Why do we hate job searching so much? Why is job searching so hard?
“What do you mean, ‘why’? Job searching sucks! Everyone knows that!”
Well, yes it does. But it’s one thing to know that you hate job searching; it’s quite another to interrogate why you hate job searching.
That’s what we’ll try to unpack today.
Undoubtedly, the reasons why job searching sucks are innumerable. But, in this article, we’ve tried to pin down 4 core reasons why the job search process is so difficult for so many of us.
Like all content on Beyond the Professoriate, this post is directed chiefly towards graduate students, recent PhDs, and academics of all stripes.
However, if you’ve ever felt defeated, frustrated, or enraged by the job search process, we hope this article will provide some modicum of solace no matter what industry you’re in.
1. It Subjects Us to External Validation
No one likes being judged by others. But, during the job search process, you are constantly, incessantly, subjecting yourself to the callous judgments of random strangers.
Imagine this: you pour your heart and soul into your cover letter and craft a resume that perfectly encapsulates your professional life, achievements, and aspirations. Then you upload your documents to the company website, and … wait.
If the employer likes your resume and offers you an interview, awesome! If they don’t, you hear nothing. Or, arguably worse, you get one of those soul-crushing “Thank you for applying” generic rejection emails.
In other words, job seekers are forced to live according to the principle of external validation. This is, perhaps, the fundamental reason so many of us hate job searching.
You are forced, day in and day out, to worry about what other people think of you: of your career aspirations; your skills and experiences; how you look and sound during the interview; etc. You’re happy if and only if some authority figure (the employer) gives their approval.
Establishing internal sources of validation is an essential step in growing as an individual. Happiness, contentment, and fulfillment are always most meaningful when found within. But a job search, by its very nature, precludes this kind of internal validation.
(For more, please check out this article on the value of internal validation.)
What You Can Do to Overcome
To overcome the burden of external validation, you must do something that academics are notoriously bad at: separate your personal from your professional life.
Learn to separate the external validation of your professional profile from the internal validation of your own self worth. You are not your job. You are not your degree. You are not your resume.
Remember, when an employer rejects you, they only reject your professional persona. That says nothing at all about you as a person.
2. It Forces Us to Perform Emotional Labor
If you’re not familiar, “emotional labor” is a term coined by sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild in 1983. It refers to the act of managing and expressing emotions to fulfill the requirements of a job.
An alternate formulation of emotional labor might be “pretending to care about things you don’t actually care about.”
Almost all jobs involve some emotional labor. Waiters, sales clerks, and flight attendants (to name three) must smile in the face of boorish and disrespectful customers. Teachers have to keep kids interested no matter how boring the day’s lesson might be.
Likewise, the job search demands an enormous amount of emotional labor. That alone is enough of a reason to hate job searching.
No matter how much you may want a job, there will be certain parts of it that don’t exactly, uh, electrify you.
Even if it’s your dream job, your patience will probably be wearing thin by the fourth round of Zoom interviews.
But, nevertheless, you must do the emotional labor. Employers look for loyalty and commitment when making hires. They want excitement and enthusiasm. The burden is 100% on you to convey that during the hiring process.
Emotional labor is a major—yet often unspoken—reason why job searching is so hard. Some people unfamiliar with the term lack the words to describe the debilitating emotional exhaustion they feel while job hunting. But we’ve all felt it. We all know the feeling.
What You Can Do to Overcome
If you’re emotionally exhausted and tired of performing enthusiasm in the way hiring managers expect, one solution is to go the opposite route—get more serious.
During the “do you have any questions for us?” bit at the end of the interview, ask the following:
“May I take a moment to explain what my work means to me personally?”
Prepare a speech about how important your work is to you. You don’t need to get all bubbly and giddy. So long as you make your seriousness and commitment abundantly clear, most employers will accept that you do, indeed, want the job.
(This advice provided by The Cut.)
3. The Enormous Sunk Cost
Job searching is itself basically a part-time job. You may spend 10–20 hours per week researching opportunities, revising your resume, filling out applications, doing interviews, fuming over rejection emails, etc.
Suppose you come across a job opening you really want. You spend:
- 1 hour tailoring your resume to the requirements of the job
- 2 hours writing a cover letter
- 4 hours practicing for the interview
- 2.5 hours doing interviews (the company requires three rounds of interviews)
- 0.5 hours writing thank-you notes after each interview.
- 1 hour nervously checking your email and phone for updates
- 2 hours crying yourself to sleep after hearing that the company chose an internal applicant who had effectively been promised the job from the get-go.
Okay, so that comes to … (drum roll) … 13 hours of your life completely, utterly wasted.
With all the effort that goes into filling out job applications—the vast majority of which are unsuccessful—the cumulative sunk cost of it all can border on psychological torture.
What You Can Do to Overcome
There’s no easy answer to this. In job searching, both in and out of academia, the same ratio holds true: a thousand failures; one success.
Our best advice is to learn from your failures and keep trying. Always ask for feedback after an unsuccessful application. Remember what interview questions you were asked, and prepare answers for next time. Always work on improving your profile and expanding your network.
If you learn from the experience, it’s not really a sunk cost. You’ll be a better candidate next time. That’s huge.
4. The Future Is Highly Uncertain
As we’ve discussed before, academics and PhDs are socialized to expect extremely linear career paths.
From the minute we enroll in graduate school, our career path is set for us. We plan to complete our PhD in 5–8 years and then springboard into a postdoctoral fellowship or, God willing, a tenure-track job.
The rest of the professional world does not work that way.
Point is, the professional world is highly unpredictable. As you embark on your job search, you may have no idea where you’ll be a year from now, or even six months from now.
And that’s scary.
“How am I going to pay the rent next year?”
“How much longer until the company starts hiring again?”
“How long will I be stuck in this dead-end contract gig?”
These are all scary questions with no good answers. For those of us accustomed to linear academic career paths, it’s hard not to stare into the abyss of uncertainty. Many of us hate job searching for that reason alone.
What You Can Do to Overcome
First, determine your baseline financial needs.
Track your monthly expenses. Calculate how much work you need to do in your current job, or future jobs, to meet your income needs and keep your head above water.
The better you understand your personal financial situation, the better you can plan for the future (even if you have NO IDEA what you’ll be doing in the future).
Second, map out future plans as best you can.
Do you know where you’ll be in one month? Great! Write that down. Two months? Awesome! Make a note of it.
The future is shrouded in darkness, but you can, at least, test how far your flashlight will penetrate. Trust us, even a tentative two-month plan can be enormously reassuring.
The hard truth here is that there are no easy answers to many of the challenges discussed in this article.
Over the course of your job search, you will be subjected to external validation, be forced to perform emotional labor, and sink considerable time and effort into dead-end applications, all while having no clue what the future holds.
We all hate job searching. Job searching is scary. There’s no sense denying it.
If you’re feeling frustrated or burnt out by your job search, just know that there are resources available to you.
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