How to Survive a Long-Term Job Search

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At the end of 2019 I relocated across the country without a job in search of an exciting new life adventure. Some called it naiveté; I called it brave. #yolo

Once I settled in, my fun adventure quickly turned into hardship - finding a job in my new city proved to be a lot harder than I was expecting, and before I knew it, my “short-term job hunt” turned into my new way of life.

I’ve now been looking for my next role for over half a year, and I have learned a lot about how to “deal.”

I can’t help you find a job (I can’t even find one for myself!), but I can offer my own advice on staying alive and human while enduring the dehumanizing process of looking for work:

Exercise, physically and mentally

Substitute “working” with “working out.” You’ve heard this before, but exercise gives you a rush of endorphins. These endorphins are your friends, and they will keep you feeling fresh, calm, and optimistic during this stressful time.

Mental exercise is just as important as physical exercise. Practice self-love. Learn to control negative-thinking. Identify new strengths. Reread past performance reviews to remember how *awesome* you are. Let go of the expectations you think others have for you. Read more books and articles. Learn something new every day.

Remember that life is long

Your life will not be defined by this period of unemployment.

Don’t look at jobs all day

Jobs that are a good fit for you are not posted every minute of the day. A job posted at 3:56pm on Tuesday will be there waiting for you at 8am Wednesday morning.

Don’t spend all day scrolling through job boards looking for something new. The feed on LinkedIn can also be particularly triggering for someone who is experiencing unemployment, so close your computer if it starts making you feel negative or hopeless.

Choose a specific window of time during the day to tailor your résumé(s), to look for and apply to new jobs, to network on LinkedIn, and then use the rest of your day to do something else (see below).

Get a new hobby

For real - get a hobby!

After three months of unemployment and realizing things weren’t going my way, I invested in a new hobby and bought a digital keyboard on Amazon. I used an iPad app to learn and can now read sheet music and play “Shallow” by Lady Gaga (lol). I always wanted to play piano…and now I can!

I also started writing - this is only my third article on Medium, so be nice!

The frustrations faced and lessons learned while developing a new skill have also been useful in coping with the highs and lows of my job search.

I love my new hobbies. Maybe you will love yours too.

Find a part-time job/side gig

I’ve had two part-time gigs since leaving my last full-time role.

Last winter I began working at small juice/health food store. I opened/closed the shop, ordered needs for the day, prepared food, interacted with customers, and kept the shop looking clean. I helped the owner of the store setup DoorDash delivery and paid advertising on Yelp, and I showed her the benefits (and costs) being more active on Instagram. The business had to close when the pandemic’s stay-at-home orders went into place.

I quickly pivoted and found a job at a national retailer, where I’ve been working since. I began with stocking shelves, and now I’m more of a leader within the grocery department (hello, essential worker!). I’ve learned a lot about the world of retail and all the hard work and “business” that goes on behind the scenes. I’ve also learned that people who are rude to retail workers are the true scum of the Earth.

These part-time jobs have:

  • Given me financial security
  • Filled my days with purpose
  • Allowed me to explore other life/career paths (I think I had forgotten that not everyone sits at a computer all day)
  • Taught me new skills to utilize in my next job

If you can’t find or don’t want a part-time job, consider finding a cause or a movement to dedicate some of your time to.

Either way, make sure your new schedule still gives you time to continue your job search.

Choose a resilience anthem for the tough times

Mine is “Sometimes” by H.E.R.

Find a personal mantra

Several months into my job search I came up with my own personal mantra to help me stay positive - “A door will open.”

By framing it this way in my head, I relieved myself of some of the pressure I was feeling. Instead of making it all about me finding the right door and pushing my way through it, I began to focus on the right opportunity opening up and inviting me in (because I’m so great and any company would be lucky to have me).

Be aware of signs of depression and/or suicidal thoughts

Being out of work can severely impact your mental health.

It may not surprise you that multiple studies have shown that those who are unemployed are more likely to end up being treated for depression, likely due to:

  • Decreased standard of living
  • Decreased security of income
  • Stigma
  • Loss of self-esteem
  • Loss of social contacts (from work)

Even scarier, many studies have also shown that unemployed people are more likely to commit suicide (some studies show 2–3x more likely than someone who is employed).

Be aware of the symptoms of depression, and check-in with yourself often.

This scale can help distinguish a passive suicidal thought from an actual emergency.

The effects of unemployment on mental health are serious and can impact even those who have never struggled with their mental health before. Keep communication open with those around you, and most importantly, find help if you need it.

Give yourself a break

This last one could mean one of two things.

You could give yourself an actual break by taking some time off. Relax…then come back to this whole “job search thing” when you’re feeling rested and more purposeful. Admittedly, this is something I have not done.

If you can’t give yourself an actual break, then just remember throughout this process to give yourself a damn break! Be kind to yourself. You are doing your best, and that’s all any of us can do.

(Disclaimer: As stated above, my lack of employment was voluntary. Fortunately, I am not one of the millions of Americans who are struggling with involuntary job loss due to the impact of COVID-19. That being said, my advice above still stands.)

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