How to Stay Motivated When the Job Search Gets Tough

So you’ve been on the job hunt for a while now, and things are creeping along. You can feel yourself getting discouraged, and your motivation is starting to wane. How do you keep the momentum going? Read on for 5 steps to get yourself back on track and moving forward.

1. Set a schedule.

If your days aren’t structured, you will be surprised how quickly and freely the time will pass with other activities. You sat down to write a cover letter but next thing you know, you’ve watched hours of Netflix, scrolled through Instagram, and texted with your friends for an absurd amount of time, leaving your job-search to-list incomplete. It’s easy to then become discouraged because you don’t see yourself making progress! We lose motivation as we spin into a downward spiral of distractions, procrastination, and discouragement.

To avoid distraction-filled days, step one is to block out your must-do’s like appointments, meetings, or other prior commitments. Next, schedule your personal time such as sleep, workout, meals, and social events. Actually block it all on your calendar where you can see it.

When you see a lot of white space in your calendar, you typically think you’ll have a lot of time to complete a task like apply to 2 jobs, send requests for informational interviews, or research X company. In reality, this white space on your calendar is often an illusion of time because you had to fill a lot of it with activities like eating, sleeping, etc. So block it out to ensure 1) you are realistic about what time you have to spend and 2) you can stay on track, avoiding the distraction pit.

2. Assess your remaining free time, and how you want to spend it.

Once you’ve got your must-do’s and personal time blocked, assess what time you have remaining each week. How many hours do you have left? What is on your to-do list for the week?

Again, write these weekly to-do’s out so you can visually see them. Ensure each task is concrete and specific. For example, a task like “prep for interview” is too vague. How will you prepare? What specific actions can you take to get ready? A stronger to-do list item would be, “read sample interview questions on” or “practice 2 case interviews.”

Next to each to-do list item, estimate the amount of time it will take to complete. Compare the amount of time your to-do list will take to your total free time remaining on your calendar. Be realistic! For example, if you have 30 hours of free time, it’s really not realistic to think you will complete to-do items that will take 30 hours to complete.

Finally, schedule each to-do list item in your calendar. The chances of you actually completing the task increases exponentially if you book the time with yourself.

3. Break it down.

Something I often hear from clients is that many job search tasks are simply too big, or too daunting. My advice? Just get started.

A simple way to help yourself do this is to use The Pomodoro Technique, working in short spurts of 25 minutes with short breaks afterwards. It’s much more attainable when you tell yourself, “I’m going to work on this for 25 minutes and see how much I get done” as opposed to “I’m going to sit down and create my LinkedIn profile.”

Another technique is to break bigger tasks down into steps. Ask yourself, “What is the smallest next step I can accomplish right now?” That way, you’re not attempting to completely create a LinkedIn profile from scratch, but instead, starting with a smaller step like writing your LinkedIn summary.

4. Acknowledge yourself with reward systems.

Aside from the occasional interview or job offer, the job search doesn’t often come with many external rewards along the way. To keep yourself going, you need to set up other rewards for yourself. Think about it this way: every action step you take toward your end goal is an opportunity to reward yourself. For example, after working for 25 minutes on your LinkedIn profile, take a break to have a snack, take a walk, or check social media. Or, after reaching your goal of having 2 informational interviews in one week, treat yourself to a movie night or dinner with a friend.

5. Create opportunities for play, rest, and happenstance.

Burnout is real, particularly when you are pounding the pavement day after day in your job search without breaks to live a more wholehearted life. Yes, it’s important to set goals and stay on schedule, but it’s also critical to mix it up. Take time to use other parts of your brain, and body. Take a dance class, write a poem, draw a picture, do yoga, make a video. Whatever “play” means to you, do it! Also take time to decompress, again in whatever way that speaks to you whether that means relaxing with a good book or laying in your hammock.

Creating opportunities for happenstance is another important piece of the puzzle, because these events can bring about unexpected leads or surprises that actually move your job search forward in ways you didn’t know existed. For example, you may find yourself volunteering with someone who works at organization that does just what you’ve been hoping to do. Or you may attend a networking event and just “happen to” meet someone that is hiring.

Again, actually block these activities for play, rest, and events that could lead to happenstance in your calendar!


If you’re currently on the job search, I challenge you to implement these steps. Then tell me, how did these steps change things for you? What other strategies help to motivate you?