Staying Positive During a Job Search: A How-To Guide

Nobody really wants to look for a new job.

It’s usually something we have to do– like sitting through commercials on Hulu or accepting your coworkers friend request on Facebook– even if it means employment, more money or a work/life balance.

It falls into that uncomfortable Bermuda-triangle-like zone of financial stress, uncertainty and rejection. Add in some hurt pride if the job change wasn’t exactly your idea.

Unless you’re the type of adrenaline and risk junkie who finds joy in feelings that we’re probably evolutionarily predisposed to avoid, these aren’t emotions or experiences you’re particularly excited about having.

If you’re in the middle of a job search right now you know exactly what I mean.

But it happens. You want to leave a job or the job wants to leave you. If trends continue, job changes will be as common as watching the Olympics every few years. According to PwC, 25% of Millenials expect to have six or more employers over their lifetime.

So this job change thing? It’s likely to happen more often– which could be great news.

The more we do something, the less scary it is each time– and the better we are at preparing for it, moving through it and thriving. I’m a big believer that happiness is correlated with expectations, so if we expect to change jobs frequently and experience volatility, our happiness won’t take the beating it would otherwise.

But it’s easy to rationalize through it when job hunting is an abstract concept. A job search, whether you’re still employed or not, is stressful and it’s easy to feel defeated and pessimistic.

I’ve searched for work a number of times– sometimes with a job and sometimes without– and worked for four years in sales positions. It’s the time I spent in sales that helped me build a toolkit for staying positive and it can be directly applicable to a job hunt as well. Rejection, financial pressure and uncertainty live in both sales and job hunting– but the good news is there are solutions that work.

Here are a few ways you can stay positive– even during the toughest job search– that I’ve already vetted:

The 3 to 1 Rule


Credit: Brooke Cagle

When I moved to NYC without a job, I had a very short window of time to find work before I’d go broke and move back home to Ohio.

At this point in my career, I’d had an internship and an entry-level advertising job– but not much else. Entering into one of the most competitive job markets in the country brought about something I’d never experienced so much of all at once: rejection.

A few weeks into my job hunt, I made a rule for myself: for every rejection or piece of bad news I encountered, I’d do three things to counter it.

For example, if I got one of those boilerplate emails informing me I wasn’t a fit for the role, I’d spend the next hour applying for another job, follow up on another application and send a LinkedIn message to someone whose job sounded interesting.

The reason this works?

It keeps you moving forward and countering something negative with several positives and eventually this 3-to-1 rule will lead to good things. If adversity motivates you, this is a great strategy.

Like Frank Sinatra said: “The best revenge is massive success.”

This is your new job (or second job)

One trap that I see job seekers falling into is treating their job hunt as a vacation and not taking it seriously. Sleeping in until noon. Staying in pajamas. Falling out of shape. Working inconsistent hours. Netflix binging.

If you’re still employed, yes, you’ve had a long day but you still need to carve out consistent time if you want another offer.

It can’t work any other way.

You don’t need to wake up at 6:30am like you used to, but it’s really helpful to build a routine. Maybe you get up at 8, hit the gym for an hour and are online and applying for jobs by 9:30. You make lunch at noon. You block off 1 to 3pm specifically for following up on jobs. You block off 3 to 4pm to reach out to people on LinkedIn. You take a break for dinner and are back online for an hour around 7pm to check your email and save jobs you’ll apply to in the morning.

If you’re still employed, maybe you do start getting up at 6am and spend an hour applying for work. Hit a coffee shop on lunch break to send out more applications and use your evening to visit a meetup for other graphic designers where you might meet someone hiring. Cut out the Game of Thrones/Call of Duty/basketball watching until you’ve found the right job. If you’re willing to put in the work, it’s a litmus test for how serious you are about changing your future.

