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How to Get Out of a Job Search Rut

How to Get Out of a Job Search Rut

What is a job search rut?

A job search rut is the point in a long job search where the process begins to feel completely futile. This causes you to stop trying so hard, which undermines your chances, creating a vicious cycle. Sometimes you feel optimistic and hopeful about finding a new job, but most of the time you want to crawl into a hole and die. The stress is compounded by your current job and managing your personal life. 

What causes job search depression?

One major source of job search depression is a tough job market – such as the one in 2008 or 2020. Another cause of job search depression is stress and anxiety from being broke or the risk of going broke.

Adding to those is the anonymity of applying to jobs online. As an applicant, you often get no notice that your application has even been received. If your application is turned down, you often hear nothing back. There is no sense of a timeline, so you do not know when to stop hoping. You do not receive feedback, so you never know what, if anything, you are doing wrong.

Our culture places a lot of value in a person’s job and treats unemployment as a moral failing. It’s not surprising, therefore, that loss of self-esteem is one of the most common mental health symptoms reported during unemployment.

It is important during the job process to be compassionate with yourself and know that you are doing the best you can. You can often fall into the trap of always feeling like you are not doing enough. Remember that finding a more rewarding job in a better environment will help eliminate some stress and fatigue from your life. Also remember that you are not your job: have other areas in your life that bring you joy. 

Indicators of Job Search Burnout 

Whether you are balancing your current job with your job search or dealing with the stress of unemployment, it can be easy to get burned out. It can be less easy to identify that you are even burned out. Signs of job search burnout include declining health, feeling overwhelmed by simple tasks, feeling frustrated and irritable, and withdrawing socially.

Ways to Cope with Job Search Frustration

The job search is like a full-time job in itself. When a job search gets overwhelming, one way to cope is to use a job search tracker such as Huntr or Kiter. Huntr is an application that organizes your job applications, track and manage them. The company describes it as a CRM for your job search. It allows you to log notes, dates, descriptions, tasks, salaries, locations and company data.

Kiter is a similar application, available free on the web, that allows you to see the status of every application you submitted, as well as add tasks, reminders and contacts.  

Another method to dealing with job search frustration is to focus on finding a job, any job. Even if it’s not a job you want, it will help your confidence and mental state, which helps maintain your motivation to keep searching for the right job.

Being currently employed makes you more attractive to employers in and of itself, especially in tight markets, where hiring managers sometimes deal with the flood of resumes by throwing out anyone who’s not currently employed. Having an income gives you the flexibility to be more selective in what you apply for. Even if it doesn’t cover your expenses, it’s better than nothing. That said, try to limit panic-applying. Only apply to jobs you are excited about. Doing so will ensure you put effort into your cover letter and resume and will make the process enjoyable instead of unbearable. 

One major way to cope with job search frustration is to get feedback on your resume, cover letters and LinkedIn profile. Ask a friend, colleague or career coach to take a look at your resume. They can let you know if it needs polishing. Network online to increase your web presence. 

If you have been searching for months without hearing anything back, it may be time to reassess your strategy. It helps to be specific in what you want. If you know you only want to work in a specific industry, narrow your search. If you only want a particular type of job, like a work from home job, focus on positions that match that. 

Another way to cope with the job search blues is to stay busy: volunteer, learn a new skill, or work on creative or home improvement projects. Volunteering can also be a good way to network. 

Another way to cope with job search depression is to practice self-care. It is important to sleep, exercise, and do something each day that you enjoy. Stay in touch with your friends, both for your mental health and for potential job opportunities. Another important aspect of self-care is seeking therapy if possible. Letting go of negativity and self-doubt can have a positive impact on your job search. 

How to Stay Motivated and Positive

How to Stay Motivated and Positive

When your job search is not working, it can be difficult not to drown in negativity. However, there are methods to bring new life into a job search. One way to reinvigorate your job search is to expand it. Do not limit yourself to jobs you find on job search engines. Some companies only post jobs on their internal website.  

Another way to beat burnout is to set limits. Don’t overdo it by applying all day. Spend a certain amount of time each day on the job search and stop once you reach that amount of time. Set reasonable goals for yourself: decide the number of applications you want to send out each week and stick to that number.

Putting boundaries on your time will combat the guilt you feel when you are not applying. The structure will actually make you more productive. When it is time to focus on your job search, you can do so with no distractions, because you have set aside the time. And when you want to focus on other things, you do not have to feel guilty, because you have structured time to dedicate to your job search. 

