This article was originally published on Medium on December 13th, 2017.
This is an article I thought I'd never write. Not because I have neither of the afflictions mentioned in the title, but rather because, even in this day and age, mental illness is still too taboo to admit. Regardless of how many positive "awareness" movements are started, admitting a mental weakness can tip the scales out of your favor, consciously or subconsciously, when a hiring manager is weighing you against an equally-qualified candidate for a job. Family reactions, too, can include compassion and support but can also range from denial to disgust. In this climate, then, it's still preferable to bottle up any problems we might have and to present a stiff upper lip to the world.
For those of us who have intense, negative physical reactions to even the thought of rejection or criticism, and have little to no confidence in ourselves, the job application and interview processes are paralyzing. Their main requirements - that you must package and sell yourself as a person worthy of a job and, even then, almost every company you contact will ignore or reject you - are completely disjoint from our emotional aptitudes. As one of these people recently beginning the job hunt, I've realized the pain of playing such a game, which is designed to reward every strength I don't have and penalize every weakness I do.
So what can we do? The easiest short-term option is to give up, letting anxiety and negative thoughts consume us. This is the worst possible course. Despite our issues, most of us still have the will to fight against such an unfortunate outcome, and to seek success in the face of adversity. So, if outright cures don't exist, we must focus on coping strategies. Although I haven't completely solved my issues with anxiety and self-esteem, I will share the following things which have helped keep them in check.
It should go without saying that, if you're experiencing behaviors and emotions that prevent you from completing everyday tasks or are straining your relationships, you should see a psychologist or psychiatrist.
Unfortunately, many times it does go without saying and many times people aren't aware of the help available or simply don't think their problems are worthy of help. It's a terrible consequence of our anxiety that the people who most need a helping hand are most afraid to ask for one.
Professionals can provide therapy or, in the case of psychiatrists, medication if you're comfortable with that. Either of these treatments can ease the stress of a job search and of life overall.
Most recruiters who contact you are faceless and will view you as just a name on a mailing list with some numeric value, to later be converted into money. They may never even look at your resume, but rather latch onto one keyword and spam you with completely inappropriate listings just because they contain that keyword. Being viewed as just one replaceable cog in a vast, algorithmic machine makes me feel worthless and leads to a lot of anxious uncertainty.
I've been extremely fortunate to find one recruiter who contacted me directly and got to know me. She's very meticulous in noting my strengths, preferences, and career goals, and very careful to ensure the jobs she refers are a perfect fit. She offers tips and encouragement before interviews and collects feedback afterward.
It's a huge anxiety reliever and self-esteem booster to know that someone values me enough to devote time not just to earning a paycheck, but also finding a job that I enjoy. Before working with a recruiter in your area, be sure to research them and find one who values clients on a personal level. It can greatly reduce the stress of the interview process.
A major contributor to interview anxiety is the mental image of getting a question you hadn't thought about how to answer effectively, leaving you stuttering and sweating, your mind racing for any answer while interviewers wait in silence.
While you can't anticipate every question in every interview, you can prepare yourself for the most common ones. Take a look at this page and set aside some time to at least think about (if not write down) a coherent answer to all questions. Services like Glassdoor may offer more specific questions from the company you're interviewing with.
Don't limit your research to interview questions, though. Also read through the company's web page and promotional material to have a basic idea of what they do, who their clients are, what their work culture is like, and so on. Check out the LinkedIn pages of people you might be talking to during an interview. Seeing a smiling face before talking on the phone or meeting in person helps to imagine the person as a friend you've met before rather than a stranger. You might also find you have some interest or past activity in common, which you can possibly use in the interview!
If your job search has a deadline because you need to pay the bills, the process can be particularly anxiety-inducing. Constant worry will burn you out in no time, leaving you in a poorer mental state at further interviews. For this reason, mental vacations are crucial.
By "mental vacations," I mean chunks of time spent enjoying a (non-destructive!) hobby or activity which is not related to work. If you love to make or listen to music, do that and nothing else for a few hours or a day, depending on your needs. If you enjoy the outdoors, spend an afternoon outside. Shut off your device notifications during this time so you're completely undisturbed by job search texts or emails.
If you're like me, you might find that spending time away from something you feel you should be doing, like applying to jobs or learning new skills, is a source of anxiety in itself. It's a very difficult thought pattern to break, and I haven't actually done so myself. Just try to take heart of what John Lennon said:
Time you enjoy wasting, was not wasted.
Indeed, if it's for the sake of mental health, time you enjoy wasting may be the most important time of all.
If you struggle with these same issues and have developed different strategies for coping, I'd like to hear them! Please leave your comments and suggestions below.
I'm still on the path to recovery, but if you need help or would like to talk about mental health, feel free to send me a direct message on Twitter.