Searching for a job, especially when you're unemployed, is one of the most stressful and anxiety-producing experiences adults face. Here are eight ways to keep your sanity during your search.
1. Don't obsess over one particular job. If you tend to agonize about particular jobs—did they like you? When will you hear something back?—Stop it! The best thing for your state of mind is to move on mentally after sending off your application or having an interview. There's nothing to be gained by obsessing and waiting and wondering. Instead, move on. Pretend you were already rejected, or that you never applied. If the employer calls you, great. If they don't, you've already moved on anyway. And there's nothing to be gained from stressing yourself out waiting.
2. Stop trying to read "signals" into what interviewers do and don't say. Job seekers often try to read between the lines of all sorts of things: If the interviewer didn't say they'd be in touch, does it mean you didn't get the job? They sent back a nice response to your thank-you note; does that mean your chances are good? Most of these "signals" don't mean anything at all, and looking for meaning in them can drive you crazy.
3. Don't feel you have to give perfect interviews. If you play over every interview in your head and kick yourself for not giving better answers—or if you're terrified before interviews because you might mess up—know that interviewers don't expect you to be perfect. In fact, there's no such thing as a "perfect" interviewee, and your competition isn't giving perfect interviews either. You're not a professional job interviewee, and employers don't expect you to be. They know you're human. And they are too.
4. Don't agonize over why you didn't get a job. There's generally no way to know from the outside why you didn't get hired. Sure, maybe they hated your interview answers, but more likely, someone else was simply a better candidate. Or they hired the CEO's niece, or promoted someone internally, or canceled the position altogether. There's no way to know, and you'll drive yourself crazy trying to figure it out.
5. Don't stress over things that don't matter. The way you name your resume file, the fact that you can't find the hiring manager's name to put on your cover letter, whether you wear the grey suit or the navy one—these things don't matter. Focus on the substance: using your resume, cover letter, and interview to show that you'd excel at the job.
6. Remember that interviews aren't a one-way street. People get anxious when job searching because they feel like they're being judged—and worse, judged by employers who holds all the cards because they have something that the job-seeker really wants (a job). You can combat that by changing the power dynamics in your own head—by remembering that you may not want to work for this particular employer, for all you know, and that part of the point of the hiring process is to allow you to collect your own information and decide if you even want this job or these co-workers.
7. Focus on things other than your job hunt. Give yourself a break from thinking about jobs and do something fun or relaxing. Take a walk, read a book, see a movie, cook dinner with friends, or whatever lets you stop thinking about your search—and especially about unemployment. And if you find yourself feeling bitter or depressed, that's a sign to close that resume file and go do something else until you can return to it more refreshed.
8. Know that it may take a while. Job searches these days can take a very long time, so don't freak out if you don't find a job right away. While you should obviously make sure that your application materials are as strong as they could be, don't assume that a few months of searching without a job offer means you're doomed to unemployment forever. Do plan for a longer search, and know that it's normal for it to take longer than it did in the past.
Alison Green writes the popular Ask a Manager blog, where she dispenses advice on career, job search, and management issues. She's also the co-author of Managing to Change the World: The Nonprofit Manager's Guide to Getting Results, and former chief of staff of a successful nonprofit organization, where she oversaw day-to-day staff management, hiring, firing, and employee development.