Another method is to make a target list of companies. This is a list of employers you would love to work for. Take the time to research the companies on sites like Glassdoor, which allows you to learn about the company’s culture, work environment and salaries. Once you have the list, reach out to relevant people at the company. Find their contact information via LinkedIn’s companies sections. You can also find contact information on the company’s website. 

Next, send emails or LinkedIn messages to your contact on your companies list. State how your background can help their company. Follow up via phone. 

Another thing you can do to shake up the job process is to meet someone in your network in person over coffee. Tell them what you are doing and what you are looking for. Offer to help them with something they need, so that they keep you in mind. Ask them to introduce you to one other person, which will expand your network. Networking is integral to your job search. Try to spend just as much time reaching out to people as you do sending out applications.

Revamping your perspective is one way to stay positive and motivated. If you’ve been applying and applying and have not had any interviews, do not focus on that fact. Instead of feeling frustrated by that fact, imagine the returns you could get in the near future. You never know what is around the corner. Instead of putting your energy into worry, put it into turning yourself into a top candidate. 

Remember to focus only on what you can control. Some jobs require four interviews, others 10. Some take 30 to respond, others 90 days. You can’t control any of that, nor can you control much about the hiring process. What you can control is figuring out what you want, polishing your resume and LinkedIn profile, preparing for interviews, and scheduling meet-and-greets with people in your field.


If you are looking for a new job in order to improve your life, one way to beat job search burnout is by clearly envisioning how the job will improve your life. Remind yourself what is motivating you to make this step. Understanding why you want a job will help you call you to action rather than keeping you paralyzed with anxiety. Remember that a job search is a temporary experience, and the reward will be long-term, meaningful employment. 

Visualize how you will feel when you find your dream job and allow that feeling to affect you. Use this feeling to determine what is important to you and allow the accompanying feelings to power you through your job search. 

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Janice Reals Ellig

Chief Executive Officer

As the head of the Ellig Group, Janice is dedicated to increasing the placement of women and diverse candidates on corporate boards and in C-suites by 2025. Janice joined the legacy firm in 2000 and became Co-Chief Executive Officer in its transition to Chadick Ellig in 2007; she assumed sole ownership of the company as the Ellig Group in 2017 with a new focus on Reimagining Search. Prior to her career in executive search, Janice spent 20 years in corporate America at Pfizer, Citi and Ambac Financial Group, an IPO from Citibank, where she was responsible for Marketing, Human Resources, and Administration.

Heralded by Bloomberg Businessweek as one of “The World’s Most Influential Headhunters,” Janice is often consulted for her expertise and her commitment to gender parity, inclusion, and diversity. She frequently appears at speaking engagements and as a media guest, and she has penned multiple articles for outlets such as Directors & Boards, Directorship, Corporate Director, The Huffington Post, and Forbes.com. Janice also co-authored two books: Driving The Career Highway and What Every Successful Woman Knows, acknowledged by Bloomberg Businessweek as “the best of its genre.”

A tirelessly active member of the industry and champion of her causes, Janice is Founder of the Women’s Forum of New York’s Corporate Board Initiative and its signature event, Breakfast of Corporate Champions. Since 2011, Janice continues to spearhead this event to honor companies committed to board diversity and to encourage CEOs to sponsor board-ready women for the Women’s Forum database. (LINK: www.womensforumny.org).

Janice is personally committed to several NFP organizations: Board Director of the National YMCA and Past Chair of the YMCA Board of Greater New York; Trustee of the Actors Fund and Committee For Economic Development (CED); Incoming Chair, University of Iowa Foundation; Women’s Forum of New York Past President and Chair of the Corporate Board Initiative; member of the Steering Committee, US 30% Club and The Economic Club of New York.

In recognition for her many philanthropic activities, Janice received the University of Iowa Distinguished Alumni Award in 2011 and the Association of Executive Search Consultants (AESC) Eleanor Raynolds Award for Volunteerism in 2008. Named one of the “21 Leaders for the 21st Century” by Women’s eNews, she was also a recipient of the Channel 21 Award In Excellence for her contribution to “Excellence in the Economic Development for Women.”

“Listening to our clients’ needs, learning their business and understanding their culture is how we present the best talent and provide  a competitive advantage. We place candidates with the character, competencies, commitment, (intellectual) curiosity and courage to make a difference. Our goal is always to go beyond the expected and deliver valuable advice, measurable results and great talent!”

– Janice Reals Ellig

  • Champion of gender parity, diversity, and inclusion
  • Industry expert, speaker, and author
  • Founder of the Women’s Forum of New York’s Corporate Board Initiative
  • Committed board and committee member and philanthropist

T: (212) 688-8671 ext. 226
E: Janice@ElligGroup.com