Career Path

How to Keep Up Self-Esteem While Job Hunting

The drawn-out interview process can wear down confidence. Don’t take it personally.

When Marjorie was laid off a year ago as a general manager at a media company, she knew it would take a while to find a new job with a similar salary and level of responsibility. What she didn’t bargain for was the two- to six-month process for each position.

First there was a phone conversation. Then a personality assessment. Next came the all-day interviews with anywhere from five to 10 people. Then a presentation she had to prepare for the hiring committee. Each process lasted months, only to end in her not getting the job. “It was really painful and a huge blow to my self-esteem,” Marjorie says.

The lengthy interview process might seem counterintuitive at a time when low unemployment rates and a race for talent keep making headlines. But despite stellar labor market stats, companies are taking their sweet time to hire. Research shows the average interview process has nearly doubled recently to more than 20 days, and for executives, it’s nearly 10 times longer.  “We’re hearing a lot of feedback from people talking about going through a three- to four-month interview process and then not getting the job,” says Kristen McAlister, president of Cerius Interim Executive Solutions in Southern California.

The average interview process has nearly doubled recently to more than 20 days.

With a shortage of talent, companies don’t have the luxury of considering a lot of resumes. “You’re not getting 10. You’re getting three, none of which are perfect,” McAlister says. As a result, they’re adding steps to get more information about the candidates at hand. For companies that are geographically dispersed, coordinating schedules around interviewers who may need to fly in can make the process even longer. And in a matrixed organization, where a candidate might report to multiple bosses, more people want to have their stamp on the decision—which ultimately means more interviews.

For the job hunter, this all boils down to an emotionally draining experience. It’s hard not to invest a large part of yourself in the possibility of getting a position that you’ve spent four months interviewing for, and not to be crushed if it doesn’t work out. Here’s how to keep your spirits up.

Do something else.

If you’re going through the wringer in your job search, getting involved in another activity can help you feel productive. “You know you’re getting something done and, at the same time, you’re getting positive feedback,” say Jason Levin, a career and outplacement coach with Ready Set Launch. Debbie, a website director and TV executive who has been looking for a job since March, has thrown herself into multiple consulting gigs. She’s running social media for a sci-fi site and working on developing a TV series with a friend. “I’m constantly doing things that are useful,” she says. “There’s no day I wake up where I have nothing to do.”

Simply learning something new can also boost your spirits. “Anytime you’re lighting that intellectual pilot light, you get a little more confidence and that helps you get back into the search,” says Kathy Robinson, who heads TurningPoint, a career coaching firm.

Look for role models.

The more you stay in touch with people, the likelier it is you’ll see you aren’t alone. During her hunt, Marjorie spoke with many executives who had experienced similar ordeals and eventually wound up with something great. “I kept seeing really impressive professionals who ended up back on their feet and in even better roles,” she says. “That was encouraging.”

Don’t stop the search.

It may be tempting to stop asking about opportunities as you get further down the line with one company or another. Robinson sees many people who stop putting out feelers for other opportunities after the third or fourth interview with a company—only to then be turned down and have to start the process from scratch. “You set yourself up for further disappointment if you stop looking,” she says.

Don’t assume it’s about you.

Sometimes you don’t get a job because you just weren’t right for the role. Other times, companies simply don’t know what they want—and may be using candidates like you to figure that out. One of the companies that didn’t hire Marjorie ended up putting its search on hold and then changed the job description after turning her down. She also discovered there was quite a lot of disagreement among executives about the role they needed to fill. “That helped me realize I couldn’t take the rejection personally,” she says.