5 Tips for Navigating a Miserable Job Search

My 2006 job search was a miserable job search. Depressing. Deflating. Humiliating.

It was also the job search that launched the rest of my career, including getting paid for writing (blog posts, articles, and three published books), professional speaking, my soft skill courses on Pluralsight, consulting, and of course JibberJobber (the search app, not these blog posts).

I’m probably one of the thought leaders on miserable job searches. Not only did I have my own, I’ve talked with thousands of people across the world who have had their own miserable job search. I’ve talked to them in person, at my presentations, on one-on-one webinars, and through social media and email. Solutions can vary based on circumstances, but there are definitely some principles that apply to most people.

Miserable Job Search Tip 1: Pivot

Seth Godin wrote a book called The Dip. The premise of the book is that sometimes we are on a path that is a dead end. We need to make a choice… we could quit, or we could pivot. Unless you are independently wealthy, quitting is probably not a good alternative in your miserable job search. But pivoting… pivoting could be so powerful!

miserable job search: time for change

When I started my job search in 2006 I was just coming off of a stint as a general manager of a software company. I decided I wanted to go back and work on some career basics, so I was looking for a role as a business analyst (common for people with my degree) or a project manager. I was too far removed to jump back into a programmer role, having been a manager for too long.

One day I was looking at job postings and found a role that spoke to my very soul: product manager. This had never been on my radar because I didn’t know any product managers. But once I read the job description I was hooked. I knew this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I felt like a product manager was a “mini CEO.” That is, someone who has a lot of varied responsibility… not just a cog.

And so I pivoted from business analyst and project manager to product manager. But then my job search had to pivot, once I started JibberJobber, and got some attention from prospective customers. I was getting no attention in my failed, miserable job search. But people were really interested to talk to me about JibberJobber, and what I was doing for job seekers.

That pivot was exciting and natural.

I’ve had other pivots in my career. I remember a few painful experiences where I thought success was just too far out of reach. Instead of continuing down a dead end, I had to pick myself up and figure out what my next idea would be. Sometimes that meant leaving a field or industry, other times it meant leaving an organization.

I had no idea, when I was young and thinking about how amazing my career was going to be, how non-linear the path would turn out. If you like plans, like I do, that can be terribly frustrating. But it can also be extremely rewarding. There’s no reason to stick with something that just isn’t working.

So pivot.

Miserable Job Search Tip 2: Invest in Yourself

This weekend I saw a tweet that has 10 lessons learned from Warren Buffet. I’m always up to learn what others learn from successful people, so I dove in. I thought it would be the “only invest in what you know” type of stuff, but I was surprised. This was a great list!

#1, 7, and 10 are all about investing in YOURSELF! Your knowledge, your hard skills, your soft skills. Most of the others on the list are also about investing in yourself.

One of the hardest things about a job search, which makes it miserable, is that most everything is out of your control. The people, processes, systems, outcomes are not things you can easily manipulate.

But you can take an extra hour a day and read books and take courses. You could spend time investing in your own skills, perhaps by volunteering or by starting a side hustle. You can control how much you invest in yourself.

And having control over anything in your job search feels rewarding. This is one of the most important things you can do to get the miserable out of your miserable job search!

Miserable Job Search Tip 3: Help Others A Lot

I could have put “network” here… but that is too cliche. I’ve recommended it plenty on this blog. JibberJobber is a networking tool. And every other career pro out there is going to tell you to network. Let me put a twist on it: I want you to think about how you can help others get what they want.

In my job search I found some job clubs and started networking with other job seekers. I avoided this for a while, thinking other job seekers really wouldn’t have much to offer me. I was wrong. Job seekers are crazy networkers. Find the right people and you can get excellent introductions to help you in your job search.

What I found, that was more important, was I could actually help them. I didn’t think I had much to offer but as I networked more I became more valuable to other job seekers. I could make introductions that would end their own miserable job search. I could give insight and information that could help them pivot, or focus.

What I didn’t expect was the gratifying feelings of helping others. I knew it was good to do, and the right thing, but I didn’t know I’d drive away from some of those meetings feeling like I was on top of the world. I was still unemployed, true. But helping others made me feel important, and valued. I felt like I still had a place in society, and could contribute to the world.

These feelings were greatly lacking at the beginning of my job search. They put a smile on my face and gave me a purpose to keep trying. Helping others with their job search was one of the most important, and rewarding, things I’ve ever done.

Miserable Job Search Tip 4: Commit to Career Management

One of the things that helped me in my miserable job search was to realize that everything I was doing was going to help me the rest of my career. Figuring out how to really network, and embrace personal branding, and get serious about managing changes in my career, would absolutely help.

Would I be laid off again? I imagined so! In fact, a few years later I took a job and within 10 months the executives changed direction, and I was laid off. Guess what? I didn’t have to go through a miserable job search again. Not only was I way ahead of my 2006 miserable job search, because I had a strong network and a decent personal brand, I had created multiple streams of income.

Too often I see people who land their job kind of stick their head in the sand and pretend they’ll be there forever. Pretend. Imagine. Hope. None of that will change the reality that careers are different now. What’s the same is change… changing employment every few years has become normal.

What do you do? Take what you are learning now and reinforce your career options and personal finances. Networking and personal branding is not just for job seekers. Internalize this and, instead of running from these, run towards them.

Multiple income streams are not just for entrepreneurs… it is for everyone who wants to create their own job, or income, security. I have been working on my own income streams for years and I strongly recommend it! This career management stuff is not a temporary bandaid to a sorry situation. Rather, it’s how we need to think moving forward.

Miserable Job Search Tip 5: Regain Perspective

My job miserable job search might be summarized with one word: panic!!!

I shut down everything except focusing on getting a job. I shut down on relationships, which fortunately endured. But I’ll always regret not understanding the importance of those relationships, and nurturing them, during my job search. I wish I would have understood that miserable time was temporary.

It was as if I held my breath until I landed a job… but that took way too long for holding breath. I needed a real perspective because my vision had clouded under panic and depression.

I remember feeling like I was under water, my lungs were about to burst, and I couldn’t make it to the surface. It was scary, and everything about my entire being wanted to break through the surface (or, land a job). I get it. I get the deep feelings of panic, of fear, of failure, of hopelessness. I get all of that.

My dad was there, on a daily phone call, to help me through this. But I was too stubborn to realize that one day it would end and I’d be back on my feet again. I don’t know how to help you with this, and I won’t call you daily, but I hope this short section of this post will help you realize that you’ll one day, perhaps soon, be back. You’ll be fine. You’ll get through this. Don’t neglect relationships and your physical and mental health. I did, rationalizing that every minute spent outside of the job search was somehow cheating on my job search, and my family. That was wrong, and I should have been more balanced.