The Three Things You Need to Know About Self-Sabotage & Your Job Search

When I coach job hunters, I often hear them talk about how they are starting to think that they are almost engaged in a mission to sabotage their own job search


Jeff Altman

a year ago | 4 min read

By Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter

When I coach job hunters, I often hear them talk about how they are starting to think that they are almost engaged in a mission to sabotage their own job search. One person said to me recently, “I know I am not actively engaged in self-sabotage but I sure am passively engaged in it! I keep doing thing where I am shooting myself in the foot.” He then went on to to the usual laments about recruiters, the job market and applicant tracking systems that give him an excuse for his failures. It is sad to listen to very smart people place blame in the wrong places and frustrate themselves to no end.

Self-sabotage is thought of as a psychological issue when, in fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Here’s what I see are three major instances of what people diagnose as engaged in “self-sabotage.” and what can be done about it.

  1. Wrong answers at job interviews. These can include the classic cases of “freezing” or not delivering what you know and who you are at your best. How did this become an example of a psychological problem? What causes you to answer questions incorrectly or “freeze” is that you have not practiced enough to develop “muscle memory” so that you execute at an elite level. Great athletes, both professional and amateur practice relentlessly in order to deliver at an elite level on game day. For most of you, the next time you practice or even think through situations you might face on a job interview will be the first or second time. Contrast that with what athletes, entertainers, even politicians do before a big game, performance or speech. Do you really think that is the first time LeBron made that move? Of course, not. Yet you go on interviews and think you can execute by accident when you have done nothing (or next to nothing) to prepare to perform at a championship level.
  2. You are set up for failure. My son is 16 and works at a fast casual restaurant. When he left work recently, he was so angry and upset by his work day, he was in tears. His usual 10 person weekend shift was only staffed with 4 people. He was overwhelmed and made mistakes. Heard criticism and, because they were understaffed, didn’t have an adequate break to eat dinner, worked until 11 PM and cracked under the pressure. Was that his fault or did management put him in a “no win” situation. Trust me, there are times you will interview and you cannot win. Maybe someone has already been decided on because they arrive with a referral from a sponsor. Maybe, they have really decided on the winner and are going through the motions. Maybe, no one likes the recruiter and they will never hire someone from that firm but are forced to use them for political reasons. Is that your fault?

3. The hiring manager and his/her team is not clear about what they want or even how they will evaluate for it. This one frustrates everyone involved and leaves job hunters beside themselves. When I worked in search, time and again, I would debrief hiring managers who would reject candidates for minutiae that their staff asked about that was irrelevant to exceptional job performance. How did become self-sabotage? What it is is another example of employer disorganization masquerading as interviewing.

Self-sabotage is being your own worst enemy. You create causes and conditions where you create the reasons why you are “doomed to fail.” These behaviors do not indicate you are sabotaging yourself. It is the “loop” in your mind that runs you around and around that is the real self-sabotage, deceiving you into thinking that you are at fault for how much longer that you wished for the job search is taking.

An old teacher once spoke with a student who was being criticized about certain things by her peers. After listening for a while, the teacher told her. “If criticism is correct, change. If it isn’t, forget it.”

You have been criticizing yourself for a long time. Now, you know what to do.

© The Big Game Hunter, Inc. Asheville, NC 2017, 2021


Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter is a career and leadership coach who worked as a recruiter for more than 40 years. He is the host of “No BS Job Search Advice Radio,” the #1 podcast in iTunes for job search with more than 2200 episodes. He also hosts Job Search TV on YouTube, Amazon and Roku, as well as on for Apple TV and 90+ smartsets.

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Jeff Altman

Jeff Altman, The Big Game Hunter, (he/him/his), is hired by people for No BS career advice globally. In the past, he has helped companies hire talent and people find work. More than 40 years of recruiting experience assisting individuals to improve their careers as an executive recruiter. Do you need help with a career transition or in your role as an executive? Schedule a free discovery call or coaching session at Listen to the #1 podcast for job search, No B.S. Job Search Advice Radio wherever you listen to podcasts. Also, subscribe to on YouTube. Connect on LinkedIn at Mention Tealfeed!







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