Burning Question: What’s Harder, Holding a Job or Hunting for a Job?

//Burning Question: What’s Harder, Holding a Job or Hunting for a Job?

Burning Question: What’s Harder, Holding a Job or Hunting for a Job?

This morning, when advising a client around their job hunting efforts, I suggested he go home and complete a few activities I’d recommended such as updating his resume, enhancing his LinkedIn profile, and building out a list of all of the people he knew as a foundation for launching a systematic networking effort.  Not only did I provide him with detailed documentation about how to go about each step, but also stressed that if he got stuck or that if even the slightest question came up, I was only an e-mail or phone call away.

His response to this advice?  “Holy cow, I feel overloaded!  I’m not sure when I’m going to be able to get all of those things accomplished.  I had no idea there was so much involved in looking for work these days…

Simply put, this individual seemed overwhelmed by the set of next steps I was recommending, despite the documentation provided and the fact that the activities in question would only likely take 5-10 hours to complete at the absolute most.  What’s more, his reaction wasn’t the slightest bit unusual.  I’ve found that a great many out-of-work professionals today (perhaps even the majority) tend to have a reaction like this when you make them aware of all the “moving parts” that go into a modern job search campaign and what they’d need to do to increase their odds of success.

So here’s my question to all of you out there who have gone through a recent career transition.  Why does the process of looking for work often seem so hard — and so daunting — when in reality, it often involves far LESS work than actually holding a job, itself?  Why does putting in a few hours of structured search activity per day seem so challenging when in reality, most of us already have years of experience punching a clock and putting in 8-10 hour workdays?  Why does the employment quest sometimes seem like an unconquerable mountain, when like any other project, it can be broken down into simple steps and digestible chunks like anything else?

Make no mistake, please.  I’m not negatively judging job seekers for this reaction, since it’s such a “normal” response to this process that I figure there has to be some legitimate explanation for it.  It can’t just be the case that people who are used to moving mountains and busting their tail at work, every day, suddenly become whiners, shirkers, or slackers the moment they lose their job and need to start the process of finding a new one.  So I’d throw out a few potential explanations for this phenomenon — and always, would welcome any comments or further thoughts any of you might be willing to share.

1.  The job hunting challenge is an unfamiliar one.  Even though most people have demonstrated the ability to put in long hours and go the extra mile in their daily jobs, perhaps they just don’t know how to allocate their time appropriately in a job search — or what exactly to do — and this uncertainty prevents them from kicking their efforts into full gear.

2.  It doesn’t seem like it should take so much effort.  For some folks, perhaps they’re hung up on issues related to pride or the perceived “fairness” of the market today — and as a result, don’t feel they need to work hard, ask for help, or go the extra mile to find a job given the talent they possess and their history of accomplishments to date.

3.  It didn’t take much effort the last time around.  For those people who haven’t had to look work in many years, it could simply be that their benchmark is off and that they’re comparing the amount of effort needed in 2017 to find a job to the amount they needed to exert in 1997 — when the job market was fundamentally different and they, themselves, were looking for lower-level assignment at potentially a lot less pay.

4.  The lack of incremental feedback suppresses motivation.  When attacking many challenges in life, such as losing weight or getting in shape, your efforts typically generate positive feedback (e.g. the pounds come off, your clothes fit better, etc.) that makes it easier to stick with your regimen.  With job hunting, however, you can go entire weeks without getting a legitimate nibble, making you question your efforts and muster the willpower needed to keep faithfully executing your game plan, day after day.

5.  Challenges seem greater when one’s confidence is diminished.  Given that most job hunters, by definition, are coming out of layoffs, terminations, and other events that have impacted their confidence — and caused them to feel a certain amount of insecurity — it seems natural that any new challenge they’re facing might be a bit blown out of proportion, due to their current emotional state.  It’s hard to judge a situation accurately, in other words, when you’re dealing with an elevated level of stress and not feeling like you’re at the peak of your powers.

6.  The honeydew list keeps getting in the way.  Oddly enough, a great many job hunters I meet tell me they feel busier now that they’re unemployed than they ever did when they were working full-time.  So could some explanation for the perceived “difficulty” of a job search simply be that a person often has a bunch of other things in their lives flare up and demand attention (e.g. child care, household errands, health issues, volunteer commitments, etc.) and as a result, don’t have as much free time to look for work as one would anticipate?

7.  No one is forcing you to do it or holding you accountable.  And lastly, one possible theory for why looking for work can often seem uncharacteristically difficult — even for gung-ho, Type A people — is that you’re pretty much responsible for lighting a fire under yourself each day.  There’s no boss telling you what to do, no peers or customers giving you deadlines to attain, and no formal structure/schedule/habits in place to ensure you stay accountable and get things done.  You need to drive the entire process all by yourself, start to finish.

So what do you think?  Do any of these proposed theories hit the target and explain why “10 hours of work” related to your job search can seem infinitely harder than “10 hours of work” devoted to your actual job duties?  Do you think a number of these factors often affect people, simultaneously?  Or that the reasons behind job search execution difficulties vary wildly from person to person?  Any other potential explanations or contributing factors that I might have overlooked and left off the list?

In closing, while the above issues certainly don’t affect every out-of-work individual I come across, they certainly seem to be present with quite a few folks going through the process.  And it’s clear that there must be hidden forces involved in this challenge, since again — on the surface — the amount of effort required, time-wise, isn’t anything even remotely unfamiliar to the vast majority of working adults.  So if you’re currently struggling to execute your own daily search regimen and get your efforts into a methodical groove, give some serious thought to the points above and see if you any of them might be the culprits that are holding you back.

