Job Search: How To Stay Sane (and Employable) While Looking for a Job
Job search can drive you crazy – and make you depressed. Keeping busy helps you stay sane and much more positive. But it also helps your job search in ways you might not realize. Whatever you do or don't do during that time gets reflected in how you present yourself to the outside world.
Having sat on the employer side of the interview table, I can tell you that we can't help reading the whole candidate – and not just their words. And often the candidate would be surprised by what s/he is projecting – sadness, depression, loss of self-esteem – and how it affects their chances for the job.
Body language and energy play a huge part in deciding whether to call someone back. Most job seekers think it's nerves they have to worry about, but the impression you make – and the one that stays on well after the interview – goes way beyond nerves, which we actually expect. And for many job seekers, the long drawn-out period of looking for a job and getting rejected again and again, or perhaps worse hearing absolutely nothing back from your efforts, is often written all over their faces and bodies. Especially if they haven't been doing much of anything else with their time.
When you can't find a job for a long time
If you have to keep looking for a job over a period of months or longer, this starts to wear on you. And you start to question how good you are or maybe whether you'll ever find a job again. Even the most resilient of job seekers have to work hard to keep from letting it affect how they feel about themselves. And if you don't have much experience or maybe have had some not-so-great experiences in your former jobs, the self-questioning and self-doubts get even stronger. Almost everyone goes through this. Please know that.
The skills you have to offer are still valuable. YOU are still valuable. But you may be losing that sense of self that helps you present yourself well in an interview. Or in gets in your way as you network, when you really want to get people on your side. So what can you do? Keep busy. Keep productive. Keep your momentum going. But how?
How to keep busy while searching for a job
Well, the number one way, of course, is to be actively looking for that job. Not just a resume or two a week and fingers crossed. If you don't see any new jobs from the resources you usually use, go find some new resources. And go search out some new networking contacts. Or simply research your industry, finding articles and press releases that will help you find new openings and contacts. And polish your resume if it hasn't been working for you.
But there are also things you can be doing in the meantime to help you maintain momentum and self-assurance – and to maybe even uncover some unexpected leads to a new job. Plus, an added bonus is that you can talk about some of these things in interviews or when networking, so you seem more interesting and self-motivated. Talking about Judge Judy's latest case won't quite do that for you.
- Volunteer – Volunteer jobs are often not exactly what you're hoping to do in your next job (although at times they can be), but you get to do something useful, and you get to meet people. While there, you may see an opportunity to help them with something that does turn into a job, either there or elsewhere. But even if it's just answering the phones, if you do it with your heart and full commitment, this will reflect in how you carry yourself elsewhere. And inside where it really counts. (Plus you never know what you might hear about.)
- Take classes to increase your skills – Could your computer skills need brushing up? Want to learn HTML or web design? What about improving your speaking skills, such as at Toastmasters.org? A new language? This is a great time to enhance the skills you offer and emerge stronger for it. You may also open up new opportunities for yourself as a result.
- Find some part-time or temp work – I used to temp (or find other part-time work like being an extra on TV shows) in-between jobs. Even though I had a master's degree, I took what I could find just to keep my momentum and spirits up. When you temp, granted not every job is a dream job, but you just do your best, and see what the next one brings. Some can surprise you and even turn into good full-time jobs. While I don't guarantee this for everyone, I actually got more than a few job offers along the way. In one case, I saw an opportunity to offer my services elsewhere in the same department at two times the rate. And that led to another job in another company (based on that recent experience) at a much higher salary. Remember to keep your eyes and ears open!
- Join an organization related to your career interests – This can help you find contacts and also learn more about things you're truly interested in. You may even hear about new businesses or projects / expansions you can take advantage of before any jobs are even posted.
- Have you always wanted to start your own business? – Even if they know that they will still need a job job, some folks use this time to lay the groundwork for a business they hope to have one day. It could even take off sooner than you think. (Caution: Careful how you mention any of this during an interview; you don't want to leave the impression that you are just taking this job until you can do what you really want, even if that's true. Maybe talk about it as a hobby or avocation for spare time only.)
- Exercise and sports – Hanging around doing almost nothing is bad for the body and mind. And sometimes waistline. So even if you join a local soccer team or take up yoga or tennis or speed walking, etc., this can help. And once again, the possible bonus is that you never know whom you meet along the way.
- Hobbies or personal interests – Something cool you've always wanted to try? Fiction writing? Your own blog? Painting? Design? Photography? Genealogy? Upholstery? Whatever it is, you have the time. Who's stopping you? Even if you don't feel like it at first, start anyway and watch your energy begin to change.
- Support groups – Job search or otherwise. Just make sure you that you surround yourself with positive energy as much as possible. A safe place to let out what you're feeling can be helpful. But if most of the energy is spent finding fault or complaining, this probably isn't helping – even if it feels good in the moment. Good groups balance positive action and encouragement with a chance to vent.
So much of the job search process is not in your control. But what you do for yourself during that time is. Make the most of it. And find opportunities to remind yourself that you are far more than just a resume waiting to be found!