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Job hunt without breaking yourself

How I navigated anxiety, dealt with self-doubt, found motivation, and received support during my job search

Photo by Sven Scheuermeier on Unsplash

“Job hunting isn’t just a numbers game, but an emotional game — it’s testing your patience, mental and emotional resilience, and self-motivation without having any particular outcome in sight.”

Preface

Job hunting can be one of the most grueling tasks one can undertake — it’s unlikely that one can succeed alone without help or support. While there’s an abundance of articles on “How I landed my dream job” or “How I got multiple offers from brand name companies ABC”, we rarely get to see the emotional challenges faces during the process. When giving career advice, we often like to brush away feelings like fear, anxiety, frustration, confusion, and uncertainty. “Don’t worry too much about rejections,” “be more positive,” and “work harder,” was some of the advice I received. While they are useful for a temporary boost in morale, ultimately what kept me going was working through my emotions, re-discovering my motivation and goals, and receiving support from loved ones. It was during this extremely stressful period that I found the drive to rediscover myself, work on my self-worth, be more genuine and connect better with others.

The point of this article is not to tell you to “do XYZ so you can land your dream job.” In this post, I want to shed light on the prevalence of mental health issues, how they can affect the job hunting process, the steps I took to help overcome emotional issues, and how my perspective about the process has changed since the beginning of job hunting. It will be less about specific outcomes/milestones and more about my journey of self-discovery.

The motivation behind writing this article is simple: I want people to recognize the emotional challenges present during the job hunt. I believe this will help people make better decisions and connect well with others. Ultimately, it’s about finding greater fulfillment and satisfaction in life.

Facing Emotional Challenges

Regardless of your background, skill level, and even your dedication towards finding the perfect job, there’s bound to be frustration, disappointment and confusion. People today are also more likely to suffer from feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, and anxiety. If you put all that into the mix, you’ll have a job hunting experience that seems insurmountable. We’d like to think, by trying hard enough, we could rise above all challenges and eventually succeed in the job hunt. Some optimism does help. However, I also feel we underestimate the emotional and mental toll this process takes and how it can easily affect mental and emotional health. I’d like to bring more awareness on these issues present during one’s career search.

Throughout my 5-month period of job hunting, I experienced:

  • Fear of uncertainty
  • Anxiety related to financial pressures
  • Guilt for neglecting family time
  • Self-doubt about whether I will “get that job”
  • Feelings of inadequacy or “not being good enough”
  • Performance anxiety during interviews
  • Disappointment with companies not being upfront about their situation or being dishonest
  • Frustration on receiving not-so-great offers and wasted time
  • Panic attacks
  • Stress over managing interviews with 11 companies at once
  • Confusion with the whole process after getting many rejections
  • Hopelessness — not sure if what I am doing will work

Not all the experiences were purely negative, I have periods of:

  • Excitement about an appealing opportunity, but quickly turned into disappointment after receiving a rejection
  • Hope about the number leads I had, which quickly turned into fear and self-doubt after last-minute interview cancellations or more rejections
  • Confidence about myself after doing well in an interview, but also worried that I might not get to the next step
  • Feeling appreciation by an interviewer that cares and is excited about me, but I also worried in some way that the final steps would turn sour

The journey was an emotional roller-coaster. At times, I felt the thrill of moving onto the next step with an exciting company. Other times, I broke into tears feeling utterly hopeless when faced with uncertainty thinking this is the “hardest thing ever.” One day, I felt I am “aligned with the universe,” where “everything is conspiring for my highest good.” The next day I might wake up feeling absolute dread over having to mass-apply to jobs, going to grueling interviews, and facing the possibility of nothing working out.

I could have told you the practical steps I took to study, to improve on my interviewing skills, to procure referrals, and how I finally landed my ideal job. While those things are important, this is truly an emotional game. It’s not about how much you did, how fast you did those tasks, or whether you get the brand name company offers with high salaries at the end. I believe the journey is about facing your worst emotions. It’s about finding a way to navigate through them so you’ll have meaningful results at the end — an opportunity that aligns with who you are and one that excites you.

The Path Towards Self-Improvement

Why is self-improvement an essential part of the job hunt? Because the process is emotionally demanding and exhausting. It’s only through working on yourself that you can better handle rejections, find motivation, and perform better in stressful situations.

