5 Tips for How to Stay Motivated During Your Job Search

Let’s be honest here. Our adult lives have been defined by terrible job markets.

The 2008 financial crisis struck just as we were graduating high school or college. A decade later, as many of us were completing graduate degrees and preparing to hit the job market all over again, COVID-19 descended upon us.

All this isn’t meant to dwell on the past or complain that life is unfair or anything like that. We’re simply saying that, as a demographic cohort, we’ve had it rough.

If you’re an academic or recent PhD feeling discouraged or depressed in your current job search, just know that you have every right to be.

The real question is: what are you going to do now?

This post is about how to stay motivated during your job search. These are proven tips based on real, often miserable, sometimes tearful first-hand experience.

Even during the best of times, the job search is a long, hard slog. To make it, you’ll need to talk to people, set regular goals, keep a close eye on your finances, and (most importantly) make time for yourself.

1. Talk to People!

We’ve written quite a bit on the value of informational interviews for academics and PhDs hitting the non-academic job market for the first time.

Informational interviews are wonderful tools for scoping out a professional field, building your network, and even snagging an elusive referral for your job of choice.

But, practical utility aside, they’re also a fantastic way to stay motivated during your job search.

Talking to people is good for you. There’s a reason millions of people attend talk therapy sessions every year.

If you’re nervous about asking for an informational interview, don’t be. Everyone (outside of academia, anyway) does them. Likely as not, many of the people you’ll talk to did them back when they were job hunting.

Most will be genuinely happy to help you. They’ll be thoughtful and encouraging, and may even give you some new leads to call next.

In short, informational interviews are therapeutic. After all, searching for a new job sucks. Having someone to talk to about it is one of the best tricks for staying motivated during the job search process.

What you can do now:

  • Find some people on LinkedIn with jobs you’re interested in.
  • Send out a few connect requests asking for a brief phone conversation.
  • During the interview, ask them for specific, concrete advice. Try to leave the interview knowing exactly what you’ll do next.
  • Send a quick message thanking them for their time and asking to stay in touch.

2. Set Weekly Goals

No matter how long you expect to be searching for jobs, the actual time it will take will be far longer. If you’re really wondering how to stay motivated during your job search, you need to play the long game.

The best way to do this? Set goals! For example, each week you plan to:

  • Check the LinkedIn job boards once a day
  • Do one informational interview
  • Fill out 5 job applications
  • Add one new skill to your resume
  • Attend one online workshop or networking event

Don’t overextend yourself. Working too hard is counterproductive. It burns you out.

By the same token, don’t procrastinate on your job search. If you’re afraid of calling people or writing your non-academic resume, putting it off won’t make things any easier.

The trick—nay, the only real way to survive the process and find a job—is to do a steady amount of job search activities each week. Set goals and stay on track. In a lot of ways, it’s exactly like writing a dissertation!

What you can do now:

  • Create a ‘job-search calendar’ for yourself.
  • Schedule a certain number of interviews, applications, etc. each week.
  • Set aside one day a week to yourself, away from the job-search hamster wheel.

3. Track Your Finances

This is both a great tip for staying motivated during your job search and a great piece of life advice in general.

If you’re working part-time, freelancing, contracting, or otherwise occupying some form of precarious employment, track your finances.

Why? To get a sense of how much money you need each week and how much time you can spare for job searching.

Say, for example, you find that you spend $X each week. So long as you’re pulling in at least that much money, you can devote your extra time to job searching without worrying about your finances too much.

Believe us, knowing exactly how much money you need to get by is incredibly reassuring.

What you can do now:

  • Make a spreadsheet and track your earnings in one column, expenses in another.
  • In one cell, divide expenses by days of the year. Monitor how much money you need each week.
  • Organize your schedule such that you can earn enough to break even while also setting aside time to look for jobs.

4. Get a Side Project

By “side project” we don’t mean a hobby, exactly (though those are also great).

We mean something you can do to build skills and experience that is also enjoyable, fulfilling, and gets you away from the daily job-searching grind for a few hours. 

 What could this be? All kinds of things! For example, you might:

  • Start a WordPress blog: Practice your content writing, website design, and SEO skills. 
  • Learn to code: Check out Codecademy and other online resources to learn basic HTML, CSS, Python, etc.
  • Volunteer: Mind the front desk at a local nonprofit, or maybe deliver food for Meals on Wheels. There are all sorts of ways to build non-academic skills through volunteering.

You get the idea. It could be a hobby, a side hustle, a part-time job, whatever. Find something to do that is both enjoyable and contributes to your non-academic resume in some small way, without taking up too much of your time.

What you can do now:

  • Google some sample resumes in the industry you’re targeting. Check out what skills and experiences tend to crop up.
  • Identify simple things you can do to add those skills to your resume or enhance your LinkedIn profile.
  • Alternatively, just get a hobby! Take some time off. Do something meaningful and fulfilling with your time.

5. Take Stock of Your Progress

Finally, if you’re having trouble staying motivated during your job search, or really just staying motivated during any major endeavor, one of the best things you can do is take stock of how much progress you’ve made thus far.

It’s sort of like counting your blessings on Thanksgiving. Reflect upon your progress, become aware of what you have, and you’ll be inspired to keep going.

What you can do now:

  • Dig up old versions of your resume. You’ll be struck by how, well, bad they were, and how far you’ve come since.
  • Reread old cover letters. Again, you’ll be blown away by how much better your current version is.
  • Talk to academic friends and family who are still in grad school. You’ll be amazed at how much wiser you’ve become about the ‘real world’ since you left school.


Remember, at the end of the day, staying motivated during the job search is a long-term project.

“Staying motivated” doesn’t mean you’re operating at peak performance all day, every day. Everyone has good days and bad days. We all have highs and lows. It’s okay to feel frustrated sometimes. It’s okay to take a break when you need to.

The key is to get up the next morning and try again.

For more advice and support for job seekers, please check out our series of articles on self-care and leaving academia. For more career coaching services, please do not hesitate to reach out and talk to us directly.

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