Is This Your Brain on Job Search?

As the weeks wear on with no job offer in sight, are you finding yourself more and more frazzled by the mountains of job search information out there? Do you spend your days reading and talking about how to find a job – in between actually looking for one? If so, by now your brain may feel like a giant pulsating thought cloud, with internal job search chatter crowding out even your best efforts at normal life:

And this is only the tip of what you must be cramming in there. Your poor brain!

Even the seemingly simple act of waiting to find out if you got the job…or a second interview…or a response to any of your attempts to find out what’s going on…can shoot you right into a state of OCD interview madness. Not a great mental state for job hunts.

And worst of all, intense focus on the job search process may actually be hurting your job search. Let me say that another way…focusing too much on certain aspects of your search and on each and every thing that happens (or doesn’t happen) as a result, may divert you from a more productive focused search, leaving you stuck trying to change or even make sense of what you can’t control…and less effectively taking actions that have a chance of helping.

Why the devil may be in the details

While I’m not alone in saying job search should be treated like a full-time job, it’s hard not to bring your “job” home with you since that’s where your job search office is.  And that means it’s hard to keep your brain from thinking about it all the time, including every little thing you could have done better (even if you did your best) or all the ways the interviewing company should have handled things or every single moment the phone doesn’t ring.  And getting stuck in those details just isn’t helping you.

As the poster child for information overload, with tons of internet advice (not all of it good) and the ever-increasing list of job search experiences you keep reexamining, you are being tugged and pulled in way too many directions…and the result may be you aren’t able to focus your energies where they would do you the most good.  And you may even be radiating this fog of frustration and futility outward where interviewers and potential networking contacts can feel it and interpret this as who you really are. And we all know you’re better than that! 😉

So how do you get your focus back to where it belongs?

I’m glad you asked. In fact, I’d love to hear what other folks do to tame their brains when they go out of control. As for me, my trick for wrangling an ornery brain is to:

(1) Become aware so that I can see when it’s happening

(2) Tell myself to stop

(3) Take some deep breaths – in 8, out 8 slowly

(4) Use a set of words that I’ve chosen to help divert the brain from where it was getting stuck

(5) Redirect myself to an action that is aimed directly at what I really want to create

For instance, if you want to create a new job for yourself, then do things that get you closer to THAT goal. Worrying about all the would have/ should have/could have claptrap gets you nowhere. Instead, among other things, you could:

  • Find a new person to connect with or ask for an informational interview
  • Improve your resume
  • Network with former colleagues or people you went to school with
  • Go to company websites and look for names of people to contact as well as job listings
  • Teach yourself a new skill or look for courses you might like
  • Look for a place to volunteer
  • Read up on your industry or one you’d like to get into
  • Look for events to go to that are about the field you want to work with

Each one of these things puts you in a much better direction than worrying about why a company didn’t get back to you yet or why they asked you questions you thought were stupid. Move forward. Not back.

BONUS ACTIONS: Remember to exercise, get enough sleep, eat well, and leave room for relaxation and fun. Job search is a stressful time and not only do you want to be in the best shape possible to present yourself to the outside world, but taking good care of yourself can help cut down on that stress – good for you and good for your interviews.

So what’s my refocusing phrase?

I use four short questions I once heard Dr. Deepak Chopra suggest for this situation: Who am I? What do I want? What is my purpose? What makes me happy?  Of course, other positive phrases you create for yourself – hopefully ones not stuck in the details of your job search – could be substituted.  When you tell yourself to stop and then speak your refocusing words out loud, you in effect break the “spell” and help bring yourself right back into the now, instead of continuing to obsess over things you can’t do anything about at the moment.

The reason I like Dr. Chopra’s questions is because they open up the mind and help you break out of the fog brought on by mental overload and too many details. Don’t look for answers…this is about getting into another part of your brain that’s not stuck in non-productive chatter or neutral. Just keep asking the questions or repeating your phrase. After you’ve done it a few times, even saying it to yourself once can help you start to refocus.

And if it feels right, take extra time to breathe in AND out…and let your mind sit with the questions or phrase(s) you came up with. Don’t analyze or look for answers. Just keep breathing. In and out. Keep the focus. Let it shift from the questions to your breath. After you calm your mind – kind of like letting it take a mindful meditative nap – then you can focus on your next course of action, refreshed and ready to roll.

Remember…you’ll never make sense of it all – no one can. But getting your brain back in gear while taking small focused steps will help get you to your real goal – a new job.  And even while focused, stay open to possibilities that arise naturally. You might find answers you never expected. 😉

Some more from Work Coach Cafe

Are You Sick and Tired of Job Search Advice?

7 Ways to Rev Up Your Recession Job Search

How to Answer Annoying Job Interview Questions

Job Interview Tips

Waiting to Hear Back AFTER a Job Interview

Help for Your Job Search

Keys to a Good Resume and Cover Letter

Interview Thank You Notes & Letters

The Job Hiring Process – Behind the Scenes

Hi Jessica! Not only should Erin have a blog, but great topic for a fun work/life conference. If only we can jail those nasty time bandits.

About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.


  1. Tiredjobseeker says:

    I really like this article. At times our mind becomes so obsessed with just a single thing that we forget to look at the big picture. My brain was so over worked and constantly thinking about the next strategy on job search. I was so focused about job search that all I talked to any one was about finding a job or about looking connections in my field!!! I realized how badly my constant worry to find a job was hurting my interviews. As a recent college grad with a year of experience – my constant job searching process left me with little time to brush up on my subjects or improve my technical knowledge. I know I am good at what I do but being unemployed for a more than 15 months now, I totally lost the hold I had on the classes I took. But since then I have learned to take deep breaths and while I am still focused on job search I take out time to read my subjects, relax and unwind myself.

  2. What a powerful post, Ronnie Ann!

    Your message has several heartbeats, and I hate to just pick one, but here it is:

    “… it’s hard to keep your brain from thinking about it all the time, including every little thing you could have done better (even if you did your best) or all the ways the interviewing company should have handled things or every single moment the phone doesn’t ring. And getting stuck in those details just isn’t helping you.”

    Hear Hear! Getting stuck in those details is NOT helping one bit!

    All of your suggestions to get out of that ‘claptrap’ are excellent!

    For me, I suggest refocusing and reenergizing may be a two-fold approach: 1. Getting out of the house for some me time (with a friend, spouse to ‘play’); and 2. Try doing something that you’ve read or heard may help your search, even if it is uncomfortable and different. Generally, this creates traction and renewed energy/hope.

    LOVE your blog writings, Ronnie Ann – always so rich with ideas and support for job seekers!


  3. Karen Bice says:

    Excellent post, Ronnie! Sometimes I just have to unplug from the internet and my Droid just to re-focus, especially on the weekends. Also, I have learned there is just too much information and advice available that is impossible to either keep up with or follow, and I’m learning to tune a lot of it out so I can focus on what’s important.

  4. TiredJobSeeker: Your comment means so much to me. I know how hard this has been for you. Glad I could add a little inspiration to your day. As you did to mine. Keep breathing! 😉

    Jacqui: Wow! Thanks for the very kind words…and for sharing your two-fold approach. I love the idea of daring to try something out of our comfort zone. Staying where it’s comfortable rarely gets someone a great new opportunity. Nice tips!

    Karen: Thanks so much for stopping by. I always enjoy seeing you. Unplug and refocus? Says it all. (Are you reading this on your Droid? 😉 )

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