There’s a lot to get stressed out about in a job search: You have no idea why you weren’t called in for an interview, or, if you had an interview, why you didn’t get the offer.
You don’t know who else is in the running for that opening you know you’d be perfect for. If you’re out of work, your bank balance may be getting low; if you’re in a job you hate, you may just want make a change, fast.
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Looking for a job—especially if you lost your last one—can be one of the most stressful events in your life. But take a deep breath and relax: There are ways around the stress, especially if you know the main causes.
Here are five of the most common job search stressors, and how to nip each one in the bud.
1. Being impatient.
“Finding a new job is a job in itself,” says Nicole Williams, founder and CEO of WORKS, a career consulting company for women. “It takes time to find the right next move.”
Sure, it’d be awesome if you scored an interview after the first job application you sent out, but that’s just not realistic, especially if you’re in a competitive media industry. Patience really is a virtue in a job search, as it can take anywhere from six months to 18 months to land an offer.
Stress buster: Use your time wisely. You might think checking the job boards every few hours is productive, but a better plan is to set up job alerts so opportunities come to you.
Maximize your time by spending the majority of your job search networking in person or on LinkedIn and other social media sites; researching companies you’re most interested in and reaching out to contacts who work there or may know someone who does; and sprucing up your resume.
2. Feeling overwhelmed.
The job search cliche is true: Looking for a job is a job, especially when you’re unemployed. And since there are no regular office hours with this particular gig, the whole multistep process—networking, looking for openings, revising and reviewing your resume, preparing for your interview, repeat—can be monotonous, unfulfilling and all-consuming. It’s easy to start feeling overwhelmed by the seemingly nonstop loop.
Stress buster: Get organized. Create a job search schedule you can stick to, with a detailed checklist on which you can actually mark off completed to-dos. This will help you take control over the process, and keep you from feeling as if you’re looking for a job 24/7.
Set aside a specific period of time (maybe it’s a couple of hours on the weekends or every Monday and Wednesday night) to take on a single task on your list.
For every milestone you hit, such as refreshing your online portfolio, give yourself a reward—say, a favorite sweet or savory treat, a nap, or a Netflix binge-watching session. You’ll soon replace that I’m-not-making-any-progress frustration with a feeling of achievement.
3. Letting anxiety get the best of you.
When you’re unemployed—or desperate to get out of a bad job situation— and not getting calls for interviews, it’s easy to get uneasy.
“When people feel stress or pressure, it can cause anxiety or even depression—due to rejection, most likely, when searching for a job,” explains Dr. Jason Richardson, a psychologist and author of the self-help book It’s All BS! We’re All Wrong, And You’re All Right.
“Stressed out or depressed people tend not to take care of themselves as they would when things are going well,” he adds. “They also tend to disengage socially and possibly emotionally. In some cases of stress or high anxiety, people lash out at those closest to them.”
Stress buster: Stay active. Keeping busy with activities you enjoy is one of the best remedies for stress and anxiety. Use any downtime to meet up with a friend for lunch or drinks, check out what’s new at your local museum or art gallery, start that book you’ve been meaning to read, or go window shopping.
Also get regular exercise: The release of endorphins will help keep your emotions in check, and the activity will help you get enough sleep, which is crucial to reducing stress and anxiety.
It’s also important to monitor your mood and look for professional help, if necessary. “Situational depression can be treated by working with a clinical counselor or in a group therapy setting,” says Richardson.
4. Psyching yourself out about the competition.
“I’ve met many job seekers who give more credit to others applying for the job they want than they give themselves,” says Don Raskin, senior partner at marketing firm MME and author of The Dirty Little Secrets of Getting Your Dream Job.
Raskin recalls one job candidate who worked herself into such a state during her interview with him that she fell apart, unable to keep her composure, within the first few minutes. Fortunately for the candidate, Raskin was generous enough to give her a chance to start again.
Later, he says, “She told me that she didn’t think she could measure up to what I was looking for in a job candidate. She had all the qualifications, so, in reality, her stress was needlessly built up in her head.”
Stress buster: Exude confidence—even when you don’t feel confident. You’ve heard it before: Fake it till you make it.
“If you have prepared properly, have a story to tell, present yourself professionally and close the interview well, you will be ahead of the competition,” advises Raskin.
“You have something to sell and employers want to hear it, but only if you can package it up in a desirable way,” he adds. “If you can, it is very likely that job offers are going to come your way.”
Richardson, who coaches and speaks to high-performing athletes and professionals, adds that the best remedy for job search stress is actually getting the job.
“I would ask not only what are you doing, but what are you not doing? What are you learning from this experience? These moments are not comfortable, but are fertile ground for huge growth and self-reflection, which can have big returns in years to come,” says Richardson.
5. Searching for a new job when you already have a job.
And if you do score some interviews, how do you maneuver sneaking out every few days to meet with potential employers? There are only so many personal days you can take before your boss gets suspicious.
“The last thing you want to do is get fired for missing work while looking for a new job,” cautions Williams.
Stress buster: Be strategic about scheduling interviews. Work around your current job schedule to avoid missing important meetings or critical deadlines. If you’re going through multiple rounds of interviews at a single company, or have calls for single interviews with several companies, consider using vacation or personal days.
“If mornings are traditionally slow at your job, schedule your interviews for those times to minimize stress,” advises Williams. Better yet try to schedule interviews for early mornings or after work.
Worried about appearing non-accommodating to your potential employer? “Remember that a hiring manager will always understand and appreciate you have a job and are juggling things around to make the timing work for everyone,” says Williams.
Now stop stressing, and focus on your end goal: Finding the right job for you.