The 5 Stages of Job Hunting Grief – And How to Cope with Them

Posted February 26, 2014 by
Woman crying at work after being dismissed

Woman crying at work after being dismissed. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

You’ve undoubtedly heard of the five stages of grieving the loss of a loved one – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These were defined by Elizabeth Kübler-Ross way back in 1969, and quickly became a universally accepted model for how people deal with death. You may have even seen people apply these stages to other kinds of loss, such as job loss. But there’s another kind of grief that’s increased in prominence during the Great Recession but hasn’t been as clearly defined: job hunting grief.

Sure, lots of people lost their jobs in the last few years and had to work through those emotions, but the bigger trend has been people having to search and search… and search to try to get another job. Being forced to suffer through this slog day after week after month after year has put many job-seekers through the emotional wringer and can lead to a number of physical and mental health problems for people who don’t have a strong support network.

Just like grieving over someone’s death, there’s no one absolute way that someone experiences this process, but there are common things that many people go through, and it’s important to point them out for people so that they can get an idea about what to expect.

Initial excitement. After getting over the loss of their previous job, many people actually experience a kind of euphoria about going out there and finding something new and better. You apply to posts on job boards, contact friends, and are chomping at the bit to set up interviews. This is going to be the start of the rest of your life. But if calls and emails don’t start pouring in quickly, it leads to…

Obsessing. This is when you find yourself constantly refreshing your inbox, harassing people you know about leads that haven’t panned out, and applying to everything you can because something has to work and why aren’t people getting back to you?!

Confusion and depression. You must be doing something wrong, but you don’t know what. Are you going to the wrong job boards? Targeting the wrong companies? What should you have said in your cover letter or resume? This stage has a lot in common with the “Obsessing” stage except that you are far less optimistic in your outlook because you just don’t know what else to do and it’s eating away at your resolve.

Lethargy. With the constant rejection making you feel like a failure, you withdraw and simply don’t try as hard to find a job because the process itself is exhausting and debilitating. You may find yourself skipping out on friends, watching a lot more TV, eating constantly, and sleeping later in a manner that’s almost defensive.

Restored balance. Finally, you look at yourself in the mirror and realize that you have to both continue to live your life and keep trying to find a new job. You break your day into blocks of time and make yourself follow a schedule that involves exercise, socializing, and, yes, job hunting. You don’t look for work 24/7, but you do set aside a few hours every day and make yourself do it. The process still isn’t fun, and it can take a while for some people to reach this stage, but at least when you get there you’ll be attacking your job search in a healthier way.

Luckily, there are things that you can do to help ease yourself through these stages. If you’re overly excited or obsessing, it can cause you to lose out on a job or burn out too quickly. But you obviously don’t want to miss out on new postings and offers, so look into mobile-friendly job apps that you can use to keep yourself in the loop when you’re out and about.

Health and fitness are important, too – both to your physical and mental wellbeing and to help you stay sharp if you do get an interview. Depending on your financial situation, you can do anything from taking a biking trip to clear your head to joining a gym to simply running with friends. Pair this with mobile apps and you won’t have to worry about missing out no matter what you’re doing.

And finally, if the hunt is really getting you down and you don’t know what else to do, seek out some support. There are plenty of groups out there, pretty much no matter where you live, and they’re full of people just like you who can offer encouragement, friendship, and – perhaps most helpfully – the potential of helpful connections.

Ultimately, the most important thing is that you don’t fall into the “rabbit hole” of job searching and lose yourself while trying to find a job. Work will come eventually; you just have to make sure you’re ready for it when it does.

Josh Weiss-Roessler is a freelance writer and co-owner of Weiss-Roessler Writing. He frequently writes career advice and job search blogs and enjoys sharing his experiences in the working world. An Austinite by way of Los Angeles, you can usually find him hanging out with his wife, baby son, and two dogs when he’s not working. Learn more about his writing on Twitter: @weissroessler

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