I recently had a heart-to-heart with someone who struggles with anxiety. Anxiety might sound like worry, depression, or other things… you know, all the negative things we experience during unemployment and a serious job search? I want to talk about ways to help deal with anxiety in the job search. I’ll share seven ideas to manage anxiety, but I know two things:
First, these tips and tactics might work for me but they might not work for you. What you are going through is, at it’s very core, very serious to you. And we have different circumstances. I don’t want to project my strengths, weakness, or my circumstances on you. Pick what works for you and do it, but the key is that you figure out your own list of things instead of hoping things that work to manage my anxiety in the job search (or anywhere) will automatically work for you.
Second, you might need just one tactic. Or, you might need a whole bunch of tactics. There’s no magic in the number 7… My hope is that it gets you thinking about what your own list will be.
With that, let’s talk about some ideas to manage anxiety in the job search:
Change Your Expectations
You might need to redefine what a successful career means. I know my idea of a successful career has evolved over the years. As an example, early in my career I thought a successful career depended a great deal on my title(s).
When I lost my title (when I was laid off in 2006) I lost… identity? I was shoved off of my career success path. I worried (aka, I had anxiety about) I was not going to be successful in my career. The longer my failed job search went, the more anxiety in the job search I had.
Changing my expectations, and redefining career success, did not happen overnight. Even when I started down a logical path I still had to convince myself that indeed, a change in what I thought was success, and how I’d get there, was necessary.
If your current job search has derailed your plans, I seriously invite you to reconsider your plans. I’m not saying you should give up, nor should you settle. But perhaps the path you get on will be much different than what you ever imagined.
Learn Healthy Coping Strategies
Bad coping strategies might look like looking for a job at the bottom of the bottle.
I’m not hear to lecture you about alcohol. But whatever you use to cope when you are stressed is not going to help you perform while dealing with anxiety in the job search. I am not an expert in this but everything I’ve read and studied about it is that, in general, we gravitate towards unhealthy coping strategies/habits. When do you using coping strategies? When you are feeling anxious, lonely, etc.?
This is a recipe for disaster. If you have successfully ignored your bad coping habits, and then you end up in a stressful job search, you are set up for a painful ride.
But it’s not too late. Please, learn about coping strategies. Learn about what makes them healthy and what makes them unhealthy. And guard your physically and mental health like never before! Take charge of yourself and make intentional choices!
The alternative is you can spin out of control at the very time when you will need the most self-control: in your job search. You have to be at the top of your game and perform at your peak! Don’t let unhealthy coping strategies rob your peak from yourself.
Connect With Others
One of the most harmful things I did in my job search was to disconnect from others. Sure, I was around humans, but I pulled myself deep into a dark cave. I needed to get out of a really bad situation (unemployment) and had to focus. My focus led me to pull myself away from my wife (our communication suffered right when it should have been strongest). I pulled away from my friends. I am sure I felt jealous of my friends’ careers and how well they were going compared to mine.
We need human connection. Even introverts need human connection. We’re hard wired to have relationships. It was a mistake for me to pull away from important relationships at the time I needed them the most. Some of those relationships would be great for my professional networking, others would be great more moral support.
Suffering alone through anxiety in the job search is not good at all. Please, please figure out who your people are. Figure out who can help you, even if that means it’s someone who will email you back every few days. The deeper in despair your job search gets the more you’re going to need to draw strength from others. Even if you are strong and self-motivated (two things I would have said about myself), you need others.
The good news is the problem is that usually we push others away, or withdraw ourselves. For the most part, friends, family, and loved ones are anxious to help us, and just waiting to learn how they can help us.
Get Good at Job Search Tactics
If this is your first big, hairy job search, you are in for a change you didn’t sign up for and don’t want. The way to get out of your predicament will likely include doing things and thinking in ways that are new to you. In other words, get ready to stay outside of your comfort zone for a while!
One of the most important things you should do is learn what effective job search tactics are and get really good at doing them. Sorry to be the one to break it to you but it’s time to get serious about networking. Networking is not a four-letter word: it is key to your career success!
Also, get serious about your personal brand. You need to think about who you are, how others perceive you, and how you communicate how others should perceive you. I have courses on all of this stuff… check out my most-recommended courses for job seekers here.
