Job seeker burnout: What it is and six ways to cope


Burnout is, unfortunately, a big issue in the world of nonprofit work. Between long hours, financial pressure, and the psychic weight of the work a lot of us do, feeling overextended and exhausted in our jobs is a common problem.

But there’s another kind of burnout that people in every field stand to encounter. We might even think of it as the opposite kind because it happens when we’re not at work. In fact, it happens when we’re not even employed! It’s job seeker burnout.

Feeling overwhelmed, unmotivated, stuck, stressed, and over it when you’re looking for work can be just as trying as when you’re at work, especially if you’ve been at it for a long time. But help is on the way! Try out these six ideas for keeping burnout at bay as you navigate your job hunt.

  • Consider casting a narrower net. If you’re all over the map with your job search—applying to scores of organizations every week, sending LinkedIn connection requests to everyone you’ve ever met, trying to attend every professional Meetup in your city—it might pay to take a more focused approach. Make sure you have clear goals about the job you want, and target your search efforts accordingly. If you’re really gunning to be a program manager, for example, don’t spend your precious energy trying to land that operations manager gig.
  • Pull yourself together. At the same time as you’re focusing your outward efforts, make sure to keep your job hunting house tidy internally, too. Use a spreadsheet to keep track of jobs you’re interested in and those you’ve applied to (copy down full descriptions as well as titles), interviews you’ve been on, thank-you letters you’ve written, etc. Staying organized is a huge weapon in your not-getting-overwhelmed arsenal. It can also be helpful to keep a list of ideas—a place you can store the advice, daydreams, and what-ifs that are likely springing up in your mind as your fingers toil at the laptop each day. Maybe it’s thoughts like, “Go back to school?” or “Email Matt from sophomore year” or “Look into contract work.” You never know when you’ll revisit one later and find an epiphany!
  • Don’t neglect the rest of life. The job hunt is always near the top of any serious seeker’s daily to-do list (and it should be), but it does pay to diversify your schedule with different activities. Just as maintaining a comfortable work/life balance helps us stay fresh and motivated in our careers and personal lives, finding a sustainable job hunt/life balance is key to staying healthy and optimistic while we search. Seriously schedule time between researching, applying, and networking to go for walks, cook something yummy, talk with friends, read a bit for leisure… In other words, don’t sit at your typewriter uninterrupted for so long that you pull a Jack Torrance.
  • Volunteer. It might seem counter-intuitive, but for a lot of job seekers, volunteering can be a great way to spend some time. For starters, it’ll get you out of the house (something it can be surprisingly hard to do with no office to go to, especially if you’re feeling blue)! And volunteering for a cause you’re genuinely interested in can also help keep your mind active as you learn and exercise new skills, introduce you to new people (also called networking), and make you feel like you still have something to contribute, even if you’re not getting paid for it at that moment.
  • Connect with others. You don’t have to search alone. Consider reaching out to fellow job seekers to share ideas and stories on how to maintain your cool while looking for work. In addition to providing you with an outlet for your frustrations, you can meet new people and offer support.
  • Keep perspective. No matter how dire your search situation might be, bear in mind that it is temporary. There’s always the possibility that things will get worse before they get better (sadly!), but they will change—that you can always count on. It might take longer than you predicted or be more difficult than you’d like, but by chipping away at your search with a good strategy and positive attitude, you’ll land something sooner or later.

How do you deal with a stressful job search? Share your tips in the comments.

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Photo Credit: KieferPix, Shutterstock

About Author

April Greene was an editor at


  1. I’m sorry but the last thing a person wants to hear about anything is “It will happen sooner or later!” lol maybe I’m just a pessimist but good advice nonetheless!

  2. Great article! I’d like to add one that works for me: Reconnect to your passion in a radically different way.

    Yes, you’ve been delineating your passion in resumes and cover letters until it becomes rote words on a screen, designed to appeal to a faceless hiring manager. We jobseekers have to be so serious! You risk losing touch with the original feelings that drive your passion in the first place.

    Blast yourself out of that rut for just a liberating moment. Write a love letter to your ideal job. Sing it. Dance it. Bark it at the moon for all anyone cares. Occasional jolts like this can reenergize your search with a fresh perspective.

