job search frustration

Job Search Frustration: Causes, Responses, and Management

You’re frustrated.

You explore and research companies of interest, apply for targeted job positions, follow-up on submitted resumes and employment applications, interview for these positions when called, follow-up post interview, and do it all again (with continual learning and improvement)—hoping to land a job offer.

Despite your best efforts, however, you usually receive one of two responses from prospective employers: a rejection letter or the silent treatment.

And, you’re struggling to hold on to your faith and uplift your spirit. You’re struggling to maintain your motivation. You’re struggling to keep up your enthusiasm.

This is normal.

When you put forth great effort in your job hunt but don’t receive the expected outcome (a job offer) as planned, you experience frustration.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines frustration as “a feeling of anger or annoyance caused by being unable to do something.”

What Makes Finding a Job Frustrating?

What can bring about this feeling of anger or annoyance in the job hunt? The overarching thing is high expectations in relation to a desire for employment.

In her New York Times “Shortcuts” column article, entitled, What Did You Expect? It Makes a Difference, Journalist and Author Alina Tugend discusses the management of high and low expectations for life experiences. In reference to job search expectations, she writes:

“You can have unreasonable expectations at two extremes: an expectation of being hired quickly or an assumption that you will never work again.”

My expectations fell into the former extreme.

Consider my experience.

I was several months into my search for traditional employment when I first experienced a high level of job search frustration.

Sitting at the table early one morning, with my laptop and another job rejection letter before me, I became totally frustrated with my fruitless efforts.

You see:

I expected to secure a job offer quickly when I started my job search. I did everything thing from doing my homework and researching companies to preparing and submitting quality, personalized cover letters, resumes, and applications to following-up in the appropriate time period to reaching out to professionals in my field. But, things didn’t work out according to my plan.

What I thought would’ve been a short-term job search endeavor turned into a long-term one.

Who’d think it’ll take so long to secure a traditional job offer? I didn’t.

Although I actively sought employment (giving my best efforts), I fell short in reaching this goal within the time frame desired. And, while it wasn’t the first (or the last) time I experienced a bout of frustration over my job search, it took a big toll on me this day.

I knew I needed to step back from my job search with this level of frustration. I knew I needed to identify the sources of this frustration to press forward with my serenity intact.

Did I do these things right away?

No. I allowed this bout of frustration to go on longer than I should have. It happens, you know?

job search frustration
Job Search Frustration: Causes, Responses, and Management
Unsplash Original Photo Courtesy of Jeshoots. Edited by Priscilla.

Internal and External Causes of Frustration

Internal (comes from within) and external (comes from outside) sources affect frustration levels. When looking for a job, your frustration level can rise when you fail to meet self-imposed expectations and wishes (internal sources of frustration). Add in the effects of uncontrollable things (external sources of frustration) in the job search process and you have an additional layer of frustration.

Unmet expectations fall into the internal category, so when I finally stepped back, I realized how they caused frustration in my job search. I also realized how external sources played a role in it.

This identification process may be significant for you also. Why? Because you must recognize internal and external sources to manage your frustration effectively.

Let’s consider general examples of both.

Internally, for instance, you might wrestle with wanting a job to earn the money you need to contribute to your household, meet your financial obligations, and generously help others. But, you’re having a difficult time getting hired and remain unemployed. This difficulty alone can result in increased levels of frustration, stemming from self-doubt and “what’s wrong with me” type questions.

Externally, in contrast, you might wrestle with being so close to a job offer—making it past the applicant tracking system, receiving the call for a job interview, preparing and attending the job interview—but not receiving it due to ‘company fit’ or some other unknown reason.

These are just two of many examples. Additional internal and external sources of frustration can include (but are not limited to):

As mentioned above, you have no control over the external factors, unlike the internal factors. This lack of control, though, can result in more extreme feelings of frustration than the frustration resulting from the internal.

What are the Responses to This Frustration?

In a previous Gallup Panel survey, “More than 70% of job seekers detailed at least one frustrating aspect of the process.”

External sources, such as a lack of employer interest and an inability to get in touch with hiring managers, greatly influenced their frustration.

