I got a call a few months back from a distant relative. I’ll call him Bill.
Bill and I had only ever met in person once, and when he called I almost didn’t pick up the phone since I didn’t recognize the number. Once he established how we were related, he got to the point: he had heard I was in the business of helping people get jobs, and he was looking for some advice.
I work for Indeed as a UX research manager. When people hear that, they often start telling me about how they found their most recent job or how they have struggled to find work in the past.
But the call I got from Bill was different.
Bill was looking for advice because he was a career Green Beret in the U.S. Army and was approaching retirement. He’d served many tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, training soldiers to perform military operations in war zones. He joked with me that he was completely comfortable jumping out of a helicopter with explosives strapped to his body, but was terrified of looking for work in the civilian world.
Looking for work is hard. For many people, it can feel like fighting a battle. It requires courage, strength, focus, and resilience. The stakes are high. The emotions are real.
When talking to Bill, I was reminded how daunting it can be to make yourself vulnerable. Applying for jobs means asking outright for other people to judge you. And they do it based on criteria you can’t see. The process can be confusing and lonely and full of uncertainty.
Bill was accustomed to planning for all possible contingencies. In the Army, his life depended on careful preparation, checking and double-checking that all rules are followed and uncertainties eliminated. Starting a new job search meant giving up that level of control and entering the unknown. It was a scary proposition.
He was completely comfortable jumping out of a helicopter with explosives strapped to his body, but was terrified of looking for work in the civilian world.
I chatted with Bill a few times over the following weeks. He looked at positions that were obvious (police SWAT instructor) and some that were a little less obvious (construction safety manager). He found direction and gained confidence. In the end, he landed a job as a handler for explosive-sniffing dogs. Mission accomplished.
Looking for work is not for the faint of heart. Bill is a man I’d be happy to have on my side in almost any dangerous situation. Seeing his vulnerability and fear in the face of a career change reinforced something I strongly believe: finding a new job is a critical moment in a person’s life, and there’s a lot that could be done to make the process better.
At Indeed we do help people get jobs. And the UX research team I lead helps Indeed’s employees develop the empathy to understand what people go through as they look for work. Last year, we ran over 200 studies, surveys, and site visits with users in eight countries to learn about their needs, wants, and problems. The insights we gathered have helped us improve our products in ways big and small. Most of all, they continue to remind us that finding a job can be one of the most stressful things people face in their lives.
So I ask myself and my coworkers every day: How can we reduce the fear, anxiety, and exhaustion that come with facing an uncertain future? And how do we help users reach past them? First to the resolve, determination, and hope that bud when their perseverance pays off and they get that interview. And then, at last, to the relief, excitement, and optimism that arrive when they land that new job.