How to Make Your Job Search Less Stressful

by Staff - Original publish date: February 6, 2013

Minimize Your Stress

Searching for a job is stressful. If the loss of a job continues into an extended time of unemployment, not only does it take a toll on your bank account, but also your self-esteem, confidence, and relationships.

Like most people, over my lifetime I’ve experienced job loss for myself, close family members, friends, and colleagues. Based on my experience, I usually offer two pieces of advice, as well as a simple sentence to say at the end of an interview that can take away some of the stress of job searching.

Don't Get Too Low

Conducting a job search is like riding a rollercoaster, but without being able to even see when the peaks and valleys are approaching. 

Some weeks are awful. You send out a dozen resumes and don’t get a single response. You make it to the final round of an interview, only to have the company give the job to someone else. You’re watching every dollar, and then find out your car needs costly repairs. The world is out to get you.

But Don't Get Your Hopes Up

Other weeks are full of optimism. You apply to your dream job and get a response that they want to bring you in for an interview. You go to a networking event and connect with three different people that have job openings at their company that match your skills. You rocked your first interview with Human Resources and they want you to come back the following week to meet the rest of the staff. Everything is coming up roses.

It’s certainly easier said than done, but avoid the tendency to get caught up in every high and low. Your hard work pays off with an interview at a great company? Resist posting it on Facebook and telling every family member about the progress of your search right away. Although it feels good to talk about a small win, keep things in perspective, to avoid feeling even worse if it doesn’t work out.

Likewise, try and temper the doom and gloom when things aren’t going your way.

Time is a Drag...

How long does it take? Statistically speaking, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average time it took an unemployed worker to find a job in 2012 was 39 weeks -- nearly 10 months. That’s up 137% from the 16-week average a decade ago in 2002.

Not only does the overall time spent to find the right job take forever, but even once you’re on the track to get hired, the actual process from the moment you have your first interview until your first day of work can drag on for weeks.

Don't Settle for the Status Quo

Let’s say you finally have your first interview on Monday, April 1 at 2pm. You meet with HR and they like you, so you’re also passed along to two additional managers. The interview goes great. It seems like a perfect fit, you have excellent rapport with everyone, and by 4pm HR is showing you out the door.

The primary thing you should do is to finish strong. Emphasize your enthusiasm about the position, bring up a topic that came up during your meetings, and conclude by commenting how one of your top skills is a perfect match for the open position.

The final thing most people ask while waiting for the elevator is the following question: “What are the next steps in the process and when can I expect to hear back?”

Finish Strong

A typical response from HR would be “We’re really trying to fast track this, so you’ll definitely hear back from us in the next few days.” You’re thrilled with that response, shake hands excitedly, and head home.

However, I strongly recommend a follow-up question, one that will save you some stress:

The simple sentence you need to say at the end of your next interview: “That sounds great. If I don’t hear back from you by Friday afternoon, would it be ok if I followed up with you?”

The inevitable the answer is “Oh sure, no problem at all! But you should really hear from us well before then.”

The Stress Timeline

Here’s the stressful timeline that happens if you don’t ask that question.

Monday: You go home filled with excitement over the interview.
Tuesday: You talk to some friends and tell them how well the interview went, saying there’s an outside chance you might hear something today.
Wednesday: You start checking your email and phone more often. What did they mean “a few days?” Does that mean two or three?
Thursday: OK, today is the day. Your significant other calls you in the afternoon to see if you’ve heard anything back yet. You haven’t. You start to get stressed and fear the worst. Maybe they found a better candidate. You don’t sleep well.
Friday: Still no word as the hours tick by. You think about calling or emailing HR to find out the status. So you ask your friends. “What do you think? Should I call them? Is that annoying?” Their general response is “They said they’d get back to you, so you better not bother them.” You start to stew a bit. “I can’t believe they haven’t gotten back to me yet. You know, I’m not sure if that’s such a great place to work anyway.” Your optimism starts to border on anger, and as you look up, it’s past 5pm and you’ve heard nothing.
Saturday and Sunday: Over the weekend it really starts to bother you. As you meet up with friends, they’re all excited to hear what happened with the big interview from Monday, but all you can say is that you thought it went well, but now you really have no idea.
Monday: You make it until 3pm without a response before finally breaking. You grab the phone or bring up your email, and in a worst-case scenario, fire off a response that has an undertone that you are annoyed that they said they would get back to you, but didn’t.

What Really Happened...

Meanwhile, in reality, here is what happened on the HR side of things:

After your interview Monday, they spent the rest of the day catching up on email. They met with another candidate on Tuesday, and their candidate for Wednesday asked if they could reschedule for Thursday. HR calls for a meeting on Friday to discuss everyone’s feedback, but forgets that one of the managers is taking a 3-day weekend, so they plan to meet after lunch Monday. Their afternoon meeting goes well, she returns to her desk to put out some fires, and plans on contacting all the candidates Tuesday morning.

So, did HR lie when they said they expected to get back to you in a few days? No. It’s just that things take time. Issues arise. Everything takes longer than you think.

Save Your Sanity

But here’s what would have happened if you did ask that question.

For the next few days you’re certainly hoping for a response, but you’re not anxious when you don’t get one. When Friday comes, you don’t need to agonize on whether you’d be bothering them by checking in, because they’ve already given you permission to do so. You send a courteous note asking if they have any progress to report, and wish them a good weekend. 

In most cases, HR will respond quickly and apologize, letting you know the new schedule and that you should hear back on Tuesday. You’re free to enjoy your weekend.

Let Help You

So, will this simple question remove the inordinate amount of stress that one feels when conducting a job search? No. But when you can find a very easy solution to a very common problem, every little bit helps.

And if you do get that job offer, make sure you check back with us again because we can help you negotiate a fair salary. Use our free Salary Wizard to search for your job title, so when you come to the negotiating table you'll be armed with the information you need to be compensated fairly.

Good luck!