While I ran an outplacement center earlier in my career, I know much about search tactics. But these days my passion is to help folks in this situation by emphasizing the importance of self-care during the search.
As the corporate saying goes, “hire for attitude, train for skills.” What that means for the job searcher is that your attitude – HOW you show up for an interview – may be more important than your specific skill set. Most employers will tell you, “I can teach someone our process, but I can’t replace their personality.”
Bottom line: your attitude is your most precious resource. Take care of it.
I was recently interviewed by a journalist writing an article on stress management during a job search. I thought the full text of my responses might be helpful to any of my readers who have family members or friends who are enduring an extended search.
Surviving job search stress any time of year
1. As the weeks and months of unemployment add up, what is the best way to keep a positive attitude while job seeking?
One of the five most important factors for positivity is feeling connected. You need to get out of your house and meeting with people on a regular basis. Attend job seeker groups, where you can trade ideas with others in your situation. Use this time to reconnect with your professional colleagues at networking events. Spend some of your ‘extra’ time volunteering or hanging out with family and friends.
Another is to spend time intentionally focused on what you DO have rather than what’s missing. If you spend all your time looking at the dark hole in your life that used to be filled with a job, you will eventually get sucked into it. Instead, use your time to nurture other parts of who you are. For example, spend more time in other roles you play, e.g. parent, friend, sibling, neighbor, church member. Or devote time to your other talents, e.g. hobbies, singing in a choir, cooking for fun, or writing.
Finally, keep hope alive. Spend some portion of every single weekday on your search, even if sometimes it’s just ten minutes. Each time you take another action, remind yourself that you are closer to your goal.
2. What are some of the warning signs of unemployment and stress? What suggestions do you have for combating job-search related stress?
Stress is the emotional state that results from constantly thinking about situations over which you have no control. The short term signs of stress look the same as the fear response we experience when faced with real danger: adrenalin flows, the heart races, muscles tighten in anticipation of fight or flight, and breathing quickens.
But when we remain in that state for long periods of time, the body starts to break down. We feel tired, irritable, strained and out of balance, and after a while our immune systems break down and we become more vulnerable to injury and illness.
To combat this stress, try simple shifts in your habits.
- Let it go. Don’t make your job (search) your life. Yes, having a job is very important, AND you are not your job. Schedule time off from our search, just as you would from a job. When you return after a day or two of ‘vacation’ from search, you’ll find yourself more relaxed about it.
- Exercise. Physical exercise helps release the energy trapped in stressed muscles; and when the body relaxes, so does the mind, so you can show up in your search with more clarity and motivation.
- Share the load. Don’t walk around keeping your fear and frustration bottled up inside, or you’ll become like a balloon that’s about to pop. Find friends who will listen to your fears (without trying to “fix” your problem – just listen) and notice how it’s like letting some air out of your balloon; your stress levels will temporarily drop.
- Finally, Set strong boundaries. Some people want to constantly be on your case about having a job, or whine about how the world is unfair. Stop it. You probably do enough guilt-tripping yourself. Reduce the time you spend with “toxic” people so you can bring your full energy to what you need to do.
3. Is there any particular time of the year that is more stressful than others for job seekers? (e.g. the upcoming holiday season, for instance)
Honestly, I don’t know that there is a worse time of year for search, as much as there’s a relationship between length of search and stress. The longer you’re looking, the higher the stress, no matter what time of year.
Frankly, for some people stress actually DROPS during the holidays, because they are surrounded by a pervasive sense of good cheer and have many events to distract them from the search stress. For others, however, having to show up at Aunt Tillie’s and say, “I’m still looking” can be the worst part of the year.
To cope with all the people who will say, “what’s your status?” you can prepare a positive story. Instead of saying, “There’s nothing out there, it’s no use,” share what progress you’ve made and how you feel hopeful that “I know the right job is still out there waiting for me,” or “I’m very excited about the classes I’m taking, because they are preparing me for a new career,” or you can talk about all the contacts you’ve made in the past two months. Keep your focus positive, and make it clear: “I don’t want pity – I want contacts!”
If you’re looking for more ideas, here’s a post I did on managing holiday stress. It’s not specifically for job searchers, but maybe there’s another idea or two that will help you get through the next couple of months.
Good luck in your process!