By Rebecca Zucker
Partner, Next Step Partners
Originally published by Harvard Business Review
Most of us, at some point in our career, will conduct a job search — if not several of them. While it can be a time of excitement and hope about new opportunities to come, it can also be a time of great uncertainty and anxiety. Not only will you likely feel the full range of possible emotions during the course of your overall job search, but you may also experience these highs and lows in the span of a single day or week. You might be elated one moment to learn that you are a top candidate for a desired position only to be disappointed to find out that the job went to someone else — or perhaps you were unhappy with your performance in a job interview, but were later relieved to learn you’ve still made it to the next round of interviews.
The job-search process is fraught with ups and downs, not to mention the angst that comes with the uncertainty about the future of your career and livelihood. Here are a few strategies to manage the emotional rollercoaster of the job search:
The job search is a process that can be as short as several weeks, or more likely, several months. As with any other process, there are peaks and valleys. One week you have networking meetings and interviews scheduled, people are responding to your emails and you feel encouraged and hopeful — then radio silence — making you feel confused, frustrated or even helpless. Knowing from the start that you will experience these swings in activity and emotion can help prepare you to better anticipate and handle them when they do occur. In particular, when you do encounter the downward part of the cycle, you can say to yourself, “I knew there would be days where nothing is happening, and I would feel frustrated, and today is just one of those days.” When you know it’s coming, you will be less surprised or shaken by it, as well as less likely to personalize it, allowing you to rebound and move forward in your search more easily.
Engaging in activities like mindful meditation or journaling can help you process negative emotions as they arise. In contrast to avoiding, suppressing or ruminating over your emotions — which are shown to be correlated to anxiety and depression — processing your emotions through mindful meditation or journaling involves actually feeling these emotions more fully. It is this ability to experience our emotions, without judging them or trying to change them, that allows us to move through them more quickly and effectively. In a classic study, unemployed engineers journaled about their thoughts and feelings related to being unemployed for just 20 minutes a day for five days. Eight months later, 52% had found new jobs compared to only 18.6% for the combined control groups. In addition, brief mindful meditation creates improved emotional processing and reduced emotional reactivity and has been shown to enhance our emotional processing, even when we’re not meditating.
Having someone to talk to throughout your job search, such as a career coach, therapist or a job-search work group can provide much-needed emotional support, beyond that of friends and family. An experienced career coach who is an expert in the job-search process can also help normalize what you are experiencing and feeling at any given phase of your search and can be a good sounding board to help guide you when you are feeling unsure of yourself or what to do next. As with a coach, a job-search work group can also help you feel a sense of partnership to help mitigate feelings of loneliness that can often arise in a job search, creating a sense of community as well as providing tangible help to advance your search.
Make sure your days include activities that energize you, such as exercise, listening to your favorite music or some other activity that revitalizes you. Your mood and overall energy level will show in your interactions with others, whether it’s a coffee meeting with a former colleague, a networking event or a job interview. Exercise, in particular, not only has a positive impact on mood, but also increases self-esteem, sociability, motivation and cognition and can help you be at your best. David, a client of mine, started exercising daily during his job search. He not only lost 15 pounds and three inches from his waist, but also felt mentally and physically stronger, had a greater sense of agency and was more confident going into interviews.
It’s easy to feel powerless or discouraged when things don’t progress in the job search the way we would like. Perhaps a contact hasn’t made an important introduction for you yet like she said she would, or a recruiter hasn’t gotten back to you in the timeframe he initially indicated. While you can send a friendly reminder, take a step back to think about their other possible existing priorities. Chances are, your job search isn’t in their top five priorities on any given day. Seeing this perspective can help de-personalize the situation and mitigate the negative emotions surrounding it.
Roberta, another client of mine, was deeply depressed when her job search hit the one-year mark after she lost her Finance job in the last recession. Her depression, while understandable, created an unproductive cycle of negative thoughts and feelings which kept her paralyzed in her search. I asked her what “Roberta 20 years in the future” would say about her year of unemployment. Without hesitation, she said, “Oh, it’s a blip.” This “it’s a blip” perspective allowed Roberta to emerge from her depressed feelings to not only envision a more successful future, but she also was able to move forward much more productively, and ultimately landed another job as a partner at top-performing investment management firm. Feelings are temporary, as are many of the situations that create them (such as a job search). Seeing these challenges as impermanent is a key part of being optimistic, which is associated with higher levels of motivation, achievement, well-being and lower levels of depressive symptoms.
Using the strategies above can help make the inevitable shifts between the highs and lows of the job search more manageable as well as help you to stay motivated and productive for the duration of the ride.