Today's job prospects are a far cry from early 2020 projections that the year would put job seekers in the driver's seat of finding new work. Across the country, tens of millions of Americans continue to receive unemployment benefits seven months into the pandemic-induced economic freefall. And according to the latest available data, there was roughly one job opening for every two people out of work in August.
Studies have shown that extended unemployment and underemployment can have a longstanding impact on a job seeker's physical and mental health. And during a triple health, economic and racial justice crisis in America, the stress of being without a job and steady income can feel even more staggering.
CNBC Make It spoke with experts for guidance on how to manage feelings of burnout while job searching during the pandemic.
There are plenty of things out of your control that are probably contributing to everyday stress: the economy, the job market, news of the election, enduring examples of racism in the country — not to mention the presence of the coronavirus itself.
While these issues can't be ignored, Austin-based therapist Melody Li and founder of the Inclusive Therapists community says it's crucial to focus on what you can control in order to ease stress and burnout. When it comes to the job search, while you can't control how long it will take you to find new work, you can control how much time you give to the process on a daily and weekly basis.
Dan Black, global recruiting leader for the consulting firm EY, recommends spending between 1 and 3 hours a day during a typical work week actively job hunting. Block out a time of day when you're most productive, whether that's first thing in the morning, or in the afternoon when you're done caring for kids doing virtual learning or another time. And like other experts, he says sticking to a routine — making your bed, showering, getting dressed — can put you in a more focused mindset.
For the remainder of your day, Black recommends you schedule in tasks to complete that can give you a sense of accomplishment. That could mean doing another hour or two of career-related tasks, such as completing an online training course or attending a virtual conference. Or it could even be things you need to get done around the house.
"If you spend an entire day doing something and it doesn't yield results immediately or soon thereafter, it's a blow to your ego no matter who you are," Black says. "Carve out pieces of your day that you can count as successes."
Another part of your job search you have control over is your environment. Sending off emails from your couch in front of the TV for hours on end isn't sustainable and can be hard on both the body and the mind, Li says.
"Some people may think, 'This is temporary, so I don't want to invest the time to create a nice environment,'" Li adds. However, she explains that this kind of thinking can put undue stress on your expectations that you'll find a job immediately. Being intentional about your surroundings "will help with your sustainability and general energy while job searching."
Improvements can be simple: Try putting on some joyful music during your job search hours, lighting a scented candle, wearing something that makes you feel good and setting up your laptop so you have something nice, such as the view outside a window, to look at.
With much of daily life now relegated to online activity, Li says it's crucial to break up the monotony mentally as well as physically.
"Our minds are not wired to thrive on monotony. Our minds are wired to thrive on variety," she says of being constantly attached to devices. "So when we start to starve out parts of our mind, like creativity and activity, which is common now during Covid, we may feel sluggish." This, in turn, can make an already depleting job-search experience even worse: "We may feel our brains aren't as sharp or we're having a hard time finding words during an interview."
Instead, make a commitment to yourself to do something active and creative at least once a week, such as going on a long weekend hike or adding a new plant to your garden. Plan it in advance.
"Give yourself something to look forward to every week," Li says. "Some folks are holding out on kindness to themselves until they find a job. They think they're not deserving of joy, but that's self-punishment. On top of feeling rejected, that accumulates and can become anxiety or depression."
Instead of feeling guilty that you're taking time away from applying to jobs, remember that prioritizing your well-being will help you feel recharged when you get back to it.
For many people, a paradox of the pandemic is that they need support from friends and family more than ever, yet interacting in person brings its own set of risks. And with so much going on, you may feel that you don't want to burden others when they have their own struggles to deal with.
Still, there are other ways to find support from people in a similar situation as you, says Claire Wasserman, founder of the Ladies Get Paid career-development community and author of a forthcoming book. She suggests forming a group of five or so people, whether in your own network or through an online platform, to talk through your experiences job searching during the pandemic.
Sharing your experience can keep you from shouldering the challenge, and burnout, on your own. Wasserman says being honest can help others feel less alone in their experience, too.
"Being transparent about what you're going through is helping another person," she says. "Shift your mindset and know, it's not about demonstrating weakness or like you're being a burden. Everybody at some point has to figure out how to find a new job or negotiate your salary."
The positive reinforcement of others in a similar boat can also keep you motivated when constant non-response — or flat-out rejection — can feel like a reflection of your self-worth.
Additionally, such networks can help you power up your job-search process by providing networking opportunities; resume and cover letter help; interview feedback and so on. Regular group check-ins on progress can also keep you accountable to hitting your job-search goals.
As bleak as things are across many parts of the job market, it's hard to not take it personally when you don't hear back from a hiring manager. But each expert reiterates that it's crucial to try and get out of this mindset. The outcome of your application is dependent on the complex ecosystem of the job market, down to how each organization has changed its hiring process in light of the pandemic.
Also remember that, if an opportunity outside your normal field presents itself, how you earn income isn't a reflection of yourself.
"If you need money and need it now, there's absolutely no shame in that," Wasserman says. "Maybe on your resume it doesn't make sense, but no one will look at your job in this year and think, 'Why did you work this random customer service job in 2020?'"
Li says it can be helpful to write out a list of the things you're good at and display it as a reminder. Check in with friends and family about non-work-related things.
And finally, "Take into account this is a tough time for a lot of people," Black says. "But just because you haven't heard back yet doesn't mean you're not qualified, or that you're never going to find a job, or that you're no good. Give yourself some forgiveness."