The Emotional Toll of a Long-Term Job Search: What Do The Experts Say?

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How do you manage the emotional toll of a long term job search? How would you manage a long-term search? I found a way to pivot to my passions, but what do the experts suggest?

The Emotional Toll of a Long-Term Job Search: What Do The Experts Say?

Last week, I wrote about the emotional toll that a long-term job search can take on a person. I found that exploring this topic with honesty was both relieving and exhausting. It was relieving since I was sharing how I felt with the world and being open has helped me on my job search and career journey. But it was also exhausting because it made me sit in the emotions of the doubt for more than I care to.

My post last week ended with the following:

I know now that I am going to continue to be afraid of this unknown future, but I am going to do it anyway. Talking about the closing of the college has given me an edge that I didn’t have before, but I still have things I want and need to say. 

If I am going to move on from these emotional tolls, I am at least going to redeem them for something valuable, like experience and passion.

How I Am Choosing Where My Energy Goes

I recognize that how I am choosing to acknowledge the emotional toll is to pivot my emotions into the work it will take to start up a new business. All the feelings I have that come with a year-long search, like doubt, shame, fear can take up a great deal of personal energy – and I am choosing to channel this energy, whenever I feel them, into my business venture.

However, not everyone has a Plan B or Plan C readily available, and the emotional toll can be overwhelming. I believe we all have the capacity to demonstrate resiliency in the face of uncertainty. But the ongoing resiliency can really feel never-ending. What would be your own plan if you were suddenly without a job in a year? How about a semester? Or a month?

According to the Experts

The challenges I have faced and continue to face regarding this extended search are not unique. Doing a quick online search for the term ’emotional toll of job searching’ brought up many different responses. Reading through a few of them made me realize two things:

  1. I have the resiliency to get through this search, even if it means making some tough decisions about the future professional life I will lead.
  2. Many of my experiences are triggers from my previous professional work that I need to continue to address (such as feeling doubt about my decision making).

Below are some of the triggers I have experienced and what the experts suggest to deal with them.

Recognizing Job Search Depression has identified as number of emotions associated with job-searching:

  • EXCITED to jump in and start shaping a better future for yourself? 
  • OVERWHELMED from all of the choices, information, and things you need to learn and know? 
  • OBSESSED with a job, even before you have it? 
  • FRUSTRATED because everything seems harder and more complicated than you thought it would be? 
  • INVISIBLE since out of all of the applications you’ve sent you’ve barely heard from anyone?
  • HOPEFUL that there’s still the perfect job out there, you just haven’t found it quite yet? 
  • IMPATIENT because it feels like the companies that actually DO seem interested in you are taking forever to respond back? 
  • ECSTATIC.…because you finally found what seems like the perfect job? 

As you can see, not all the emotions can bring positive feelings. Some of the feelings – frustration, overwhelmed, impatience – some of these emotions can trigger feelings of depression that you might not associate with a job search. Below are some of the symptoms that might come up:

  • You’re feeling moody, or crabbier than usual
  • You feel down, sad, or hopeless about finding a new job
  • You’re so tired you’re having a hard time conjuring the energy to put in another resume
  • You’re starting to wonder if you’re even deserving or capable of a better career; your self-esteem has plummeted
  • You feel anxiety that interferes with your everyday life
  • You’re having more physical aches, pains, and headaches than you’ve had in the past

While you can deal with some of the symptoms by using creative methods or checking in with friends and mentors if you feel like your symptoms are overwhelming you seek help. If your feelings feel like something that can motivate you to change, think about doing the following:

Update Your Plan

Creating short-term goals can help bring focus to a process that seems never-ending. Do you need to re-organize your resume, brush up on common interview questions and answers, or apply for a certain number of job requisitions before the day is over? Give yourself goals to get you through, that don’t stretch you further than you can manage.

Take a Break

One of the things that made me feel guilty initially, but was a great idea in the end, was taking a short vacation for the Fourth of July. I didn’t realize how much I needed a mental vacation from the job search until I was away from home for a few days visiting friends and family. Take whatever time you need to give yourself a mental vacation. Waiting to look at the job announcements after a couple of days won’t delay your applications, if you have been looking daily for months on end.

Keep Your Skills Marketable

Having worked in higher education for more than two decades, I am not a digital native. I know enough to get by and to explain to support staff what I want and need. But in the months I have been job searching, I have been learning more and more about SEO, tags, generating an audience, using dashboards – all the things that are necessary for businesses in this decade. Find a way to build a skill, and if necessary, pay for it! The investment of time and energy will come back to you, and if not in the immediate, at least its a good distraction from writing cover letters.

Dealing with the Silence

Over the course of the past year, I have submitted applications for over two dozen positions. I was a finalist for four of the positions, but received exactly three ‘sorry but we chose another candidate’ responses after the interviews. For nearly 20 applications, I received no feedback on the status of my application or my interviews – even for a job where I was an on-campus candidate. I assumed that once classes began that semester I was probably not getting the job!

Chrissy Scivicque, a career coach, says that this type of ghosting is more typical than we can assume.

“[T]hese practices are rude and disrespectful to job candidates, but they are also extremely common. Don’t take it personally. Recognize that silence is expected. In most cases, you will only hear from prospective employers when you’re in the running for a role. If they’re not interested, they most likely won’t bother communicating that. Don’t hold your breath waiting for more information.”

My feeling is that anything we can’t control shouldn’t control us. So while it may be bad business to keep candidates in the dark about the status of their job applications, institutions won’t change how they treat their candidates until they realize the negative impact of the behavior. I have looked past colleges that did not treat me well during the application and interview process when new positions have posted, as a way of dealing with the behavior.

Feeling the Grief

Job-loss grief is real. You can experience the stages of grief, similar to losing a loved one, over the course of time. The feelings don’t always happen in a linear fashion, so you can go back and forth on the continuum as new experiences happen. I personally didn’t recognize the feelings of job-loss grief for about six months but once I began to understand the stages, I felt more prepared to manage the stages. Especially when I would experience an early stage.

Melinda Smith and associates, with HelpGuide.Org point out that losing a job forces you to make rapid changes, which can leave you feeling upset, angry, depressed, or out of balance. Smith and associates suggest the following in order to deal with the grieving process:

“Give yourself time to adjust. Grieving the loss of your job and adjusting to unemployment can take time. Try to accept your feelings and go easy on yourself.

“Think of your job loss as a temporary setback. Most successful people have experienced major setbacks in their careers but have turned things around by picking themselves up, learning from the experience, and trying again. You can do the same.

“Express your feelings in a creative way. Writing about your loss in a journal, for example, can help you to look realistically at your new situation and put things into perspective.”

I found that writing about my experiences in this blog have helped me find some normalcy, talking about and sharing my experiences about job searching. Its also helped me understand that there is a bigger project within that I can share. Find whatever creative way feels the best for you.

Need Someone To Help You Out?

I have used many of the recommendations listed above to help me manage my emotions during my time looking for a new job. While I am focused on building a new business in the meantime, the first six months felt paralyzing. I know now that I should have paid more attention to what I was feeling a gauge for my emotional health. If you are experiencing something similar, try one of the methods listed above. Or get some professional help.

Do what you can while you can. And if you need someone to talk to, schedule a meeting with me online to discuss some of your job-search strategies!

About Post Author

Joseph Rios, EdD

I am Joseph Rios and I believe that leadership is an expression of our values
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