Is Self-Talk Hurting Your Job Search?

When we think of job search, we probably think about our resumes, where to find employers with job openings, and hopefully networking.  All key elements, for sure. But there’s also a key element many job seekers overlook: something called “self-talk”. That “small” piece of the puzzle can make or break even the (otherwise) strongest candidate.

So I asked my friend Louise Altman, a communications consultant with an expertise in emotional intelligence and workplace neuroscience, to offer her own thoughts and advice. Here’s her guest post…


 Is Your Self-Talk Helping or Hurting Your Job Search?

by Louise Altman

What do you tell yourself when you’re sending a resume to a prospective employer?

   “This is never going to go anywhere.  I’m probably wasting my time.”

Or when you don’t hear back after sending in your resume?

   “I knew it.  I’ll bet it didn’t even get to the person doing the hiring.”

Or when you think about your behavior in the inevitable post-interview review?

   “Oh that didn’t go as well I wanted. I could have done much better. Why didn’t I mention all of my responsibilities at my last job?”

Does any of this sound like you or someone you know?

How you talk to yourself really matters!

It sets off a chain reaction in your thinking.  It triggers you emotionally. It impacts what you do – and how you do it. Your self-talk sets a reinforcing behavioral pattern in place.  Your brain likes and looks for patterns.  Negative or positive – it’s not selective.  So every time we engage in negative self-talk – we’re hard-wiring that thinking into place.

It takes precious mental, emotional and physical energy to find a job. For some of us, it’s been a very long and hard road. The job market’s not only been brutal, but employers have been changing the rules of the road requiring mighty hoop-jumping skills.

It’s completely understandable to be frustrated and discouraged when you’ve been at it for months with little reward.  All the more reason to protect your most vital resource – you! Every time you allow yourself to engage in negative self-talk you erode your power. Relentless, repetitive self-talk can even change your self-image.  

Your Self-Talk is the Voice of Your Inner Critic

Even under the best of circumstances, some of us have a tough inner critic.  Most inner-critics have one essential message – there’s something wrong with me. The inner-critic is a real know-it-all. This critic can draw with complete accuracy (or so it thinks) from the past – and see with uncanny vision into the future. The inner-critic also likes to show up in the present, especially to point out how things didn’t go well in the past and might not again in the future. It dwells on mistakes.

You Can Turn the Inner Critic into Your Inner Coach

When you’re searching for a job, you need as much support in your corner as possible.  Outside help and resources are obviously important, but most of all you need your inner coach by your side.  Your inner coach doesn’t have to be a non-opinionated pushover either.  Listening to an inner coach vs. an inner critic is the difference between giving yourself honest, respectful feedback vs. demanding, demeaning and incessant harassment.

If you’ve let your inner-critic run wild, it’s challenging to get it under control, but it is still possible.  Practicing the following will help you to turn the channel from self-sabotage to self-support:

The 5 Essential Tools for Changing Self-Talk

  1. Awareness – This is the basic tool for change. Becoming conscious of what you say to you (and to others about you) is the key.  Your self-talk often shows up in the form of chronic worry, anger, irritation and blame.
  2. Develop Your Skills for Self-Observation – Neutral observation is essential to noticing the circumstances and patterns in which you criticize yourself. The most important aspect of developing your neutral witness is to learn to observe yourself – non- judgmentally. Observe and note – not prescribe and fix.
  3. Focus on the Now – This is challenging.  Of course we all have to use the knowledge and insights of the past to plan and prepare for the future, but there is a whole lot of territory in the NOW that gets missed in the process.  This is very important because a job search can feel like all of life is based on what-if’s rather than right-nows.
  4. Watch Your Language – The inner critic’s language is often harsh and demeaning. Language can be inclusive and polarizing, respectful and hostile, caring and judging. Language is loaded with emotional impact and the critic likes to use words that dramatize and catastrophize circumstances.  While the critic may say something like, “This recruiter is dishonest and is jerking me around,” the coach may say, “This recruiter may be stressed and under a lot of pressure that isn’t just directed at me.” 
  5. Replace Inner Judgmental Statements with Positive Ones – This is not a suggestion to stick your head in the sand. But to start transforming your inner critic into an inner coach, you’ve got to change the storyline in your head.  These positive statements work like affirmations, but to be effective you have to believe they are true. So be wise about the language you craft when you talk to yourself.

Finding a new job or switching careers requires activating your best self to sustain your will and momentum.  Despite the external realities that we all confront, the one thing we have the power to control (or at least tame) is our thinking.  Gently learning how to turn the inner critic into an inner support system is one of the most important and renewing things we can do for ourselves in the process. 

Has self-talk gotten in your way? Do you see ways that you’ve been sabotaging your own job search? Stories and tips welcome!

Louise Altman is a a trainer, seminar developer, organizational consultant, group facilitator and founding Partner of Intentional Communication Consultants, a management consulting firm specializing in organizational change, training programs, executive coaching and communications consulting services. You can find her and her blog at  The Intentional Workplace.


  1. Hi, even researchers have identified self talk as something helpful, at least sub-consciously. Good reading! Take care 🙂

  2. Thanks, Abdirisak. You’re so right about the sub-conscious aspects. Appreciate your stopping by!

  3. Thanks for the article. Something for me to be aware of.

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