What some call “time chunking”, or breaking tasks into specific time periods and focusing solely on those tasks, can be effective. If you spend an hour solely focused on finding and saving jobs to apply to in the next hour, I guarantee you’ll be more effective than if you spent that hour answering emails, finding new job posts, checking Twitter and finding networking events. Your attention span is far better and you’re more productive.

It also makes you get out of bed, take a shower and know that your day has a very clear purpose even if there’s no need to be at the office.

Find what motivates you

Kelly Brito

Credit: Kelly Brito

This is a big one.

Without focusing on motivation and rewards, job hunting can feel a lot like punishment.

That’s why it’s important to figure out what motivates you, both on a micro and macro level. Perhaps it’s telling yourself that, if you get an interview lined up for next week, you’ll treat yourself to Chipotle on Friday afternoon. Maybe if you spend the morning cold emailing 15 hiring managers you’ll take a break at noon and go to the park for an hour.

There’s big picture motivation, the long term goals you’re working toward. Once you land this job you’ll book that Costa Rica trip you had planned before the layoff happened. Or once you’re in the position for six months you’ll buy your kids new bikes, just because. Perhaps you’ll donate your signing bonus to a homeless shelter.

Yes, if you’re looking for work your new full-time occupation is finding a job– but don’t forget about self care. Will you actually interview well if you’re burnt out and feel unrewarded? Will you be effective if it’s all stick and no carrot?

Keep these motivations in mind. Write it down and put it on a piece of paper in front of you. Put your goals on your phone background.

Make sure you have a combination of short-term achievable goals (sending out 15 emails/applications per day, attending 2 networking events per week, etc) and long-term goals (getting an interview, getting a second interview, getting an offer). If all your goals are long-term and distant you won’t feel like you’re making progress, even if you are.

When you win, whether it’s a great conversation at a job fair or a signed offer letter, celebrate and recognize how you reached that win.

Set Your Targets

One of the most difficult parts of job hunting is quantifying how well you’re doing– and if what you’re doing is effective. I often work with job seekers who say they spend hours each week on their job search, but don’t feel like anything is coming from it.

That can feel demoralizing quickly.

The trick is figuring out how much activity you’ll probably need in order to land a job, so I employ a strategy I used while working in sales.

An examples goes something like this:

If I send out 50 applications and 20 LinkedIn messages, I estimate I’ll receive 10 responses.

If I get 10 responses, I believe 4 of those will turn into interviews.

If I can turn 4 of those responses into interviews, I’ll be invited to a second interview with 2 companies.

If I can get two second interviews, one should lead to an offer.

Everyone’s numbers and techniques will be different and it might take time to figure out what your numbers are, but the advantages of this strategy are twofold:

  1. You can quantify how much you need to do to consider that day or week to be “successful”. If you’ve been job hunting for two months without an offer it can feel like failure– when in reality your small efforts are building up to a huge payoff; you may get three offers in the next week from work you put in two months ago. When you’ve hit your daily “quota”, consider that day a small win and take a short break to do something you enjoy.
  2. You can quantify what works and what doesn’t. Let’s say you spend an entire week sending applications through HR portals and you DM a few people through Twitter who have jobs at companies you’d like to join. Perhaps two out of fifty HR portal applications lead to an interview– but three out of four Twitter messages lead to an interview. By identifying which methods work through tracking results you’ll figure out the best ways for getting an interview and, eventually, an offer.

Like any good salesperson (because that’s exactly what you are while you’re job hunting), you’ll want to try different strategies. Spend one day sending out resumes with a short cover letter and another day sending out a more in-depth cover letter. Track the responses. Change the tone from formal to casual in your initial email. Track the results.

And if you’re looking for new ways to apply for work, I have a few tips here.

Don’t go it alone

startup stock photos.jpg

Credit: Startup Stock Photos

This one has always been tough for me. If I’m looking for work, I feel it’s up to me to stay consistent, apply for jobs, prepare for interviews and accept an offer.

