Long-term job-hunter? How to stay motivated

Tracy Dempsey's wellbeing column in the Irish Sunday Mirror - long-term job-huntersCan’t seem to get a break in the current job market, despite your best efforts? Feeling demoralized and demotivated? Feel like you’ve been on a long road and no end is in sight? In difficult economic times, you can be doing everything right and still not be able to bag a good job – here are some ideas for how to stay motivated until you do.

Optimise Your Job Search

First of all, review your current job search strategy. Are you treating your job hunt like a job itself – with structure, tasks and targets? You should be – you’re essentially your own boss now and your job is to create a satisfying career. Are you spending time staying up-to-date with your chosen industry, attending (often free) networking events, boosting your online profile? Perhaps the industry you want work in is in decline – in which case your time may be better spent re-training for a change, rather than chasing dwindling jobs. Or perhaps it’s developing in ways that mean certain, specialist skills are now required to do well – giving you the opportunity to study or train with your extra time. Do your research: check websites such as COBRA or MINTEL (UK), Enterprise Ireland or your national equivalents as well as industry-specific sites (check your local business library for free access, and bring a USB stick as you will probably be charged for print-outs). Talk to your local enterprise or business development agency; in trade magazines and general business press. Even if you’re not considering starting a business, a good knowledge of the issues business owners in your chosen industry are currently facing can only be a good thing for your employability.

Sort Out Your Finances

If your financial situation is your biggest worry, now’s the time to take control. Do a financial audit: check your credit rating with respected agencies (in the UK the big three are www.experian.co.uk, www.equifax.co.uk and/or www.callcredit.co.uk; in Ireland it’s the Irish Credit Bureau); list all your debts and find out what your interest rates are to know what exactly you’re paying back; and monitor your outgoings to see where you can cut back. Sites like www.moneysavingexpert.com and www.mabs.ie have free tools and advice to help you, as well as forums where people share tips and discounts. If you’re in debt, use free services such as www.debtadvicefoundation.orgwww.stepchange.org or your own country-specific alternatives for advice and practical help. Starting to deal with debt will be a massive relief, whilst ignoring it could lead to serious difficulties.

Boost Your Health

How about your health? Are you feeling so fed up that you’re sitting about watching tv or surfing the net, snacking on comfort foods? This is highly dangerous – your mental wellbeing is tied-up with your physical wellbeing and you need to take good care of both, especially during stressful times. Pick a cheap activity that you can enjoy – buy a home workout dvd (this is my favourite*!) or spend more time outdoors – even just put on your favourite music and dance around your living room. A ‘reason’ people often give for not being in better physical shape is not having enough time to work out – when you’ve an abundance of time you can try out new activities, even free ones like walking or hiking, and enjoy massive benefits to your physical and mental health.

How about boosting your cookery skills? There are loads of great recipe sites and YouTube videos showing healthy, easy-to-prepare, low-cost meals that you can cook in bulk and freeze in portions – which will be extremely useful for when you’re back in employment!

Boost Your Mental Health

Don’t forget to feed your mind and spirit too – find inspirational articles, books, music, quotes and take time to enjoy them – use them to set yourself practical goals and enjoy the boost of achieving them. Pin up quotes you particularly love where you’ll see them often (I still have the poem ‘Invictus‘ above my desk, from back in my ‘Dark Times’). And make sure to keep your sense of humour – watch your favourite comedy shows/films; keep favourite cartoons/books to hand (or find them online); go to open mic nights (especially free/cheap ones – student nights are often good for this).

Calvin & Hobbes cartoon. Calvin: "Why can't I stay up late? You guys can! IT'S NOT FAIR!" Dad: "The world's not fair, Calvin." Calvin: "I know, but why isn't it ever not fair in my favor?"


Do that de-clutter you never had time for while you were working; tackle a room at a time, or even just a drawer. Look into online selling or car boot sales, bin the things that can’t be recycled, recycle what can and/or donate unwanted-but-useable things to your local thrift shop.

De-clutter your mental habits too! What outdated beliefs are you holding on to that should have been binned years ago? What beliefs need updating? And how could you freshen up your outlook? Try automatic writing as a way to get to the bottom of what’s going on mentally; you can achieve some real ‘Eureka!’ moments very quickly. Grab a paper and pen (or keyboard) and on a fresh page, just start writing – but don’t allow yourself to stop. We’re very good at editing our stories to suit ourselves; the key to this exercise is writing or typing so fast you haven’t time to consciously edit. Some nonsense will come out, particularly as you are just getting used to the process, but just ignore that and keep going. After some practice, you’ll probably find it hard to keep up with your stream of consciousness, and be amazed at the breakthrough thoughts that come out.

Learn a New Skill

Perhaps download a free language learning podcast from iTunes or do a short course on www.coursera.org or www.udemy.com. Many universities now have materials online to study for free, although usually for no official credit, via iTunes U (access them directly via iTunes on your computer).

See the Open Courseware Consortium’s website for more info. Some examples:

Find Free Entertainment

For entertainment as well as learning, become an expert at finding free events and activities, and go to them with fellow out-of-workers, or friends off work on maternity/paternity leave. Many arts organisations organise free events; find them online and subscribe to their ezines, follow them on Twitter, become a fan of their Facebook pages, etc. to be kept up to date.

Give A Little Bit

One sure-fire way to feel better about your lot is to get involved helping those dealing with tougher situations – and this is perhaps your best opportunity to donate your time, energy and skills to a worthy cause. Aside from the knowledge that you are doing good, volunteering experience looks good on your CV – and you can target organisations/roles where the experience will help you maintain or boost your skills. You could choose to approach an organisation directly to volunteer for them, or work with a volunteer agency to find a suitable match – locally, nationally or internationally. (For international volunteering, check out this ethical guide to international volunteering.)

You Are More Than A Job

Remember that your work situation is only one small part of who you are. Who are you outside of work? What are the various roles you play in your life, and other people’s? Who were you before your last job? Who are you becoming now?

Choose to focus on the positives of your situation– you’ve an opportunity to create a better career, in the same field or a new one. You have time to deal with underlying issues (finances, health) that you might previously have ignored. And you’ve time to explore opportunities and do some of the things you wished you had time to do while you were in the 9-5. (If you missed it, see my ‘10 Weeks to Wellbeing‘ series for ideas.)

Use your time wisely and you could look back on this period as a positive turning point in your life!

Be well,


[A shorter version of this article first appeared in Northern Ireland’s “Belfast Telegraph” and ‘Sunday Life” in January 2011, and in longer form here on the blog on 7th Feb 2012.]

*Amazon affiliate link – which I only use for things I really recommend.

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