PART 1: How I Learned to Welcome Vulnerability during my International Job Search

What is your relationship to vulnerability? While this topic is quite a hot button in the personal development space, how you view and respond to vulnerability makes a large impact in how you build connections and relationships as a career professional and as an entrepreneur.

What Is Vulnerability?

This year, I was introduced to Dr. Brené Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, which is based on 12 years of groundbreaking research that is focused on confronting the cultural myth that vulnerability is a weakness and arguing that vulnerability, in actuality, is our most accurate measure of courage.

Brown defines vulnerability as “uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure.” This definition lit a fire for me personally and since then has gradually helped me in shifting the way that I had been viewing relationships, work, and myself in connection with others. I happened to stumble across this book at the right time, shortly after I returned to the US after almost two and a half years working and living abroad in the Netherlands.

The concepts outlined in this book helped me to put into words what I was feeling at the time and how my own view of vulnerability impacted my opportunities while conducting a job search abroad. To this day, I frequently draw upon those experiences and the messages outlined in Brown’s book to better support my clients in allowing themselves to show up and be seen during their job search.

What Vulnerability Is Not

There are three common misconceptions about vulnerability that Brown dispels in Daring Greatly:

  1. Vulnerability is a weakness. While often associated with negative emotions, such as fear and shame, being vulnerable is also the key to connecting with others. Interestingly enough, Brown goes on to explain that people often see vulnerability in others as courage but are repelled by their own.
  2. Vulnerability is a choice or unnecessary. Many people try to avoid vulnerability altogether but this approach is futile. It is universal and you can only choose how to respond to situations where it shows up.
  3. Vulnerability is sharing your innermost secrets. In today’s modern world, we have become used to seeing people document every aspect of their lives through multiple social media platforms. This is NOT vulnerability. An important aspect of being vulnerable is being able to share your experiences with people who have earned the right to hear them.

The bottom line is that you cannot have meaningful connections or relationships without vulnerability. As I discovered through my own experiences, a large part of overcoming resistance to vulnerability is finding out what obstacles are in your way and what vulnerability actually means in different areas of your life.

How My Own Vulnerability Impacted My Job Search

The moment where I really came face to face with vulnerability happened three weeks after arriving in the Netherlands and I was told that the IND, or Dutch immigration authority, would not approve my application for a work visa. As a result, my job search instantly became harder as I was now faced with the additional obstacle of persuading prospective employers to not only want to hire me over a native Dutch citizen but also be willing to sponsor a work visa on my behalf.

Fortunately, my chemistry background attracted a lot of interest and I was able to secure several interviews in a short amount of time. Many of my interviewers were curious to know why I was in the Netherlands and what my long-term plans were. To my surprise (and in all honesty, shame), I could not answer these questions. I thought I knew all of my reasons for moving abroad but the truth was I had no idea why I was there, which only gave way to more vivid feelings of exposure and lots of confusion.

Because I had no concrete answer to those questions, I constantly looked for ways to shut these and any other questions that involved sharing myself and parts of my life story. I can recall several moments where the answers I gave came off as canned and inauthentic because I was afraid of being judged or criticized for not having the right answers or saying something that the interviewers wouldn’t like, thus opening me up to potential criticism and judgment. I have no doubt that the interviewers could sense that as well.

After a month with no job offers and a rapidly dwindling savings account, I knew I had to take a step back, view the situation from a different angle, and try something new in the hope of getting a different result. I knew that I looked great on paper but there was a major disconnect in the way I was presenting myself in interviews and to other people whom I connected with during my job search.

Rethinking Vulnerability & Authenticity

As I entered my second month in the Netherlands, I started to pay more attention to the interview process and ask the interviewers for feedback. I became more organized and started keeping notes of every interaction and every comment from the interviewers to try and identify some sort of pattern.

I discovered that I was spending so much time trying to be prepared and making sure that I was saying the right things (or at least the things that I thought they wanted to hear) at the right time and moment. Consequently, I came off as contrived and robotic to the interviewers and was unable to develop any sort of meaningful connection or relatability, primarily due to my fear and shame of saying something stupid, asking dumb questions, or just blowing the whole interview altogether. If I was going to secure a job offer, I knew that I would have to break out of my comfort zone and show up and be seen in interviews.

To this day, when I’m helping my clients to embrace their own vulnerability in their job search process, I often draw upon these interview experiences to provide perspective and better support my clients in their ability to show up and be seen.


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