Question: “I’ve been out of work for a few months now and am really struggling to stay motivated in my job search.  Any tips you can share on how I can stay more focused?”

You’ve raised an outstanding question, and as I’m sure a large percentage of my clients would agree, staying positive, focused, and motivated is perhaps the single most difficult issue related to the career transition process.  Attitude is everything, and looking back after 14 years in this field, I would say that the average individual’s success rate in the job market is more tightly correlated with their motivation level than with any single job search tactic, resume trick, or employment resource in the book.

The first step in improving your motivation level, I believe, is to acknowledge the importance of this issue and recognize that it truly may be the greatest obstacle to your eventual success.  Honor the fact that looking for work is one of the hardest challenges the average person will go through in their lifetime.  For starters, you’ve got the fact that most professionals in transition are in a position where they have to go out and try to impress employers, despite the likelihood that they are smack in the middle of the grieving process, rebounding from some negative disruption in their career such as a layoff, business failure, or involuntary termination.  You’ve also got to contend with the sudden loss of familiar routines and relationships.  Most people tend to underestimate (or fail to notice altogether) the “stabilization effect” that comes with having have a familiar workplace, job title, and commute to fall back on each day.  Pull this rug out from under them, and suddenly anything goes.  The weeks fly by like they were days, social contacts tend to diminish, and people marvel at how little they’re able to accomplish despite suddenly having so much “free time” available to them.

Additionally, unlike other life challenges such as dieting or working out, job seekers tend to receive very little positive feedback during the course of their search efforts.  While you can always look in the mirror or step on the scale to see that your “get in shape” plan is bearing fruit, job seekers often send hundreds of resumes out without netting a single interviewing opportunity or positive response from an interested employer.  This lack of immediate, incremental feedback makes it tough to stick to your plan, and you can easily start to question your methods and lose confidence.  Even if you know you’re doing everything right, and have an experienced coach in your corner telling you to stay the course and be patient, basic human nature makes it tough to do anything — week in and week out — on faith alone.

All this being said, there are a few simple methods you can try that might help you clamp down on the job search challenge and maintain a steady positive outlook.  One is to have a clear plan of action built around simple, measurable short-term tasks and goals.  By crossing a few of these items off your list each day, you’ll start to visualize your progress and will gain a continued sense of accomplishment.  I’d also highly recommend that you begin a physical fitness regimen or “get control” of some other important aspect of your life, aside from your employment situation, since doing so will help you feel good about yourself and keep things in perspective.  Lastly, you should make an extra effort to get out of the house and expose yourself to social and educational opportunities.  Take a class.  Volunteer at your church or a local school.  Step up to an officer role with an appropriate professional association.  These actions will not only expand your networking opportunities, but will keep your brain engaged and help you combat the paralyzing feelings of withdrawal and isolation that can often creep in.

Easier to say than to do?  Always.  But ultimately, when you get to the other side and look back, the true measure of your success won’t be how soon you find your next job — since that issue isn’t fully in your control — but how good of a job you did at recognizing, respecting, and responding to one of the most difficult transitions life can throw at you.