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How to cope with a long job search

It can be disheartening when the search drags on. Here’s how to stay on track.

How to cope with a long job search
[Photo: gpointstudio/iStock]

Whether you’re just entering the workforce or are currently between jobs, it can be frustrating and stressful to be looking for a job. And the longer that the job search has dragged on, the worse it feels. The initial hope you had may turn to anger and then resignation. You may find your motivation flagging.

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Here are a few things you can do to deal with a long job search, adapted from my new book Bring Your Brain to Work.

Diagnose problems

There is a lot of randomness in the job search process, and so it can be hard to know why you haven’t landed a job yet. Sometimes a firm already has a person in mind for a particular job. Sometimes there were just a lot of qualified applicants for a position. But, sometimes there are things you’re doing that are getting in the way of success.

That means that you need to take a pretty clear look at your entire application package to make sure you’re not doing anything that is causing problems. If you’re having trouble getting interviews at all, then sit down with a good employment coach to get a thorough evaluation of your resume and the cover letters that you’re sending out. Perhaps you’re not expressing your qualifications in the right way. For example, many people making the transition from the military to civilian jobs have difficulty translating what they have learned out of the jargon of the armed forces and into the language that hiring managers use.

If you are getting called in for interviews, but aren’t getting positions after that, then it’s time to work on your interview skills. After each interview, write down all the questions you can remember and jot down notes about how you addressed those questions. Then, practice answering those questions with someone who has experience doing interviews. They might be able to suggest a few things you can do differently in the future.

If you don’t have the resources to hire a coach, there are often groups that meet in your local area for people who have been dealing with long job searches. They typically have a few people who donate their time to help people looking for work.

Cast a wider net

The randomness in the hiring process has another implication. There is a tendency for people to apply for the jobs that look ideal to them and perhaps a few others that are just on the border of the ideal. The problem is that you often overestimate your chances of getting a job, just as people overestimate their odds of winning the lottery just because they bought a ticket.

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Consider applying for a wider range of jobs than you think you should. That will increase the chances that you’ll get an offer.

You might be concerned that you are applying for a job you’ll hate. But research suggests that you can learn to love almost any job–provided that you feel like the position is allowing you to serve a goal that you think matters. Be less concerned about finding your passion than about bringing your energy to the job you get.

Plus, you are not obligated to take a job just because it is offered to you. If you go through the recruiting process and decide that you simply don’t want the job you’re offered, you can decline it. At least you’ll gain some confidence that you can get an offer.

Keep active

Work days often go by in a blur. But days when you are out of work can drag on, because you’re not mentally engaged. A few days playing video games might be fine, but you really need to stay active during the job search. The best thing you can do is to put yourself in situations where you can encounter people who might consider hiring you.

One option is to sign on with a temp agency. In the past, temps were mostly people who did menial jobs for low pay. Now, though, agencies also have jobs for more skilled workers that can fill in at firms while someone is on leave or can bridge the gap until the firm can afford to hire a full-time person. A great way to get yourself in the queue for a position at a company is to be working for them already.

Another option is to volunteer for an organization that needs your skills. It is easy to think about volunteering as being primarily about walking dogs or delivering meals. Those are wonderful opportunities, of course, but nonprofit organizations also often need help in their offices to keep finances in order, maintain websites, do marketing, or do outreach. Working in that context can help you hone your skills and may also bring you in contact with people (particularly board members of the nonprofit) who might be hiring. Even one day a week of this kind of volunteer work can add a lot of value during a long job search.

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Stay connected

Finally, don’t bear the stress of a long job search alone. Many people deal with their stress by looking inward and shunning social interactions.

Find some people in your life that you trust and let them know how you’re feeling. That will help to keep you motivated to continue your search rather than giving up hope. It will also make the hardest days more bearable. There will be days when it is hard to treat yourself with compassion. On those days, you need the energy of friends and loved ones.

Don’t feel like you are being a burden to the people around you. You would help a friend or relative in need just as they are willing to help you. And when the job search is finally over (and it will eventually end), you can always buy them flowers, take them out to lunch, or cook them a nice meal.

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