  3. Great article. Though is waiting to get an answer part of that job burnout after being interviewed 3 times? It’s frustrating not to be informed. You end up acting like a pushy applicant when you keep emailing the organization about the status of your application. But I just keep trying until I find something.

  4. This article made some good points, but left out a huge factor– money. When you have been unemployed for two years– as I have been, and you have depleted your savings AND your IRA and you have a family to support , lack of money and fear of homelessness is overwhelming. I recognize that this is not everyone’s situation, but I’m betting most unemployed people are worried about finances.

    • Donna Daubert on

      What gets me is why employers think that because we have experience, we absolutely have to have large salary and aren’t considered? I have already accepted and adjusted to 30-40% decrease in salary. However, don’t be aghast when you ask me to commute 50-65 minutes on that salary, just is not affordable. I cannot pay bills when spending $150 per week on gas.

  5. I agree with Carol F…MONEY is a huge factor. I have been unemployed for nearly two years, all savings – gone, unemployment – gone. It is a serious struggle to make ends meet. I have had some temp work and have volunteered (which costs money). Yet, I am remaining optimistic. I must because the alternative is something I cannot even fathom. Great article.

    • Amen Ron, Carol, Brenda and Donna. These are such mind-twisting times. I loved reading the article and knowing that I’m not alone, but the tips can’t quite squelch that stomach churn and panic as my bank account depletes.

      My question is: why can’t employers treat job-seekers with a bit more compassion? Making someone wait months on a hook is not a negotiating tool — it’s cruel.

  6. Good article. I think it is the perpetual cycle of waiting that is the most stressful. Sometimes you get an acknowledgement and sometimes you don’t. With that, you feel like your application has fallen in a black hole somewhere. But, I believe if you stay determined and keep your passion in life before you things will fall into place. Much success with your job search and stay encouraged.

  7. I agree with Carol and Brenda. I’ve been out of steady work for more than 2 years and occasionally get temp work. Regarding the narrower net, I’d love to do that, but that would mean living in the state I want to move to and, of course, I’m broke. The small capital I live in has nothing close to what I want. So I’m stuck looking for and settling for what I don’t want. I envy people who have the means to relocate for what they want. Frustrating to not be where your interests are.

  8. Parker Brown-Nesbit on

    Interesting article, though a tad rosy for my psyche. I’ve been job hunting for 5 1/2 years. I worked part-time, so no unemployment benefits. I’m a Museum Educator (I do living history) so there’s not that many jobs in the first place. I find that meditation and yoga help. I think you’ve got to take care of yourself to be up to the rigors of job hunting.

  9. This came at exactly the right time for me. After being out of work for 8 months, I’m starting to feel like I’m going crazy. I agree with all of the above comments – no response from employers, not being considered for lower paying jobs even when I have plenty of experience, anxiety about being able to support myself – and just the general feeling of burnout (which ironically I researched years ago for a study on child care workers). I’m so emotionally drained from the effort of writing yet another cover letter and tailoring my resume and filling out yet another online application that I can barely physically do it. BUT this article reminded me that I’m NOT ALONE. Just knowing that others have experienced this and having the 6 clear tips for proceeding has helped tremendously.

    • I think there’s a better chance at being considered for a lower paying job if you somehow downplay your experience. For example, eliminate the higher level duties that would deter the company.

    • Me, too, Stacie. The “am I crazy / am I the only one?” aspect is so hard to talk about with others.

      A prospective employer recently turned me down because she feared I would “get bored” with the work… and I wrote her back: “Being out of work and not knowing how to pay the bills is far more boring.”


  10. Although it’s good to know I’m not alone, I wish I could talk to people in person in this similar situation. One more thing this town here doesn’t have, a group like this. Isolation just adds weight to the discouragement.

  11. I like the article. It is ‘uplifting’. I also agree with all responses. It is scary, economically and frustrating (waiting to hear if your resume landed or is still circling in cyberspace) and lonely; especially when my circle of friends/support are all employed.

  12. Pingback: Where do you go for support in the job search? | Idealist Careers

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