7 Tips to Conquer Job-Search Burnout

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A man holding his face in despair

You’ve been at it for weeks. Months. Sending application after application, with little to no response. And it’s starting to get to you.

You’re not alone. Without professional help, only about 12 percent of applicants receive an invitation for an interview. On average across industries, it takes 40 days to fill a position, but you may be competing for that position with hundreds of other applicants.

All this pressure and uncertainty can lead you to burn out. But there are steps you can (and should) take to protect your physical and mental health while you’re looking for a job, especially when it gets hard to keep going.

The Job Search Process

The truth is, the job search process isn’t designed to be easy for job seekers. You put in unpaid time to find job postings, fill out applications, and tailor your resume and cover letter. And you’re doing all that with zero guarantees that it will lead to anything, all while working another job or struggling with unemployment.

But remember: it’s not personal. Employers aren’t going out of their way to keep you out of their sacred halls and succulent opportunities. They’re just making an effort to find the candidate they think will be the best fit for that role in that company at that time.

Their efforts are imperfect and often misguided, but they’re not trying to hurt anyone.

That said, it’s hard for you, the job-seeker, to manage the demands placed on you by the process, especially as days turn into weeks and weeks turn into months. Burnout can have damaging effects on you and your productivity, so you owe it to yourself and your loved ones to do everything you can to keep burnout at bay.

Am I Burnt Out?

Job hunting isn’t in most lists of favorite hobbies, but most people can handle a few weeks of it with little difficulty. It’s when your efforts drag on and the results are elusive that your mental health starts to be at risk of deteriorating.

While burnout isn’t a medical diagnosis, its psychological and physiological effects are real. It can cause physical or emotional exhaustion, a reduced sense of accomplishment, and a perceived loss of personal identity. It makes you think, “What’s the point of doing all this?”

It’s not just about the constant rejection; it’s also about the disconnect between how you view your own identity—a successful software developer, a driven manager, an accomplished financial analyst—and not being engaged in that occupation. The feeling of not being wanted to do what you do is disconcerting.

Other possible symptoms of burnout include:

To combat burnout, first you need to recognize and accept that you’re there or are getting close. Then, you can take action by following the tips below.

How to Beat Job-Search Burnout

1. Take time for yourself

Anxiety is an uncomfortable set of sensations. It makes you want to take action as soon as possible to get the feeling over with and leave it behind. This can lead you to feel as if no other pursuit is worthwhile at the moment, that you need to occupy your every waking moment doing everything you can to fix the problem.

This approach works amazingly well if you’re escaping from a predator or fighting an enemy combatant. It doesn’t work so well when the stressor is likely to persist for more than a few moments.

See, anxiety is meant to help you survive, not thrive. To do the latter, you need your mind to be in control. Anxiety partially shuts down your physical and mental responses to help you focus on surviving the moment.

Not a good deal for strategic, long-term thinking to score a meaningful role.

Of course, some anxiety is inevitable, and you can work through it. But unmanaged anxiety can quickly spin out of control.

So don’t put off self-care and personal development. Rest. Exercise. Eat well. Take deep breaths and practice mindfulness. Volunteer or pursue a hobby that makes you feel you’re exercising your occupational identity, or that’s just plain fun for you. Schedule time to do these things.

If you don’t see how self-care could ever help reduce your anxiety, it’s time to try it anyway. You’ll be surprised.

2. Treat the search like a job

You feel the pressure and responsibility to find gainful employment. In that way, job hunting can feel like a job.

But that’s not what we’re talking about. We’re saying that you should have a predetermined start and end time, with a specific set of objectives and tasks in between.

Keeping a schedule like this will help eliminate some of the uncertainty and give you a sense of control. It will also help you avoid the traps from point number 1. It may even help you feel less overwhelmed.

And you won’t be working well past the point where you’re productive, so your output quality will go up.

3. Break away from time to time

There’s plenty of research pointing to the need to take breaks during and between work shifts. It’s part of our mental makeup.

People in industrialized societies, such as the US, love to be busy. They pride themselves in their ability to work long hours and be always available. They humble-brag about how many hours they’ve put in and how much sleep they’ve lost to work.

But science tell us those same people, or at least most of them, would accomplish more in less time with higher quality if they took the time to rest. This is true regardless of whether you’re working for an employer or looking for your next one.

While looking for work, take frequent breaks. Step away from the computer. Go on a walk. On certain days, disconnect. Break the monotony of your job search with something planned to look forward to every week or every few days.

4. Network—but do it effectively

According to research by LinkedIn, 70 percent of people were hired at a company where they had a connection in 2016. So yeah, networking is important.

But the way most networking happens is ineffective and it leaves participants feeling like a cog in an impersonal machine rather than humans with intrinsic value.

Isn’t it lovely when a friend or acquaintance reaches out after years of no contact to catch up? Friendship wins, you think. Until the truth comes out: they want to sell you something or need a favor.

That’s an example of bad networking.

Effective networking, on the other hand, reminds us that we’re all in a difficult journey and we need each other.

Build relationships before you need them. Maintain those relationships by offering your value. If they need you, go out of your way to help them, when possible. Treat them like they’re people, and don’t forget that they are.

This includes hiring managers and executives. They aren’t machines, and they realize you aren’t one, either.

5. Follow resume and application best practices

Because it will yield better results for the same amount of effort. It will help you feel in control, reduce anxiety, and give you an increased sense that what you’re pursuing will eventually come.

Customize your resume for each application. Make sure you’re conveying your experience with well-written bullet points and that you have the right keywords for ATS. Leverage the power of LinkedIn.

Fill out each application carefully and completely. Ask questions if you need to.

6. Hire help

Trying to get every aspect of resume writing, LinkedIn profile creation, and cover letter preparation can add to your stress. Often, handing the burden to someone else can be liberating.

If the resume writer is good, you’ll still have to do some work to answer questions you may not have a ready answer to, but it will be so much easier and simpler than trying to handle everything on your own.

And sometimes, it’s not just about ending up with a product you can feel confident sending to potential employers—it’s also about recruiting someone to be on your side, to validate you, and to listen and support. Those things are all implicit in the work resume writers and career coaches do.

7. Reboot

If your search isn’t going how you expect, think about why. Try mentally to step away as far as possible from what you’re doing and ask yourself, “What am I missing?” “Am I going about this the right way?” “Am I at least partially excited about this potential job or am I applying just because it’s what’s expected?”

Make changes where they need to be made. Ask someone who can see it with a second pair of eyes. Don’t be afraid to change even fundamental aspects of your search if it isn’t yielding the results you want.

Ultimately, even if you are the best candidate, the hiring process doesn’t guarantee you’ll get the job. Let go of the need to feel as if you’re in control of the outcome. Do all you can, but don’t attempt to do more.

Eventually, your job search will yield results. Have hope and confidence in yourself. After all, you’ve been exercising your work ethic by searching incredibly hard for your next job. You have what it takes to land it.

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