Allow me to tell you a story about a man I knew years back. His name was Ted. He was in his sixties, his health was failing, and he had a frail wife at home. I saw him often when I visited an urban career center in central Massachusetts.
One day, I was conducting intakes of participants for a computer training program I was coordinating. I was exhausted after my sixth intake, so I walked over to where Ted always sat. I asked him how things were going in his search. He told me they were not going so well. Curious, I asked him how much time he was spending on the job search. He told me he spent 60-70 hours a week on it.
“The job search is a full-time job,” he said.
I asked him how things were going in his life. I meant his home life, not his job search. With all seriousness, he told me that his wife and he were on the verge of a divorce.
“She’s mad at me being out of the house so much,” he said, his eyes tearing up. “But I have to find a job.”
While it was unclear whether a divorce was imminent because of the long hours Ted was spending looking for work, it was crystal clear that the outrageous amount of time he was pouring into the job search was doing more harm than good.
When I tell this story to my workshop attendees, I end by saying, “Don’t be like Ted.” I tell this story when bringing up the topic of commitment to the job search. How many hours should one commit to the search? If the job search is a full-time job, as Ted said, should job seekers dedicate 40+ hours a week to it?
My answer is “No.” Spending as much time on the job search as Ted did can lead to burnout. Here are some ways to prevent that burnout:
1. Develop a Plan
Your plan should be a day-to-day one – or even an hour-to-hour one. You can keep track of your plan on an Excel spreadsheet. Without a plan, you’ll end up spinning your wheels, going nowhere fast.
2. Don’t Spend More than 4 Hours a Day on the Job Search
This is an admittedly arbitrary number, but I think it makes sense. I am including the weekends here – which can be a great time to put a bug in people’s ears about your situation. Of course, there are various opinions on how long you should spend searching for a job every day, some of which you can see in this interesting LinkedIn discussion.
3. Use a Variety of Methods to Look for Work
Networking has always proved to be the best way to look for work. Supplement in-person networking with LinkedIn. Make follow-up calls. Knock on companies’ doors if that’s a possibility. Contact your alumni association. Call on recruiters.
Spending six hours a day on the internet is not a good use of your time. You’ll feel more productive if you employ a variety of methods. Just don’t spread yourself thin. Four different methods should be fine.
4. Take a Break
You are most likely experiencing a roller coaster of emotions. You need to take occasional breaks to regroup – not for too long, mind you, but long enough to regain your energy.
Go on walks or to the gym. If the weather is nice, sit on a bench and reflect on your plan. Schedule a day during the week to put the job search on hold. Maybe go to the beach with your family or putter around the house.
5. Volunteer in Your Area of Work
Volunteering is a good idea for a number of reasons:
- You put yourself in the position to network with people who are currently working and who may have ideas or contacts who can be of use.
- It keeps you active. You’re not spending all your time sitting behind your computer.
- You can enhance the skills you have or develop new ones. Perhaps you’re an expert at HTML but need to know Java. Find an organization that needs a website developed and has the time for you to get up to speed.
6. Get Assistance
Local career centers, outplacement agencies, and alumni associations are great sources of job search advice. They will also offer you moral support, which is more important than you might think. Many people who come to the career center for which I work speak highly not only of the advice we provide, but also the emotional support we give them.
7. Join a Networking Group
The benefits of joining a networking group are obvious, but aside from the ways in which these groups can help your job search, consider how they can offer support and a reason to get out of your home. I tell my workshop attendees that getting out of the house is essential to emotional health during the job hunt.
Whether you prefer a small meetup group or a larger professional organization, keep in mind that you must offer career advice and support in addition to seeking advice and support for yourself. You have to give if you want to receive.
8. Seek Professional Help If Needed
Sometimes, the stress of being out of work is too much to handle on your own. You may feel anxious and even depressed. It’s important to realize this and seek help from a professional. You may find talking with a third-party refreshing.
I don’t know what happened to Ted, how his job search went, or whether his marriage lasted. Before I left him that day – the last day I saw him – I told him to give it a break. I’m not sure he took my advice. Knowing his stubborn nature, he probably didn’t. I see hints of Ted in some of the job seekers who come to our career center, and I worry they’ll turn out just like him.
A version of this post originally appeared on Things Career Related.
Bob McIntosh, CPRW, is a career trainer who leads more than 15 job search workshops at an urban career center.