Though frustration is a common experience when navigating the challenges of job hunting, especially while unemployed, responses vary from one person to another. Typical responses can include:

  • Aggression
  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Annoyance
  • Apathy
  • Burnout
  • Depression
  • Disappointment
  • Helplessness
  • High Blood Pressure and/or Other Physical Problems
  • Rage
  • Sadness
  • Stress
  • Addictive Behaviors
  • Violent Behaviors

What Do You Do When You Get Frustrated Because You Can’t Find a Job?

If a response to frustration leads to the reexamination of job search strategies, goals, expectations, and actions, then it can be beneficial.

If it affects your ability to progress and move forward in a healthy manner, on the other hand, then the outcome can be drastic and unproductive.

Which option will you choose?

Will your moment of frustration result in giving up the search for your next position? Or will you continue to move forward with action?

In my case, I chose the latter.

I accepted frustration as part of the job hunt. I also learned to deal with it so it had the least effect possible on my energy.

Ways to Deal with Job Search Frustration

If you’re also interested in the latter choice—continuing to press onward with action, then, below, you’ll find a few ways to manage your job search frustration. Upon implementation, they’ll help you to keep cool when feeling this powerful emotion.

Keep in mind though: I’m no psychologist, mental health, or other medical professional by training. I write here from personal experience.

1. Own Your Frustration.

One thing you shouldn’t do when you feel frustrated is: disown it.

Doing so can result in more extreme feelings. The likely outcome? Depression. Self-blame. Destructive behavior.

Instead of denying this feeling, own it. Admit it to yourself now: I’m frustrated with job hunting because it hasn’t yet lead to my desired goal—paid employment.

Admitted it yet?

You’ve done a good thing!

It shows you’re not only aware of what you’re feeling (in this case, frustration) but you’re also taking responsibility for it.

Now, you’re in a good position to express it in a healthy manner.

2. Express Your Frustration—Constructively.

Expressing your frustration can prove helpful when you want to keep your cool or calm down. Beware though: how you express your emotions is important.

As referenced above, if a form of expression will increase your levels of frustration, swing your mood in a negative direction, or result in bad behavior, for example, then you want to avoid it.

Interested in venting your job seeker frustration in a healthy way? Consider the following:

A. Crying in a Private Space.

Minutes of crying comes with soothing effects and can improve moods, according to health research on the subject.

Following are a few good places to cry alone: a private room, a private bathroom, or a private closet.

job search frustration
Job Search Frustration: Causes, Responses, and Management.
Unsplash Original Photo Courtesy of Luis Galvez. Edited by Priscilla.

B. Changing What You’re Thinking About.

Have you noticed how finding a job can dominate your thoughts when you’re unemployed?

You’ve been putting forth the effort because you want to work, but you haven’t yet gotten one job offer. And because you haven’t yet gotten one job offer, what happens? You focus more on the negatives—constant rejections and setbacks—than the positives.

You might find it helpful to change your thoughts.

Switching the negative thoughts associated with your frustration to positive ones with gratitude will shift your focus from what you don’t have to what you have at this time.

Sample things to be thankful for while unemployed include:

  • Life
  • Hope, Mercy, Grace
  • Health
  • Shelter
  • Family
  • Education, Talent, and Skills
  • Competence
  • Learned Lessons and Experiences
  • Received Job Interviews

C. Focusing Your Attention on Something Else.

You can also distract yourself by temporarily focusing on something other than your frustration. Distraction techniques vary from one person to another but examples include (but are not limited to):

  • Reading something to uplift and strengthen your spirit.
  • Participating in a creative activity or hobby, such as writing or journaling about your frustration, singing and/or listening to music, or doing something you’d enjoy.
  • Spending time with family or loved ones.

D. Breaking Away From Your Job Search.

If you’ve noticed high levels of frustration, you may find it helpful to schedule time away from your job search activities.

Looking for a job nowadays is a marathon—lasting longer than you might’ve ever imagined. Without question, the process requires work and full-time effort when done right.

You can easily find yourself in the mindset of: pushing harder, working harder, striving harder—daily. The likely result? You may find yourself stretched too far.

