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How to cultivate 'grit' during a long job search

Information technology businessman working on computer in office for digital app, software development or website ux ui design. Young graphic designer with coding project or online company management
It takes true grit to navigate the ups and downs of job hunting. (Delmaine Donson via Getty Images)

Searching for a job can be one of the most frustrating and draining things you’ll ever have to do. Scouring job websites, polishing up your CV, writing cover letters and filling in lengthy applications are time-consuming and overwhelming – and that’s before you’ve even reached the anxiety-inducing interview stage. It’s no surprise that job hunting has been linked to stress and depression.

How long it takes to find a job can depend on a number of factors, including the job market, your experience and often, pure luck. But developing psychological ‘grit’ – a characteristic defined by passion and determination for long-term goals – may help you navigate the ups and downs of the job hunting process.

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The concept of grit – and how it can contribute to success – gained notoriety after a 2013 TED talk by University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Angela Duckworth. In a 2007 paper, Duckworth and her colleagues concluded that grit was a better predictor of success than IQ or conscientiousness and was linked to a variety of positive performance outcomes, including educational attainment and work.

But what exactly is grit – and how might it help you during a job search?

Studies suggest that grit isn’t just a stand-alone concept, but it’s a combination of several things: The ability to stick to certain interests over time, and the perseverance of effort, even when faced with challenges of difficulties. Not only has grit been linked to work and educational success, it has also been positively correlated with happiness, good mental health, high self-esteem and life satisfaction.

Ultimately, having grit can make you feel more positively towards the future and instil a sense of hope – something key to any job hunt.

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“As part of grit is perseverance or determination, it can be highly beneficial in a job search,” says Organisational psychologist André Martin, author of Wrong Fit, Right Fit.

“A job search is a ‘long game’ that has a profound impact on your life. The average person will spend about 13.5 years of their adult life at work – every second, every day, every month, every year. That total is only second to sleep,” he says. “So, the choice you make about your job is vital to a happy and meaningful life. Taking time, having perseverance is key to making the best possible choice.”

As any job seeker knows, a job search can be full of uncertainty and disappointment, as well as joy. “It is filled with many peaks and valleys. You might get all the way to a final interview and lose out to another candidate,” says Martin.

“You might have a strong prospect, but the job search gets paused due to budget constraints. So, having grit will allow you to push through these peaks and valleys with greater resilience and less effort.”

young graduate keen to impress at her first interview
Job hunting can be full of uncertainty and disappointment, as well as joy. (sturti via Getty Images)

Finally, grit can also provide you some sense of confidence in the search process. “It takes a strong constitution and a ton of courage to put yourself out there,” explains Martin. “If you have grit, it will come easier and will likely be able to be sustained over time.”

Grit isn’t always something you’re born with. Some people may be inherently determined or driven to reach their goals, but according to psychologists, it’s definitely possible to develop motivation and resilience.

“Grit is absolutely able to be developed, and some individuals will find that easier due to having a stronger foundation,” says Martin. “Either they have traits that make them more resilient or have developed habits that have built it.”

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There are two things you can do to build grit, he says. First, it’s important to look after yourself physically and mentally. “Make sure that you have a set of positive, energy restoring habits in your life including a good diet, exercise, a strong support network, hobbies that feed you, and a consistent sleep pattern. This will give you the fuel you need to take on more,” explains Martin.

Secondly, take on a hobby – something that you are really bad at or that you’ve not done before. “Consistently work to get better at that thing over a 60 to 90 day period. In that time, you will build perseverance, determination, the ability to fail, and the ability to manage your energy to meet the moment,” adds Martin. “These elements are the essence of grit.”

When looking for a new job, it’s important to have a clear view of your end goal. It’s easy to lose sight of what you want when you’re sifting through job listings and writing cover letters – especially if the pressure is on to find employment.

But by sticking to your defined goals, you can build up the psychological conditions of grit – interest, hope, meaning and purpose. Interestingly, research suggests that having clarity can help job seekers send the right signals to suitable employers, which may even help you get hired.

Perseverance is a key element of grit, which in terms of job hunting, means gathering information about potential roles, networking and submitting applications. Setting aside an hour a day to do this can help you plug away at it, even if it’s getting frustrating.

Finally, it’s also important to celebrate the small wins, like getting a call back or feeling confident after an interview. Even if you don’t land the job, you’re still a step closer to your end goal – you’re developing your interviewing skills, getting your foot in the door and building your confidence.

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