How to Overcome Job-Search Misery

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Stressed out businesswoman in office.


By Laura McMullen

Say you're a boxer who's been taking some serious beatings lately. You show up to each match still swollen and sore from the last. You feel slow and scared and start expecting to get your butt kicked. The more pressure you feel to win just one stupid match, the more bummed you get when you don't. And you start thinking maybe you should just give up the whole cruel sport.

The job hunt is pretty brutal, too.

A long, arduous search can leave psychological bruises and hurl you into a self-defeating cycle. "It's a blow to your self-esteem," says David Reiss, a psychiatrist based in San Diego. The more confidence you lose, the worse you perform in the job search. This process "takes a half a step off your game," Reiss says.

ere's how to toughen up, cheer up and knock out those job-search blues:

1. Have fun. Do you remember this concept of fun [pronounced: fuhn]? You're still allowed to have some, even if your job search has been unsuccessful. Think about what makes you happy, and do it. "What do you usually do for fun, and what have you given up?" Reiss asks. If money's tight, find cheaper variations of those activities, he adds. Say you used to love going to dinner and a movie with friends. Keep the sentiment, and nix the expense by inviting folks over for an at-home movie and potluck.

2. Vent. You're right – that hiring manager is a jerk for never confirming he received your application. Yes, the job search is cruel and unfair. It's true, the whole process does make you feel like an insignificant, unwanted, tiny speck of a person. But – but! – carry an ounce of that negativity into an interview or any correspondence with a potential employer, and you may be the one coming off as a jerk. Those bad vibes also have the tendency to drain your happiness and derail your productivity.

It's normal to feel upset. "You can't stop the feeling; there's no button to push to make it go away," Reiss says. But you can push some weight on the bench press, or push yourself up into the crane yoga pose. Try turning to exercise and meditation to vent your negative feelings, Reiss says.

3. Get some perspective. "When you're in a prolonged job search, you start doubting everything you have to offer an employer," says Lea McLeod, career expert and author of the 21 Days to Peace at Work email newsletter. Then, come time to interview, apply or network, "you're not putting your best foot forward when your primary motivation is about how you're failing versus how you're succeeding," she says.

You're not failing. You're just doing your best in the job search process, which – let's face it – sucks and is full of rejection. It's not personal, Reiss adds, although it may feel like it. Plus, "there are realities that the system isn't always fair," he says. "The deck may be stacked against you for reasons that have nothing to do with your abilities."

It may help to curb your expectations. "People go into a job search with incredibly unrealistic expectations about what it's going to take," McLeod says. Here's the reality: The process is going to be long and take more than staring at job boards, particularly for folks without years of experience or who are transitioning to a new industry or role, she says.

Now that you're square with the reality of job searching, it's time to toughen up. As Reiss puts it: "Look at the grief and the anger in the eye without letting it own you."

4. Seek support. Of course, being grounded and motivated through an arduous job search is difficult without someone in your corner of the ring. Discuss the job search with a friend or family member – "someone who can help you snap out of the doldrums," McLeod says. He or she may let you complain for five minutes, and then give you that perspective and encourage you to plan your next steps.

Not just anyone can fill this important role. "You need someone who can keep a level head and be objective but compassionate," Reiss says, adding that this person can also help with mock interviews and tell you if you're coming off as desperate or grim.

Sometimes this support should come from a professional. If you're turning to drugs or alcohol​, or if the job search is disrupting your sleep, appetite, concentration or relationships, Reiss recommends seeing a mental health professional.

5. Find a part-time job. If you're unemployed and struggling financially, McLeod suggests getting a side gig like a part-time job or contract or temp work. Not only will the job help you pay the bills, but it will chip away at the financial stress that magnifies the pressure you feel to find a job, she says. "It doesn't have to be your career job," McLeod says. "But have it be something that gives you a focus for your energy other than your job search."

6. Change your strategy. Scrolling through job boards and applying online as you come across postings is a recipe for a lengthy, depressing job search. "If you keep staring at this environment that you can't interact with, that you have no control over and that you don't get any feedback from, your job search​ is going to get very long very quickly," McLeod says.

Her mantra? "Stop applying, and start targeting," she says. Brainstorm companies you want to work for, and then find ways to build relationships with their employees through your first-, second- and third-tier connections. This networking is more likely to snag you a job than sending your résumé​ through a company's applicant tracking system.

And it's more energizing, too. Say you make a point to reach out to 10 people a week, and a few of them agree to meet up or take your call. That positive response – hearing someone say "sure!" instead of nothing at all after you apply to a job – is motivating. "That can keep you going when you have a long, arduous search," McLeod says.

She adds that you can even join or create a group of fellow job seekers, who would meet regularly to ask each other questions, share connections and hold each other accountable for staying on top of his or her hunt. McLeod stresses that the point of the group isn't to ​kvetch, but to give and receive support. Plus, she adds: "It gives you a sense that you're not out there alone."

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