7 Tips to Manage Stress, Burnout, and Anxiety During the Job Search

—Amy M. Gardner

“Kate” has it all together.  We’ve worked to ensure her resume is excellent.  Her cover letters are customized and strong.  She is focused in her job search.  She knows that networking is (usually) where the jobs are, and has worked to build an engaged and supportive network.

But . . . she’s at that point where she’s waiting to receive an offer for a job, waiting on another interview that needed to be rescheduled, waiting for a couple of key people in her network to come back from vacation and make introductions. And she’s hit a wall.  She is tired from the stress of job interviews, networking, tired of working to find her next job at the same time she’s working ridiculous hours at the current job, tired of also doing her share at home, anxious about how much longer she’ll have to continue enduring this process. . . . 

Sound familiar?  Interviewing for jobs can be stressful, anxiety-provoking, and lead to burnout.  In fact, one study of 1,000 adult Americans found that 92% of them describe the job interview process as stressful.    Yet given that the average American holds 12 different jobs during their careers, you’ll likely go through the job search process many times throughout your career.  (For more advice on anxiety generally, check out our posts on ways to calm down when anxiety is getting the best of you and six hacks to crush anxiety about writing.)  

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Even if you don’t feel particular anxiety or stress about the job search process, it’s likely that every person who has ever applied for a job has hit a wall at some point.  That’s usually when the candidate has a million other things to do, the initial luster and excitement of a move has worn off, you’re sick and tired of continuing to pretend at your current job (or trying to stay cheerful during a period of unemployment), and you're doing all the right things and not seeing the pay-off yet.  If you aren't feeling stressed, burned out, and anxious consider yourself lucky, and take the steps below to avoid it.  But if you are, consider yourself mortal.  Here are seven tips to manage it.

Tip 1:  Control what you can.  

You can’t control whether you get an interview.  You can control whether your resume is as good as it can be.  You can’t control when the employer finally gets back to you.  You can control when and how you follow up.  You can’t control what the interviewer thinks of you.  You can control that you’ve thoroughly prepared for the interview itself and had your interview outfit professionally tailored and are wearing something that makes you feel confident.  You can’t control that the job description for your dream job requires an unnecessary skill.  You can develop it.

Tip 2:  Remember that interviewing and changing jobs is a two-way street.  

While it can sometimes feel like you are a powerless puppy at the pound waiting for someone to pick you, it should not.  If you’re doing your job search thoughtfully, you’re looking for the right fit where you can do more than just collect a check, but can learn, contribute, and truly thrive.  From that viewpoint, not receiving an offer for a particular position can be viewed as a helpful shortcut; you don’t want to waste your time on any employer less than thrilled to bring you on board.

Tip 3:  Keep in mind that there are many jobs that will be right for you.  You just need an offer from one of them.  

Invest the time upfront to ensure you are focusing your energies on the types of positions and environments where you want to work.

Too often candidates can fall into a trap (this especially goes for law students doing on-campus interviewing!) of thinking the more offers, the better. But if the right fit for you is a tax boutique in Chicago, offers from 15 big firms in New York probably aren’t going to do you any good.  Likewise, if you really want to transition out of government and into the private sector, it’s not worthwhile to try to rack up interviews from government agencies like you’re collecting bottles of fine wine.

Tip 4:  Take a weekend to yourself.  

No housework, no networking, no thinking about indeed.com, nothing.  Spend the weekend taking a class in something you know nothing about and that requires your full attention, like a floating meditation class, cooking, or painting.  Or do something active that requires full attention, like visiting a rock climbing wall, hang gliding, ziplining, or hiking.  Pick something that is so out of the ordinary for you that you have to really focus on it.  No thinking about jobs, no talking about jobs, no emailing about jobs.  And leave your phone at home. You will undoubtedly end the weekend much fresher, more focused, and more clear-headed.  You have probably heard this advice many times, but you need to recharge your battery.  Remember that, just like the Tesla your neighbor just bought, you only have a certain range before you need to recharge.  And if you need extra motivation to actually follow through on this, think of it as giving yourself good fodder for answering the “what do you do in your free time?” interview question.

Tip 5: Take care of yourself.  

If you aren't exercising and doing some mindfulness meditation, in the midst of a stressful time can be a great time to start.  It doesn’t have to be hard, expensive, or complicated; just go for a walk, download a meditation app, and give it a try.  (I have several clients who have found the Calm app’s “emergency Calm” meditations really helpful to focus and breathe right before an interview.)  Adding in some intentional exercise and making five minutes to just focus on your breath can make a big difference.

Tip 6: Make your own summit.  

In the middle of a job search, it can feel like you're in the middle of climbing a mountain and you can't see the summit. When you look down, all you see are trees and boulders that can (at least) maim you.  Oh, and the summit is moving based on other people's whims.

Because you have no control over a lot of this, and because it's draining and exhausting, tip six is to make your own summit – one that you can control.  

 Think about what rewards are motivating for you.  Maybe it’s a new Kindle.  Or a nice dinner out.  Have you always wanted to take a moonshine making class?  Go to a nice spa for a day and leave your significant other to deal with the housework and childcare?  Maybe you’ve been wanting to spend an afternoon with a friend doing something you both enjoy, but haven’t been able to find the time.

Whatever it is, think of something you haven't done because it seems like too much of an investment of time and energy in something frivolous.  Then come up with steps to get there.  Start with a list of things you need to do.  (Have an interview, prep for an interview, look at postings, have a coffee, schedule a coffee, go to an event, post and comment on LinkedIn, etc.).  Assign each activity a value, and set a target for how many points you need to get a reward.  When you reach that point, consider it your summit, and schedule the reward.

Don't wait to reward yourself until you're in the perfect job, because doing that means you’re letting someone else have a say in your summit.  By creating your own summit (say, 30 points) and rewarding yourself for reaching it, you’ve given yourself back some control.  And, even better, you'll go off to take your class in how to arrange donkey floral headpieces (or whatever your reward is) feeling rejuvenated and excited, and that will only help the search itself . . .  and your own ability to manage the stress, burnout, and anxiety of a job search.

Tip 7: Finally, go easy on yourself.  

A job transition is a marathon, not a sprint.  When people running a marathon say they’re tired at the 19th mile, no one kicks them in the face and says they must be a lazy, terrible person.  Instead, you give them Gatorade, tell them it's ok if they need to walk because slow progress is still progress, and you cheer them on.

So if you’re interviewing for jobs and feeling stressed, burned out and anxious, don’t beat yourself up.  Drink your own Gatorade and keep making progress, even if it's slower than you'd like.  You'll get there.

If you need assistance executing any of these tips, or simply preparing your materials, networking strategy, or career transition process, contact us.  We have certified professional career transition coaches who can help you go further than you thought, faster than you imagined.   

Amy M. Gardner is a certified professional coach with Apochromatik specializing in career and career transition coaching. Amy is a former Big Law associate, partner at a mid-size law firm, and dean of students at a top 5 law school. Today she works with lawyers and other high-achieving professionals to build the career and life they want. Contact Amy directly at amy@apochromatik.com.