Turn Stress into Success

In the last few weeks, I have seen some pretty stressed students. Typically, these students have been looking for work for some time. Most career counselors are accustomed to seeing people only when something is wrong, so it’s natural to see stressed students quite often. I typically ask students questions about their approach to the job search, but when students seem particularly stressed, we also talk about how it is affecting them.

It can be uniquely challenging when you are looking for work in the current economic climate. A former colleague once told me, “It’s hard to be good at something you rarely do and have no training in,” in reference to the type of stress that students encounter in their job search.

One of the unspoken aspects of the job search is the internal process you deal with to manage your emotions. When I say “manage your emotions”, I am not saying you should ignore or suppress feelings of anxiety. I think it’s best to recognize increased stress, acknowledge it, and take proactive steps to relieve that stress.

Here are 3 ways to actively manage your stress during a job search:

1. Recognize the signs of stress

It is normal to be stressed during a job search- it’s one of life’s biggest causes of stress.

During your job search you will experience highs and lows, and it can feel like a roller coaster. Part of actively managing your stress is learning how to identify the signs. It is important to be aware of how you experience stress because it can affect your performance and more importantly how you are perceived.

Usually there are four areas where we manifest our stress:

    1. Thoughts-Feelings of worthlessness, worry, fear, feeling incompetent or “broken”.
    2. Feelings/moods- You may feel frustrated, angry, annoyed, overwhelmed, scared, sad or even tired.
    3. Actions/behaviors- Instead of focusing on your job search you may want to quit, sleep, isolate yourself, start arguments, or try to work even harder.
    4. Physical sensations- Recognize that if you are constantly hungry, tired, having head aches, having difficulty sleeping, sleeping too much, or having muscle tension that you may be experiencing stress.

Thoughts, mood, and physical sensations can be difficult to address directly at times. It is usually easiest for people to focus on their actions and behaviors because these are the areas where you have the most influence. The next time you recognize what’s causing your stress, think about it from the standpoint of your actions or behaviors and see what you can change.

2. Have a plan

Planning your job search is critical, especially since the job search is not an intuitive process for most people.

It may be wise to have a professional career counselor or someone you trust to help you set up a plan. Once you set up a plan, it makes sense to stick with it for a given amount of time so that you allow yourself the opportunity to move through the process. Your plan will come into place especially when you start to feel stressed; think of the plan as fallback for you when you start to experience the “lows” of the job search.

Three ways to execute your plan are:

    1. Have a schedule-Schedule daily or even weekly goals for yourself and treat the search like a job. This could include targeting a certain number of applications per week or making sure to set aside time in the morning to do your networking outreach.
    2. Communicate with others- The Student Branding blog has numerous posts on networking- here and here are a few examples. Why? Because roughly 80% of jobs are filled that way. You are working uphill if you choose to look for work online only.
    3. Find a way to organize-You need to keep track of what jobs you’ve applied for, when, what resume you used, who your contact person is, and when you followed-up. Whether you are someone who likes to organize via paper, online, or even on your smart phone-find a system that works to your strengths.

3. Be realistic

The job search is a process that takes time, much effort, and even a little bit of luck.

You are not totally in control of a job search, which can be frustrating. This might not be what you would expect to hear, but it is important to understand the aspects of the job search that are in your control and the aspects that aren’t.

For instance, you can NOT control:

    • What types of jobs are available
    • How long it will take to get a job
    • Getting call backs
    • Your competition

What you can control is:

    • Your plan
    • Your networking efforts
    • Your schedule
    • How you relieve stress

When you have a plan of action, a support group and an understanding of what you can and can NOT control, you can help to alleviate some of the stress in your job search.


Joe is a career counselor at San Jose State University. His areas of specialization include: experiential education, resume development, interview preparation, job search strategy, and assessment inventories. In his role, he also serves as the community manager for the Career Center’s social media outlets. Connect with Joe on Twitter or follow samplings of his work via the SJSU Career Center Blog and Career Action Now.

Related posts:

  1. The Art of Balancing Ambition and Success
  2. The S’s in Stress: Senioritis and Sophomore Slump
  3. Strategic Planning for Career Success: Goal Setting

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