When you first started your job search, you felt unstoppable—propelled and supercharged by the promise of new opportunities. New coworkers. New challenges.
But now? Well, it didn't take long for the shine to wear off and you've found yourself stuck in a major job search rut.
You groan every time you glance at your resume, convinced that you can't possibly tweak it one more time. You can't stomach another form rejection letter. And if you have to answer, "So, tell me about yourself…" (or honestly, any type of interview question) again, you might just burst into tears.
You aren't alone. Once the initial excitement fades, the job search process can be draining at best—and that makes it far more challenging to find your motivation and actually make it over the finish line.
So, what can you do? Consider this your guide to figuring out what's sucking the life out of you (and your job hunt) so that you can get back in the game with renewed optimism and zeal.
How Can You Tell If You're In a Job Search Rut?
First things first, there's a difference between a discouraging day and an actual job search rut. The biggest thing to look for is duration.
If you feel frustrated by your job search and depleted on a random or occasional day, that's normal — and probably nothing to worry about. But if those feelings persist and are impeding your ability to actually make progress in your hunt for a new job? That's a bigger problem.
If the following emotions or red flags are becoming staples of your job search, you might be stuck in a rut:
- You've lost any and all enthusiasm for your job search and instead feel dread, disinterest, or generally "blah"
- You're struggling to focus and complete any of your job search tasks
- You feel like you're spinning your wheels and can't point to any meaningful progress you've made
- You're easily irritated by even the smallest annoyances that would've previously gone unnoticed
Put simply, your job search feels like a major slog—and you don't know how to climb out of this hole you found yourself in.
4 Common Job Search Ruts (and How to Break Out of Each One)
Not all job search ruts are created equal. Maybe you feel exhausted because you keep receiving relentless rejections. That's a lot different than feeling stuck because you aren't sure what you want your next role to look like.
We're breaking down four commonly-experienced job search ruts so that you can pinpoint the one that fits you best—and then take steps to get back on track.
Job Search Rut #1: You Aren't Finding Any Jobs That Excite You
You're finding plenty of potential positions to apply for. But there's a catch: None of them seem like quite the right fit.
Maybe you can tell the company culture isn't a match for what you want. Or the benefits seem lackluster. Or the role is missing some of the responsibilities you're really excited about.
Regardless of the specifics, you have yet to find a job that makes you think, "This is it!" And it's making your entire job search feel pretty hopeless.
How to Break Out of Your Rut
- Revisit Your Values: The truth is that there's no "perfect" job, but it's more than possible to find one that checks most of your boxes. But to do so, you need clarity about what matters most to you.
Sit down with a notepad and create two columns: one for what you absolutely need from a job or employer and one for what you absolutely don't want. Then, brainstorm and jot things down in each column.
After that? Identify your top three must-haves and your top three deal breakers. Now, use that information to guide you as you evaluate job postings. That more focused and realistic lens will help you find opportunities that hit your most important points—rather than looking for something that lives up to an impossible standard.
- Do Informational Interviews: You're probably dedicating most of your time, energy, and attention to actual job interviews. But, informational interviews are a low-pressure way to learn more about employers or even career paths that you might not have previously considered. They can be helpful for expanding your horizons and finding renewed enthusiasm for your job search.
- Keep Track of Jobs That Do Catch Your Eye: Maybe you have found a couple of roles that seem interesting—but you promptly lost them in the jumble of all of your other links, notes, and resources. Organization is crucial for keeping your job search on track. Teal's Job Application Tracker extension makes it easy to bookmark jobs the moment you find them, so you don't run the risk of letting those awesome opportunities slip through the cracks.
Job Search Rut #2: You Aren't Getting Any Interest or Calls Back
Motivation wasn't your issue—at least, not until recently. You've sent out dozens of applications and resumes, highlighting your qualifications with resume action words, but you aren't hearing anything back.
No phone screenings. No interviews. Nothing but form rejection letters and generic "thanks, but no thanks" emails from recruiters who obviously only glanced at your materials.
It's discouraging and demoralizing. And, that seemingly constant defeat is enough to throw your job hunt way off track.
How to Break Out of Your Rut
- Ask for Feedback: The next time you receive a rejection, politely ask for some feedback. Some employers aren't willing to offer it (and even have policies that prevent them from doing so). But, if they are able to provide you with some notes and constructive criticism, that's valuable insight you can use to improve moving forward.
- Have a Friend Review Your Materials: You might be too close to your job search to figure out what's missing or what you could do differently. Ask a trusted friend to take a look at your documents and a recent application to see what they would've changed. You can also work with a career coach for more professional and personalized advice.
