such matters than I could ever be. Any advice you guys could offer would be appreciated more than you could ever know.

Indeed, I’m thankful that you’ve even opened this thread, as I’m so stressed out about this situation that I’ve been popping Xanax like candy, and am terrified of the impending addiction that will undoubtedly result from this.

I sympathize. I was very anxious and scared about interviewing when I was in college, and first out of college. I felt incompetent and always had this feeling deep down that the interviewers were out to get me–out to trip me up or mock me. The anxiety didn’t really go away until I found myself on the other side of the interview table, trying to hire people, and realized that I had it all wrong. Try to think of the situation from the interviewer’s point of view. This might not help you unless you’ve actually been in that situation before… but remember: if they have called you in at all, they are very interested in hiring you. They wouldn’t waste their employees’ time on interviewing someone that they don’t think could do the job. They understand that people are nervous in interviews; just try to focus on showing them that you are competent enough to do the job, and try to relax and act normal rather than thinking of it as a huge, formal thing.

It might help to read up on interview etiquette beforehand; also, I always prepare myself for interviews by:

  • preparing a list of questions I might be asked, and making notes about the answers on a notepad I bring with me. That way it will be harder to “go blank” during the interview.
  • researching the company and making notes about it that you can refer to before the interview/between interviewers
  • writing down a list of questions for the interviewer about the job and the position so that you won’t just be sitting there in awkward silence when they ask you if you have any questions.

You might want to try temping or contract assignments with the potential to grow into something bigger–that way, you will be able to prove yourself on the job, rather than having to sell yourself on a permanent job in an interview. It might be psychologically easier to deal with a temp job interview than a “real job” interview.

Good luck!

My father was a successful salesperson. He told me when he first started he threw up before every sales call. Then he only threw up before the first call of the day. Then only before the first call on Monday, and finally only before a first-time call. So as for the nerves thing, everyone has it to some degree.

I, too, am good at my work, but hate the process of interviewing. What I do is turn the interview into my interview. I research the employer as much as I can and come loaded with a list of questions about the job. Not only does it play to my greatest strength – analysis – but it takes the pressure off me. As a side benefit, it often impresses the interviewer a lot more than my fumbling responses to “what’s your biggest weakness?” ever would.

I’d like to second this suggestion. I was in exactly the same position as the OP after I got my Bachelor’s – competent, good job skills, quick learner… but clueless about portraying that in an interview.
I worked at one place for about three weeks before they offered me a position, where I stayed for quite a while before going back to school. It wasn’t even supposed to be a temp-to-perm job originally. They were just looking to hire and I’d demonstrated that I had what they were looking for.
So temp work = “show, don’t tell.” :slight_smile:

Sorry. I probably didn’t make myself clear enough in the OP.

I get anxious when I’m sitting alone in my room. I get anxious when I’m hanging out with my best friend. Anxiety is the first thing I feel when I wake up in the morning and the last thing I feel before I go to sleep. Throw severe depression up into the mix and it’s even worse.

I’ve taken 7mg of Xanax in the last 24 hours (I’m only supposed to take 2mg) and I still feel nervous at this very moment. I’m almost to the point where I’ve forgetten what it’s like to not feel nervous. Interviews increase these feelings exponentially.

However nervous I may be on jobs, though, I can perform them better than most people who don’t suffer from anxiety or depression.

This I did cover in the OP. I’ve signed up with several agencies over the last few months, yet they hardly seem to be able to find me a thing. Even though I haven’t turned down any assignments, I’ve only worked two out of the last six months.

Thank you for the advice, though.

I’ve always been the type to lay it on the line at interviews. I don’t schmooze, I don’t rabid pitch, I am just myself.

It seems to work.

If I draw a blank on a question I’ll say so. No big deal.

I say if you know you can do the job, just tell them and tell them why. If you get nervous before interviews make that the first thing you say to them.

"Let me start by saying for some reason I get REALLY nervous at interviews. "

As long as the job you’re looking to get doesn’t require you to be really outgoing, no big deal.

I always go into interviews with a laid back attitude. I treat the interviewer like I’ve been working with them for years. I’m professional, polite, but I’m not kissing ass. I don’t treat them like they are better than me or I’m lower tham them. It’s just me and them. Two people talking. If they don’t like me that way, I’m not going to want to work there.

I like Seven’s idea - tell the interviewer up front you’re nervous and stressed! Many people are, and since your job doesn’t require heavy duty ftf interaction it won’t matter.
If the interviewer is good at her job, she (or he) should know how to get the information she needs from you and understand that some people get really stressed about the whole job interview process.
I’ve talked to many people who want to work for me (back when I had employees) and it didn’t matter if they were nervous. I’d try hard to put them at ease. Really, all I wanted to know was, could they do the job.

I gotta say, I was not so long ago, very much the bundle o’ nerves when going to interviews. The change came, however, one day in my car, driving to an interview. It was a simple realization, but one that had a very *profound * and *lasting * impact.

