Searching for a new job — as with any life change — can be incredibly exhilarating. The thrill of starting your career, confidence that you’re ready to move up the corporate ladder or relief about leaving an unpleasant environment are all incredible motivators. That excitement can push you through the first weeks of a new job search.
Sometimes, though, the process can eventually become exhausting and frustrating. Perhaps the interview invitations don’t come as quickly as you’d hoped, or an interview you thought went well doesn’t come to fruition. Suddenly, that exhilaration can evolve into something disappointing and stressful.
Job search stress can happen to anyone. It usually rises to the surface when you’re at the height of job-search intensity. It’s punctuated with high levels of anxiety, sleeplessness and borderline obsession with the search. You may find yourself overthinking everything related to both your career and your personal life. Not only are you overwhelmed with concerns about how to find a job, but you can’t help guessing how quickly it will happen and how best to revise your resume so the calls will come faster.
You may find yourself spending an inordinate amount of time thinking about an imaginary benefits package from a so-far nonexistent job or whether you’ve set your expectations too high in terms of salary or scheduling. Eventually, you might become either paralyzed with uncertainty or simply desperate, applying for any job that contains a specific keyword no matter how inappropriate for your background and skills.
The good news is that there are endless resources and leads for job openings. The challenge to having a wealth of options is figuring out how to manage so much information. As tempting as 24/7 updates may be, you don't have to check every aggregate job search site every single day. Sign up for alerts that apply to your search on both traditional and freelance sites, and then trust the algorithms to work. If there’s a specific workplace you’re looking for — a large corporation, a private university or a nonprofit, for example — check their listings no more than once a week. Your sanity will thank you.
Get out into the world and work on your people skills. Join professional organizations, make coffee dates and go to networking events. Find special-interest groups as well as larger, Chamber of Commerce-style groups. Be sure to follow up with a cheerful email and sincere thanks. While you might not necessarily find a new position this way, engagement with other people will make you feel less isolated. You might also be able to connect other professionals to each other. When you’re in the midst of a job search, there’s no such thing as having too many connections. The more time you spend looking at anything other than your computer screen, the more you’ll realize that you aren’t alone: other people are suffering from job search stress, too.
Be honest with yourself: is your job search actually fruitless, or are you just impatient? If it’s the former, maybe it’s time for another professional to review your application materials. Job search stress can also cause job search fatigue, which means you may not be as sharp as you were at the start of the journey. Visit a career counselor or employment agency and ask for another set of eyes. It’s possible your cover letters have started to sound lackluster, reflecting your frustration. Also, when we’ve read things over and over again, all we can see is what we intended to communicate, not necessarily what the reader actually interprets, so it can be helpful to get another set of eyes.
Choose an activity that has nothing to do with searching for a job. Join a book club, take regular walks and listen to a great podcast or teach yourself to roll sushi. Run for charity or volunteer to read to people in nursing homes. Focus your attention on something you’ve always wanted to try but didn’t have the time. Work on your soul! You may learn a new hobby and, ideally, make acquaintances outside of your normal circle. Think of it as recess for grownups, a means by which to relieve job search stress.
In the same way that a website needs fresh content, so does your resume. Take the civil service exam or become trained for responsible alcohol service (TIPS or RAMP). Achieve an IT certification in cybersecurity. Consider working towards a Certified Assistant in Project Management designation. Check with your local Chamber of Commerce to find workshops that cover QuickBooks or to brush up on your Excel skills. Audit a class at a local college or university. It will give you a feeling of accomplishment and help to develop skills you didn’t know you had.
Take a step back and be honest with yourself. What is your dream job? Shoot for the stars! Write a concise, convincing proposal, and then submit it to a potential employer. Use your enthusiasm and professionalism to sell them as to why they need to immediately create that position. This tactic is a way to take control of your job search stress and make it work for you. Since the job doesn’t exist, you can’t lose the opportunity. The best-case scenario is that they’ll accept the proposal. If they don’t, you'll have spent some time on self-reflection and remembering how to sell yourself. You have nothing to lose.
Depression is real. Feelings of defeat and hopelessness, physical pain or significant mood changes are signs that job search stress has pushed you to a new low. If this happens, name it and ask for help. Reach out to friends for support, get outside for a few minutes every day and remember to eat and stay hydrated. It may be necessary for you to take a short reprieve from your job search. Sit back for a week and let your leads work for you, and then hit it hard the following Monday. It may be just the re-set you need.
You can do this! Remember that your personal worth is not based on how fast you find your dream job. Keep things in perspective: your new opportunity is waiting for you, and, perhaps more importantly, you aren’t alone.