At the time of this writing, I’m looking for a job. I’ve been looking for about six months with little progress. What follows is not about how to get a job; there are plenty of articles out there for that. Rather, this is about all the things people don’t tell you, don’t remember, or maybe don’t even understand if they aren’t in your position.
Two things upfront. First, I was going to wait to write this until I found a job so there would be a happy ending, but as you’ll see, part of finding a job is processing the frustration. In its foundation, that’s what this article is, and I’ll cover all that later. Second, this article isn’t for every job-seeker on the market. As the title implies, while it’s not exclusive, it’s more for people who are unemployed, which adds a certain amount of pressure. Primarily this pressure is on finances, but it’s also on the amount of time for which you have to explain why you’re unemployed.
In talking with my wife about all this (for months), I realized that what frustrated me the most, more than platitudes and utter silence from recruiters, was that I was only talking with people who were not in my position.
Don’t get me wrong here.
It is great getting new leads, connections, and ideas from so many people, but I don’t have anyone to talk through this on a certain level. Now that may sound like I want someone to commiserate with…and that might be fairly accurate to say. But it’s not a pity party that I crave – it is understanding. I just want some semblance of, “I’m not crazy, it really is difficult.” Then I could move on. Since I didn’t have anyone, I decided to be that person for everyone else who needs it.
I want you to know that you are not crazy, and you are not alone. Keep reading and keep going.
Here is how I deal with looking for a job and what I have found to work best to stay sane.
PART 1: ADOPT THE PROPER MINDSET
Save your willpower. Resilience is a muscle. When you’re putting your muscles under stress, you need to make sure you have the energy stores in them. With job hunting, you need the resilience to push yourself every day, so don’t expose yourself to unnecessary decisions where you’ll have to resist. Think of it like this: you get, let’s say, 20 willpower chips every day. Every time you use your willpower, you must give up a chip. While job hunting, you’re probably going to be giving up chips left and right when you finish applications, finish interviews, and get rejection emails. Thus, it’s important to think about what you want to give up one of those chips for. Keep a bowl of candy in your house? Maybe hide it for a little while.
Take small mental vacations. I did not say breaks. Breaks are 10-minute windows during or between tasks where you play with your dog or watch YouTube. Small mental vacations are trips you take to where your hope lives. For instance, my mental vacations are to Key West because when I get a job and can afford (real) vacations, that’s one of the first places we’re going. My hope lives in Key West, among other places, and I keep it safe there, so I can grab some whenever I need it. Close your eyes and live in whatever place, with whomever is there for you, for 5-10 minutes at least once per day. It may not be a place, it may just be a lifestyle. This will help solidify your reason ‘why’ and connect it to your job search.
Process the frustration. Some people write, some people talk, some people paint. Adopting the right mindset relies on your having an outlet that allows you to manage the infuriating things in this process. You’re putting yourself in a stressful situation – that has to be dealt with. For me, I write. Coincidentally, my writing picked up significantly in August, around the time I started job hunting. You don’t need to be good at whatever it is because part of your consciousness isn’t even focused on it; it’s focused on thinking through your frustrations. The goal is to channel thoughts and emotions through creation, not to produce some polished product. If you don’t have a processing activity, here’s a quick list of seven things to try: blogging, writing poetry, painting, writing a story, sculpting, discussing with a friend, composing music.
PART 2: SET YOURSELF UP FOR SUCCESS
Find a safety net. This is a little different than processing your frustration that we covered above. This is the back-up parachute for when self-care, processing, and everything else fails. It is a last resort, but you don’t want to blow a gasket to a recruiter or fail to make an interview because of stress. Some people explode outward by shouting to a ‘venting wall’, some people implode inward by curling up to the TV with a pint of ice cream. Most people don’t like the idea of being a venting wall, but some of your friends and family members will be willing to listen to your “airing of grievances”. For any safety net that doesn’t involve verbal mayhem, you need to know your go-to method of indulgence. The bottom line is to know, upfront, when you’re going to go in those situations where everything else isn’t working or is unavailable.
Create daily structure. Your full-time job is finding a job. When you’re employed, you have somewhere to be. When you’re unemployed, however, you need to create that structure that gives you goals. A sense of being needed to accomplish something. Wake up early, at the hour you would if you had a job. Get dressed like you were going to meet a business colleague for lunch. Dedicate set hours that are ‘work’ hours and leave your home if need be. Starbucks will let you sit there for hours if you buy a coffee or tea. That’s $3 per day, but you’ll get more done than you would saving that money while sitting at home doing nothing. Remember, this isn’t advice on how to find a job; it’s advice on how to not get sidetracked with the immense amount of free time you have.
Self-care. This is related to processing and safety nets. Processing addresses the frustration, and safety nets catch the frustrations that get loose. Self-care is about what recharges you after the frustration drains your energy. For me, I wake up every day at 5am and go to the gym; I also read a lot. For others, it looks like a run in the park, or a bubble bath with a good book. The important part of this is that is has to be something that doesn’t take up those willpower chips. So if working out isn’t your thing, probably not the best time to start P90X. Unlike safety nets which are difficult, if not impossible, to schedule, self-care should be part of your weekly structure. Make it daily if you can manage.
PART 3: ADDRESS YOUR NETWORK
Listen, but also don’t listen, to other people. If you’re looking for a job, you’re going to invariably be telling people that you’re looking for a job. That brings advice out of every nook and cranny of the universe. I can’t determine who to listen to because you may be surrounded by amazing people who have excellent advice, or you may be surrounded by idiots. But what I do know is that at some point, you can’t listen to anyone anymore and you need to go do something. What everyone else did to find X job at Y company in Z city is never going to be 100% helpful because you don’t have their credentials, experience, smile, or personality. When getting advice, listen for methods and ideas that you can implement today. There is and always will be a “You should have done this”, so move on to what you can do now.
Get clear on your people. I’ve had people who I’ve known for 10 years stop answering my phone calls and emails. I’ve also had people spend entire days at their job helping me to find my job. Some great advice I got on this, “If someone doesn’t respond after reaching out twice, leave it be.” That goes for people you’ve been friends with since childhood or the person you just met at Starbucks who said they wanted to help. Everyone has their own set of concentric circles that dictate who they’ll help and to what extent. You should certainly work for better relationships, but you can’t force them. Be ready to let people go, and be ready to capitalize on those that show up. When the time comes, you’ll be able to make a decision instead of wasting time on lost causes or potentially losing out on great ones.
Don’t take anything personally. In any other circumstance of life, you might argue this is good advice. But finding a job while you’re unemployed gives you a lot of time to focus on the minute details of what people say and do. I once noted a sudden absence in exclamation points in a series of emails from a recruiter and thought that meant they hated me. I’m not saying you’re wrong in whatever inferences you make. I’m saying that by simply making them, you’re opening yourself up to unnecessary emotional rejection. Yes, they may hate you. Yes, you might be the worst applicant. Don’t worry about that. This entire process is stressful enough, so agonizing over it will just mean you’re suffering twice if you don’t get the position. As Elsa said, “Let it go.”
One last important note to everything above. Every day is not going to be a win; you just have to accept that and move on to the next day. There are days where I wake up, kiss my wife goodbye on her way to work, then sit down and say, “F*#& it. I’m going to watch Netflix.” This isn’t just an escape from reality; it’s a form of saying, “This is not my life.” This whole thing can be terribly stressful. It can serve a severe blow to your ego, confidence, and mental state. Whether you take on the above ideas or seek out professional mental health services, make sure you are always aware of how this whole process is affecting you. You have to take care of you.