Here it is:
I realized how* not * stressed-out the interviewer was at the same very moment. I pictured her (or him, I guess) in her car, drinking her coffee, having just another morning. This encouraged me to look at my day as just another morning, and calms me considerably (being one of the anxious variety, myself…) in just about any social anxiety situation.

Hope this is as helpful to you as it has been to me.

Just tell them you’re like the guy on 24. You can get the job done, but you might need a bucket for all the sweat.

Seven’s given you some good advice. Tell them up front you get nervous. If nothing else, their reaction will weed out some people you’re probably better off not working for anyway.

I’ve been involved in deciding who to interview a few times. If a company has decided to interview you, that means they’ve decided your better than most of the other people they looked at. They’ve decided that there’s something about your resume that makes them want to talk to you. Remind yourself of that. Make it into a mantra, if you like.

I don’t blame you for being worried, if not outright scared. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve faked confidence, despite battling anxiety and depression. Most of the time it worked. Since I’m religious, I’ve found that simply admitting my fear in the form of prayer has helped settle my nerves a bit, simply because I’m no longer trying to pretend I’m not.

Focus on what you can do and what you have done. Again, if the company didn’t think you were good, you wouldn’t be there in the first place. My last employer (one I might have been better off without!) once told me I was his first choice for the job. Tell yourself that as you go to an interview, whether or not you suspect it’s true.

I’ve also found that temping is another way to get your foot in the door. While some companies do interview temps and you still have the stress of talking to temp agencies, I’ve found some good jobs doing that.

I’ve seen you post. You strike me as bright and articulate, and I have full confidence in you. Good luck, and remember, if they’re interviewing you, they think you’re good, and they’re interested in hiring you.


If you’ve been looking for a job for a while, that fact alone can ratchet up your anxiety level. Take some of the pressure off yourself: go get one of those jobs you aren’t anxious about applying for, and plan on working that part-time on a temporary basis.

When you go into an interview for a job in your field, then, you can remind yourself that you’ve still got your fall-back job, so you don’t need to stress out as much about this interview.

Also, sitting around waiting for someone to call probably isn’t helping your stress levels, either. Having some other job or activity – volunteering, going to work out – can help with that, too.

As for your anxiety in an interview, do you think it would be less talking over the phone than in face to face? If so, you might suggest that you’re available for a preliminary phone interview if they’d like, when you’re contacted. Or you could ask if there is someone you could call first to get a better understanding of the company and job (e.g., “Is there someone who could describe the job requirements so I can better prepare for what you are interested in for the interview?”).

I’ve interviewed people whose nervousness just went away once someone they’d already ‘connected’ with came into the interview. We had an HR guy who made a point of wandering through and chatting up interviewees while they were waiting for their appointment, and that brief conversation really seemed to help.

Remember, you are interviewing them as much as they are interviewing you. Read “What color is your parachute?” for more insight in what interviewers are worried about in the interview process. They aren’t looking to grill you. They just want to make sure your not a googly- eyed psycho. There is always going to be an element you can’t control, but the key is to apply widely and apply often and one day you’ll get lucky.

I have anxiety and depression but my meds take the edge off so I won’t say I know what you’re going through. However, pre-interview I imagine farting, vomiting, sneezing and having a nosebleed, freezing up and being unable to speak, saying something laughable or stupid, and most of those things have never come true (can’t be sure about the last).

I have actually said that I am “reserved until I get to know people” when asked about work style, and I say I don’t know, with some follow-up about learning, etc., when I do kind of draw a blank. You can even cast your preferences for independent work out of the spotlight as a reason why this job is suited for you. Someone who wants to be out and about wouldn’t be right.

I agree too that bringing in a few notes about yourself helps when you are asked an open-ended question, so you don’t freeze up, and knowing what you have that fits the jobs means you have really thought about what would make a successful incumbent.

While interviewers are taking it seriously because they are looking to hire the right person, it’s true that it’s not life-and-death for them the way it feels to you. And I would think that generally speaking they are not trying to get you, but have a constructive conversation that helps them see what you’re about. Make it easy for them to feel that you are the right person. I have a hard time being judged so I know what you mean about being anxious about the scrutiny.

I know this is all easy for me to say, and that if you have generalized anxiety as a state of being it’s not like you can narrow it down to specific things that are scaring you. Can you at all?

I will repeat the suggestion of temporary work. Register with multiple agencies so they can keep you busy.

Are you seeing a counselor for your anxiety in addition to taking meds? IANAD, but doing the “other” things that help with anxiety could be important, too, especially if the meds aren’t taking care of the problem. Regular meals, sleep and exercise can be very important. You can also get experience role playing interview situations to get more experience and be more comfortable with the questions.

Rather than staying at home waiting for a call, can you get involved in part-time volunteer work? Like temping, that can open many doors, give you another source for references and recommendations, etc. It also gets you up, dressed and going through the motions of work on a regular basis. There are probably oodles of nonprofits who could use some volunteer tech time. United Way should be able to point you in the right direction.

Serious sympathy. You are in a tough spot. I know you said you have tried “everything”, so maybe this is a useless suggestion, but sometimes it takes several tries to get the anxiety and depression meds right. Also, it might take a couple (or more) tries at therapy to find the right someone to work with. Sorry if you have already tried both several times, but I wanted to say something just in case you have only tried one or two meds or one therapist.

