9.2 Strategies for Motivating at Will

Learning Objectives

  1. Understand the importance for deliberate actions and routines.
  2. Learn different strategies for long-term and short-term motivation.
  3. Get specific examples that you can apply to your own job search.

Motivation at Will Requires Deliberate Action

For a successful job search, you need to be able to harness both short-term motivation and long-term motivation at will. The best way to do this is to have a plan and structure in place to deliberately motivate yourself. You cannot rely on sheer willpower or inspiration because that is exhausting and unreliable.

Champion athletes and performing artists are good examples of people who use deliberate motivation. They have well-defined routines for the day of big events and for the long-term preparation leading up to the big events.

A good example of deliberate long-term motivation: One piano teacher at a leading conservatory gave his students very specific pacing for learning the concerto selected for the school’s annual soloist competition. It included finishing the piece several months before the actual competition so that his students could stop playing it entirely for several weeks, and then pick it up again refreshed. A break of several weeks was deliberately built in to give students a tactic for staying refreshed, energized, and motivated on the piece.

A good example of deliberate short-term motivation: A commercial and TV acting teacher gave his students a specific routine and set of guidelines for the days they had auditions. One of the rules was no watching or reading news or dramas the night before and morning of the audition. This was a deliberate choice to keep the students upbeat in the hours leading up to the audition. He also coached his students to focus on one good thing that happened to them in the previous three days—another deliberate tactic to maintain positive energy.

Similarly, you will need a deliberate routine before job interviews and other high-stakes job search events. You will also need deliberate routines built in over your job search to stay refreshed, energized, and motivated. Deliberate motivation-at-will strategies will enable you to stick to your job search, regardless of nervousness, fatigue, or even forgetfulness.

Strategies for Maintaining Short-Term Motivation

Following are some suggestions for motivational routines to follow prior to a job interview, beginning the night before the interview:

  • Do something relaxing that keeps you positive.
  • Create a summary sheet of key research points you intend to share.
  • Review your questions for the interviewer so that you ensure a two-way dialogue.
  • Practice your interview responses for the top questions you are expecting.

The morning of the interview, certain actions can ensure a successful outcome:

  • Skim the current event headlines so you can engage in a timely discussion.
  • Have your favorite breakfast that will keep you full and energized, but not cause your energy level to crash (i.e., you may want to avoid too much sugar or caffeine).
  • Pick a specific accessory or other item for your interview outfit that makes you feel good and is a visual cue that this is a special day.

On the way to the interview, you can continue to maintain your motivation:

  • Listen to your favorite, upbeat song (remember to take the earphones out of your ears while you are waiting in reception so you appear approachable)
  • If you are inspired by quotes, have your favorites on an index card to read, even right before you check in at reception.
  • If you are visually oriented, have a picture with you that instantly relaxes you.

These same suggestions can also work for the other job search events that require short-term motivation, such as networking meetings, career fairs, professional mixers, and offer negotiations. For the high-intensity, time-sensitive job search situations, such as sending that thank-you letter on time, consider designating a job search buddy on whom you can call for support. This person doesn’t have to be a fellow job seeker, though that’s one popular approach as you can support each other. Just make sure you pick someone who is encouraging and focuses on action.

Try different things as you go through your job search, and keep a log of what works for you:

  • Activities that are relaxing and can easily be scheduled the night before an event (You may love a long hike in the woods, but this might not work for the day before an early-morning meeting.)
  • Foods that are sustaining and energizing, including meal and snack options
  • Outfits and accessories that are appropriate, flattering, and good visual cues to motivate you
  • Songs, quotes, and pictures that inspire you
  • People who encourage and inspire you

Also keep a log of what to avoid:

  • Activities that put you in a bad mood (e.g., sad or scary movies)
  • Activities that you may enjoy but distract you (e.g., Internet surfing)
  • Foods that give you heartburn or make your energy level crash
  • People who drain your energy and discourage you

Strategies for Maintaining Long-Term Motivation

For long-term motivation, recognize in advance that your search will take several months, so you need to plan for regular breaks throughout each day, during the week, and at various points during your overall search.

High-focus, ongoing activities, such as research or corresponding with networking leads, require breaks that give you refreshment but also don’t derail your train of thought:

  • Schedule activities that require concentration for when you do your best thinking.
  • Block out uninterrupted time—turn off your e-mail alerts and close down your Internet browser so you don’t jump on and off your favorite sites at every pause.
  • Set a specific time, say on the hour, when you will get a glass of water, stretch, or incorporate a different activity for a few minutes. For example, one job seeker scheduled exercise and personal errands in the spaces between job search activities to give herself a mental break.

Each week, you also need a longer break, where you can unplug from the intense concentration a proactive job search requires. Plan for a half-day of a personal-interest activity:

  • Museum visit
  • Movie, show, or sporting event
  • Hike or other physical activity
  • Volunteer opportunity

Job seekers who tend to their personal interests are more relaxed and more interesting to prospective employers. Candidates who engage in outside interests tend to have a personality, unique point of view, and balanced approach that will serve them well during crunch times. Taking breaks enhances your search and is an investment in the success of your search.

Use these longer breaks to engage in a hobby or deep interest that might add to your networking. This is not just about meeting people during the times you might be volunteering or participating in an extracurricular class (though this may happen, too). Having genuine outside interests that you actively pursue is also a great conversation enhancer. In networking situations, such as a conference or industry mixer, it’s tiring to just hear about work or the job search.

A good example of staying motivated and contributing to his job search is Daniel K. He was working full time, including lots of overtimeWork above and beyond the typical full-time work week. For most companies, overtime is considered anything above forty hours per week, but some companies count overtime after thirty-five hours per week., at a job he didn’t enjoy, so he was having a tough time staying upbeat and energized during his search. One of his longtime goals was to watch all of the American Film Institute top-one hundred movies. Not only did watching one or two movies during his weekly breaks energize him, but he also had natural conversation starters (the movies) for when he met with people. He noticed a huge difference in his demeanor and the way he approached his job search and was able to identify his next career step (in his case, graduate school).

Key Takeaways

  • There are specific events during your job search when you need to get motivated at will, including job interviews, networking meetings, career fairs, professional mixers, and offer negotiations.
  • Creating a deliberate routine and set of actions can enable you to get motivated for these high-stakes events.
  • Deliberate work scheduling and taking longer breaks will help you stay motivated for the duration of your search.
  • Activities during your longer breaks are not just about refreshment, but they can also contribute to the enthusiasm you bring to your job search.


  1. Where do you see your energy flagging in your current job search? If you are just starting a search, where has your energy flagged in the past—in high-stakes situations or over the course of a long project?
  2. Which short-term motivation strategies will you use? Be specific and pick actual quotes, songs, or pictures if you decide to use those techniques.
  3. Which long-term motivation strategies will you use? Make a list of places to visit, shows to see, books to read, and other activities that refresh you.