Photo by Paula May on Unsplash

We often think of self-improvement as a means towards making more money, being more positive, and achieving our dreams. While these are nice, that’s not the message I am trying to convey here. In fact, having too much positivity can lead to having false expectations. The self-improvement I’m talking here is the journey towards loving yourself, being true towards yourself, finding peace and detaching yourself from any specific outcome. This is essential in being able to handle the ups and downs that life — or job hunting — throws at you. It’s not really about religion or reading a bunch of self-help books, though some might find them helpful. It’s about taking practical steps towards instilling the right mindset, reducing stress, and finding motivation so you can be more productive in the face of adversity. Here are a few suggestions based on my experiences.

Practicing the Right Mindset

“…ultimately, my worth is independent of any results or outcome, and it is not reflected in how much or how little an employer perceives my skillset or experiences.”

The right mindset is key for the job searching process. Note that this is different from having positive affirmations, or “faking it till you make it.” Rather, this is a slow, introspective process of figuring out what your beliefs are and how this influences your approach to the job hunt. Once you discover the mindset that works for you, it is a matter of practicing and adjusting your expectations along the way.

When I started my career search, my initial perspective was “if I work a lot and tried hard enough, I will land a job in no time.” While this pattern of thinking works for some people, it proved disastrous for me. I was in a perpetual state of anxiety. I worked almost nonstop during the first two weeks, doing applications, outreach, and studying for interviews. On the surface, this sounds like a good thing, but it was all motivated by fear. While I was lucky enough to get two job interviews before most of my peers, both ended up in rejections; I was devastated. Rejection undoubtedly hurts, but it was made worse because my expectation of getting a job in the shortest time possible was not fulfilled.

My initial assumption was that I needed to impress interviewers by showing how much I knew, or how well I could solve a problem in front of them. I assumed that I had to prove my worth to them. This belief caused a lot of anxiety and feelings of inadequacy, an issue I’ve struggled with since childhood.

Every opportunity I was initially excited about and thought, “this could be it,” ended in disappointment. My hope towards landing a great job continued to diminish. At some point, I began to feel hopeless and bitter because I believed that “no matter how much I tried, I still get crappy results.” Finally, I decided that relying on hope wasn’t going to work. I needed something else to keep me going.

After months of processing my emotions (a lot of crying and talking through my feelings with my wife and people around me), I gained a better understanding of what I deserve and what my goals truly were. I decided that if I were to pursue my highest goals, I wouldn’t need to work so hard to prove myself, or to rely on hope. I recognized that ultimately, my worth is independent of any results or outcome, and it is not reflected in how much or how little an employer perceives my skillset or experiences. It’s truly a journey of discovering my self-worth.

Reassessing Goals

Three months into my career search, and after the shift in my mindset, it occurred to me that the goal here isn’t to “get a job as soon as possible.” The focus should really be on learning and connecting with others.

Photo by Miguel Bruna on Unsplash

When the goal was the former, I was constantly plagued by anxiety related to things that were out of my control. Would the recruiters even notice my application? Will the interviewers judge me? Will they extend a good offer, if any? I suffered through so much fear and uncertainty over these questions.

Eventually, I became fed up with this endless cycle and knew I had to make a change. I decided to let go of any particular outcome and only focus on what is within my reach. I came to recognize the things that were in my control: taking care of my mental and emotional state, prioritizing self-care, recognizing my self-worth and how I connect with others.

Knowing that stressing myself out isn’t likely going to improve the situation, I stopped expecting myself to “ace” all the interviews and I stopped hoping for a particular offer from a particular company. Instead, I focused most of my time to improve on my internal state — how I felt about myself and the situation. I took time to spend time with family and friends, read books on healing and stress reduction, meditate, and reflect upon myself, my actions and why I’m doing all these in the first place.

Since I have no way of telling that I will land a decent job for sure, I might as well treat this as an opportunity to learn about myself and treating myself with love and respect. I also wanted to be genuine with others and find out what inspired them to continue working in their companies, so that I can form meaningful conversations with them. Alongside, I am open to the possibility of landing an amazing opportunity.

