Coping Skills for Anxious Job Seekers
Advice for Handling a Stressful Job Search
Job searching can be stressful, even for the most confident person. It can be more challenging if you’re anxious and worried about the hiring process, as well as about when you will be hired for a new position. If you’re unemployed, the stress can be compounded with concern about how long it’s going to take to find a new job, and how you’re going to pay the bills until you line up a new position.
There are many factors in a job hunt that can cause anxiety, but there are ways to reduce stress and take control. You might never consider job searching fun, but at least you might be able to turn it into a positive experience rather than a difficult one.
The Reasons for Job Search Anxiety
“People are anxious for different reasons," said Dr. Janet Scarborough Civitelli, psychologist, career counselor, and founder of VocationVillage.com. "It helps to identify the thoughts and situations that are causing the most distress, and address them one by one.” Some of the most common reasons for job-search anxiety, and strategies for handling them, include:
- Getting overwhelmed by how big a project it seems to land a new job
Strategy: To conduct an effective job search, break the overall project into manageable tasks. Each one completed will bring you closer to the job offer that you seek.
- Disliking the feeling of uncertainty about how long the job search will take
Strategy: Shift the emphasis away from the outcome and focus on the part that you can control i.e. the specific actions you will take.
- Telling yourself scary stories ("No one will want to hire me" or "There are no good jobs")
Strategy: Find inspiration by reading success stories about people who have overcome obstacles to land employment. You can also redirect your energy toward concrete steps that increase your odds of landing a job. Two of the best activities are meeting new people and developing new professional skills.
Take Care of the Details First
Another way to alleviate some of the stress involved in job hunting is to take care of everything that needs to be done in a timely manner. If you’ve been laid off, apply for unemployment. Know what will happen to your employee benefits when you move on. When you have a 401(k) to roll over, review your options for handling it. Once you’ve checked it off your list, it’s one less thing to worry about.
Create a basic resume and cover letter that you can customize each time you apply for a job. Review your LinkedIn profile and give it a makeover if there is need. Line up some references who will attest to your skills and qualifications.
Your search will be less stressful if you organize it and treat it like a job. If you’re out of work, consider it your full-time job. If you’re employed, schedule part-time hours to spend job hunting. Choose one of these easy ways to organize your job search, and keep track of your applications, networking outreach, and the career events you’re planning to attend.
When you have a plan in place, it will help minimize the anxiety because you’ll be keeping track of what you’ve done and what you need to do next. You won’t have to think about the task until it’s time to handle it.
Practice and Prepare
Spend some time job hunting, even when you’re happy in your current position and you don’t have to. With this approach, you’ll keep your resume up-to-date, your interview skills polished, and your confidence level high.
If you see an interesting job, apply for it. It’s good practice, and it may be a better opportunity than you expected. You’ll be less anxious if you’re going after a role that isn’t your dream job, and you’ll be more prepared when that perfect position comes along. And you never know—that job you weren’t that excited about could be your next terrific career move.
The more you practice, the more comfortable you’ll be during an interview. Knowing what type of position you’re seeking, and being able to articulate why you’re qualified for the role, will help you ace the interview.
Practice responding to the most common interview questions employers ask, and have a few questions of your own ready. Spend time researching the company, so you’re informed about the company’s products, people, mission and objectives. The more you know, the easier it will be to have a conversation with the interviewer.
Take time to try on what you’re going to wear, and get it ready the evening before your interview. That will save you from stressing over last-minute attire decisions.
Create an elevator pitch that describes who you are and what you have to offer. Practice saying it in front of a family member, make a video of yourself to see how you did, or say it in front of a mirror. The more comfortable you are talking about yourself, the more confident you’ll feel during the interview.
Know What to Expect
Don’t expect to find a new job overnight, though that can happen. For most job seekers, it’s a process, not a one-shot deal. You might not get the first position you apply for, but that most likely means that it wasn’t the job for you. There will be plenty of other positions to consider.
Even though it sounds like it might create more anxiety, it can be helpful if you have a lot going on. When you’re busy sending out resumes, networking, attending career events and interviewing, you’ll have less time to obsess about every little detail.
Don’t count on one single opportunity. The more jobs you are pursuing, the more chances you’ll have to make the best impression and get an offer. Don’t stop applying until you’ve committed to a new job.
Remember that it’s not just about the company hiring you. It’s also about whether the employer is the best fit for the next step on your career ladder. That’s as important for you as it is for the company, and if you feel like it’s not the right job for you, you can politely decline if you get an offer. If it’s earlier in the process, another option is to withdraw your application.
Take a Break
Thanks to smartphones and the internet, it’s almost too easy to stay connected. But, it’s vitally important not to spend every waking hour focused on how you’re going to get hired for your next job. The more you think about it, the higher your anxiety level will be. Instead, stick to your schedule and take breaks. Exercise, yoga, reading a book, walking your dog, turning off your computer and ignoring your phone when you’re not in job-hunting mode can help reduce anxiety.
“You will find a job. It may take longer than you'd hope, but you'll find something," said Erin Kennedy, president of Professional Resume Services. "It sometimes takes companies time during the vetting and interviewing process. Patience isn't easy when you are out of a job, but perhaps go for a 30-minute walk every day, try yoga (you can do a class on YouTube or online for free!), call a friend, or clean out the drawer/closet/room you've been meaning to get to. Feeling productive while unemployed really helps.”
One of the best ways to reduce your anxiety is to talk with others. You may be surprised to learn that almost everyone you know has been in this position at one time or another. You can get some words of wisdom and support if you share your anxiousness with a career support group, friends or family.
If your anxiety is overwhelming, remember that you’re not the first person who is having a difficult time. A career coach or counselor can help you focus on your goals, get your resume and cover letter in order, target your job search, and help you with coping skills for interview stress. If you need more help, your career counselor or primary care physician likely can provide a referral to a therapist who can assist.
Consider it an Opportunity
One of the best ways to look at a job search from a positive perspective is to consider your job search an opportunity to pursue the next stage of your career, rather than as an ordeal you have to struggle through.
“Your career is about more than one opportunity, interview or company," said Jonathan Carter, organizer of Leap2HR, a LinkedIn group for new and transitioning HR professionals. "So stop worrying about 'landing the right one,' and just embrace the opportunity for change. Meet people. Explore different organizations. Look outside of the places you'd expect to find your next role. Don't focus on changing your job. Focus on changing your life for the better—and the job will come.”