Keeping it together / How not to be an anxious mess

Having just pulled myself out of a period of struggle, I feel newly qualified to write this post.

1. Have a plan: Since this can be a long, tough process, having a plan will help you feel more in control. Rather than measuring your progress against vague hopes and employers responses, you can measure against your plan, so you can accomplish things within your control.

To make a good plan, you need to know that everything takes longer than you think it will. Here are some numbers from my experience:

  • Initial resume: If you haven’t updated your resume in a while, expect this process to take a couple weeks. Why? Although the first draft might take you just an hour or two, you’ll probably want to send your resume to a few trusted advisers to look over. Then they will probably give you some painful edits to make.
  • Getting in touch with network contacts: Between LinkedIn searches, profile reading, and writing a decent email, just sending your first contact request will probably take 30 minutes (sounds ridiculous, I know). Then, I wouldn’t necessarily expect to speak to the person for another week at least. I’ve actually gone as many as 6 weeks before having a conversation.
  • One application: At a bare minimum, you should edit your resume and base cover letter for the specific qualities listed in the job description. For me, this takes about an hour, though I’ve done it in 20 minutes before if the job is similar to one I’ve applied for before. If I don’t know the company already, I spend some time checking out their website, Glassdoor, and news articles, which can add another hour.
  • Company research: Before talking to anyone from a company, I will usually spend at least an hour reading up on news and getting an idea of org structure.
  • Exploring opportunities online: job board and random internet browsing can take endless amounts of time, but may be worth it and is a good activity for when you’re feeling a bit low.
  • Recruiter time: If a recruiter says they want to do something in x days/weeks, expect the real time to be double that.

Now that you have some of that in mind, get a sense of how much time you can reasonably devote to your job search each week and schedule a regular block of time to work on your job search. I recommend a chunk of at least 2 hours. This applies whether or not you are currently employed. For the next several sessions of time, map out exactly what you plan to do (e.g. I will look through online job boards, I will reach out to industry contacts, I will finish my application for x company, or I will finish at least 2 applications). 

Set milestones for yourself: (Note: this is not something I did well). Taking your scheduled time and progress into account, set some milestones for your self to re-evaluate your search. Basically, say to yourself, if this doesn’t seem to be working in 6 weeks (or whatever time frame), I will re-evaluate. Until then, I’ll stick with this course of action. For example, if you’ve decided to only focus on your very niche industry/role for your initial search, but you’re worried that you’re limited your options too much, you can just tell yourself, I’ll try this and not worry about it until I hit my milestone. At that point, you might decide, maybe I still want to stick with these jobs, but I need to tweak my resume, or I need to work on my network.

2. Recognize what’s not under your control and try not to worry about it. The number one rule for not being an anxious mess is to forget about your application after you apply/interview etc. Clearly, this is easier said than done, but it really does help to tell yourself “I’ve already done everything I can” (if you have indeed have reached out to network contacts etc.). Other tips for making this work:

  • If someone isn’t responding to you, or you are expecting a follow-up, set a date in your calendar to follow-up and then forget about it until then.
  • If you share details about your job search process with friends/family members, they will probably ask how it is going as a way of expressing their concern for you. It can be hard to deal with questions like “how did xyz pan out?” if you are still wondering yourself or dealing with a rejection, so it may be wise to limit the number of people you tell about opportunities you’re looking at. Most people will get the hint if you just say “it’s going well” or “I don’t know yet” and leave it at that. If the questions are a recurring thing, you can also politely say that you prefer not to get into the details. It’s probably good karma to let people know that with job searchers, it’s generally best not to ask – if they want to share something with you, they will.
  • Remember that there’s no way for you to predict or control the outcome of your application. Employers might have internal roadblocks that have nothing to do with your abilities (more on this). Remember that if you’re making progress on your plan, you’re doing fine. Your plan is in your control, but other people’s actions are not, so don’t worry about what you cannot control.

3. Keeping up your spirits:

  • Remember that it’s hard for employers to find good people too. They would much rather you be a great candidate than not.
  • Even if you think you have a good chance of an offer or several solid leads, always keep looking. That way, if the opportunity falls through, you aren’t left with nothing in the pipeline (because that’s a terrible feeling)
  • Be gentle with yourself: My personal philosophy is that if something is already in the past, there is no reason to beat myself up about it. I should just try to do better in future. I know this can be really hard to do at times, and it took me forever to develop this mindset, but even if doesn’t work at first, it can’t hurt to tell yourself that.

