Managing the angst that comes with a job search

Q. I am totally distressed. Looking for a job is a horror show. I can’t even seem to get to the point of rejection – I can’t get an interview, no one wants to network, I don’t even believe the jobs on the job boards are real. They say the market is improving. It doesn’t seem that way, and my unemployment is on the last extension. I don’t want to do this anymore. I just want to work.

A. This isn’t easy and all the statistics about job loss and job growth don’t show the personal impact for people trying to get back into the work force in an economy like this. The emotional impact of a job search can’t be minimized. The stress you are faced with everyday is taking its toll, and many job seekers have a very similar outlook.

A job search can trigger a lot of fear and anxiety – fear of never finding work again, financial fear, fear of rejection, fear of losing everything you have worked for. Is that extreme? Yes; these fears are very powerful, and part of a successful job search is managing these fears so they don’t become self sabotaging.

Build a positive outlook – Many people will tell you to try and have a good outlook or to think positively. This takes action. Building a positive outlook involves creating a support network. Identify multiple places, people, groups and methods of cultivating support. Most people need more than one person to lean on.

Are you working with an outplacement consultant? Use that one-on-one time wisely. Have you joined a job search support group? Many local community groups and religious organizations run weekly groups for job seekers, and this kind of commitment to a group and the shared experience can be invaluable. Are the Employee Assistance Program services of your former employer available to you? A counselor, a religious leader, and a circle of friends can all offer support, and having as much as you need is not a sign of weakness, but a key strategy to build success.


Stay healthy – “Exercise is medicine”, says a current TV commercial. At a time when we need it most, many of us can’t generate the emotional energy to move. I’m not suggesting you become a marathon runner (unless you want to) but can you capture some positive attitude endorphins by walking or bike riding or swimming, or using your Wii fit? A buddy for this kind of commitment can also increase your chance of success. Keep the eating and drinking in check, and try to ensure the right amount of restful sleep.

Take a break – Are you suffering from job search fatigue? Most job seekers recognize that looking for a job is a full time job, but that doesn’t mean 24 hours a day 7 days a week. Schedule your job search time in appropriate increments. If you plan on a 40-hour job search week, dedicate half that time to networking. Divide the remainder of time to becoming an expert user of LinkedIn, reviewing job boards, connecting with placement professionals, reviewing ads, researching companies and all the follow up activities that need to be completed. Now schedule your time off. When will you relax, rejuvenate, exercise, meet with support people, make dinner, socialize, and just live? You need that time.

Establish multiple goals – Finding a job can not be your only goal. You will need many incremental goals so that you can build success into each day. A reasonable goal might be to write a great “30 second commercial” about who you are and what you are looking for in a new role. Maybe you want to develop a strong summary statement for your resume, or develop a list of 25 target companies. A great goal would be developing goals for each day and each week of the job search, just as you would for a large project on the job. Create small wins and celebrate each one. The job search is many steps, and the energy to keep moving forward is self generated.


Help others – You might be surprised to find out just how much you have to offer to others in similar situations, or entirely different situations, but in need. Can you help an elderly neighbor? Volunteer at the Food Bank, or Cradles to Crayons or the Special Olympics. You can make a one-time offer, or longer term commitment. This kind of giving can help you lift your spirits, and reinforce the value you bring to many different situations. Job seeker is a short term title, and you have many other ways to be defined.

Review your strategy – Once you are in a more positive state of mind, and have created a way to maintain it, review your search activity. Identify what works, what doesn’t and keep your expectations reasonable. This is an intensive process with lots of rejection, many dead ends, and a boat load of being ignored. If you know that going in, you may be able to focus on getting closer to success with each small step.

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