Note that the end goal here is not to expect a certain outcome, but simply to enjoy the journey and learn something new.

Setting Boundaries

When you see others who said they applied to 140 jobs, went to 10 interviews in a week, and had 2-3 offers to negotiate, you can easily assume that’s the standard. Soon enough, feelings of “having not done enough” or “I’m not good enough” lurks in. You could do more to justify your feelings, or beat yourself up for not trying harder, because you could have received multiple amazing offers already. But reality rarely works that way. Everyone is following their own, unique journey. Judging yourself based on others’ achievements would likely result in frustration and more insecurity.

I set boundaries around how much I’m willing to work. Nights are reserved for family time. I meditate every morning. I worry less about how our financial situation would work out. And I tried not to beat myself up whenever I feel that I “have not done enough.” By releasing some of the unnecessary expectations around how much work I should be doing, I also reduce the associated stress. I still applied to jobs and went to 1–2 interviews every week, but I was no longer worried about not measuring up to my peers. Not matter how slow, I felt the pace was right for me.

Feeling Overwhelmed

After around 4 months of low activity, the situation changed almost immediately. I went from having 1-3 leads to having interviews with 11 companies at a time. I think there’s a fair bit of timing and luck in play there. I certainly did not expect that to happen so quickly.

Having a packed interview schedule is like catching multiple flights. Photo by JESHOOTS.COM on Unsplash

Despite having a good number of interview, I was overwhelmed. Never before I had to deal with multiple interviews all in the same week (or even the same day). Responding to emails, scheduling interviews, and attending them became my “full-time job”. I remember having to go through 8 interviews in a week — a combination of an on-site, technical screens, and phone calls. Although I was becoming more certain I would eventually land a good offer from one of the 11 companies, my stress levels spiked again.

Prioritizing Interviews

Prioritizing interviews became important — I scheduled my top leads sooner and delayed interviews with less favorable leads. To determine whether a lead is favorable, I asked myself a few questions:

  1. Is the company well-established? Can they pay well without any funding issues?
  2. Did the interviewers genuinely want to connect with the candidate? Did they make candidates comfortable and provide support?
  3. Does the company emphasize on work/life balance? Did the employees seem happy working there?
  4. In general, how do I feel about the company? Does my gut tell me I will be excited to work there?

To prioritize my top companies for the final rounds of interviews, I left a couple of days open without scheduling anything else. Giving space for interviews with top companies is important so that I don’t get too exhausted.

A Note About Therapy

Fortunately, I found a therapist and started attending sessions during all that crazy activity. We connected very well and I told him everything about the emotional challenges, rejections, not-so-great offers, and wasted time. He immediately understood where I came from and asked follow-up questions to help me process my fears, anger, and confusion. By the act of talking through my struggles, I felt I was heard and it’s perfectly normal to have those feelings during challenging periods.

For people who are struggling with similar issues, I do recommend therapy. It provides a safe space for you to express your feelings, frustrations, and receive meaningful feedback from a trained professional. It also helps you to process emotions and irrational thoughts, encouraging you to feel more in control of the situation. However, attending therapy sessions should makes sense to you financially so that it doesn’t add more stress. It’s also important that you are able to make a good connection with your therapist. Through the help of my wife, I found my therapist through Psychology today.

Wrapping up

Job hunting is perhaps one of the most stressful endeavor in life. One must face emotional challenges, navigate through the confusing job market, and face uncertainty and self-doubt. More than ever, people likely need emotional support. They also need resources to help them deal with demands, expectations, and mental health issues.

Job hunting isn’t just a numbers game, but an emotional game — it’s testing your patience, mental and emotional resilience, and self-motivation without having any particular outcome in sight. It’s only by constantly working through your emotions, reevaluating motivations, and reassessing goals that you find new meaning and better resilience in this long and “scary” process.

Finally, I would like to thank my wife for her words of encouragement and emotional support, my friends for their insights and a shoulder to cry on, my family for financial support, and Launch School for fully investing in my success throughout this difficult journey.

More about me: I am a Capstone graduate from Launch School. I’ve spent two years of learning to transition careers to software engineering. I am currently a software engineer at DigitalOcean.

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Gooi Ying Chyi

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