Don’t Gamble Your Career Away: Overcoming the Online Slump with Movement and Exercise

Abstract: Like gamblers at a casino, job seekers often spend most of their time sitting alone online hoping to win big. Hours of physical inactivity can aggravate the depression and anxiety that often accompany the job search. Exercise can help.

Gambling for the Jackpot . . .

If left to their own devices, job seekers will first work on their resume and then get online and start sending off applications. Simple. There is a productive feeling that goes with it, the process is neat and tidy, and it feels like what we do a baker’s dozen years into the 21st century. Technology has changed everything, right? People are accustomed to being able to do everything online so that – after paying the bills, registering for classes, and winning an E-bay auction for art deco sconces – it’s natural to sit down and try to “get your job” online. The process of casting around the internet, fishing for what has to be out there somewhere – that ideal job that fits me just right and might even have a short little commute – is a lot like gambling. Put a quarter in the slot machine, pull the lever and hope that the magic number or the three cherries line up and . . . . flashing lights and ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching! Someone bring me a pail for all this money – I hit the jackpot!

This seldom happens. Nevertheless, the job seeker keeps putting in quarters, certain that their luck will change. Hours alone at the computer. Hoping. Waiting. But then a few weeks or months pass, and the job seeker starts feeling bad that the employers are not responding – not even a confirmation that they received the application, much less an interview. Then the doubts creep in: Is there something wrong with my resume? Did I pick the wrong major in college? Maybe I’m not looking at the right websites.

Stuck Online in the Vicious Circle

Ask a typical job seeker what they have been doing to look and most likely they will offer a list of sites visited: “Well mainly going to Career Builder, indeed, and Craigslist, but I don’t hear anything back.” After a few months of this, they often start feeling depressed and confidence erodes. Hours in front of the computer screen doing anything can drain a person’s physical energy, but combine the high stakes attached to this particular activity – trying to find your life’s work – and the mental, spiritual and emotional toll is huge. And painful. They know there are jobs out there, they know they have potential to do all sorts of great work, but they are not at all sure what else to do. Uncertain, they tweak the resume yet again and get back online. Just a quick look turns into an hour, an hour turns into entire mornings and days, and the job seeker feels no further down their path or closer to their goal than when they started. Depressed, stressed, anxious . . . and still in their pajamas. Stuck. Both literally and figuratively. Stuck in the chair and stuck in the search. I have had clients whose sole job search activity was looking online for two years – yes, years -- before deciding that it was time to try something different.

Of course, computers and technology have done the world wonders, but I think these powerful tools have been so widely misused in the job search process that we now have an epidemic on our hands. As we all know, a successful search boils down to a high level of human contact (also known as networking) – but who has met someone while staring at a computer screen? One remedy for those who are stuck online is movement and exercise. Moving your body moves the job search process in the right direction.

Movement and Exercise

In his book, The Chemistry of Joy: a three-step program for overcoming depression through western science and eastern wisdom, Henry Emmons writes “If you take away only one message from this book, let it be this one: Getting regular, vigorous exercise is the best possible way that you can alter your own brain chemistry and improve your mood.”

Going for a walk or getting in a workout will increase the brain’s mood-boosting chemicals, but it will also increase the chances of serendipity happening in the search. A group fitness class at the Y constitutes a job search activity as long as there is some networking mixed in. I just heard from a friend that he was hired by a fellow yogi from his morning yoga class. And movement begets more movement. After an endorphin-producing run, a job seeker might take another action and pick up the phone to schedule a cup of coffee (or Gatorade). In fact, the job seeker should see him- or her-self “in training” so that when they do have a chance networking encounter or even an interview, they are feeling their best, fit and healthy.

How to do this:

  • Set an egg timer for one hour of screen time. Save it for the end of the day when there is less energy.
  • Focus on the “human element” in your search and your workouts. Exercise with others when possible.
  • Start small with movement of all kinds: even simple things will add up and snowball.
  • Build regular exercise into your job search plan and keep that time sacred: at least 45 minutes three times per week.

By tracking and limiting how much time a person spends online, she can monitor her screen time (like we do with our kids) and better manage her search. Coupled with regular exercise, this approach will create more movement and a re-energized job search.


about guest blogger: Bill Baldus

Bio: Bill Baldus is the director of Metropolitan State University’s Career Center. B.A. in humanities, St. John’s University; M.A. in cultural geography from the University of Minnesota. With over 20 years of experience working in higher education and in corporate environments, Bill brings a variety of perspectives to his work. He has been a board member of the Minnesota Career Development Association and currently serves as the co-chair of the Minnesota College and University Career Services Association diversity committee.


References |  Emmons, H. with Kranz, R. (2006). The Chemistry of Joy: A Three-Step Program for Overcoming Depression Through Western Science and Eastern Wisdom, 94. New York: Fireside.

Bill Baldus