How to Break Out of a Job-Search Rut


If you feel as if you’ve applied for too many positions without getting past the first interview (or even getting an interview at all), and you’ve become bored and frustrated with the process, you’re officially in a job-search rut. Forget about moving forward: The key at such moments is to rethink the way you look for work.

Accept Your Unhappiness

Susan Wise Miller, career counselor and vocational expert at California Career Services, imparted three conditions for change—the first and most important being the realization that you’re actually unhappy. “Unhappy is good because it’s a motivator for change,” she said. “If the inertia bothers you, then you have to create a concept of what’s going to be better for you.”

Build a Better Plan

The second condition for change is to fashion the environment that will allow you to determine and set attainable goals. Miller’s approach is echoed by Randi Bussin, founder of career-coaching firm Aspire.

“Get away from the computer,” Bussin urged. “You will not find a job sitting at your computer and applying online. You need to meet new people.”

While it’s hard to overcome malaise, it’s absolutely necessary to force yourself away from the devil you know in order to open new doors. Seeing fresh faces, hearing new ideas, building connections and getting in front of people who can possibly hire you, recommend you or create a job for you is transformative.

According to Bussin, another crucial step is to identify the right professional association groups and meetups that can influence the way you think about your work: “Join a committee or SIG for a professional group.” Make sure to attend and participate.

Create a Support Network

If you know other people locked in a similar struggle, reach out and organize a group. The support can be invaluable. A few years back, Bussin had 12 male clients all going through significant career changes. She started a bi-monthly support group. They came, got to know one another, talked about where they needed help, made new connections and practiced their pitches. When they were down, they had understanding peers to cheer them on. The group existed for quite a while; despite its eventual disbanding, the members have stayed in touch.

Believe Change Is Possible

Now that you’re building connections and have support, it’s time to cultivate confidence. Miller’s third condition for change is a belief in your abilities and what you bring to the table: “You have to be able to recognize that you can get from where you are now to where you want to be.”

A big part of getting from here to there is how other people perceive you. Bussin maintains that your self-assurance should be embedded in how you position and brand yourself online.

“Today, most people are checking you out online before they ever ask for your résumé or pick up the phone to talk to you. It’s digital first,” she said. “Do you have a compelling story to tell? You have to be someone they should hire over everyone else.”

Job seekers should take time to craft a compelling bio, one that showcases projects and skills. Also, remain visibly active on networking sites and share content; it’s imperative that you appear to be someone who’s highly knowledgeable in a particular corner of technology.

Give Yourself a Break

Finally, give yourself permission to take some time off from your search and do what you love. Taking a short break will energize you, boost your morale and help keep you on track.

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6 Responses to “How to Break Out of a Job-Search Rut”

  1. RE: “Get away from the computer,” Bussin urged. “You will not find a job sitting at your computer and applying online. You need to meet new people.”

    Very funny. Scenario: You live in a small town. It has only a single Walgreens store. There’s a sign in the window “help wanted – inquire within” hand-printed on cardboard. You go in and ask about it. The manager meets you….and says you will have to submit an application online to the corporate web site. You do so, and you never hear anything from them again. The help-wanted sign stays in the window for a year….

    So much for networking. Nobody but nobody is going to hire you based on networking. Period.

  2. Mary Mullins

    I disagree, all of my jobs since 1999 have been from networking. I’m in a slump now because I’m trying to find a job in a location where I don’t have a network after not working for 3 years to care for my dying mother.

  3. Sarah

    Networking? That only works if you already know someone in the field you’re going for. In my case, I know several people – unfortunately, none of them live in the same state I do, nor do they know anyone with the same occupation in the state I’m residing in. Networking does not work for everyone, of course that is practically one of the only ways of even getting a job now. It’s sad…

  4. Depressing article. Tried all the above and still nothing. Must be nice to write this article from perspective of never really being in so much despair you can’t cope.