Job Hunt

How to Fight Job-Search Despair

Longer job hunts and changing mores on the meaning of work can lead to depression while on the hunt.

The headlines can be draining: “It’s the Best Job Market in Years!” “Employees Get Their Pick in a Hot Labor Market!”

And while it’s true that the job market has been on a tear lately, none of that matters when you’re on the hunt for a gig. If anything, for job seekers who’ve sat through countless interviews and sent out their resumes to hundreds of companies, a robust outlook can send them into a dizzying spiral of uncertainty. Indeed, studies have shown that when job hunts extend to 10 to 12 weeks, hope can turn into doubt. Which is all the more problematic when you consider that the more senior the position, the longer the search takes; a vice-president or director role, for example, takes an average of 11 weeks to fill, according to recruiting site Jobvite.

One of the best ways to combat job-search depression—and find a job—is to get out and about.

It’s no wonder, then, that a Gallup poll found that those who deal with long-term unemployment are twice as likely to seek treatment for depression as those who are fully employed. So we asked career experts the best way to remain proactive and realistic in a prolonged search, all in the name of protecting your psyche.

Unwrap your identity from your job.

One of the biggest reasons situational depression can rear its head during a job search is that we put so much of ourselves into our work. Recent research looking at the biggest fears from a job loss found that it was often the personal identity that employees held most dear about their role—even more than financial security. Val Olson, a career coach at Korn Ferry Advance, has seen this crisis of identity most notably when working with physicians who have lost their licenses. “Who they thought they were isn’t available to them anymore,” she says. “They go through a grieving process.”

A key to untangling your identity from your work is to recognize that such feelings are perfectly normal, and that it takes time to grieve and adjust: Your schedule changes, how you introduce yourself changes, even how you view your professional future can change. Those who manage the process the best, says Kristen McAlister, president of Cerius Interim Executive Solutions in Southern California, tend to realize that the downs won’t last very long.

Stay social.

There’s a tendency during the job hunt to shy away from social activities, out of fear or embarrassment that a conversation about your search will arise, or that when asked what you do, you’ll fumble for an answer. But career experts say one of the best ways to combat job-search depression—and find a job—is to get out and about.

Olson encourages job candidates to use an 80-20 rule for job searching. You should talk to people about 80% of the time during the search (attend networking events, meet with a fellow job seeker, or take interviews), and spend only about 20% of your time online—mostly to research prospective companies. “The fact of the matter: most jobs are found through networking,” Olson says.

Pinpoint the problem.

Much of our job-search depression crops up when we can’t diagnose where we keep getting hung up. Is it the wording on my resume? My temperament in interviews? My approach to networking?

Stepping back and analyzing where you may need to change your process is incredibly difficult. After all, our tendency is to want to place blame on others—the hiring manager who caught you off guard with an obscure question or the company culture, which seemed so dysfunctional. But if you’re lost in the view that you’re the victim, it can lead you to a sense that you’re going to live this jobless life forever and don’t have control over your search. So if you can take that step back, you’ll realize you have more control than you think. “If your depression is being caused by something you can change, that’s pretty incredible,” Olson says. “Then you can turn it around pretty quickly.”

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