Psychology Today: Here To Help

When Conducting Your Job Search: Diarists Get Results!

Here is an idea that is both counter intuitive and effective: to shorten your job search, keep a diary. A high technology company had downsized, and sixty three of its long service professionals volunteered for an experiment. These volunteers were randomly assigned to one of three groups. Subjects in the experimental group were required to write for five consecutive days, twenty minutes each day. They were instructed to write about their deepest thoughts and feelings surrounding the layoff and how their lives had been affected. The second writing group was instructed merely to write about their plans for the day. The third group did not keep a daily diary.

Writers Get Results.

Three months after the writing assignment, researchers looked at the results in terms of job attainment. There was no significant difference between the two control groups in terms of success in finding employment. The experimental group, however, were more likely to have found full time employment. Sixty eight percent of the experimental group found jobs versus 48% of those that wrote diaries without emotional content and 27% of the group which did not keep a diary. In terms of self-reports, the experimental group reported consuming less alcohol than either of the other two groups.

Why Do Diaries Work?

There was no significant difference between the three groups in terms of phone calls made, networking meetings, or letters sent out. The difference appeared to be the value of the diary in working out thoughts and feelings surrounding job loss. It allowed them to work out the negative feelings and to attain closure, thus achieving new perspective. Job loss can provoke powerful emotions that are sometimes difficult to deal with. The inhibition of these negative feelings is itself a form of psychological and physiological work. When an individual must actively keep from talking about important feelings, the work of inhibition can result in short term increases in autonomic nervous system activity. And this increase in itself becomes an additional source of stress. A second problem with not dealing emotionally with job loss is that is increases the likelihood of being able to conceptually come to grips with what has happened. This failure increases the likelihood of continued ruminations, which make it more difficult to approach the job market in a positive framework. Support for this theory can be found in other studies. On study of 200 corporate employees found that a correlation between major physical illnesses (cancer, hypertension, etc.) and unwillingness to openly discuss significant trauma.

Keep a Diary

Most of us do best when keeping a diary composed of words. But there are other ways of keeping diaries. One of our clients had skills as an artist. She drew her emotions each day and would show it to us. The first few weeks were filled with images showing her torturing her last boss combined with images of herself as a homeless woman. As time went on, the images became more positive. experiment also provides empirical evidence that both the task and the emotional components of job loss must be dealt with.

What Goes Into a Diary

If your diary is to be composed of words, perhaps each day might contain the following issues; Whom did I call on the phone. Did I get through? What did I say? How did the other person respond? How did I feel at the end of the call? Whom did I see today? What did I say? How did I feel? What are my plans for the next day?

In the nineteenth century, it was popular to keep diaries. It was a practice that contributed to emotional well being. Teenage girls often keep personal diaries for the same reason. But most of them outgrow the habit. Perhaps it might be useful if girls continued the practice and boys got into the habit!

Dr. Laurence J. Stybel and Maryanne Peabody are co-founders of Stybel Peabody Lincolnshire, a Boston based consulting firm focusing on senior executive retained search, coaching, and helping senior executives find new chapters in their professional careers. Their website is The Board of Directors Resource Center at The Lincolnshire International website is called Managing Your Career in the 21st Century and is a full resource center about career issues. Larry and Maryanne can be contacted at 617-371-2990.


Stephanie P. Spera, Eric D. Buhrfeind, and James W. Pennebaker. "Expressive writing and coping with job loss."
Academy of Management Journal, 1994, 37,3,pp.722-733.