When I interview people, I have two agendas. First, determine if the person is as good as the resume, and fill in holes in my understand of the person’s abilities that don’t get covered by the resume. I iusually ask things like “what’s the most interesting bug you created” and stuff like that.
The second to sell a good person on the job. I may go into mode 2 after being happy with mode 1.

Being open about being nervous is fine. Here are some ideas - I don’t know if they’ll work for you.

Would you feel better if you were playing a role - someone with your skills who was not nervous? A lot of actors I know “turn on” when they go before a camera, and shy people become very outgoing. Maybe this kind of thing will work for you.
Decide in advance on a story you want to tell the interviewer about something you did at work before that was really cool. Perhaps it was a machine you fixed where no one else had a clue. I think stories and specifics work really well. When I write recommendation letters for people (which seem to work) I always put in something very specific.
Try to focus on the thought that you are interviewing to make the company better, not to get a job. Think of it as an altruistic action. A really good worker, as you seem to be, is worth a lot more than his or her salary to a company. Don’t be obnoxious, of course, but do focus on what you think you can do for them.

Some insight from the other side of the desk.

We can get 200 resumes for the job. We interview six. Of those, at least one is likely to be interviews to keep someone happy that we probably won’t hire (last interview we interviewed a guy I used to work with - nice guy, I’d work with him again, resume wouldn’t have made the cut on its own, but I felt I owed it to him to interview him and see if it was just a resume mismatch - ask some direct questions, it wasn’t). The hard part of the cut is done.

Also, remember that the worst that can happen is that you won’t get hired. And, if that happens, you’ll be exactly where you are now, with an afternoon gone, but a little more interview practice - so it isn’t a total loss.

I agree, admit upfront that you aren’t comfortable with interviews. Also, your lack of confidence can be an asset…“The more I learn, the more I begin to understand how much I don’t know” is much more convincing from a tech than “I will wow you with my complete command of how functionally clueless I am by claiming complete understanding of every topic.” With the first, I say “here is a guy who admits he is learning, and sounds willing to research” the second I hear “cowboy.”

i like this advice. do your research/homework on the company you’re applying to. if they’re bringing you in, they’re interested, so unless you do something completely nuts, you’re looking solid.

Thanks for the advice, everyone. I would have posted back to this thread sooner but, without getting into too many details, let’s just say that the last couple of days were incredibly rough for me.

Depression and anxiety have a way of kicking my IBS into high gear. I actually get scared to eat because of how horribly my stomach hurts afterwards. Naturally, the IBS meds don’t work on me at all.

The last temp job I had ended six weeks ago and happened to coincide with my reading “The Bell Jar” for the first time. Bad combination, that. I’ve been averaging less than a meal a day since then. Anyway…

I’d like to respond to a few specific comments. I apologize in advance if anything I say here comes off as unduly negative or defeatist. My pessimism may know no bounds, but please understand that I truly appreciate every post in this thread.

I did sign up with several temp agencies, but I’m really not getting any results. Most of them claim to offer IT jobs, but it’s only after I fill out hours of paperwork and take a bunch of tests that I find out there are none to be had.

I also need insurance to afford the meds that sort-of, almost, barely work on me. My soon-to-be ex-wife had been keeping me on her insurance, but that’s going to run out at the end of the month. :frowning:

Another point against such services is the fact that I’m incredibly shy with people until I know them very well. I also tend to walk around with a perpetual scowl on my face. I’ve tried, but I simply can’t fake happy. The combination of these traits seems to unnerve co-workers. Though I’m never rude or unpleasant to them vocally, my facial expressions speak volumes, and I suspect that many of them misinterpret those frowns as reflections of my opinions of them.


If only it would. I have a tendency to be brutally honest - far more than I should be. Acting is essentially lying, and I’m just about the world’s worst liar.

Actually, I said “everything I’ve tried,” not “I’ve tried everything.” Perhaps that was a poor choice of wording on my part. I’ve been on no fewer than fifteen different medications over the past eight years. Besides the horribly addictive Xanax, the only medication that works even the very slightest bit (Provigil) will cost me $200 a month without insurance, so that will be gone soon. I’ve seen two psychiatrists and two psychologists. All left me feeling worse when I left the office than when I entered.

That’s not to say that I’ve given up, but I think I’m getting close. Pessimism and hopelessness mount with each failed try, so by this point they’ve pretty much overwhelmed me.

Well, there’s a little more to it than that. Those kinds of failures cause me to plunge even deeper into my pit.

That’s a great idea, but unfortunately I’m flat-broke. If I don’t get a decent tech job soon, I’ll have to resort to some kind of low-paying job as a convenience store clerk or something.

I especially like the advice offered by Seven and echoed by others that I should simply be upfront about my nervousness. So simple, so honest, and yet somehow it had never even crossed my mind.

Again, I really want to thank you all for your great ideas.

Oh, and…

Thank you for giving me my very first smile of the day. :slight_smile: Those words mean a lot coming from you.