3 powerful ways you can beat job search depression
The uncertainty. The self-doubt. The sheer disappointment when things don’t go as planned or as hoped.
Looking for a job can be stressful and, yes, even depressing at times. Make no mistake: “job search depression” is real, and it’s almost inevitable you will experience it when looking for a new opportunity. Even in a job market as hot as the current one, you may find yourself up against stiff competition as the economy continues to shift and remote roles open up broader applicant pools.
Here are three tips I’ve picked up that would have helped me in my past job hunts. Hopefully they’ll help you during your next—or current—search.
Discard unhelpful stories
A job search involves a lot of storytelling. You draft your elevator pitch. You script your career narrative in your resumes, cover letters, and work samples. And when you interview, you tell the tales that best highlight your relevant work experience.
But there’s a far less helpful kind of storytelling that can happen during a job search: negative self-talk. Fueled by your inner critic, it’s a form of self-limiting inner dialogue that can crush your confidence and sap your self-belief (for example, “There’s no way I can compete against these other candidates. Why should I bother applying?”). And the long periods of silence that accompany any job search provide ample time for not-so-merry mythmaking.
“Lack of communication and ghosting is unfortunately quite common when there are hundreds of applicants for a single position, and many of my clients struggle with the uncertainty this creates,” says Horst Govin, a career coach and founder of Job Hunt Bootcamp. A 2021 LinkedIn poll by Andrew Seaman showed that a whopping 93% of respondents had encountered some form of ghosting during the hiring process.
So what do you do? You create stories to turn uncertainty into certainty, even if the conclusions don’t serve you well.
And the most damaging conclusions are those that directly impact your self-worth. The time that passes after submitting a job application somehow becomes a sign that you’re not good enough for the job, or even worse: that there’s something inherently wrong with you.
So can you counter this tendency? You check the facts—just like a reporter. Instead of creating a negative story about your situation, you step back and ask yourself, “Does this make sense?” Be honest about your underlying fears and what may be causing them.
Here’s an example of what not to do from a recent job search. I had the opportunity to connect with Bill (not his real name) who’d worked at a company I greatly admired. A mutual connection reached out on my behalf, and Bill gave me permission to contact him directly.
I sent a brief email to indicate my interest in learning about his experience working for the company. A week went by, then two. I started to wonder if he’d seen my message. Or if he’d seen it and didn’t like something I said. I allowed myself to conveniently forget that he’d welcomed my request to speak with him—and that he was in the middle of a vacation and nine hours ahead of me.
Eventually, we did get in touch to schedule a call. But in the days leading up to our conversation, I went back into storytelling mode. I found myself worrying that he’d be somewhat annoyed after my multiple attempts to contact him, or simply in a rush to finish the call. I wondered if I was too pushy.
When we spoke, he was kind, personable, and thoughtful in his responses to my questions. And I was comfortable enough to share some of the stories I’d concocted in the time between my original message and our call. It turned out that he’d not only seen my original request, but had fully intended to write back the same day—he simply got caught up with his travel plans. More than that, he confessed that he experienced some of the same fears about bothering or inconveniencing people with networking requests.
This was a good reminder for me, and perhaps helpful to you as well: the vast majority of people you’ll reach out to while networking during a job search will be happy to share insights about what they do, and the company for which they work. But just like you, they can get busy. So don’t waste cycles on worst-case scenarios. Plan to follow up at predetermined intervals if you haven’t heard back.
Maintain a consistent pace
When you get too attached to a single outcome, it can lead to stress, fear, and disappointment. And searching for a job is no exception to this rule.
A few years ago, I interviewed for a position at an LA-based tech company. My initial conversation with the recruiter went well, as did four subsequent rounds of interviews with the hiring manager, team members, and the head of HR. Things were going so well that I stopped applying for other jobs. I was told an offer was ‘imminent.’
Two days after the final interview, I received an email indicating the company had decided to pull the position due to budget cuts. Not only did I miss out on this opportunity, but I’d also dropped the ball on my job search for four weeks in a hot job market. And I accumulated an unnecessary amount of stress while waiting for news after each round. (After all, just preparing for interviews—especially virtual ones—can involve a lot of time and thoughtful effort.)
The lesson: the more irons you have in the fire, the less attached you become to a single job opportunity. You also become more open to new and unexpected opportunities that you don’t see when fixated on one outcome. So instead of wringing your hands as you wait for your dream company to get back to you, keep making progress on your job search. That way, you can be confident that there’s another opportunity around the corner.
To be clear, I’m not advocating for a less-than-strategic approach—sending out endless resumes has its perils—particularly if you send multiple job applications to the same company within a short period of time. When I’ve done this in the past, I’ve noticed that my emphasis shifts toward quantity at the expense of quality. I won’t put the same amount of time into researching the company, customizing my resume, and providing thoughtful replies to pre-screening questions.
It’s part of a vicious cycle: The more jobs you apply for each day, the more likely it is you’ll submit applications that don’t present you in your best light. You actually wind up decreasing your odds of getting a good response. This, in turn, feeds into job search depression.
Give yourself credit
When you’re in the middle of a job search, it may seem that there’s always something left undone, another stone left unturned. You run the risk of falling into a constant state of dissatisfaction. Govin calls this ‘momentum anxiety.’
“It’s the feeling that you’re not making the progress you feel you should be in your job hunt and is a common symptom of job hunt fatigue,” he says.
I’ve certainly been guilty of discounting my job search efforts, particularly when I feel they haven’t paid off in some way. A day of job hunting will lead to a restless night, and I’ll wake up feeling far from enthusiastic about going at it again.
There’s an easy solution I wish I’d known of at the time: end a day of job searching by giving yourself credit. You can do it in three easy steps:
Think about what you’ve accomplished during the day, from researching roles and companies to editing your materials to completing job applications.
Write it all down in a notebook, or use your favorite journaling or notes app.
Avoid judging your efforts, as that’s not the point here. Take a cue from Sarah Ellis and Helen Tupper of Squiggly Careers, and move your thinking from “I’ll be successful when…” to “I’ve succeeded today by…”
At the end of the week, review your list. You’ll probably be surprised to see just how much you’ve done and will likely realize that you’re making more progress than you thought. It’s documented proof—and a great way to counter job search depression.
Your mental health is the backbone of your job search. By discarding unhelpful stories, maintaining a consistent pace in your job search, and giving yourself credit for your efforts, you’ll be in a better position to create forward momentum in your job search.