I think doing yoga regularly really helped regulate my emotional ups and downs during this process, for several reasons. I encourage you to find an activity that gives you similar benefits:

  1. I did a 30-day challenge (yoga every day for 30 days), and it really helped give me a sense of accomplishment outside of my job search
  2. Since I was not working, it added some much needed structure and planning to my day
  3. Exercise gives you endorphins, and endorphins make you happy!
  4. Yoga also encourages a meditative state and gratitude for the little things in life. This was pretty key, though I only recently realized this.

I’ve been doing some reading about the power of positive thinking, and I would really encourage you to try it. If you’re feeling frustrated, stop and write down the progress you have made, rather than focusing on what you haven’t accomplished. One practical way to develop a more positive mindset is through this challenge. If that’s a bit much for you, maybe just take 10 minutes a day to write down 3 things you’re grateful for and 1 positive experience.

(Sorry if this section was too new-agey for your tastes!)

This is part of my job search guide. It’s a work in progress, but take a look! And please let me know if you have any feedback (even minor edits)


Looking for opportunities / Getting an “in”

Looking for opportunities and getting an “in” go hand-in-hand. The advice about the importance of your network in a job search really is true. I never thought of myself as someone with a strong network or networking abilities, but I’ve discovered that it hasn’t been as difficult as I thought and many people are willing to help.

Talking to people can help you find out about opportunities and explore things you haven’t otherwise considered. Likewise, for opportunities you’re already pursuing, figuring out how to talk to someone who already works/has worked there can help you figure out if you are actually interested in the opportunity and that person can help get your resume looked at when it otherwise might not have been. I’ve found that start-ups have been much better about following up and giving me a chance without knowing me, whereas traditional companies are much easier to get an interview with if you know someone.

Inspiration: There’s also a lot of different places to look for inspiration and find out about companies you might be interested in. Here are a few ideas:

  • Best places to work / Best companies to work for lists – there are general lists as well as lists specific to every industry and geography
  • Industry news – subscribe to industry news to hear about companies that are making waves (Google for good news sources)
  • Startups – if you’re interested in startups, you can check out AngelList, look at startup accelerator graduates, or research companies that top venture capital firms have invested in
  • The Muse is also pretty cool, but their selection of companies is limited

Friends, family, acquaintances: Let people know you are looking and specifically what you are looking for. Try writing a blurb with a few sentences that you can send. Rather than asking for a job, ask if they know someone in the area you’re interested in and if they would be willing to put you in touch. Here is some good advice. Don’t be afraid to ask – for example:

  • I actually reached out to an old professor, who proved invaluable in putting me in touch with some very helpful people that didn’t know me at all, but put quite a bit of time into talking with me, giving me the lay of the land, and suggestions of where to look for opportunities.
  • I had been looking for an “in” at a company that I was very interested in, but hadn’t posted a job description that matched my skills and goals. One day, I went hiking with an acquaintance and was just chatting with a friend they brought along about my search. It turned out he knew several people at the company, and he offered to connect me with them. The person he connected me with didn’t work in the department I was interested in, but she managed to get me an informational interview with a director in that department. Point being, someone doesn’t have to know you well or be personally invested in you to be willing to help. Try not to be obnoxious, but don’t be afraid to talk to new acquaintances about your job search.

LinkedIn: Looking for a job, I finally realized the value of LinkedIn. It’s been incredibly helpful in many ways:

