What to Do When You Have Nothing to Do
Passing time when you’re job hunting
I have been job hunting for the past six months now. I started with great optimism just as my MBA course came to an end. With degree in hand and a carefully crafted CV at my disposal, I set out to find a job that would give my career a new direction and my life a new perspective. I was quite excited to put to practical use all the things that I had learnt in business school.
The first few months were agony, especially navigating my feelings when I watched my classmates get jobs while dealing with constant rejection myself. But a few supportive friends taught me that having nothing to do doesn’t necessarily mean you have nothing to do.
Here are my list of things you can (and sometimes need) to do when you are still looking for work —
1. Maintain a daily routine
It’s easy to get lost in the chaos when you don’t have a regular routine to your day. My initial few weeks after graduating looked like a child’s version of what adulthood is— messy room, eating unhealthy junk, infrequent showers. I was glued to my laptop all day looking at job postings, barely stopping to think about the other aspects of my life or whether this was a productive use of my time.
My long suffering boyfriend, who had seen this go on long enough, told me to draw up a schedule instead. The difference it made was remarkable! While I was limiting my application time to a few hours a day, I was able to open up vast tracts of time to do other things. If I wasn’t being “productive”, I was at least doing busy work — doing the dishes, folding laundry, showering everyday. It took some work to force myself to follow this schedule. It was harder when the dissenting voice in my head was my own telling me how stupid this was. But I learnt to keep that cynicism in check over time and I’m all the better for it.
2. Don’t stop learning
No matter what stage of your life and career you are at, it’s never a bad time to pick up a new skill/hobby/interest. Use your free time to upgrade yourself not just for the job market but also on a personal level. I took up learning a new language and have been attending classes for it on a regular basis. The structured approach to the classes helps bring a sense of predictability and stability to otherwise empty days.
If money is tight or if classes are not your thing, there are many resources available online for free. Or you can even go down to your local public library and pick up books on topics that interest you. Try to keep your hobbies and passions alive through this tough phase. Not only will they shape up with more practise, but they’ll also keep you sane through the process.
3. Get out of the house
Whatever you do, do not confine yourself to your room/bed when you’re looking for work. Initially, I would not leave the flat for weeks. It was really starting to mess with my head as I was trapped alone with my thoughts. For an over-thinker like me, this can mean anything from losing confidence, to plunging myself into sadness and having a perpetual pity-party.
Working some outdoor time into your schedule is very important for the basic reason of giving you a break from your own thoughts. Taking a long walk/run helps clear your head, gets your blood pumping and fresh air into your lungs, and gives you your daily dose of Vitamin D. This outdoor time can be in any form you like, whether it’s a quiet walk in the park, a trip to the gym or even a part-time job. You can even move your job application work to a public place just for the change in scenery. The idea is to get you off your behind and out of the house.
4. DO NOT isolate yourself
Another one of my long list of mistakes was isolating myself from my friends and loved ones. As the number of rejections grew higher and as more classmates found jobs, I felt more embarrassed to meet them. I grew bitter and anxious, wondering when my time would come. This probably affected the quality of my applications as well, but there’s no way for me to know that for sure. As a result, I started to isolate myself from everyone.
A person is a person through other persons; you can’t be human in isolation; you are human only in relationships — Desmond Tutu
Call it insecurity or simply a ‘sour grapes’ attitude, but I started to resent the people around me and was left alone with my thoughts again. As established earlier, this is a bad idea. Tough times in your life really do get better with the presence of supportive friends and family around you. They can provide you with much needed comfort, encouragement and the crucial outsider’s perspective on your situation. What they say is true — if you want to go far, go together.
5. Don’t fuss over things you can’t control
There are some aspects of your job search that you can control — like the quality of your CV, the skillsets that you have, the references that you can give. However, there are many aspects of the search that are simply beyond your control. If hiring is slow in general, if people you reach out to for job referrals are not responding, if you fall outside the ambit of the company’s hiring policies, there’s only so much you can do about it.
Spending time agonising over how unfair the system is and how recruitment is done by an algorithm these days is not going to get you any closer to your goal. For the sake of your health and happiness, pick your battles. Choose to improve the things you can and you will find that they will eventually open doors that you never thought would be open for you. If nothing else, it’ll at least give you the peace of mind to focus on what’s important rather than ranting and raving about what isn’t.
6. DO NOT compare yourself to others
This may seem like an obvious one and perhaps should have come higher up on the list, but it is the hardest to follow. I always prided myself on being fiercely self-assured. There was never a question of someone being better or worse than me— their circumstances were simply different to mine. It was almost scary how quickly this concept flew out of the window when it came to my job search after my stint at business school.
Having performed quite well at school, I approached the job search with an over-inflated ego and sense of entitlement. I was ready to break down doors and conquer the world with my new degree. Then as my friends and classmates started to get job offers and I didn’t, I started comparing myself to them in the worst way possible. I moaned that I was a better leader, a better communicator and sometimes even a better person (insert eye-roll here) than them. Why were they snatching up these jobs that should have been mine?? I played around with ideas of unfairness, nepotism and privilege.
When I calmed down and started seeing reason, I found out the simple answer to why my friends got jobs — these were tech related roles and my friends had IT experience. That was it.
There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self — Ernest Hemingway
This realisation that it was indeed the forces of demand and supply that were at play here snapped me out of my trance and made me take a long, hard look at how I matched up. I realised how plain vanilla my profile looked in comparison to what was expected in the industry and managed my expectations. I was not going to get my dream job till I fixed that, but at least I now knew the steps I had to take.
Comparing yourself to others can quickly lead you into a downward spiral which can make you doubt yourself and alienate the people around you. DON’T DO IT.
I have been following these guidelines for a couple of months now. While they haven’t miraculously led to me landing a job, they have certainly helped me take sensible, measured and focused steps towards finding one. They have helped ward off negative thoughts and have given me the motivation to keep improving and keep looking no matter how many rejections I get. Job hunting, especially in today’s economy is tough. The least you can do is be kind to yourself while you’re at it.