Victoria Smith-Douglas
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Geographer, writer, educator.
  • Job searching is frustrating because regardless of your qualifications, you still need to outperform your competition. Employers also often value years of experience over a candidate's skillset.
  • When job searching, our desperation for quick results and own expectations for landing a job may encourage us to settle for less or aim too big, making it even more difficult to find the right fit.
  • To ease your job search frustrations, pace yourself, re-evaluate your qualifications and expectations, reach out to employers and check in with yourself.

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Job search frustration is experienced by most people at some point in their careers, but when you’re in the middle of it, it can be hard to know how to deal with it. And once you’re on the job application treadmill, it can be hard to get off or pause. 

But taking time to re-evaluate is vital, and the first step to that is realizing when job search frustration is sabotaging your chances. The good news is, there are steps you can take to bring energy back to your job search and keep the frustration at bay.

Why are job searches so frustrating? 

1. Competition. 

Unlike the academic environments most of us grow up with, in the world of work, deserving something doesn’t mean you get it. Yes, you’re qualified and capable of performing in many positions, but to get the job you’ve got to outperform many others. 

For those living in urban areas, as, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 80% of Americans do, the reality is that you’re in competition with a huge number of other jobseekers for every vacancy ad you respond to. According to Glassdoor, corporate jobs attract 250 applicants for each vacancy. In rural areas, the competition may be lower in pure numbers, but there are generally fewer opportunities. The fact we’re not in total control of the outcome, makes job searching frustrating.

2. Employers’ demands. 

Employers often ask for years of experience and a very specific set of skills. They’re trying to get the best they can get for the least money. Among many, although not all, employers there is a reluctance to train, and an inability to recognize skills as opposed to directly-related experience. Many are forced to aim for jobs well below their qualifications, but that’s no guarantee of success. 

If an employer views you as overqualified, this can prevent you getting interviews as surely as applying for jobs for which you don’t meet the minimum requirements, and it can be a real balancing act to find the jobs that are worth applying for.

3. Urgency. 

It’s all well and good if you’re in the enviable, and unusual, position of being free to take your time over finding the perfect new position. However, for most people there’s an urgency to the job search process, which makes us desperate for quick results. 

It could be financial pressure, the need to escape a bad work situation, perhaps a fear of being left behind if you don’t put newly-gained qualifications into practice soon enough, or even the pressure of feeling you’re getting too old. 

Since hiring procedures can often be extended over weeks, or even months in some cases, this sense of urgency usually increases the job search frustration we experience.

4. Our own expectations.

When looking for a new job, it’s often a time to chase our dreams and aim for what we really want. While this is admirable, perhaps we sometimes get carried away and skip some steps. 

Rather than looking for a position that’s within our grasp and abilities right now, it can be tempting to take short cuts, or aim just a little too big. However, it can be even more frustrating when you aim exclusively for jobs that you think you’re well capable of getting, rather than jobs you really want, and still get little response. 

6 ways to re-energize your job search

1. Pace yourself.

Many of us start our job searches full of energy and with a positive mindset. We spend hours every day in online searches, send out many resumes and cover letters, all carefully tailored to each job. And then we wait for the interview offers to roll in. If you’re lucky, you’ll have swift results. But statistically, it’s probable that you’re entering a marathon, not a sprint. In order to avoid job-search burn-out, you’ll need to make a plan.

Schedule breaks and avoid constantly checking for updates. Break down your job search into manageable and achievable goals. This way, you can keep your spirits up by meeting targets you set for yourself, and looking at every step as progress. Just getting the interview is a real achievement, and should give you encouragement. Celebrate it. Even if you don’t get the job, you know you’re on the right track. Job searching truly can be a full-time job in itself, so put an appropriate amount of time in, but also allow yourself a day or two off each week to replenish your energy.

