Let’s be honest: searching for a job is draining. I have yet to meet one graduate student or postdoc who gets their energy from engaging in the process, largely because it requires managing a lot of different components. For example, you are expected to exert mental energy on researching opportunities, analyzing tons of job descriptions, setting up and facilitating informational interviews, tracking and managing a lot of data, making a list of targets, developing technical writing and interviewing skills, and finally creating competitive and targeted documents that speak to the specific needs of the job description and organization.
Even this long list is not exhaustive, and job searchers must complete many other steps. On top of all of that, as graduate students you are also juggling academic priorities, social justice issues and familial and financial obligations—and, for some of you, immigration requirements, as well. It is no surprise then that one of the most common questions that I hear from students in career advising sessions concerns how they can sustain energy throughout the process. To successfully conduct a job search, you absolutely need energy, enthusiasm, a positive attitude and confidence. Such things are foundational to any job search success.
Thus, the goal of this article is to offer graduate students who are actively looking for a job a list of practical advice on how they can stay energized throughout the process and avoid job search fatigue. Hundreds of graduate students in career coaching sessions have tested these techniques and incorporated them into their job searches.
1. Know what energizes you and prioritize it. It is tempting and easy to focus all your energy on what you think you should be doing in your job search. One of the most common mistakes I see in advising is that graduate students almost always allocate all of their time to writing résumés and applying for as many jobs as possible. Instead, try to prioritize what excites you or gives you energy in the job search process. Ask yourself, what is the most interesting aspect of my job search, and how can I lean into that more?
For example, when I work with graduate students who are relational, we prioritize interacting with people by allocating more of the job search time to engaging in informational interviews, connecting on LinkedIn and building professional relationships within their target organizations. Students report feeling more energized because they get to approach the job search through their strengths and intentionally focus on things that interest them while pursuing their goals.
2. Boost your confidence. You can build it by consciously recognizing and consistently reminding yourself of your self-worth. Start with introspection. Make a list of all the skills, experiences and values that you bring. Ask yourself, “What are my strengths; what am I really good at?” Try asking a friend or trusted colleague what they see as your strengths. Now, start to think of all the things you have to offer to potential employers, how you are prepared to meet the needs of the organization and how you will thrive and be successful in that role. Don’t censor yourself—get it all out on paper.
Important caveat: this work is surprisingly difficult and takes quite a bit of time, patience and creative thinking. Often graduate students and postdocs will convince themselves that they have nothing to offer employers, but that is a fear or a limiting belief that is unsupported by evidence. You need to gather objective facts to challenge this belief, a step that will leave you feeling empowered and energized.
3. Know your worth. It is extremely important to conduct market research on yourself. What is your market value? How much do people with similar credentials, experience and skills make in your field? Having a better understanding of your market value can really boost your confidence. A great way to do such research is to connect with industry professionals. You can incorporate an informational interview question on this topic. For example, if you are speaking with a senior scientist at Merck who had a similar profile when they first transitioned out of a Ph.D. program, you can ask them about their starting salary range. You can also do online research using tools such as Glassdoor and PayScale to find salary ranges for the positions and industry you are searching in.
You also want to speak and build relationships with recruiters; their role is to fill positions with talent. They are full of valuable information about what employers are currently looking for, what skills are trending and what the most accurate and up-to-date compensation is for various positions.
4. Foster a growth mind-set. Employers and companies are looking to hire people who have a growth mind-set. Job searching is full of fixed mind-set triggers. Setbacks, criticism, comparison and failure are all natural aspects of the job search process—whether it’s not hearing back after submitting your painstakingly written application or making it to the final interview round and not getting the offer. How will you face such challenges? A growth mind-set will help you navigate them and view them as learning opportunities, allowing you to bounce back, pivot and employ new and creative search strategies. Additionally, having a growth mind-set will help you see job searching as a set of various skills that you will improve in overtime instead of something finite.
5. Challenge limiting beliefs. This technique comes directly from cognitive processing theory. Many graduate students will develop a series of limiting beliefs about their job search. For example, two of the most common limiting beliefs that I encounter in graduate career advising are “I will never get a job” and “I have nothing to offer.” The first thing you want to do is to collect evidence to challenge it. Make a list of all the evidence that proves this statement nonfactual. Having one piece of evidence is all it takes to undermine the belief. Employing the Socratic method, ask yourself questions that challenge your limiting beliefs. For example, do you currently have a job? Have you been able to get jobs in the past? Are the skills you have in demand?
6. Talk to yourself like you would a friend. When a friend or a colleague comes to you with a problem or a challenge, what do you say to them? Do you criticize them for not doing enough or working fast enough? Do you beat them up for making a mistake? Absolutely not. Instead, you lead with compassion, reassurance and understanding. I want you to do the same thing for yourself. Incorporate self-compassion into your job search; it will help you be kind and patient, and it will sustain your energy.
The idea of giving yourself a pep talk is pretty unnatural for most graduate students. You can start small. Incorporate phrases such as “I am doing the best I can, and that’s enough” or “It is understandable that I feel this way, as the job searching is overwhelming, and I deserve kindness, just like everyone else.” Having a compassionate internal dialogue during the search process will help you have a more fulfilling and pleasant experience. Self-criticism, in contrast, will make you dread the process and often leads to procrastination.
7. Form a support group, or get a job search buddy. Job searching is hard, so why go through the process all on your own? Take agency into your own hands. You can start your own support group or find what I call a job search buddy. Look to other graduate students for support; chances are that many of them are going through similar experiences. You can create a Slack workspace or Discord server—both require little effort and are incredibly inclusive ways of fostering a support group and community.
If you are having a hard time finding peers within your college or university, find graduate students online who can join your channel. You can celebrate your wins, troubleshoot, create accountability and share knowledge and opportunities virtually as well as in person.
8. Build job search tasks into your schedule. One of the biggest culprits of job search fatigue is decision fatigue. The best way to avoid decision fatigue is to incorporate your search into your schedule ahead of time. Instead of asking yourself every day what you should do to advance your search, pick one time a week (usually Sunday) when you can schedule the tasks of the search into your weekly, biweekly or monthly calendar. This practice will help minimize the number of decisions you have to make and free up energy to make actual progress by connecting on alumni platforms, attending employer events, practicing interviews and the like.
9. Reward yourself. Your job search is now built into your weekly schedule. After completing a task that’s related to your job search, such as sending out 10 informational interview requests or analyzing six job descriptions, reward yourself with something—say, a 15-minute walk around the block or a bar of dark chocolate.
This is also a great way to build in breaks into your job search process. As any good coach would say, breaks are fundamental to preserving and restoring your energy. Recovery is part of the job search process. This mind-set helps build healthy habits of work-life balance by encouraging you to engage in the process even when it might not always render immediate rewards. Additionally, it helps you celebrate all the small steps that you are taking to achieve your end goal. The focus shifts from celebrating the end result or single big accomplishment to valuing all the work you are doing. And that will allow you to move through the job search process with energy.
Incorporating these practical steps into your job search will allow you to navigate the process with less stress and worry—and even with some level of excitement. In fact, I am confident that these techniques and new habits will help you approach the job search with energy rather than dread.