How to Stay Motivated During a Job Search

Just start
Just start!

When you’re looking for work or trying to change careers, you may have come across a common challenge: demotivation! Rejections, radio silence, tedious cover letters, and awkward interviews can break even the strongest heart. So what do you do? Many people have found success by putting micro-goals (“mini-milestones” or “subgoals”) in place. This breaks up large projects into something more manageable. But sometimes that’s not even enough. To ensure success, you need motivation, and you get motivated by starting.


“Have a bias toward action — let’s see something happen now. You can break that big plan into small steps and take the first step right away.” Indira Gandhi

How do you get started when you can’t make yourself start? By making your “start” so ridiculously easy that you may have already done it–and then celebrate that. Then, real fast and before you can think too much about it, take one more quick and easy step that you can do right now. For example, step one is to turn on the computer (already done if you’re reading this!), pat yourself on the back for taking the first step, then set a timer for two minutes and work until the timer goes off.


“Objects in motion tend to stay in motion.” Newton’s First Law of Physics

Once you’ve started, you’re moving! And once you’ve gotten started, it’s often easier just to keep going. If the timer goes off and you’re on a roll, there’s no need to stop, but if you do decide to wrap things up, schedule your next micro-goal. That’s how your momentum builds. Build on Newton’s scientific principle and start moving to keep moving.


“Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still.” Chinese Proverb

Micro-goals and micro-celebrations are based on the research conducted at Stanford University by BJ Fogg. He has demonstrated the power of gradual change through “tiny habits” and immediate, easy-to-do rewards. His micro-goals include flossing one tooth or doing one push-up. By making your goal so easy, you eliminate excuses not to do it. What does that mean to you and the job search? Simply find a way to get started in two minutes or less and once you’ve finished, celebrate it.


“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” John Wooden


Why would you celebrate turning on a computer or working for two minutes? The simple answer to this question is “dopamine.” Dopamine affects your brain’s reward and pleasure centers. And according to Psychology Today, it also helps regulate movement and emotional responses, and it enables us not only to see rewards, but to take action to move toward them.” The key words here are “reward” and “pleasure centers.” Your micro-celebrations make you feel good, and your body starts to learn that making progress and working is pleasurable. Once you learn that, the more motivated you will be to keep working toward your goals.  

What is a micro-celebration? BJ Fogg recommends creating a small movement and adding a noise or exclamation to it. Micro-celebrations make you smile, can be done anywhere (you might have a loud and a silent version), are quick, and requires no resources other than your brain and body. Here are some examples (mostly inspired by the Simpsons):

  1. Woohoo!
  2. Spinning on the floor
  3. Singing
  4. Dancing
  5. Daydreaming about chocolate
  6. Dance like Dumbledore
  7. Give yourself a “self-five”
  8. Move with muppets

Finding your new job takes time and requires motivation. So let’s see how this might help. You know that networking is important to the job search, but this has never been your strong suit, so you’ve been putting it off. There’s an old colleague who is well connected and approachable, so let starting an email be your micro-goal.

First, you sit down at your computer and open your email program. Great start! That’s your first accomplishment so you give your first micro-celebration of the day. Woohoo! You set a timer for 2 minutes and you give yourself another woohoo. You just let yourself write whatever comes to mind. If your times goes off in the middle of a thought, finish that thought. That will lead to another thought, and before you know it, the email has been written.

This brings to you a decision point. If the email is ready, send it out and give yourself your final “woohoo!” for this micro-goal. However, if you need to proof-read or add more content, then put some time on your calendar to do this. THEN you give yourself you final micro-celebration for this goal!

Can you see how that builds on itself? Get started, make it fun, and schedule your next time.

Do you want your entire job search to be broken down into micro-goals? Sign up for my free, interactive Career Guide that walks you through the entire process. Stay motivated and get that next job!

So, what is your first micro-goal and micro-celebration? Tell us in the comments below!

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