2. Evaluate what you’re offering and what you want.

Honestly appraise your existing skills. Research the industry you’re interested in and arm yourself with information. Know where you stand in terms of your experience and qualifications, compared with other candidates at your level. Know what employers want, and do what you can to meet their requirements. If that’s not possible, adjust your aims. 

Remember, you’re looking for your next step, not necessarily the whole rest of your life. Know what you want in the long-term as well as what you’re looking for right now. This can be easier said than done. 

We start our job searches being clear about our dream job, but it’s amazing how quickly the frustration can bring us down until we’re applying for anything we’re vaguely qualified for. There’s an art to keeping your options open, while remaining focused. 

You don’t want to close yourself off to promising opportunities when they arise, but you really don’t want to expend all your energy applying to a wide range of jobs that may not be a good fit for you. It’s easy to end up applying to anything and everything, but try to resist this, no matter how desperate you are. Although it may seem like the lowest-risk strategy, it also increases the chances of you ending up in a job that isn’t right for you, and increases job search exhaustion. 

As far as possible, train your efforts on jobs that are likely to bring rewards, not just in terms of likelihood of gaining an interview, but also in terms of personal fulfillment. 

3. Go outside.

At the time of writing, this particular piece of advice should be interpreted appropriately, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. But when times return to normal, going outside is a good idea for a number of reasons. 

It’s easy to become isolated if you’re out of work and looking for a new job, so make time to meet friends and stay in communication. Maintain your morale by being out and around other people. Go shopping! Go running! Do whatever you like, so long as it takes you away from your computer screen. You’ll gain a new perspective and extra energy. 

Going outside can also give you new job search approaches. Make new contacts by joining relevant professional organizations, volunteering or simply joining clubs or classes for fun. Something that could make you stand out is to approach employers in person, depending on what type of work you’re looking for. 

Whatever approach you take, it’s important to keep feeling like you’re actively participating in the world.

4. Write directly to employers.

Avoid competing with hundreds of others by writing to companies on spec. This not only shows you’re genuinely interested in them, but also demonstrates initiative and motivation. It’s estimated that 70-85% of jobs aren’t advertised, so it’s worth giving this a try. 

Although it’s advisable to also reply to job advertisements, rather than make this your entire job search strategy, this approach can allow you to focus on positions and companies that really appeal to you. If nothing else, this strategy can at least make you feel more in control, and less dependent upon variables you cannot influence. 

5. Boost your confidence.

Do whatever it takes to keep your self-esteem up. It’s very easy to fall into negative self-talk and become demoralized during a frustrating job search. Don’t allow it to take over your self-image, and be proactive in protecting your self-confidence

Aim to engage in at least one activity a day that you know you’re good at, or that makes you feel good about yourself. It could be a sporting activity, reaching out to others and being a great friend, cooking or making origami swans. Anything that makes you feel capable, talented and positive about yourself, is what you need to keep doing right now.

6. Take care of your health.

This is especially important if you’re unemployed and out of a regular routine. Both our mental and physical health can decline while looking for work, and that only makes our efforts less effective and the outcomes more frustrating. 

Exercise every day, even if it’s just a short walk. Use yoga or meditation or whatever works for you to relax, but be on guard against unhealthy or addictive behaviors that we’re often more vulnerable to during these times. Eat well and get plenty of sleep. 

Being out of work often causes feelings of guilt or inadequacy, which can make us less inclined to take care of ourselves, just when it’s most important to do so. Be good to yourself! 

Final thought.

Job search frustration is extremely common and it’s very difficult to avoid altogether. However, by being aware that it’s part of the job search process and recognizing when it happens to you, it’s possible to mitigate the effects. You can even turn it into a positive by taking your job search frustration as a cue that it’s time to shake things up, take a break, and reconsider your strategies

Looking for a job is hard work, and your success depends not only on how much effort you put it, but also on how you handle the job search frustration. Give yourself permission to step away, to rest and to breathe. Do whatever you need to do to stay positive, and you’ll get there!

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