When you get trained in, practiced in, and excellent in your craft (and right now your craft is landing a new job), you gain confidence. Instead of feeling like you are clueless and in the dark, you feel empowered! Feeling any sense of empowerment will be at odds with feeling anxiety in the job search, which is exactly what you want. You want to push anxiety out with other, better feelings.
So figure out your tools, sharpen them, and become excellent in them. Bonus: You’ll likely need them many more times before you retire!
Look Outside Yourself for Peace
One of my proudest moments in my job search happened after I started JibberJobber. I interviewed for a job that I mostly wanted but knew there was someone I had just met that would have been better in the job. What’s more, for some reason, I felt this job would have been better for this guy’s family.
Weirdly, I wasn’t thinking about how good the job (or, just having a job!) would be for my family.
By this time I knew that my future was to build JibberJobber. As much as I would have loved that job, I knew I was on a new path. And so I told the interviewer I had a name of someone he should talk to, and then I talked to that person. I made the introduction and essentially gave a job that was all-but-mine to someone I had just met.
I felt SO GOOD making that introduction.
It’s common advice to serve others, especially if you are feeling down. It’s like a magic pill… does it make you feel better because you are focusing on something other than your problems? Or because you see an alternative reality and how bad your life really could be? I don’t know… maybe it depends on your and your situation. Maybe service will hit you different during different parts of your life.
What I know is that giving and loving and helping and serving others can be an effective weapon against anxiety in the job search.
Food and Exercise
No blog post about anxiety would be complete without a little discussion about taking care of your body. I know this sounds cliche but it’s real, and really powerful. Take care of your body so it can take care of your mind.
Alternatively, screw up your body with lack of exercise and bad food and you’ll be in a mental fog. Give up good sleep and you’ll not be ready to talk to recruiters, network contacts, or interviewers.
I’ve been there. I’ve neglected various aspects of my physical health and I know it has impacted my ability to think clearly, communicate well, etc. For some of you this might mean getting healthier diets… more greens, more salads, more good food. Make better intentional choices about what goes in your mouth.
If you aren’t ready to do kale smoothies, perhaps your “better” is to just have less fried potatoes, fried meat, and donuts.
I don’t know what your food habits are. I don’t know how you eat. Your “food and exercise” is something you need to be in charge of. But I invite you to evaluate what you are putting in, and what you are doing with your bodies, and step it up a few notches.
Doing a job search is one of the most mentally taxing things you might ever do, and you need to take care of yourself so you are up to the challenge. Otherwise, you’ll be riddled with anxiety in the job search when you could have fairly easy done things to keep it under control.
Find Your Comfort Zone
I knew I was supposed to do all the job search stuff (anything that led to an interview), but there came a point where I hid from those things because they were uncomfortable. It was easier for me to tweak my job search spreadsheet (please just use JibberJobber, instead of hiding behind a spreadsheet in your job search) than to do hard things like network and follow up.
A few weeks into my job search I came up with the idea for JibberJobber. I was able to switch from my uncomfortable zone (the job search) to my comfort zone (software product manager). I didn’t realize it at the time but that was really, really important for me.
I needed some wins. I needed a break from feeling like a failure, and feeling like I was spinning my wheels (two things that contribute to anxiety in the job search). I’m not saying go find comfortable and hide or stay there, but it’s okay to actually enjoy some of the things you’ll do in your job search. It doesn’t have to all be uncomfortable!
I give you permission to do comfortable things in your job search.
Furthermore, I give you permission to actually get to a point where you’ll enjoy networking (gasp!). Really… you actually could enjoy this. I’ve talked to plenty of job seekers who really enjoyed the networking aspect of their job search. Not the mindless, pointless, superficial networking, but really connecting/reconnecting with people.
This can become your new comfort zone.
Anxiety in the Job Search Doesn’t Have to Be Debilitating
You have enough to worry about… don’t let anxiety overtake your ability to perform and function. Harness the feelings, put in place the tactics you need, whether they are part of my seven ideas above, or your own ideas. Get to a point where you feel some control over something, which is better than feeling completely out of control.
The job search is almost always temporary. One day you’ll actually have a job you love, and your life will feel like it’s back in order. You’ll make it… just one day at a time.