It happened to me, so I encourage you:

Please don’t underestimate the importance of slowing down and taking breaks to recharge. Consider the following types of breaks:

  • Daily Short Breaks
  • Lunch Breaks
  • Holiday Breaks

Also consider the establishment of boundaries for shutting down your job search at the end of the day. Determine when you’ll start and stop your activities daily—and stick to it with flexibility.

Doing these things will not only take your mind off the challenges of your job search but also give you the opportunity to engage in activities or hobbies you find interesting, all while minimizing the effects of your frustration.

E. Talking to a Trusted and Supportive Source.

If you’re comfortable with doing so, you may consider talking to someone you trust—a family member, a close friend, a spiritual pastor, leader or a fellow believer, a counselor, a therapist—about your job seeker frustration.

job search frustration
Job Search Frustration: Causes, Responses, and Management.
Unsplash Photo Courtesy of Ehimetalor Unuabona. Edited by Priscilla.

If you choose to reach out, it may provide an opportunity to make known and work through your feelings with support.

F. Communing with God.

I’ve included this point as a reminder for my Christ following readers. Though it’s the last point listed here, you already know its importance.

The challenges of job searching—and unemployment itself—is frustrating. It’s easy to get caught up in a moment of frustration and neglect the sharing of this frustration with our Lord Jesus Christ.

Make an effort, though, to engage in prayer, in addition to scriptural reading and meditation, for spiritual perspective and guidance.

Doing so will help you hold on to and increase your faith in God during this difficult time and press onward with perseverance in the face of frustration.

3. Refocus (or Focus) on Your Area of Control.

I referred to it earlier, but care to guess one of the reasons for frustration during the job search?

If you replied with “focusing on things you can’t control,” then you’re right.

Economic and local labor market trends.

The thoughts, behaviors, policies, and decisions of hiring managers and decision-makers.

The outcome of submitted cover letters, resumes, and interviews.

As hard as it is to accept, you don’t control these things.

Upon acknowledging them as part of your frustration, focus on your response to them and the things within your area of control—things I discuss often here on Serenity Amidst Frustration: your attitude, your job search strategy and activities, your homework (company research), your document (i.e., cover letters and resumes) preparations and submissions, your interview preparation and performance, your learning and skill-building—with action daily.

job search frustration
Job Search Frustration: Causes, Responses, and Management.
Pexels Photo Courtesy of Christina Morillo.

This may assist you in detaching from outcomes because you’ll shift your focus from an outcome goal to a process goal.

In his book, Smart Change: Five Tools to Create New and Sustainable Habits in Yourself and Others, Author and Annabel Irion Worsham Centennial Professor Dr. Art Markman refers to an outcome goal as “a specific state that you hope to reach in the future.” He refers to a process goal, in contrast, as one that “focuses on a set of actions you can perform.”

Now, I won’t mislead you: you will likely still experience frustration when you set a process goal and focus on what you can control in your job search. But, when you shift your mindset and refocus on this area, a couple things will happen:

  • Your frustration won’t control you or your day.
  • Your attachment to the things you don’t control will lessen. You’ll know you’re giving your best efforts to the things you control and let go of the rest.

Moving Past a Bout of Frustration—Every Time

Your frustration is a normal response to the challenges you face when you’re on the hunt for a job. And, a lack of control, long hiring processes, constant rejections, scarce openings and availabilities, can all trigger this emotion.

When you’re feeling frustrated, consider the following management techniques discussed above: 1.) owning your frustration, 2.) expressing your frustration in a constructive way, and 3.) refocusing (or focusing) on your area of control.

These are just three of many ways to deal with your degree of frustration. Explore them and others to see what works for you.

If you implement these tips (or others) and they don’t help you control your frustration effectively, you might find it helpful to contact (an affordable) therapist or other mental health professional (with a similar worldview) for assistance.

P. S. What triggers your job search frustration? How do you deal with it?

Let me know via email at—with the subject line: Re: Job Search Frustration. I’ll be happy to feature your responses in a future article to help other readers.

Disclaimer. This article originally appeared on Serenity Amidst Frustration in July 2015 and has been republished here with the addition of new content.