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How to Avoid Job Search Burnout and Find the Gig You Want

by Gretchen Brown
January 28, 2019 | Work

If you feel like you’re applying to job after job with no luck, it’s probably not just you.

According to employment website Glassdoor, you’re competing against 250 people, on average, for any given corporate job.

That’s just a 2 percent chance of landing an interview.

With those kinds of odds, it’s easy to get discouraged, said Lisa Severy, director of career services at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

It’s left some of the students and alumni she works with feeling burned out.

“It is demoralizing when you never hear from anybody,” Severy said. “Or (when) you get… ‘Thanks but no thanks.’”

Quality over quantity

Getting out of that funk might require a change in the way you do things. For starters: stop using giant job posting websites like Glassdoor and Indeed. (Really.)

“Certainly it’s a convenient factor in that you can probably, in a day, see and apply to 100 different jobs,” Severy said.

“That’s great, except for your chances of making a connection that way are actually quite small.”

You don’t have to get off the internet completely to raise your chances of success.

Websites that are more narrowed down, tailored to alumni of a university, or posted through a professional organization give you a better chance, Severy said.

Better yet: apply directly through the website of each organization you’re interested in.

Think like a hiring manager

In some cases, you might find more success with a little professional repositioning.

Janice Kalin, an organizational psychologist who specializes in career and work consulting, thinks that means marketing yourself more wisely.

Illustration depicting all the job search options from emails and letters to computer, phone and magnifying glass. Job Search Burnout Work Rewire PBS
It's easy to get overwhelmed when there are so many different places to search for your dream job.

“Some will say to me, I love this, and I love doing that,” Kalin said. “Someone who’s hiring you doesn’t care what you love. What are your skills?”

Your cover letter can be a valuable marketing tool, and it’s worth it to tailor it specifically to your potential employers. That goes beyond just keywords, although that’s important too.

“Every job is essentially solving a problem, that’s all a job is,” said Rich Feller, professor of counseling and career development at Colorado State University.

Feller said it’s important to understand what that problem is. That’s different depending on where you’re looking.

In the public and nonprofit sector, hiring managers often look for someone who can improve the quality of services. In the private sector, it’s someone who can increase profit.

In other cases, it’s someone who will make a supervisor’s job easier.

The U.S. Department of Labor offers a website that can help you hone in on the specific skills for different jobs.

Because of the sheer volume of applicants for every job, don't put off applying. If an employer has found 12 applications they like, they’re not necessarily going to weed through the next 100, she said.

Change the way you network

The most surefire way to get hired is still to go through someone you know. At least 70 percent of jobs are never actually posted.

Networking might feel intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be.

Job seekers should start by contacting everyone they know in a given career field, Severy said: friends, family, even friends’ parents. Tell them you’re interested in their field and ask if they’ve heard of any opportunities.

If the thought of putting yourself out there is nerve-wracking, Feller said, don’t worry about impressing the people you’re talking to. The best strategy is to be genuinely interested in what they’re saying.

“We need to stop calling it networking and call it field research,” he said.

If you don’t know anyone in your field, look into joining a professional organization and meeting people that way. These organizations often offer discounted memberships for people who are still in college.

Unemployed job seekers might feel like they don’t have time to spend on networking. But it’s worth it, Severy said. You’ll probably have more time than you think — the average job search can take three to six months, she said.

Take care of yourself

Networking also has another function: it gets you away from the computer and into the real world.

That can be good for your mental health, especially if you’re not currently working.

“There is, of course, a lot of research on the connection between how long someone is unemployed and mental health," Severy said.

"Our culture is all built around what you do. When someone loses that connection because they’re not working, that becomes harder and harder.”

Some people say to treat a job search like a full-time job, but that doesn’t mean you have to spend every second on the task.

Severy recommends setting a schedule for a few hours each day.

If you’re unemployed, take a shower in the morning and get dressed for work, just like you would if you had a job.

Even though it’s easy to check for status updates via email throughout the day, it’s important that you set off-hours for yourself as well — just as you would if you had a very stressful job.

Eating well, sleeping well and exercise can fall by the wayside in the middle of an extensive job search, but they’re also important for dealing with stress, she said.

Even the most hardworking person needs time to recharge.

Meditate. Take a hot shower or bath.

[Related: Stop Letting Stress Wreak Havoc on Your Body]

In many cases, burnout in a job search comes from anger or self-doubt.

“Identify the feeling so you can do something about it,” Feller said. “It probably comes across in the interview.”

He said it’s good to have people you can vent to throughout the search so you can get those negative feelings out of your head.

You can even look for a job search support group, in your community or online, to find people who are going through the same thing.

Change your mindset

“If you’re beating yourself up, and it’s going nowhere, step back and say, ‘Okay, I’ve got to refocus,'" Feller said.

In some cases, success comes down to changing the way you’re talking to yourself.

“When good things happen to you, believe that you’re good and it’s a permanent reason,” he said. “And when something’s bad it’s a temporary thing... It’s because you don’t have all the right information.”

Optimism, understanding there's an upside to everything, is part of what Feller calls a “HEROIC mindset." "HEROIC" is an acronym for hope, self-efficacy, resilience, optimism, intentional exploration, clarity and curiosity.

Resilience, he said, is about being able to reframe your current situation. Clarity is about being clear to yourself about what you want out of your job search.

Thinking this way, he said, can help you avoid or climb out of a negative spiral. And in turn, it gives you back the power.

That’s important. Because a job search is a long hike.

“You can be doing everything right and still be struggling, that’s the nature of it, especially if you’re in kind of a niche field or a field that’s hard to break into,” Severy said.

“Hopefully people know themselves and know if they’re kind of spiraling because of the nature of the situation, that they get the help that they need.”

Gretchen Brown
Gretchen Brown is an editor for Rewire. She’s into public media, music and really good coffee. Email her at [email protected], or follow her on Twitter @gretch_brown.
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