This is my third time looking for a job in four years. Each time it gets a little easier, but it’s never easy. My first hunt was punctuated with fits of rage. It was kind of awful, but I did get a good job in the end. The second time was fairly painless, but it was quick and stressful, and I think I got lucky.
I promised myself that this time would be different, and it has been. This time around, I figured out the critical job-hunting element that no one ever tells you: cultivate happiness. Seriously, during my first job hunt, I not only thought it would be criminal to be happy (“I’m unemployed, I don’t deserve to be happy!”), but it would have been a herculean effort given how down I was.
[Note: Now, we are in a recession. Some unemployed people are in dire straits, where a job is standing in the way of putting food on the table. This post is not really intended for these folks—they’ve got to get a job, and get it fast, regardless of circumstances. This post is for unemployed folks who have enough money for the time being, but are still going through a hard time, in a non-financial way.]
Advice abounds for better cover letters and resumes, smarter networking, snappier interviews. But what most job seekers need more than anything is just plain old happiness.
When you put yourself out there over and over with no results, it’s hard not to get a little depressed. And while the goal is to get a job, that’s not entirely under your control. But being happy is under your control. When you’re looking for a job, the last thing you need is sadness standing in your way. Employers want to hire enthusiastic, upbeat people, and it’s hard for that to shine through when job hunting is sucking the life out of you.
How to make your job search a happy one
1.) Be confident. No responses to applications? Got an interview, but it didn’t turn into an offer? Disappointment leads the best of us to question our worth. Every day, you have to fight back by reminding yourself why you’re terrific. There are lots of ways to do this, but the one I recommend is an exercise I read about in The Magic of Thinking Big, by David Schwartz (a great “feel-good” read with lots of ideas for fostering a happy life). It’s called the “Sell Yourself to Yourself Commercial”. You write down your best and unique qualities; all the reasons you are a wonderful person. If you have a hard time thinking of any, survey your friends and family. When you’re done, read it every morning, without exception. Read it every time you get let down or feel your confidence wavering. It never fails to put a smile back on my face, replacing what might otherwise have been a downward spiral into self pity and doubt.
2.) Eat Well, Sleep Well, Exercise. It goes without saying that eating healthy, a full night’s sleep and exercising regularly are critical for happiness. You’ll think clearer and work smarter. If you don’t do well in any of these departments, unemployment is a great time to make positive life changes. Form habits that will not only help you stay happy through a trying time, but that will also be a boon to your future employer. Who wouldn’t want to hire someone who is alert, energetic, and feeling good? Good sleep, food, and exercise is the best continuing ed you can’t put on your resume. Take it from me—I may not have a job yet, but I am literally in the best shape of my life. When I do land my next job, I will no doubt hit the ground charging forward.
3.) Interaction. If you sit home and work on cover letters for 40 hours a week, you will start to hate your life. Not what you need when the journey requires undying pep and motivation. Change the scenery—go to a café or library. Plan a few social interactions every week—lunch with a friend or a yoga class. Sameness and solace breed boredom and bitterness. This is not the time to be self-deprecating; “Oh, I don’t have a job, I don’t deserve to have a social lunch.” Wrong. You owe it to your job hunt to socialize.
4.) Reward. This relates to the above. Don’t wait to get a job offer to reward yourself. If you hit a target (write 10 cover letters, do an informational, or get an interview), give yourself some positive reinforcement—a cup of coffee at your favorite café, a new pair of sneakers (for all that exercise you’re now doing!), or a short massage to get the endorphins flowing. Treating yourself will make you happy, which will help you keep pushing forward.
5.) Routine. After a month or two, although I was pleased with the progress I had made on my job hunt, I was unhappy and couldn’t put my finger on the source. I finally pinpointed that I need routine to be happy. If you’re used to the routine of the workplace and suddenly don’t have it, it can make you feel even worse than your unemployed status already makes you feel. By establishing a routine, you’ll feel more like you’re at work. Or, for some people, suddenly not having a routine may be causing you to flounder and use your time ineffectively. Either way, getting some ritual into your life will increase your happiness.
6.) Projects. Are you used to being super productive and now your only output as an unemployed person feels like cover letters and a lot of steam? Do you feel like you’re constantly spinning your wheels but have nothing to show for it? Create a project for yourself—something fun that you enjoy doing. It’ll make you happy not only to do something you do enjoy (because let’s face it, no one enjoys writing cover letters), but also because it will give you a concrete result which will boost your confidence. Cook a fancy dinner, plant a vegetable garden, design a website, knit a sweater, refurbish the roadster in your garage—anything tangible you can be proud of.
7.) Kill worry, stress, fear. In addition to actively cultivating a happiness paradise, you need to actively monitor for the weeds that will strangle it—worry, stress, fear, and other nasties. Yes, I know, they are the very natural response to being unemployed (boy, do I know it!), but they just aren’t going to help you get employed. They will only stand in your way. If you’re looking for concrete ways to combat the negative, again, I highly recommend reading The Magic of Thinking Big.
The number of ways to breed happiness is innumerable; these are just suggestions I think are particularly helpful for the unemployed. The important part is to make happiness a habit, not only to get you through a trying time, but also for the sake of your future job. If happiness is on your mind, you’re less likely to focus on a job that will simply release you from the bonds of unemployment, and more likely to focus on taking a job that will help perpetuate your habit of happiness.