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5 things you must do to stay sane while you hunt for a job

Over the course of 20 years helping professionals look for new positions, I’ve found that these are the strategies that work.

5 things you must do to stay sane while you hunt for a job
[Source illustration: nadia_bormotova/iStock; Artem Riasnianskyi/Unsplash]
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A job search takes a lot of time—time that you don’t have. Especially when you’re already employed, this can seem like an overwhelming burden of hours on top of your already full day. Add the complications of COVID-19 and the mental drain of Zoom meetings, and you can easily find yourself exhausted and ready to give up.

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Over the course of 20 years helping professionals look for new positions, I’ve found that these are the strategies that work.

Set working hours

Yes, finding a new job is a job in itself. So be a good boss. Set a reasonable working schedule for your second job. Twenty hours per week is typical. Thirty hours per week is the maximum that a professional can sustain over a period of months, even if unemployed.

You can’t possibly stay focused on a job search for 40 hours or more per week.  It will wear you out. A round-the-clock mentality reduces your energy and your enthusiasm, and that will end up coming across in your communications and interviews. It is far better to be 100% engaged with your job search for a limited but intense time period than 10% engaged in dribs and drabs throughout the week.

To help achieve this intense but defined work effort, it’s best to have a specific area in your home for your job search work. Set a desk apart, or in a defined location, and then try to do the bulk of your job search in that location.

It’s also best to set time limits on your search. Create specific time blocks in your calendar. It might be eight hours per day on Tuesdays and Thursdays, or four hours each weeknight. Whatever it is, set a reasonable work schedule and then stick to it.

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Then, when you are “at work” and job searching, give it all of your attention. Conversely, when you’re not working on your job search, don’t work on your job search.

Keep six opportunities in your pipeline

Through research and experience, we’ve found it’s best to keep six opportunities open at all times. Six is enough to keep your optimism up and practice your skills consistently and keeps the likelihood you’ll have success high.

Too often at Ladders, we see professionals who get an interview for a great job spend all their time focusing on that role, and then they’re crushed when they don’t get an offer. Further, because they’ve let their other opportunities slip, they have no momentum in their search and can fall into a funk.

A good way to think about your job search is that it’s a pipeline. You’ll scan thousands of job postings, apply to perhaps a hundred or more, have meaningful interactions with a couple of dozen, and get offers from one or more.

A successful job search manages each stage, always with an eye toward the ultimate goal of accepting a new role. Each stage requires attention to keep the pipeline “full” and producing enough opportunities that will advance to the next stage.

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Of course, you want to focus on getting the job, but to get there, you’ll need to focus on getting the interviews and opportunities. Always keep six live, active opportunities in your pipeline, and you’ll keep your momentum going throughout your search.

Creating new opportunities

There are a few different approaches for filling the top of your pipeline, but I’d suggest starting with the companies you most want to work for, and the job applications that make the most sense for you.

Completing lots of job applications can eat up an enormous amount of time.

Ladders’ latest product, Apply4Me, which applies to jobs for you, measured the average time it takes for a professional to complete a typical job application. Sadly, the average was 18 minutes per job application. Further survey results indicated that in some cases this can be 30 minutes or more.

It’s simply not possible to apply to every job under the sun and follow up well, so you’ll need to focus your search on companies and titles that will maintain your interest and motivation.

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Set a sustainable pace

It’s easy at the beginning of a job search to fantasize about your prodigious pace of applications continuing for months. One hundred applications, 15 interviews, and dozens of follow-up emails per week all seem possible at the start of a job search. On paper, anyway.

And then reality smacks you in the face. The job search is brutal—emotionally, mentally, motivationally. An excessive pace out of the gate too often ends up in a crash down the road.

Adding to the difficulty, you’ll find that your job search lacks a lot of the support systems you’re accustomed to in your professional life, such as a competent help desk, purpose-built software, and established processes and procedures. As a result, regardless of your own competence or intelligence, more items will slip through the cracks.

It’s not your fault. A personal system that is cobbled together will never be as robust as the commercially available tools you use at work. But it compounds the feelings of helplessness, incompetence, and futility.

It’s far better to set a sustainable pace from the beginning. In the early days, schedule more research. In the middle, more time for follow-up and networking. Toward the end, more time for interviews and negotiations.

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Qualify roles

Being efficient with your time means making sure that the roles you’re pursuing match your skills. It’s too easy to waste hours on jobs that will never fit your career goals.

Make sure to ask your first contact at a company, “What are the three most important criteria for success in this job?” If those success criteria don’t match what you do, or what you’re capable of doing, then it’s best to pass. Far better to bow out now than waste precious bandwidth on ill-suited opportunities.

To keep yourself sane during a job search, set a sustainable pace. Treat the job search like a second job and be a good boss to yourself. Make space for your personal life and for time to decompress by limiting your work arrangements in time and space. And focus on your pipeline by keeping six live opportunities your top priority at all times.

With these steps, you will, slowly, surely, steadily, land your next great role. I’m rooting for you.


Marc Cenedella is the founder of Leet Resumes, which writes professional résumés for free, and Ladders, the home for $100K+ careers.

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