That’s true. Nobody is going to find you a new job without your involvement.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t involve others in your job search. Support and encouragement can be massively helpful, whether that’s some constructive venting to a buddy or having a former manager work through a few interview role plays with you. This is where a career coach can be of help.

If your last job ended alongside a few other coworkers, set up a job hunting group. Get together at someone’s apartment, bring some snacks and get competitive with who can have the highest activity throughout the day. Encourage each other when there’s bad news– and good news. Work together to prepare for interviews. Bounce ideas off each other. Attend networking events with your crew.

Think Guardians of the Galaxy meets LinkedIn.

Make a list

There are plenty of well-documented reasons writing out goals and ideas is helpful.

One of my favorite positivity exercises is keeping a list of all the good things that happen throughout the day and reflecting back at the end of the day. If you get in the habit of focusing on the three negative things that happen during your day while job searching you’re unlikely to notice the six positive things that also happened.

Keep a notepad next to your laptop and write down the previously-mentioned goals and motivations every morning. And then jot down the good things that happen that get you closer to those goals– even if it’s as simple as “I got out of bed today and took a shower!”.

Eventually these lists will go from “I applied to 7 jobs today and got retweeted by an industry expert!” to “I negotiated an extra 4 vacation days into the contract at my fabulous new job!”

Focus on the positives. Learn from the negatives.

Beware of social media

Erik Lucatero

Credit: Erik Lucatero

“Don’t compare your behind the scenes with other people’s musicals.”

If I knew where I first encountered this saying I’d happily give the person who wrote it credit– but I can’t recall. It’s the perfect analogy for how we experience our own lives and view the lives of others on social media.

While you’re sitting there in your underwear considering applying to a job that pays less than your first job out of college, it’s easy to pull up Instagram or Facebook and start comparing.

Your old coworker just bought a new boat. Your ex-boyfriend is backpacking through Cambodia. Your friendly rival from college has two cute kids and makes a killer living writing a smoothie blog.

But that’s what they’re sharing. For better or worse (probably for worse), we’ve all become quite good at being our own highly self-aware PR agencies, posting only curated content that gives us the most Pinterest-looking lives possible. What you’re not seeing on Facebook or Instagram from these same people are their struggles– and they surely have them.

Your buddy with the boat? Maybe he bought the boat with an inheritance from a close family member who passed away and he’d much rather have them back than the boat. Your ex-boyfriend? Maybe he’s having a really tough time with homesickness. Your friendly rival? Maybe their kids were up with the stomach flu last night.

This is the behind-the-scenes stuff nobody shares.

So while you’re sitting on your couch either unemployed, underemployed or unhappily employed, realize that these people have bad days and struggles exactly like you do; a quick audit of your own social media feed of fabulous times with less than fun back stories prove my point. We all do it.

Help others

For a variety of reasons, helping others is hugely beneficial for our mental health and well-being.

During a job search it can feel most important to put the oxygen mask on yourself before helping others. It’s wise to spend time on your search and make sure you’re not diluting your time with distractions, but if you’re feeling down helping others may be the solution.

There are plenty of volunteer opportunities, whether it means delivering meals to seniors through Meals on Wheels or mentoring a more junior person in your field. Stopping by to chat with a sick neighbor and offering to do their grocery shopping could make a world of difference– for both of you.

Try putting an offer out on social media asking people how you might be able to help them. See what happens. I’m confident nobody has ever helped another person without feeling more positive.

Here’s the good news

A job search isn’t an end, a failure or a death sentence. It’s a change of plans, a fresh start and an opportunity to take control of your life.

It’s quite rare when we can step back, look at the future and have such a direct ability of shaping what comes next. We live in a time of direct access to people all over the world, tools and opportunities that make traditional employment unnecessary and you don’t need to be a well-connected Ivy League grad to find a job.

With the right tools, strategies and attitude it’s very possible you’ll look back at this transition as one of the defining (and best) forks in the road life presented to you.


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