- Use the Right Keywords: Some employers—especially large ones that receive a lot of applications—use applicant tracking systems to quickly weed through the avalanche of applications they receive. If you don't have the right keywords on your resume? You won't make it into the pile that's moving forward. Teal's Job Application Tracker highlights keywords in job descriptions so you can tailor your resume accordingly.
- Try Different Approaches: If what you're doing isn't working, why not try something different? Is there a unique way you could present yourself or supplement your application—like with a personal website or portfolio? Could you try tapping into your network to see if you can make a direct connection to a company, rather than submitting a cold application? Should you use a functional resume format rather than chronological? Get creative and try some other methods to see if they increase your success rate.
Job Search Rut #3: You're Losing Track of Everything
You know you've sent out a ton of applications—in fact, you're pretty sure you've blanketed the world in your resume at this point.
But now? You're struggling to keep track of everything you've submitted. Any time you receive an email or a phone call, you find yourself scratching your head. What position was this again? What's this company? When did you apply?
Your job search is a mess, and it's making it that much harder to gather your gumption and keep working on it.
How to Break Out of Your Rut
- Apply Strategically: Your job search isn't a numbers game. You're better off sending one really thoughtful application than a dozen generic ones. When you find a position you're excited about, dedicate time to doing your research, tailoring your resume, and writing a compelling cover letter rather than rushing through it in the interest of completing more applications. That far more deliberate approach means less jobs to keep track of, but also likely a higher response rate.
- Batch Your Tasks: If you're really juggling a lot throughout your job search, you might find it helpful to batch your tasks. For example, maybe you'll only work on one position per day so you don't risk mixing up employers and responsibilities. Or, maybe you want to work on several cover letters in one day when you're in the writing mood. Find what works for you. Segmenting your work in this way prevents constant context switching and helps keep you in the zone.
- Build a System: Are you using your inbox, a bunch of sticky notes, or a spreadsheet to track your jobs and applications? You're bound to lose things. A more organized system will help you stay on top of your job search—including storing positions you still want to apply for and reminding you about what follow-ups you need to send. Get started with Teal's free Job Application Tracker to bring a little more order and organization to your job hunt.
Job Search Rut #4: You Feel Completely Overwhelmed
A job search can feel daunting, particularly when you're hit with the realization that it could last for months and be riddled with rejection and disappointment.
You feel as if you're standing at the bottom of an enormous mountain looking up at a rigorous climb ahead of you—and you just can't get your feet moving.
You can't seem to get any sort of momentum in your job search and you feel like you aren't making any sort of meaningful progress.
How to Break Out of Your Rut
- Create a Schedule: Maybe you'll decide you want to work on your job hunt on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Or, perhaps you'd rather dedicate an hour each weekday. You have flexibility to create a schedule that works for you. But, having some sort of timeline will help you avoid feeling overwhelmed.
- Set Small Goals: If you approach each day with the goal of landing a job, you're sure to feel disheartened. Instead, make your job search feel more manageable by identifying smaller goals. For example, maybe you want to send one application per day. Or, perhaps you want to revamp your LinkedIn profile (use Teal's LinkedIn Profile Review tool) this week. Those mini milestones will make the process seem less daunting and help you feel like you're taking steps in the right direction.
- Take Breaks: Your job search is a lot like any other task or project—it requires time, focus, and energy. That means you deserve some time to rest and reset. As you build your schedule, make sure you incorporate some time off. That's important for renewing your motivation and enthusiasm.
- Celebrate Your Wins: Obviously, your ultimate objective is to land a job. But, that shouldn't be your only chance to celebrate. Whether you score an interview or finally complete an application that felt really intimidating, take those opportunities to step back and applaud the hard work you've already done. Those help you maintain your optimism and give you a chance to recognize how far you've already come.
Your Rut Doesn't Have to Be Relentless
When you're stuck in a job search rut, it's hard to see any sort of pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Light at the end of the tunnel. New door that will open. You get it.
Even worse? Despite the fact that you feel drained and discouraged, everybody seems to have some sort of "be positive!" or "keep going!" platitude to share with you. That advice is well-meaning—but it doesn't actually get you anywhere.
Here's the good news: Feel-good sentiments aside, there are real steps you can take to pinpoint the root of your job search rut, climb your way out, and get one step closer to a job you're excited about.
Ready to break out of that rut and level-up your job search? Get started with Teal's Job Application Tracker today.