The fall job search season is upon us. Just last week, my new colleagues and I prepared an exciting series of job search programming for UPenn graduate students and postdoctorates. In my new role as half-time Associate Director of Career Services, I get to support Penn graduate students and postdocs as they chart the next steps of their careers in faculty, government, private, and nonprofit careers.  For the quintessential T-shaped person like me, this new gig is a veritable playground.  However, I am not so far removed from the job search process to forget the amount of work and feelings of intense uncertainty that accompany job hunting and transitioning from student to professional.

Whether you are planning to search for university faculty positions, research positions, applied jobs, or some combination of the above, you will participate in numerous career fairs, employer information sessions, professional conferences and screening interviews this fall. You know that organizing your time and job search approach are vital to staying on top of things during this hectic season.  But do you have a take care of yourself as you hustle for the job you want while meeting the many demands on your time?

1.            Prioritize your health.

Quick healthy breakfast

Healthy breakfast on the go

When we get busy, the first things to fall off our schedule are eating healthful foods, drinking beverages low in sugar and calories, and getting in some exercise.  We have less time to grocery shop, plan meals and get in the gym. Make a simple backup plan now in anticipation of having less time later this fall.  Each day I pack a water bottle, a sturdy piece of fresh fruit that won’t explode I my bag such as a pear or apple, two FiberLove bars (my favorites are Carrot Cake for breakfast and Chocolate Brownie for a snack) and a couple pouches of herbal tea.

My schedule varies widely each day between client meetings, work-related travel, in office tasks, and on site work at UPenn.  It’s tough to keep a consistent schedule of exercise classes from week to week.  I recently started walking three days each week for 30 minutes. It costs nothing to walk and it helps refresh your mind.

One of the participants in my Options for Success Career Exploration Program, a history PhD student, scheduled monthly massages during the height of her interview season.  She was intensely writing her dissertation and teaching while traveling to interviews for academic and nonacademic jobs. These massages helped her keep calm and focused during this demanding schedule.

2.            Know when to take breaks and when to say no.

In other words, know your boundaries.  You have only so much energy to meet all the demands on your time – teaching, grading, research, writing, regularly scouring job boards for the perfect openings, and attending to personal and family commitments. Avoid binge writing sessions that leave you depleted. Try saying no once in a while, if you are one to over-commit to new projects and volunteer opportunities.

Productive not busyOur culture – the culture of high achievers, that is – is so stuck on filling every moment with activity. You may be busy, but you may not be productive and balanced.   You know the difference when your daily tasks support the goals you’ve set and when you incorporate stress management techniques in your daily life.


3.             Define job preferences before you begin job hunting.

Throughout the fall semester beginning, openings for postdocs and faculty positions will start popping up like popcorn on listservs everywhere. It can be nerve wracking – what if I miss a good one, which listservs and job boards should I track, will an opening come available in my subfield this year?  Uncertainty can make you to take the “apply to everything” approach. But this approach can lead you to apply for jobs that are far afield from your areas of expertise or outside of your core preferences.

Know your parameters before you begin. You can always adjust them to make room for interesting and unexpected openings, but without a set of parameters you risk overwhelm and burnout.

4.               Work with a support team to get you over the finish line.

Smart people often have a hard time asking for and accepting help.  People have told you all your life how resourceful and smart you are. That consistent praise may give you idea that you should be able do it all, do it alone and do it with a smile.  Successful people in business and life know that you don’t make it to the top by going it alone.

Bring support into your process wherever you need it. You may join a group of other job seekers to share leads and gain moral support from knowing that you are not alone in the job hunt.  Consult a therapist to help you maintain your mental health during this transition period. Work with a career coach or mentor to help you create strong job application materials and think creatively about your career path options.

Why do you think high achievers find it difficult to take breaks and take care of ourselves? What self-care practices will you put in place this job search season? 

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