How to keep your confidence through a long job search

Today I want to speak directly to job seekers who are feeling understandably vulnerable and beleaguered by the uncertainty that is innate to every job search, but feels especially relevant right now. 

For as strong of a hiring market as we’re in right now, your job search process can still feel like it’s moving at a glacial pace.

It’s imperative you maintain your cool and confidence throughout what can be a months-long period of uncertainty. Rarely are wise career choices made from a place of fear, desperation, or exasperation.

These six strategies can help you keep your head on straight while navigating a long job search:

Bend, Don’t Break

Do you relish a challenge or shrink back when setbacks call your abilities into question?

Carol Dweck’s pioneering research into mindset demonstrated that many of us have either a “fixed trait mindset,” meaning we see our skills and abilities as something we’re either born with or without, or a “growth mindset,” which posits that we’re able to learn anything we put hard work and effort into. With a fixed trait framework, failures and setbacks are risky propositions that call our basic abilities into question. With a growth mindset, failure’s still no cakewalk, but it can provide important opportunities for growth and learning. 

Adopting a growth mindset takes practice, but it starts by getting curious, not furious, in the face of rejection. If you get passed over for a job you had your heart set on, lean into the discomfort with an open mind and ask for feedback from the hiring manager(s) to see what you can learn from this experience for the next time.

If we can learn to bend — not break — in response to things not going our way, we’ll be better able to bounce back.

Maintain The Four F’s

Friends. Fun. Family. Fitness. I used to think these were optional luxuries for people with more time on their hands, but truthfully, that’s what put me on the path to burning out in my mid-20s.

Stressful periods of uncertainty take a visceral, physical toll on your body and mind. The American Psychological Association found that even acute or episodic stress can result in “psychological distress, tension headaches, upset stomach and other symptoms.” When that stress becomes chronic – over the course of months or years – it “destroys bodies, minds and lives. It wreaks havoc through long-term attrition.”

Here’s the reality: you cannot job-search 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You’ll be better able to focus and perform at your highest cognitive functioning if you fend off stress by making your basic needs a priority (and yes, that includes feeling connected with friends and loved ones).

Schedule Your Time

Whether you’re job-searching full-time from home or scrolling through job postings with every free moment you can find at your 9-to-5, scheduling your time helps you set healthy boundaries. 

Focus on what you can control: your actions.

You can’t force the HR team at your dream company to move their hiring process along any faster, but you can choose how to spend your time to be most productive and sustainable.

Know what helps you stay focused: a packed coffee shop where you can camp out and work alongside a friend for a few hours? Library-level silence for writing in the evening? Add it to your calendar and pulse between intervals of focused effort with re-energizing time spent on the four F’s.

Always Be Learning

Take a class. Join an online community of professionals in your industry. Sign up for a free webinar. When you feel stuck twiddling your thumbs and waiting to hear back from your dream job, get busy growing your skillset to feel a sense of forward momentum.

Harvard Business School Professor Teresa Amabile found that the sensation of making meaningful progress is not only linked to boosting your mood, but also leaves you with even more motivation. Progress begets progress.

“The power of progress is fundamental to human nature,” Amabile says. So when you’re not feeling forward movement in a drawn-out job search, take the reins and make progress and learning a priority that happens elsewhere in your life.

Crush It (At Anything)

Dealing with the emotional uncertainty of a long job search can chip away at your confidence in troubling ways. While adopting a growth mindset and “leaning into the discomfort” or learning is all fine and good, you can’t stay on that struggle bus all day, every day. So find something, anything, where you can let your mastery shine. 

When I was learning some tough lessons that come with starting a new business by day, I dragged myself to pick-up volleyball nights at my gym, where I could refill my swagger tank and feel like a total boss baller again. It may have been a tough week of feeling like an amateur on the startup struggle bus, but I left the gym with my confidence intact.

What makes you feel a sense of mastery? What do you know you’re great at? Karaoke night? Tutoring students? Painting? Pottery? Helping others as a volunteer? When your confidence is feeling shaky in other areas of your life, remind yourself you’ve got what it takes to master a new skill by crushin’ it at something you’ve been practicing for a lot longer.

Set Networking Benchmarks Like A Boss

We all know the power of networking and informational interviews for job-seekers. But growing your network can feel like an amorphous effort that you can never really check off your job search To Do list.

Set numerical benchmarks to craft your community-building plan of attack. How many outreach messages do you want to send (via email or LinkedIn) each week? How many one-on-one meetings or phone calls are you aiming to tackle each week? How many networking events are you committing to show up to each month?

These actionable, measurable goals can help you hold yourself accountable and maintain a sense of forward movement in what can be a murky, months-long search process.

Keep in mind, you’re training for a marathon, here — not a sprint. Keep these strategies in mind when you’re not just looking for any job, but the right one. Make progress and learning a priority, remember your basic human needs, and you’ll cultivate resilience along the way that’ll pay off for years to come.

This article first appeared on Bossed Up.