how to keep your sanity when you’re job searching

Searching for a job, especially when you’re unemployed, is one of the most stressful and anxiety-producing experiences adults face. Here are eight ways to keep your sanity during your search.

1. Don’t obsess over one particular job. If you tend to agonize about particular jobs – did they like you? when will you hear something back? – stop it! The best thing for your state of mind is to move on mentally after sending off your application or having an interview. There’s nothing to be gained by obsessing and waiting and wondering. Instead, move on. Pretend you were already rejected, or that you never applied. If the employer calls you, great. If they don’t, you’ve already moved on anyway. And there’s nothing to be gained from stressing yourself out waiting.

2. Stop trying to read “signals” into what interviewers do and don’t say. Job seekers often try to read between the lines of all sorts of things: If the interviewer didn’t say they’d be in touch, does it mean you didn’t get the job? They sent back a nice response to your thank-you note; does that mean your chances are good? Most of these “signals” don’t mean anything at all, and looking for meaning in them can drive you crazy.

3. Don’t feel you have to give perfect interviews. If you play over every interview in your head and kick yourself for not giving better answers – or if you’re terrified before interviews because you might mess up – know that interviewers don’t expect you to be perfect. In fact, there’s no such thing as a “perfect” interviewee, and your competition isn’t giving perfect interviews either. You’re not a professional job interviewee, and employers don’t expect you to be. They know you’re human. And they are too.

4. Don’t agonize over why you didn’t get a job. There’s generally no way to know from the outside why you didn’t get hired. Sure, maybe they hated your interview answers, but more likely, someone else was simply a better candidate. Or they hired the CEO’s niece, or promoted someone internally, or canceled the position altogether. There’s no way to know, and you’ll drive yourself crazy trying to figure it out.

5. Don’t stress over things that don’t matterThe way you name your resume file, the fact that you can’t find the hiring manager’s name to put on your cover letter, whether you wear the grey suit or the navy one – these things don’t matter. Focus on the substance: using your resume, cover letter, and interview to show that you’d excel at the job.

6. Remember that interviews aren’t a one-way street. People get anxious when job searching because feel like they’re being judged – and worse, judged by employers who holds all the cards because they have something that the job-seeker really wants (a job). You can combat that by changing the power dynamics in your own head – by remembering that you may not want to work for this particular employer, for all you know, and that part of the point of the hiring process is to allow you to collect your own information and decide if you even want this job or these coworkers.

7. Focus on things other than your job hunt. Give yourself a break from thinking about jobs and do something fun or relaxing. Take a walk, read a book, see a movie, cook dinner with friends, or whatever lets you stop thinking about your search – and especially about unemployment. And if you find yourself feeling bitter or depressed, that’s a sign to close that resume file and go do something else until you can return to it more refreshed.

8. Know that it may take a while. Job searches these days can take a very long time, so don’t freak out if you don’t find a job right away. While you should obviously make sure that your application materials are as strong as they could be, don’t assume that a few months of searching without a job offer means you’re doomed to unemployment forever. Do plan for a longer search, and know that it’s normal for it to take longer than it did in the past.

I originally published this at U.S. News & World Report.

{ 14 comments… read them below }

  1. Jamie*

    Great list – it’s funny as I was reading it occurred to me that with just changing the subject they all could be easily adapted to the people I know desperately looking for a relationship.

    Yet another way job hunting is like dating.

    The big difference being no one needs to be in a relationship to be happy…so if it takes years to find the right fit so be it. Settling sometimes comes into play when it comes to a job since it’s a necessity for most of us.

  2. Yup*

    #6 – the interview power dynamic – was a huge lesson for me. I didn’t really get this psychology until the first time that I had two job offers at the same time. The fact that I was actively choosing which job was the best fit for me, instead of just passively taking whatever I was offered, was such an ‘aha!’ moment. I know it’s tough to stay in that mentality in a lousy job market, especially while unemployed. But I really sincerely believe that this mindset creates clarity and focus for job seekers (and ironically creates a self-confidence that reads well to employers too).

  3. Jean*

    Thanks for this post. It’s validating to see a list of the pitfalls plus their antidotes.
    In my current search I’ve found it helpful to stay disciplined in work and personal habits. This means creating and sticking to task lists (without turning into a single-focused, around-the-clock workaholic) and keeping healthy routines re bedtime, eating, and exercise. When everything seems impossible I tell myself that it’s always good experience to face, strategize about, and stay calm during adversity. It builds one’s character. (I recognize that there are many differences between difficulties that shake one’s confidence and compel extreme frugality, and hard times that take a person close to or completely over the edge into being impoverished and/or homeless. Right now all I can do about the second option is to make my corner of the world as calm as possible and continue to vote the way that I think will best help people who are at risk of having their job-hunting difficulties escalate into a total life crisis.)

    Re Jamie’s comment: Yes, I’ve often thought about the similarities between seeking a job and a partner.

