How to look after your mental health when job hunting

The stress and competition of the graduate recruitment market is intense, so it's important to look after your mental health when job hunting.
Jessica Murray
Jessica Murray
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With huge amounts of student debt, an increasingly competitive job market and the pressures of a 24/7 social media world, it’s no surprise that mental health issues among students and young people are on the rise. A 2015 NUS survey revealed that 78 per cent of students had experienced mental health problems in the past year, and the amount of students claiming special circumstances on exams for mental health reasons has also soared.

For those already dealing with mental health issues, the prospect of finding that graduate job can seem daunting. Selling yourself on a job application, attending interviews and dealing with rejection is hard enough anyway, never mind when you’re tackling your own problems.

But there are ways you can make it easier on yourself. If you’re worried about your mental health and think it’s holding you back from making that big move into the job market, then read on:

Switch off your phone

job hunting mental health phone

Well, not literally, you’re still allowed to call mum. But one of the worst things you can do when hunting for a graduate job is compare yourself to others. Spending too much time on social media and obsessing over your friends’ Instagram-perfect lives has been proven to worsen mental health issues such as depression, so as hard as it is, avoid Facebook stalking as much as possible.

And while LinkedIn may be a great tool for attracting potential employers, make sure you tailor the notifications to suit you – the last thing you need is an email telling you to ‘Congratulate Hannah on her new job’ when you’re preparing for a nerve wracking interview. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you don’t find employment straight away. Take a deep breath, don’t panic and remember to always go at your own pace.

Find the right environment for you

There’s no point in rushing into any old job if it isn’t right for you – at worse, it could even increase your mental health issues if it leaves you feeling stressed, lonely and isolated. Spend some time researching jobs, companies and their employees to find an environment which is going to suit you. Glassdoor allows employees to leave reviews of their previous jobs and workplaces, helping you to get a good idea of how it will feel to work there. It’s not always possible, but try and find a workplace environment that is friendly, supportive and understanding, and don’t be afraid to say no to companies that don’t feel right for you – no matter how much of a ‘big name’ they are.

Focus on the positives

mental health job hunting

If you’re not feeling the best about yourself, it can be hard to sit down and write about how amazing you are for a CV or cover letter. One thing you can try is writing down one positive thing about yourself every single day – whether it’s your resilience, your compassion, or just the fact that you successfully made dinner without burning the house down. Collect them in a notepad or jar, and when you’re feeling down have a read through them all and remember just how brilliant and unique you are.

Then try and channel that positive energy into a CV. Your employer isn’t going to care if you had to take six months out of university for health problems, they’re going to care about all the things you have done, so emphasise the good stuff and you’ll always impress.

Try and calm those interview nerves

Everyone gets nervous about interviews, and don’t ever think otherwise. Even the most confident and outgoing of people will get the pre-interview jitters, so remember that it’s completely normal to feel anxious. Everyone is different, so there’s no guaranteed solution for calming nerves, but try and not think of it as an interview but just as a conversation, because that’s really all it is.

If you do your research beforehand and go in there feeling prepared, you’ve done as much as you can, so there’s no point stressing if you’re not able to answer every single question perfectly. The chances are, if you don’t get the job afterwards, then it wasn’t the right role for you anyway.

How to tell your employer

job hunting mental health
Firstly, whether you choose to tell your employer about your mental health problems is completely your choice, and you should never feel pressured either way. If you think telling your boss will be a positive thing, and will help them provide the support and understanding you need to fulfil your potential in the role, then by all means go for it.

Unfortunately, stigma around mental health does still exist, but the situation has improved drastically in recent years, and research has shown that many employers are comfortable discussing mental health with an applicant. Just look at this boss’ brilliant response to his employee taking a ‘mental health day off’. Campaigns to make mental health support more accessible in the workplace are raising more awareness, so whatever you feel most comfortable with, know that there are growing support networks out there to help you with your decision.

Know when you’re ready

At the end of the day, only you will know when you’re ready to start work, or to take that big leap into a grad scheme. There can seem like a big post-graduation exodus as your fellow course mates quickly land their ‘dream roles’ but just know that
whenever you’re ready, there will be plenty of opportunities waiting for you. No job should ever come before your health, so always remember to look after yourself first and foremost.

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