How To Keep Your Sanity Though A Frustrating Job Search

How do you keep your sanity when so much is at stake and nothing seems to be going right? Managing your mindset is always challenging - even more so when something important is at stake. And yet, that is exactly when you most need to access the most empowering and enabling states of mind.


While not easy, managing your mindset is something that you can and must work on. From my own experience, and from working with hundreds of professionals and executives, here are some principles and guidelines that you might find useful

1. Don't Catastrophize


"I'm NEVER going to land my dream job"

"My network is USELESS..."

Being out of a job, or finding yourself stuck in a job that isn't working for you, can be very frustrating. It's normal to feel disappointed and doubt oneself, but when we over-do this, when we catastrophize, we are likely to be sucked into a negativity fuelled downward spiral, which makes our job search even more difficult.

If you tend to catastrophize a lot, you should practise Reframing, and Gratitude as ways to overcome the negativity, and develop a more positive outlook.

Reframing is a popular and effective psychological technique which allows us to examine negative events and experiences more rationally, and find more positive and empowering ways of interpreting the same

"I haven't been able to find a job AS YET, but I'm getting there..."

"I haven't been able to get my network to support me AS YET, I will engage them better..."

Gratitude, as I've written previously, is a powerful emotion, and is often cited as a foundational practice in the pursuit of success, resilience, wellness, and happiness. Maintaining a gratitude journal or even making it part of a daily reflection/ meditation practice can do wonders for managing your mindset.

2. Set Appropriate Goals

Like many other things in life, landing a new job is not entirely within your control - there are far too many unknowns, and multiple stakeholders involved. In this kind of situation, setting only Outcome goals is not only inappropriate, it is also very demotivating.

An outcome goal is still important - it is a way of clarifying what you desire, and of validating that you have achieved what you set out to do.

However, setting only outcome goals would be disastrous. You must also set yourself a good set of Performance Goals (goals that focus on milestones in your job search eg no of screening interviews, no of final interview calls, no of offers received etc) and Process Goals - goals that focus on tasks and routines that are critical to achieving your outcome goal - landing your dream job.

With the right set of metrics, this set of goals also tells you whether you are doing what you planned/committed to do, as well as whether it is providing you the results you desire.

3. Don't Undersell Yourself

"I'm not very experienced, but I have a great attitude..."
"My qualifications may not match what you are looking for, but I have the right experience.."

These are words from covering letters that I wrote early in my career. I'm, not surprised therefore, when I see a number of clients saying something similar in their cover letters or even in interviews!

This may seem like a good thing (you're conveying your humility and integrity), but it rarely works. There is little or no upside, and the downside (your application being summarily rejected) is significant. So, I ask my clients to avoid this kind of statement in their written or oral communication with their prospective employer.

It is far better to draw attention to your strengths (I have 3 years experience of doing exactly what this job requires), without making reference to the gaps you perceive (that is the recruiter/hiring manager's call).

Please note, this is not an endorsement for making false claims - you should not claim qualifications or experience or competencies you do not have.

4. Treat Your Job Search As A Job

When you are out of a job, it is important to have the discipline and follow routines - to treat your job search like a job. I have seen clients who start off deciding to take a few days off ( a long due break), but then find it difficult to get back into action. I regularly meet prospects who claim they are looking hard for a job, but can't quite remember when they sent their last application (weeks ago!), reached out to their network (it's embarrassing), or to stakeholders at the companies they wish to apply to.

My advice to clients is to establish a routine. The actual time you spend is less important than the consistency with which you perform the tasks that are necessary to move your job search forward.

5. Find Your Pillars of Strength

A job search, especially one that is taking a long time, can be emotionally taxing and stressful. Sometimes, our ability to deal with this stress and to manage our emotions can be severely tested. At these times, we need support - non judgmental, accepting, and unconditional support. Whether it is your spouse or partner or other family member, a close friend or colleague, be thankful for them being in your life. And let them know how important they are to you, and how critical they are to your job search - even if all they do is lend you a shoulder when you need it most.

6. Don't Over-Invest Emotionally

At times, I meet people who are so emotionally invested in a particular opportunity, that they just can't see beyond it. While there is merit in narrowing your focus in a job search, it is equally important not to get too attached to a single opportunity. In doing so, you risk disproportionate disappointment when things don't go your way, which is compounded if you are struggling with low self esteem, negative self talk or have a tendency to catastrophize. Additionally, you ignore other viable opportunities, and fail to explore and work on other options that might be equally or even more promising or aligned with your long term career vision.

7. Maintain A Long Term Perspective

Sometimes, when you are so focussed on your immediate goal - finding a job, it is easy to lose sight of the long term. Whether it is losing focus and applying for every job out there, taking a very formulaic and transactional approach to engaging your network, treating stakeholders as mere information sources rather than potential colleagues and partners, assuming rigid positions during offer negotiation - are all symptoms of short-term thinking.
When I see my clients falling in this trap, I remind them that the objective of their job search (their ideal next job) is only one of the many steps in their quest for a satisfying and fulfilling career. If they are able to see this, it is both - motivating, as well as a useful decision making criterion.

8. Remember, It's Not Carved In Stone

A challenge, more often faced by younger people, is that they are not quite sure about what they want. This makes it difficult for them to narrow down their focus, an important element of effective job searches. More importantly, it impacts their decision making - they tend to get paralysed over questions such as "Would I be happy doing this the rest of my life?". This is a difficult question to answer, unless you have a fair amount of experience. My advice to my clients is - Nothing is carved in stone. Nothing is for life. Unless you already know from experience, you don't have to worry excessively about your choice. It isn't for life - you can always move on to something else if this is not for you. Don't let indecision make you turndown an opportunity that might turn out to be promising.

Managing your mindset is always challenging - even more so when something important is at stake. And yet, that is exactly when you most need to access the most empowering and enabling states of mind. While not easy, it is something that you can and must work on. Avoiding the tendency to catastrophize, setting interim and process goals, not undervaluing yourself, maintaining discipline and routine during a job search, identifying and honoring your pillars of support, maintaining a long term perspective, not over-investing emotionally, and treating choices as reversible experiments can make it somewhat easier to manage your mindset.

Questions for Reflection

What is your way of managing your mindset over the course of a long and messy job search?

Who is/are the pillar(s) who you rely on for support when the emotional toll is greater than you can manage?

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Narayan Kamath

I'm a Leadership Coach and Mentor. I help successful leaders take their leadership to the next level. My mission is to make positive and significant impact in the lives of at least 100,000 people by 2020 - by helping them unleash their true potential to achieve greater success and fulfilment - at work, and in life.

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