September 11, 2012
The perils of job-search burnout
This may be a heretical thing for a career counselor to say, but I seem to be one of the few professionals in my field who actually doesn't believe that "looking for a job is a full-time job."
Obviously, this cliche is well-intended. It's used by most career practitioners to motivate people to take the process seriously, get off their butts and work hard at finding their next opportunity. After all, it seems there are still many unemployed people out there who treat job hunting as a bit of an afterthought. One Department of Labor study in 2010 revealed that the average unemployed American spends a mere 18 minutes a day looking for work. And a more recent study, conducted by two university professors, suggests that the real number is more along the lines of 40 minutes per day.
If these statistics can be believed, there's no question that many job seekers out there need to step it up a notch. But that's a dead horse, and I'm not going to beat it any further.
Instead, I want to talk about the opposite end of the spectrum. What about those diligent souls who are channeling 40, 50 or 60 hours per week into their re-employment quest? I know several out-of-work professionals who have been hunting at this pace for many months running, and my hat is off to them for their work ethic and persistence.
These are people who truly treat this process as "their next job" until they land a new assignment. In fact, they pride themselves on it. One unemployed manager I know was recently bragging to his former boss (who had also been downsized) that he was diligently putting 40 hours per week into his job-search regimen. His former supervisor's response: "That's all?"
But here's the deal. Is there a point at which you can do too much job hunting? Is there a level at which a dogged job-search regimen becomes counterproductive -- and burnout starts to set in?
For most people, I believe there is. I encourage every active job seeker to watch for signs of "hitting the wall" and becoming a bitter, frustrated, burnt-out job-search zombie. If you're spending your days endlessly worrying about landing your next job -- morning, noon and night -- you're not doing yourself, or anybody else around you, any favors. Not only will you alienate a few of your close friends and allies with this all-consuming mindset, but working a double-shift job-search regimen is probably not terribly good for your physical or mental health, as well.
Some things you can do to combat this issue? For starters, despite the fact that money is important, and most of us need to make a living, remind yourself that your life as a whole doesn't need to come to a complete stop just because you're between paychecks. Invest some of your available hours tending to other important activities, too.
Build some stress management and professional development outlets into your routine. Get more involved in your community, your church or your hobbies. Go for a hike each day. Catch up with old friends. Read more. And give yourself permission to do all of these things, because they're important.
As a former colleague of mine used to say: "Very few people are truly unemployable, and once you realize you're 99 percent likely to work again in the not-so-distant future, what are you going to regret not using this extra time you have to accomplish?"
Another key to time management in a job search is to stop measuring the number of actual hours spent in the process and to start measuring productivity instead. Hands down, the most critical metric in a job hunt is the number of actual people you contact each day in search of opportunities. So if you're wasting a lot of time on aimless web surfing, constantly tweaking your resume or other unproductive administrivia, cut down and focus on output. Set a goal for how many attempted conversations you're going to pursue each day, whether this involves responding to want ads or reaching out to your network in search of unpublished openings. And once you've hit that goal each day, pat yourself on the back and go do something fun or relaxing.
Age-old cliches and historical career dogma aside, I'd rather see people spending two hours each day doing the right things than eight hours of the wrong things. So try to find the balance that works best for you and keeps you the most focused, productive and energized.
The diehard 40-hour-per-week job hunting approach isn't the right recipe for everybody...
Karen Burns is the author of The Amazing Adventures of Working Girl, a career guide based on her 59 jobs over 40 years in 22 cities.
Lisa Quast is a certified career coach, mentor, business consultant, former corporate executive and author based in the Seattle area.
Randy Woods writes about job-search tools, networking techniques and other tips to help you land your dream job.
Matt Youngquist is the president of Career Horizons, a career counseling firm.
Natalie Singer is a Seattle writer, editor and small-business owner.
Michelle Goodman is the author of "My So-Called Freelance Life" and "The Anti 9-to-5 Guide."
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