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How to Reduce the Stress of Your Job Search

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In an ideal world, I’d have a personal assistant in charge of giving me a warning every time I reached peak stress while job searching. But since I don’t, I’ve had to learn how to focus and work efficiently without compromising my well-being.

Why does job searching cause us so much stress? We invest a great amount of time and emotion in crafting an application that speaks to who we are, what we value, and what we can add to an organization, and that can feel like a job in and of itself. On top of that, the process of taking on a search can upset the delicate balance we’ve created in both our professional and personal lives, forcing us to reprioritize our time so that we can look for a new role.

While there is such a thing as “good stress,” sometimes we can reach a certain level of anxiety that is unhealthy and hurts our emotional or physical well-being. And while we all handle stress differently, there are some practices across the board that we can use to take a step back, stay focused, and reach our goals.

Spend time away from the job search

Even though more of your free time may be filled when job searching, don’t cut back on the time you spend doing what makes you happy, whether it is hanging out with friends, traveling, or taking your favorite yoga class. Not only do these activities give you an outlet for managing stress more effectively, but they can help you think more creatively and collaboratively about the work you do in the office.

Since I’ve started working in the nonprofit sector, I’ve been proactive about finding activities that fit my schedule, budget, and my interests. I’ve taken fitness and language classes, volunteered as a Spanish translator, and taken on freelance work as a writing coach. Trying so many different things was challenging, but they also taught me about the things I value and how I want to spend my time.

Given my current professional and personal commitments, working out is something I’ve come to love, so I started taking barre classes in my neighborhood. The hardest part has been integrating the classes into my schedule, but it already feels like a regular part of my week and something I look forward to doing.

How do you really want to spend your time outside of work? Your answer could be as simple as reading a book or finally getting around to volunteering for an organization or cause you really care about. Whatever it is, these activities should help you recharge your batteries so that when you do get back to your job search, you feel prepared.

Think strategically about where you want to work

Working in public service means that there is a wealth of opportunities available to you, regardless of the position or title you hold. But as many of us know, these roles may come in the form of a tough workload that can feel unmanageable or impossible to complete. Don’t let this fear push you away from your dream job! To make sure you find a position or organization that is a better fit, you need to be strategic about what you want to do and where you want to do it.

Too often, I’ve heard nonprofit staff say that they are moving on because they are frustrated and want to be in a place where they can grow and learn, but they don’t know how they want to grow or what they want to learn! If you can articulate this clearly, chances are your applications and interviews will be much more successful.

One easy tool I used was the Career Tracks Exercise—all you have to do is copy and paste any and all of the job descriptions that give you butterflies into a word document. Once you have a lengthy list of positions, you can sit down to identify the commonalities and trends between the different types of opportunities that attract you. You might be surprised at what comes up, or perhaps this exercise will reaffirm exactly what you have been working toward!

Using this tool really solidified my interest in working in the public sector, but also highlighted that I was most interested in positions where I could work directly with people while supporting their personal growth and learning. At the same time, it became clear that I wasn’t quite sure what type of organization I wanted to be a part of, so I had to continue doing informational interviews to learn more about the different opportunities and roles that were out there.

Limit the time you dedicate to job searching

Whenever I’m looking for a new role, I find it valuable to set aside a limited amount of time each day to research opportunities and apply to them—doing so has helped me stay focused on the tasks that are unrelated to my job search, as well as made me more focused whenever it was time to sit down and start looking. 

If you’re experiencing anxiety about finding a new job, try limiting your search to the first two hours of the morning. During this time, search for new roles, draft your application materials, and research networking events. Once those two hours are up, go about your day!

Staring at your computer for hours on end isn’t going to help you find a job any faster, particularly if you’re applying to positions that aren’t a good fit. Even when I was looking for my first job in the sector for six months, I realized that I was more prepared to find roles that interested me after I’d spent time with friends and pursued activities that brought me joy.

Your job search doesn’t have to be so stressful. If you can take a step back and dedicate time to your health, it will go a long way to helping you to make your next career move.


About the Author | Pamela Dicent is the Director, Learning & People Experience at Merit America, where she leads organization wide talent development and management initiatives that drive high engagement and create a high-performing, people-centered culture. When she’s not at work, you can find her planning her next getaway or working on her Italian skills.

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