For Job-Search Success, Banish the Negative Story in Your Head

Note: This article appeared as part of Job Action Day 2014 and is reprinted here.

by Susan Britton Whitcomb

We all have an ongoing story that runs on autopilot through our minds. It’s the silent chatter – often negative – that self-criticizes, anticipates what will go wrong, second-guesses, assumes what other people are thinking, interprets or misinterprets events, and more. It might go some something like this:

I’m never going to get a job. Employers just aren’t hiring. If I’d only kept up my exercise routine – it’s going to be harder to get a job with these extra pounds around my middle. What a slug I am… I got let go because I make too much. It’s going to be hard to compete against the younger kids who are willing to make a lot less than I’ve been making… That human-resources guy never called me back. Probably never will. I know I blew it in the telephone screen. Stupid, stupid, stupid – I can’t believe I didn’t remember to talk about my accomplishments when he asked me that surprise question. I hate looking for a job. It sucks.

Neuroscientists have a name for this silent chatter. It’s called the Default Network (also known as the Narrative Network). Unless we are very intentional about our thinking, we do, indeed, default to the Default Network. We spend 60-70 percent of our time in this zone, and, in doing so, allow ANTs (Automatic Negative Thoughts) to subtly sabotage our success.

Why should job-seekers pay attention to the inside story? Because left unchecked, negative thoughts can distract and derail us. They send us into a self-induced fight-flight response that shuts down our creativity and hijacks our critical thinking skills. We get off-agenda, off-course, off-kilter, and off of our best self.

It’s difficult to convince networking contacts, interviewers, and colleagues of our value if we don’t believe it ourselves.

These Tips can help you manage Your Inside Story

Notice the narrative without judging yourself. It’s important that we not deride ourselves further for the narrative thoughts, because that only exacerbates the situation. Just notice the thoughts, such as, “I hear those ANTs again. Interesting. I hadn’t realized what I was thinking.”

Transcend the Narrative Network. Get into a different network – the Experiential Network – a state where we are very aware of ourselves and our surroundings, taking in information through our five senses. For example, “I notice that I’m hungry; I can hear the fan of my computer kicking on; the sky is an interesting shade of blue right now.”

Choose gratitude. Gratitude can change the chemistry inside our bodies, releasing serotonin, dopamine, and other neurochemicals that make us feel good. Speak your gratitude aloud, even if just to yourself. Extend gratitude not just for the people in your life, but to yourself, as well. For example, I am grateful for the strengths I have that are helping me manage this transition.

Construct a new happy-ending story. Rehearse it. Positive visualizations create new neural wiring in our brains, which makes it easier for us to repeat the same success in the future. For example, “I can see myself meeting with my networking contact this afternoon. I walk in with shoulders back, head held high, smile on my face. I am using my strengths as a researcher to connect with him and understand his background and his needs. I listen and respond in ways that create trust so he’s more comfortable referring me to others.”

Final Thoughts

Writing a strong “inside story” allows us to confidently deliver the messages we need to convey to friends, colleagues, and hiring managers throughout a career transition. Here’s to a happy ending!

Susan Britton Whitcomb, PCC, is the author of seven careers books, including Resume Magic, Interview Magic, and Job Search Magic. A Certified Brain-Based Success Coach, she brings practical application to neuroscience research to help people create careers that are meaningful and financially rewarding. Founder and President of, her coach training organization has trained more than 1,000 coaches worldwide in career, leadership, and job search coaching.