In my 20+ years of coaching job seekers, I’ve yet to come across a client who is excited to embark on a job search, even if they’re initiating it. So, if you’ve been laid off, are burned out, or have been unemployed for a period of time, the job search process can feel downright brutal.
In good times, a typical job search is fraught with a roller coaster of emotions from anticipation to frustration and hope to dejection. It can take some serious mental strength to weather the major mood swings of the process and if you’re already feeling defeated due to other challenges, it’ll be difficult to hide these emotions when you’re networking or interviewing. This can seriously hurt your chances of landing an offer and create a downward spiral that’s challenging to emerge from.
But we don’t always get to choose what life throws at us and need to persevere regardless. So if you find yourself embarking on a job search while in a low place, here are some strategies that can help:
1. Process Your Feelings
Unfortunately, emotions won’t stand to be ignored, so if you try to pretend they don’t exist, they’ll just be expressed in other ways. For some that may be physical symptoms, and for others that may be relational challenges, concentration problems, or a short temper. These will impact your job search negatively, so it’s worth taking time to address and name what you’re feeling so that you can move forward with self-compassion and understanding.
Here’s how: If you’re still receiving benefits, try your company’s EAP (Employee Assistance Program), which is typically free and confidential. If not, research helpful resources in your community, through local religious institutions, or via telehealth. You also may find that exercises like journaling, physical movement, and venting to a good friend or family member can be immensely helpful.
2. Know Your Triggers
We all have “hot buttons” that when pressed, set us off. If you’re coming out of a particularly difficult job situation or have been experiencing months of unemployment, it’s likely that inquiries about these from your network or an interviewer will tap into an open wound. As much as you try to hide what you’re feeling, others will sense they’ve touched a nerve, so it’s best to 1) know what your buttons are, and 2) have a solid plan for managing them.
Here’s how: Plan out neutral responses to tough questions. Have a standard line to non-defensively change the topic if need be (e.g., “I won’t bore you with that, but I would like to hear more about your company.”). We’re human and everyone has triggered. The key is to plan ahead so that you control them and they don’t control you.
3. Give Yourself Some Space
While you may not have the luxury to delay a job search entirely, if you’ve just experienced an unexpected layoff, you’ll want to take time to create a strategy for your next steps. It might feel productive to paper the internet with resumes, but it usually isn’t a good idea.
Instead: Ask yourself if this is still the right career path – perhaps this is an opportunity to make a change to something you’ve always wanted to do? Take the time to update your resume and social media to reflect your most marketable and relevant skills so that you can put your best foot forward. And map out how you’re going to answer the question “Why are you looking?” because it will come up, and you’ll want a response that is brief, logical, and neutral.
4. Engage Your Allies
Referrals are your best friends in a job search, so don’t be embarrassed to reach out. We all get help in our careers throughout our professional lives, so it’s a pretty normal step.
Here’s how: If you’ve been laid off, ask your surviving colleagues for LinkedIn recommendations or introductions. They may be more than happy to help, especially if they survived the downsizing. If you’re applying online, find someone you know on the inside to shepherd your resume to the hiring manager or HR to ensure it gets viewed. If you’re hitting dead ends, reach out to your network to uncover openings in the hidden job market (up to 80% of jobs are never advertised). While your natural tendency might be to isolate when feeling down, resist this urge, and engage. Don’t let your pride stand in the way of a great new position. Even if you can’t see it from where you sit today, you’ll likely have the chance to pay it forward multiple times during your career.
5. Be Strategic
Don’t throw spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks. Take a quality over quantity approach and really focus on your target. Saying you’ll take “anything in tech” or are “industry agnostic” may seem like a good plan for broadening your options, but it just confuses your network, muddies your brand and makes your contacts hesitate to spend their social capital on you because you appear desperate and unfocused.
So instead: Be careful about the messages you share. Don’t change your LinkedIn headline to “Looking for opportunities” and don’t introduce yourself to others as “between jobs.” Instead, communicate the value that you bring to your target field and the accomplishments that are most relevant. Start with a confident and professional first impression and others will want to help you open doors.
As a psychologist, I recognize this is controversial advice and can only work on a very temporary basis. However, when you’re networking or interviewing, you’ll need to keep your emotions in check, especially if you’re still feeling raw about a recent layoff or toxic work situation. Even though it’s understandable that you’re fatigued and frustrated, others will interpret any negative information, including non-verbal communications (e.g., rambling, defensive tone, fidgeting, lack of eye contact) as deceptive and wonder what you’re hiding, or any bashing of a former workplace as a sign that you haven’t yet resolved the conflict.
So instead: Before your next conversation, take a deep breath, prepare for any trigger questions with a concise and neutral response and steer the discussion toward positive topics like the accomplishments you’re most proud of. Don’t apologize for asking for help or feel the need to overexplain your current situation. Rather, recognize that anyone who has been in the professional world for any length of time has experienced set-backs and it’s all a part of the process. Confidence breeds confidence, so take this set-back in stride so that others see an agile professional who they would be proud to refer to their contacts.
7. Get Off The Roller Coaster
Part of the job search involves getting really excited about a role and then feeling crushed when you receive a rejection. However, it doesn’t need to feel like these massive mood swings if you keep your expectations in check.
Here’s why: Positions that look great on paper, maybe a bust, and ones that look “meh” might turn out to be incredible. Or a brand name company may seem like your dream opportunity come true, but you may end up disliking the team lead or the actual work. We tend to build things up in our minds in favor of our expectations instead of being curious and allowing them to unfold naturally. This prevents us from seeing fantastic opportunities at non-brand name companies, or cool roles that don’t have the job title we expect. So, don’t get so caught up in one opportunity that you become obsessed with. Instead, have an open mind and keep your pipeline full so that you’re continuously processing options instead of getting wrapped up in “the one.” You’ll not only land faster, but you’ll find that being so busy with leads, interviews, and follow-up leaves less time to be anxiously waiting by the phone (or email).
8. Change the dialogue
One of the biggest enemies you’ll face in a job search is yourself. Inherently, a job search is full of rejection, judgment, and interrogation, all of which most humans seek to avoid on a good day. When something doesn’t work out, we tend to blame ourselves and while assessing your performance and making improvements is helpful, most take it too far.
Consider this: the job search is broken and many times you’ll get overlooked through no fault of your own – there was already an internal candidate, the company decided to move in a different direction, poor quarterly earnings led to a hiring freeze and on and on. So, check the messages your brain is spewing. You WILL land on your feet. This IS temporary. You’re NOT the only person who dislikes the job search process and feeling anxious and frustrated IS normal. Focus on challenges you’ve overcome previously and remember that this is just one more hurdle that you will overcome. Don’t allow your brain to convince you otherwise.
Written by Dawn Graham