08/14/2012 06:55 pm ET Updated Oct 14, 2012

It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint: Staying Motivated in Your Job Search

Staying motivated when job hunting is tough. You start off excited and energized, ready to make a big change and move up in the world. But by the end, you can't wait for it to be over. You're mentally drained and physically exhausted, unprepared for the difficulties of the endeavor.

This shouldn't be surprising. It takes about four years to change jobs, so by the time you start looking, you're probably out of practice. You forget that the average job search takes 10 months. You underestimate the time it takes to polish your resume, research the right companies and do multiple rounds of interviews. So you put all of your energy into the beginning of the process when optimism runs high, but leave few reserves for the later stages when things get difficult and only sheer will power can propel you forward.

The job search is a marathon, not a sprint. It's very much a mind game, where success is based on persistence, determination and attitude as much as it is on skill, preparation and organization. Manage your motivation poorly, and you'll develop a negative attitude that will hurt your prospects and discourage others from helping you. Manage it properly, and it could be the deciding factor in landing the right opportunity. Below are several tactics to help you maintain a high level of motivation throughout your job search:

1. Start with the right mentality. Assume you're in it for the long haul. Then, do the simple math to remind yourself how long things take. Refreshing your resume and writing a baseline cover letter takes about a week. Finding and meeting the right recruiters takes about a month. Getting an offer takes at least three interactions, with a one week gap in between. Once you have an offer, the negotiation and approval process takes at least a few weeks. And so on. You'll quickly realize that even in the best scenario, your job search will take several months. By adjusting your expectations from the start, you'll ensure that you have enough motivation in the later stages when you need it most.

2. Identify things you can't control. Job hunting typically involves several decision-makers and a variety of outside influences, so many things are beyond your control. For example, fewer firms may be hiring because the economy is bad. Recruiting managers can't respond to you right way, because if they did that with every applicant, they'd never get anything done. HR takes a long time to get the right approvals and paperwork, because they have legal considerations that you may not be aware of. You can't change any of these factors, so why waste the effort and lose motivation for no reason? Focus instead on the things you can control, like attending networking events or asking for warm introductions, as this will increase your chances of finding a job.

3. Find a job search buddy. Having someone to talk to and get feedback is helpful for any important endeavor. Job hunting is no different. It's easy to caught up in the search and lose perspective of your goals, and in that situation, only an outsider can help you to recalibrate. Find that person - a friend, a former work colleague or a professional mentor - and ask him or her to be your sounding board throughout the job search. Then, meet regularly to share updates on your progress and ask for advice. You'll find that it's easier to stay motivated when someone else is giving you a pep talk, rather than trying to have a conversation with yourself.

4. Track your progress. Setting short and long-term goals is a well-known motivator for achievement. But the only way to do this well is to track your progress on a regular basis - a boring and time-intensive process. Fortunately, job organization apps like Huntsy automate your workflow, tracking jobs where you've applied, interviews you've scheduled and offers you've received on one dashboard. With a proper tracking system in place, you can see exactly what you've been doing and where things breaks down. Trouble securing interviews? Perhaps you need to tailor your pitch better. Having a hard time advancing to later rounds? Maybe you forgot to follow up. Understanding your personal job search habits will help you identify problem areas quickly, and it will also encourage you to reward yourself for positive achievements.

5. Do physical exercise. That's right: go to the park or gym and get your blood flowing. Exercising regularly will improve your mood, increase your stamina and promote better sleep, to name a few benefits. More importantly, you'll feel better about yourself and find it easier to handle setbacks. You'll also have a natural avenue to release your frustrations - there are only so many emails, phone calls, networking sessions, interviews and HR people a normal person can handle. Taking care of your body is an important but often overlooked aspect of staying motivated, and its benefits only increase the longer you spend looking for jobs.

6. Take a break. Sometimes, the only way to regain motivation is to take a break. Stop job hunting for a week and take your mind completely off the search. If you have the luxury, take a short vacation or go on a retreat. If not, change your surroundings and find a place outside of your home to relax and let loose, like a yoga studio or a theme park. When you come back, take a step back and understand why you're looking for a job and what would really make you happy. You may be surprised to find that you've been spending too much time chasing the wrong opportunities, or that you haven't been highlighting your real strengths. Taking a break will free your mind and snap you out of your doldrums, so you can make the right assessment about your next steps.

The job search is a marathon with many different routes and many different finish lines. No one says it's easy, but no one says it has to be difficult. So brace yourself for the experience and make the best of it: set goals and expectations, conserve your energy and focus on the things you can control, using outside help whenever possible. You may find that it's not so bad after all, and well worth the effort to break into the next phase of your professional career.