P.S. If you’re interested in reviewing a few more “burning questions” I’ve asked over the years, discussing some of the deeper aspects of the career management process, click here!

By | 2017-09-18T18:17:46+00:00 September 18th, 2017|Burning Questions|6 Comments

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  1. Barb Rowan September 19, 2017 at 5:05 pm

    While I feel for newly unemployed people, the possible reasons you describe are all typical daily “hinderances” in the life of a self-employed person. I think there is a reason why people do not choose that route, especially after experiencing both emotional and implementation roadblocks. I am in a position of helping small businesses market themselves and I run into the same situation you’ve described. Having attended your workshops in the past, I know you do an excellent job of preparing and laying out what needs to be done. I do too, but the “work” involved in job search or business development takes reflection and mindfulness. There is no shortcut. I think that’s a rude awakening to many.

  2. Posy Gering September 19, 2017 at 6:03 pm

    I agree with everything Barb said and add a few thoughts from my stance as someone who helps individuals and organizations change.

    All the steps you recommend, Matt, mean that the job seeker has to take huge risks, such as:
    – they have to ask people they know and people they don’t know for help
    – they have to expose themselves to others who measure their worth
    – they have to advocate for themselves
    – they have to get a lot of feedback (some positive and many “no”‘s) and have the resilience to sustain during many times when there is no feedback at all

    If the person has a lot of their identity wrapped up in their former job, they’re going to feel worthless, formless, competitive, inadequate, or behave defensively to protect themselves from feeling those feelings.
    They let their assumptions about what will happen prevent themselves from actually acting.

    In short, people’s immunity to change is often much stronger than their lip service of wanting it. (Bob Kagan’s Immunity to Change is an excellent book on this. ) If your job seekers want to “get over it”, I’d recommend they look at everything that is happening in their lives as data, and get really, really curious about the role the interfering actions or inactions play and what their assumptions and beliefs are underneath the waterline of their consciousness.

    As always, great stuff, Matt!

    • Matt Youngquist September 19, 2017 at 7:06 pm

      Posy: Many thanks for your kind words and insights into this important topic! Love all of the points you raised, as well as the book recommendation. I’ll definitely have to check that one out…

  3. Richard Shay September 20, 2017 at 1:28 pm

    Another insightful article, Matt. I’ve subscribed to your blog for years and know the hard work you put into helping all who seek new roles and responsibilities. The free research you provide, the recommendations you make, and the results you can help create are all top notch. Each of the “reasons” you give are accurate and many times several of them seem to impact the job seeker at the same time. Reason 3, “It didn’t take much effort the last time around” particularly resonates for older workers. I’ve always shared with others that looking for work can almost be like taking on a second part time job and most people I’ve tried to help just don’t seem willing to take on that extra work, even though it is in their own best interest. Best of luck in your continued crusade to help the job seekers of the world. :)

    • Matt Youngquist September 20, 2017 at 4:16 pm

      Dick: Many thanks for your comments – and no question about it, I don’t think any of these specific reasons functions in isolation. In most cases, there are several that are combining together to make the “job hunting challenge” seem particularly hard or daunting. And you’re right, for those workers old enough to remember how things used to work before the Internet took over, there’s an even higher learning curve and set of outdated assumptions to overcome. Again, much appreciate you sharing your perspective…

  4. Chris Scott September 21, 2017 at 7:31 pm

    I just read your piece and wanted to offer a few thoughts. Having just come out of a job search 90 days ago, many of these issues are still clear & present in my mind.

    I think you’re on point when you suggest that the overwhelming feelings created by a job search are the result of a combination of issues. Personally, I had no problem holding myself accountable to getting up and getting moving every day. In fact, I quickly re-discovered my innate love for networking, which would ultimately end up being the key to finding a new role that I absolutely love. (I say I re-discovered networking because I had just spent 10 years in an industry that did not reward or encourage networking and, thus, I allowed myself to fall into the trap of not doing it).

    However, the two hardest issues for me to deal with, which you hit on in your piece, were the fact that the job search process was unfamiliar, combined with a lack of feedback or validation. While most of us have at least a general idea of what we need to do in our daily jobs in order to be successful, when attempting something like a job search, we often have no idea about which activities or strategies are going to be most successful (i.e., attending networking meetings, filling out endless online job applications, cold calling, etc.) and, thus, are uncertain about where to spend our time. Secondly, when we’re in a “known” situation such as a job and/or company in which we have years of experience, there is often very little need for frequent validation. However, when we’re in unfamiliar territory, validation becomes much more valuable, and sought after. Granted, it can come in many forms – return phone calls from potential employers, interviews, or even a positive comment from other job seekers. However, when we go through dry spells, such as a week or two without any positive activity, it causes us to quickly start to question our relevance as professionals.

    Even after we land a new gig, particularly one that is two or three steps away from our last role, I would argue that this need for frequent validation, however minimal, can spill over and cause us to question ourselves if we’re not careful. Thus, when faced with these feelings, I think it is important to remind ourselves frequently that our [new] employer offered us the job because they saw a desired set of qualities within us that made us an attractive hire and, in most situations, they needed and wanted us us just as much or more than we needed the job.

    Thanks for an insightful piece.
    Take care,

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