What can I do about FOMO in my search?

FOMO is real, or at least it’s real for a number of people. And the job or internship search isn’t immune from the fear of missing out. It comes in all shapes and sizes, with some individuals choosing career paths unaligned with their own interests because of a peer’s influence and others going through recruiting cycles without being committed to the process. 

So what can you do about the fear of missing out in your search? One approach to combat it–refocus on what you want and can do. 

What do you want?

At this point in time, what do you want. Like, what do you really want? And if we were in person I wouldn’t want you to look to the person to your right or left for the answer. Those folks may be similar to you, but they don’t your unique background, interest, and needs.

  • Think back to the last time you spent effort and energy in determining what you wanted in terms of your career interests and your personal career goal for the next 9-12 months.
    • What was/were your goal(s)? Are they they currently the same, and if they aren’t, have they shifted because you wanted them to, or because of influence from others?
  • Evaluate FOMO as it arises.
    • This blog post from Psychology Compass, a company at the intersection of psychology and technology, is interesting. Their PhD researchers reviewed over 30 research articles from cognitive psychology, social psychology, and behavioral economics in writing this post with 3 steps to overcome FOMO. It suggests when you are feeling FOMO to ask yourself two questions:
      • Why do I want to do that other thing and
      • Does it really align with my values and ranked goals, or am I being steer off path by the bias of looking at others?
  • Assess how you have tested your assumptions about your career interests.
    • This can be done in a number of ways — informational interviews, research, classes, online courses, etc. Sometimes we don’t fully test our assumptions, but instead take a quick look at what others are doing and move in the same direction. Go back to your personal career goal you set and determine if you have really tested assumptions, or made more assumptions influenced by FOMO. 

What can you do?

I like to think of this as “what do I have control over?” In your search there are a lot of factors that you don’t have control over and you may be really focused on these. Remember there is always a portion of the search you do have control over. Here are 3, but there are many more. What do you have control of in the search that isn’t listed?

  • Deciding what a “win” is for you and how you will acknowledge “wins” 
    • A win in the search doesn’t have to be an interview or an offer. A win can be conducting research on the career interest you’re exploring, having an informational interviewing conversation, sending an outreach or update email. Take a few minutes to think about what “little wins” you might be having along the way. How can you acknowledge these regularly to remind yourself you are making progress. 
  • The organization and structure of your search
    • A successful search is much more than applying, interviewing, and accepting a job offer. We even developed the 8 Steps for Search Success as a way to help Engineering Master’s students clearly see the tasks associated with a search. Have a well organized structure and approach helps you be more efficient and effective in your search. If you’re looking for ways to accomplish this, take another look at the 2 Hour Job Search recording and our Set Up Your Search section of the website. 
  • How to take care of yourself in the search
    • Take a look at this article from The Muse about 5 Ways to Keep Going When the Job Search is Getting You Down. Notice #5 is about identifying what your triggers are and knowing how to prepare for them advance. 
    • The same Psychology Compass article suggests acknowledging what FOMO is telling you in terms of emotions by considering:
      • What emotions are involved in this instance of FOMO? Anxiety, fear?
      • Evaluate whether that emotion is telling you something helpful. Is there an actual mismatch between your current situation and your goals?
      • Consider whether you could change your behavior to better align your situation with your goals.
      • Accept that sometimes your emotion may not be helpful at this time.

The next time that FOMO comes roaring back, I hope you can consider refocusing on what you want and what you can do. 

By Jenny Johnson (she/her)
Jenny Johnson (she/her) Assistant Director, Engineering Master's Career Services & Professional Development