  4. K.*

    I think it’s also important to focus hard on remembering that feeling demoralized and devalued are not personal failings; they are built into the system. If you’re dumping keywords into Taleo and iCims and BrassRing systems all day and no actual human is even looking at your materials (or if their attention to detail is such that they write you a rejection letter for a position other than the one you applied for, and call you Mr when you’re a very obvious Ms), that it’s not a personal moral failing to feel like kicking things sometimes. It’s okay to feel like crap sometimes. It’s okay to be frustrated. The thing is just not to focus on those feelings, but instead to feel them, move past them, and keep on taking all the positive, forward-acting steps you can.

  5. Job Searcher*

    I especially needed to hear this today! I have an interview this week with Company #1 and just heard from Company #2 that they’d like me to come out in 4-6 weeks. I’ve been stressing over every possible outcome (what if the Company #1 gives me an offer?? What if they don’t?? What if I don’t like it there?? What if I do?? etc. etc. etc.). Now, I’m going to finish my coffee, take a deep breath, and get on with my day!

  6. Blinx*

    Good article! Just what I need on those days when I feel like giving up and going to live under a bridge somewhere. This never-ending job search is such a roller coaster ride. Some days I feel strong and confident that my next job is just around the corner! And other days, well, I PDF’d your article to read again… and again. Thanks.

  7. Rob*

    This rings home to me. I’m nine months into being unemployed and it’s demoralizing and depressing. Add to that I’m new to this area and I’m trying to figure out what all is here is even worse. I can’t afford to join any professional organizations, so that leaves out a lot of potential opportunities. I’m volunteering at a small organization, but that has yet to yield any opportunities either there or with their network. I want to start a family with my wife and yet I am worried that she may leave me because I can’t find work. I just don’t know what to do anymore…

    1. Anon*

      Hang in there. I know that’s easy to say, but I’ve been there.

      As far as professional organizations, don’t feel too bad about not being a member and possibly missing out. Sometimes they don’t offer all that they promise to folks in terms of possible networking opportunities (i.e., you see the same people there all the time), the people there aren’t hiring, but are looking for new business (which isn’t there either), etc. I would tell an unemployed person…Save that money for a rainy day. Don’t try to shell out to join a professional network.

      Good luck to you!

        1. Anon*

          And they DON’T offer discounts for memberships, attending workshops or training, etc., to the unemployed. Honestly, the only reason I am member of one is because my employer pays for it, and attending trainings and workshops is tied to my performance review. I was very turned off by the fact that they don’t help the unemployed, and particularly in my industry, which was hit hard by the recession. I actually tweeted about this one day, and got someone vehemently defending the right to charge $800 for a half day writing class.

          Thank you for posting some FREE options!

  8. cvc*

    Good advice. However, I’m still looking now for over a year and unfortunately, close to giving up.

  9. Elizabeth*

    Only thing I disagree with: “You’re not a professional job interviewee, and employers don’t expect you to be.”

    I’d amend that to “most employers,” or “sane employers,” as 1-10 guy in today’s update seems to be looking for someone with perfect interviewee scores!

  10. whatichi*

    hi all:
    I am unemployed and have been looking for awhile.
    I was contacted by a company recruiter(not 3rd party) because they saw my resume on a job board and liked my experience.
    Had the initial phone interview with the HR recruiter.
    Was told they would pass my info on to hiring mgr.
    Got contacted week later that the mgr wanted to have phone interview. I agreed and we set up the day/time.
    Well that day/time with no call or email or anything.
    The recruiter contacted my back week later to apologize and set up the second phone interview appt. Again the day/time came and
    passed with no call and I was starting to wonder what kind of crappy company was this? She contacted a 3rd time for phone interview. This time the guy called and it seemed to go well.
    Week and half goes by and they HR recruiter contacts me with good news that they wanted to move it along to a face-to-face for later that week. I let her know the times I was available
    via email and she picked a time that said “will work for everyone” and to wait for an an email confirmation later that day. Well, the email never came. I emailed her the next morning to ask if she was still putting it together. No response. Emailed her again with no response. Left her a voicemail with no callback. Then I went over her head and emailed the hiring mgr directly. That shook something loose and she emailed back that there was a “schedule conflict” and she would update me in the weeks ahead for new interview time. sounded like a kiss-off to me (they probably didnt like that I emailed the mgr). So I asked her to call and she just said the same over again. I asked her if that was really true of if they just werent interested.
    She finally fessed up and said there was “one skill” I didnt have
    and thats why they wanted to keep looking. I asked why did she call me in the first place to set up face to face? She said it was an “oversight”.
    This to me was just unbelievable. I thought I had heard of everything until this one. What I supposed to do?
    Just hang in limbo without knowing if I still had an interview
    or not. I just said screw it and emailed the mgr directly
    because I was PO’d by then but just wanted someone to get back to me.

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