The Job Search Grind

In March, 2008, the national unemployment rate was 4.8%. By January of 2010, it had risen to a high of 10.6% and in September of 2010 still hovered at 9/2%. In Nevada, the state I live in, unemployment is above 14%. Because of such high unemployment, most of us know someone that is currently looking for a job.

A recent study entitled “The Job Search Grind” published in The Academy of Management Journal sheds some light on the experience of people involved in the job search process. This well designed study followed 233 unemployment insurance recipients that were actively seeking work every day for three weeks.

One of the most interesting findings for me was that 44% of the job seekers in this study spent less than 10 hours a week on their job searches. Only 20% spent at least 25 hours a week searching for a job. There are a number of explanations for individuals spending little time searching for a job, including discouragement, perceived progress, and simply using the time to pursue other interests. The study had four additional findings that I found interesting:

1. When individuals reported lower job search progress on any given day, it affected their mood (more negative, less positive) and lowered their confidence about their chances of finding a job.

2. The ability to manage negative thoughts matters. Lower mood on any given day was related to more effort the following day only for those that could disengage from negative thoughts. For individuals that could not disengage from negative thoughts, lower mood on any day resulted in less search effort the following day.

3. Individuals with financial hardship experience the job search process differently. The study found that financial hardship strengthened the negative effects of low search progress and weakened the positive effects of high search progress.

4. The more (less) progress people made on any given day, the less (more) time they invested in job search the next day.

Being unemployed and looking for a job is not only hard work, it’s can also be a roller coaster ride of emotions. People that have high financial hardship and have a hard time managing their emotions will experience the job search process the hardest.

Setting realistic goals for daily time spent in the search process, and sticking to those daily goals regardless of the perceived progress on any given day should help. Making job search a daily routine won’t alleviate the roller coaster of emotions, but it should help with the management of those emotions, especially for those that have a harder time with negative thoughts.

Learn to treat perceived daily progress, either good or bad, as noise in the process and not a signal.


Bret L. Simmons, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Management at The University of Nevada, Reno. He earned his doctorate in Business Administration at Oklahoma State University. Bret blogs about leadership and social business at his website Positive Organizational Behavior. You can also find him on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.


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David Burkus is an organizational psychologist, keynote speaker, and bestselling author of five books on leadership and teamwork.

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