  • Connect with everyone in your network that you would be comfortable sharing your LinkedIn activity with. You can update your privacy settings so co-workers don’t automatically get notified when you update your profile, but if they do happen to be looking at your profile, there’s a chance they will see that you’ve made a lot of changes.  For everyone else, even if it’s someone you don’t keep in touch with, connect to them if you think they might be willing to put you in touch with someone they know. It might actually be an opportunity to share your goals with an old acquaintance (I connected with an old boss, who asked me how I was doing and offered to help). It’s also important for…
  • Company/Industry specific search If you’re interested in a specific company/industry, do a people search on LinkedIn and see if you have any connections there. If you don’t have any good connections, you can also try filtering for your university. I reached out to a few people based solely on alumni connections, and they were really helpful (Another instance of my network strength surprising me!) If you can, get an email introduction. For one woman, I saw she was a 2nd connection on LinkedIn, so I emailed our mutual friend to ask for an intro rather than going through LinkedIn. For one of the alumni connections, I managed to find her email address in my school’s alumni database, so I used that instead of LinkedIn as well. Many companies also have formulaic emails e.g., so you can try that as well.
  • Updated profile: I think it goes without saying that you should update your profile. Before you update, make sure your privacy settings are what you want them to be (especially your activity broadcasts and activity feed). Tailor your profile to highlight qualities and experience that are valued in your target positions. I even went back and updated some of my old internship and college experiences. You can use the summary to describe what you’re looking for in your next role – no need to be explicit about your search, just say “interested in…” Also update your email signature to include your LinkedIn profile, so if you email someone about an informational interview or through a connection, they can check out your qualifications without you needing to attach a resume. Updating your skills/expertise, groups, and ‘following’ can also express who you are and what you’re interested in, and recruiters might use them as tools when reaching out to you.
  • Job posting aggregator LinkedIn also has a job search aggregator where you can type in key words and search by location, industry, function. I think it’s smart and remembers what you look for then periodically sends you emails. The premium version also provides salary info and saved searches.
  • Research before you chat: If you’re put in touch with someone, check them out on LinkedIn to see what you have in common and what exactly they might know about what you’re interested in. This will help you have a list of targeted questions for them and make them feel like you think their perspective is uniquely valuable (vs. you’re just trying to talk to anyone you can and may be wasting their time)
  • Paid LinkedIn subscriptions: I had a paid LinkedIn subscription for a while that was helpful for (1) looking at full profiles of 3rd degree connections to see if I should to connect or to research interviewers (2) sending InMails to people I didn’t know (3) search filters for job postings or people. I had a Job Seeker subscription for $30/month (1st month free) which gets you salary estimates and InMails, but it looks like the LinkedInPremium Business at $25/month might also be a good option. In either case, I would only recommend subscribing if you run across more than one situation where you wish you had it.
  • (Edit/Addition) Messaging Recruiters: My friend S has successfully job-hopped twice in the last two years. He found both his jobs by messaging recruiters directly on LinkedIn using the aforementioned InMails.

Job Posting Aggregators: I’ve also come across opportunities on job posting aggregators like Glassdoor, Indeed, and Monster. I’ve used Glassdoor the most for looking up company information and reviews, and I’ve used Indeed the most for finding new opportunities. I haven’t really used Monster, but one thing my talent agent recommended was to periodically upload my resume to these services, so that recruiters could find me. He said that while it’s unlikely, 5% of job seekers do get recruited through these channels. In my personal experience, whenever I’ve refreshed my resume, I have gotten contacts but many (though not all) were for  jobs I clearly wouldn’t be interested in or qualified for. Don’t forget to remove your address and phone number if you do this!

This is part of my job search guide. It’s a work in progress, but take a look! And please let me know if you have any feedback (even minor edits)

Job Search Guide

I’ve learned a lot over the course of my job search, and I want to share my knowledge with friends, so I’m attempting to write a full-on job search guide. I am not an expert, but I have had some successes. My process has taken me 4+ months of active searching, plus several months of more passive searching prior to that. I’ve had the luxury of being able to focus on this while not working and being pretty picky. From what I’ve read though, when looking for a job while working, you should budget a minimum of 3 months for a job search and expect it to take longer than that (maybe 6+ months).

I didn’t come up with all of this on my own. I owe a lot to the talent agent that my last job kindly provided me with. I’ve also had some great advice from my network and from online resources.

  • Ask a Manager (.org) became my productive procrastination method. She offers very clear, direct advice and with years of daily posts, has written about a wide variety of situations. It’s a bit hard to find, but if you scroll down, the last section of the left-hand column has tagged topics, including jobsearching, networking, references, salary etc.
  • I also considered working with Melissa Llarena (.com) after reading about her on Corporette and looking through her blog, but since the talent agent was proving so helpful, I didn’t end up talking to her. I did email with her, and she was super responsive.

General organization/notes: I’ve been keeping a OneNote notebook with a different section for every company I’m interested in, plus a general section for contacts or information that don’t fit with a particular company. I make a new page for

  • Conversations /conversation prep – whenever I talk to someone, to keep track of what we discussed and when. Sometimes prior to talking to them, I’ll type up a list of topics to cover or type out a version of my story that’s tailored to them
  • Job Descriptions – copying every job description I’m interested in, to make it easier to reference and just in case it disappears
  • Company research – for notes on internet-based company or industry research
  • Questions – a list of questions that pop-up – to eventually be asked of interviewers