What To Do When Your Spirit Is Crushed In A Job Search (& What NOT To Do)

When a movie wraps up neatly with a happy ending, I often wonder what would happen if the story evolved for an additional 20 minutes. Likely we’d witness unforeseen hardships impacting the destined soulmates, career setbacks for the underdog who beat the corporate bad guys, and discoveries that paint our hero in a less than perfect light.

Not that I’m a pessimist, but even Ferris Bueller must have had some off days. Life is complicated, messy, unfair and imperfect. Most stories in life aren’t tied up with a bow despite what Hollywood would have us believe. And this is a good thing, because it’s adversity, hurdles and mistakes that help us to grow, remain compassionate, and develop adaptability, coping strategies and creative solutions.

So, if you’ve been inspired to dive head first into your dreams, only to get the wind knocked out of your sails soon after, here’s what you need to know:

  • Failure is a key stepping stone. In any worthwhile endeavor, there will be risks and complexity. Not everything will work out as planned, so recognizing and mentally preparing for the inevitable hurdles will stave off feeling unnecessarily demoralized when it occurs. In a job search, the average application to interview ratio is about 20%, so preparing for 8 of your 10 applications to get rejected is realistic based on standard job seeker data. For any advertised job, about 250 applications are received, 4 -6 applicants secure an interview and one is hired. Bottom line: Don’t get discouraged if your results are in-line (or maybe even higher) than what is statistically expected.
  • Easy never leads to great. While applying online is the most popular job search strategy, it’s not the most effective. Yes, it’s simple and feels productive, but the odds are against you since the competition is so high and Applicant Tracking Systems are so fickle. In fact, ATS weed out up to 75% of applicants before they even reach a recruiter, sometimes based on irrelevant things like formatting. Engaging your network takes more effort, vulnerability and courage, but also opens the door to more opportunities and increases your chances even when you do apply online (53% of candidates referred by a current employee landed the job, 91% when the person referring was at a Director-level or above). Bottom line: If your strategy isn’t working, change it.
  • You may be getting what you want. Self-sabotage is real, and in a roundabout way, it’s your brain’s effort to protect you from harm. No one enjoys the feelings that come from being rejected or putting ourselves in a position of vulnerability, so our self-defense becomes avoidance and rationalization (thanks, brain!). The messages we tell ourselves – I’m not qualified to apply, I’ll look silly for reaching out, I don’t need help – block our pathway to success. They prevent us from taking action that could lead to a fantastic opportunity because we’re afraid of the alternative. However, without the risk, there is no chance for a reward. Bottom line: If there’s a lion in your path, listen to your brain and run. Otherwise, push back and check assumptions.
  • Maybe you’d benefit from input. If you’re a high-achiever, you likely also have no problem forging ahead independently to solve problems. Although this may work for you in many situations, a job search will always benefit from collaboration. It’s impossible to learn about every opportunity, but you’ll significantly increase your options when you engage your network. Since up to 70% of jobs are never made public, in some cases the only way to learn about an opening is through people who are connected to the role in some way. Also, your circle can be a helpful place to get feedback, practice interviewing and explore ideas. Bottom line: Every working professional will likely engage in multiple job searches throughout their careers, so why not make it a normal discussion topic?

Not seeing the results you’ve envisioned can deplete your energy and lead to desperation. It’s tough to make wise decisions while in this state of mind, so before proceeding with a move that will derail your efforts, here’s what NOT to do:

  • Believe the charlatans. Engaging a career coach can speed up your progress, especially if it’s been a while since you’ve conducted a job search or are making a major switch. However, be careful of those with astronomic prices and even higher promises. There are no guarantees in a job search, but scammers feed off the demoralization that often accompanies the process. If you’re considering a job search, trust your gut and use this checklist. Bottom line: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Make unemployment your brand. Your worth is not tied to a paycheck. Your abilities, experiences, and skills remain whether or not you’re employed, so avoid introducing yourself as “between jobs” or “unemployed” and rather introduce yourself with the value you add to the market. When you make your brand the solution to an employer’s biggest problems, you appear confident and others see your value clearly. Work history gaps and job searches are a normal part of being a working professional, which means there’s no reason to ever define yourself in these terms. Bottom line: Get used to introducing yourself as the value you bring versus a label.
  • Nothing. It’s no secret a job search is frustrating, especially in a particularly tough economy, and this can be enough for any person to want to throw in the towel. If you’re at this point (and I’ve been there), make a commitment to yourself to do one new thing every day. It can be anything and doesn’t even need to be job-related. Take a walk on a new path. Sit at a different seat at the dinner table. Check out a new social media App. Brush your teeth with your opposite hand. Buy an unusual spice at the market to try. It really doesn’t matter what it is, as long as you do something new each day. This will stimulate the creative juices in your brain, help you see the world in novel ways, and lead to uncovering discoveries. Sometimes that’s all you need to generate a helpful idea and keep moving forward. Bottom line: Clarity comes through action, and action kills anxiety.

I love John Lennon’s optimism that, “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” However, even if it IS a happy ending, the story is likely to go on, to get messy again and to provide new lessons. That’s why it’s important to also enjoy the journey!

Happy hunting.

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