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Job Seeker Burnout: What It Is and Six Ways to Cope

A woman crouched over a laptop resting her forehead on her fists.

Burnout is, unfortunately, a big issue in the world of nonprofit work. Between long hours, financial pressure, and the psychic weight of the work a lot of us do, feeling overextended and exhausted in our jobs is a common problem.

But there’s another kind of burnout that people in every field stand to encounter. We might even think of it as the opposite kind because it happens when we’re not at work. In fact, it happens when we’re not even employed! It’s job seeker burnout.

Feeling overwhelmed, unmotivated, stuck, stressed, and over it when you’re looking for work can be just as trying as when you’re at work, especially if you’ve been at it for a long time. But help is on the way! Try out these six ideas for keeping burnout at bay as you navigate your job hunt.

  • Consider casting a narrower net. If you’re all over the map with your job search—applying to scores of organizations every week, sending LinkedIn connection requests to everyone you’ve ever met, trying to attend every professional Meetup in your city—it might pay to take a more focused approach. Make sure you have clear goals about the job you want, and target your search efforts accordingly. If you’re really gunning to be a program manager, for example, don’t spend your precious energy trying to land that operations manager gig.
  • Pull yourself together. At the same time as you’re focusing your outward efforts, make sure to keep your job hunting house tidy internally, too. Use a spreadsheet to keep track of jobs you’re interested in and those you’ve applied to (copy down full descriptions as well as titles), interviews you’ve been on, thank-you letters you’ve written, etc. Staying organized is a huge weapon in your not-getting-overwhelmed arsenal. It can also be helpful to keep a list of ideas—a place you can store the advice, daydreams, and what-ifs that are likely springing up in your mind as your fingers toil at the laptop each day. Maybe it’s thoughts like, “Go back to school?” or “Email Matt from sophomore year” or “Look into contract work.” You never know when you’ll revisit one later and find an epiphany!
  • Volunteer. It might seem counter-intuitive, but for a lot of job seekers, volunteering can be a great way to spend some time. For starters, it’ll get you out of the house (something it can be surprisingly hard to do with no office to go to, especially if you’re feeling blue)! And volunteering for a cause you’re genuinely interested in can also help keep your mind active as you learn and exercise new skills, introduce you to new people (also called networking), and make you feel like you still have something to contribute, even if you’re not getting paid for it at that moment.
  • Connect with others. You don’t have to search alone. Consider reaching out to fellow job seekers to share ideas and stories on how to maintain your cool while looking for work. In addition to providing you with an outlet for your frustrations, you can meet new people and offer support.
  • Keep perspective. No matter how dire your search situation might be, bear in mind that it is temporary. There’s always the possibility that things will get worse before they get better (sadly!), but they will change—that you can always count on. It might take longer than you predicted or be more difficult than you’d like, but by chipping away at your search with a good strategy and positive attitude, you’ll land something sooner or later.

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by April Greene

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