Job Search: Soul destroying or character building?
Updated: Jan 22
When you are out of work and looking for a job – it can be tough. Only those who have been out of work for some time and searching for work can truly appreciate how tough it can be. Not to mention the toll that it can take on your health, your lifestyle and those around you.
It can be equally as tough being trapped in a job you hate whilst hustling your butt off as you desperately try a career pivot. Despite the view of “old-schoolers” who constantly remind you that you should just be happy you have a job!
I was recently reminded of the pain associated with job search when having coffee with an amazing candidate placed through Cazoot. She raised a really good point suggesting job search and, in particular, mistreatment of candidates by recruiters could be contributing to mental health issues.
I’d never really thought about it, but it made a lot of sense and I’m sure it is a much bigger issue than many of us think. So, I did some research.
It also got me reflecting even more on the responsibilities that come with recruitment and how bad practice and poor behaviour seems to be everywhere. Much of which was the motivation for creating Cazoot.
Now this candidate is an experienced executive with a track record of success and is extremely resilient with a good network around her. But not all candidates are so lucky.
Even so, she told me she found the job search process at times challenging and difficult. Not the applying for jobs bit, but dealing with recruiters who:
don’t respond to calls, emails or applications;
don’t bother reading resumes in detail;
don’t understand the industry they are recruiting for;
say they will do something then never follow through;
misrepresent the job; or
are rude and dismissive.
Have you ever been there? I know I have. There are only a very small number of executive search people who I will work with or refer people to for advice. Many I won’t deal with and when asked for recommendations, I make sure they are not only not recommended, but I advise people to avoid them.
The question still remains, “Is mental health a serious risk for the job seeker?
Looking for a new job or trying to change careers is a path steeped with highs and lows, pitfalls and roadblocks and frustrations. The reasons are many and varied depending on your particular profile, industry and state of the market where you live.
Changing jobs, or looking for a job, is considered one of the most stressful life events that we will endure. The enormity of the task increases as time passes and with each rejection letter. When there is no feedback and no visibility of what opportunities will arise, it can become difficult to maintain an air of positivity and enthusiasm – traits considered critical to winning a job.
It can be tough to keep pushing through without feeling depressed and starting to think that there is something wrong with you. Maintaining your resolve, a focus on resilience and leveraging a backstop of good support from friends, family, colleagues and mentors can help you push through these negative emotions and lighten the darkest moments.
In 2011 the Atlantic published an article about what it meant to be jobless and the impact it had on job seekers, by collecting feedback from their readers. The feedback was confronting.
“The worst part will depend on your temperament and Myers-Briggs profile, but for an introvert (probably the majority of the unemployed), the worst part is the personal uncertainty: the virus of self-doubt triggered by job rejections, the effort to second-guess your personal dynamic with the hiring contact, the lack of a reality check as to why you didn't get even a rejection letter, the willingness to overlook any illegalities, the effort to convince yourself to get back out there and do better next time. The loneliness and social isolation, if your workplace even partly filled that need, if you have no family for moral support. For those of us prone to depression, the job search can amount to a heroic effort, even without dependent family members asking you the wrong questions.”
There is no doubt that being job-less for a lengthy period of time can take an effect on one’s self-esteem and mental health. These statements (two of many from the research) highlight how destructive the stress of searching for a job can have.
"Unemployment dehumanizes the real person. They lose the essence of their identity and value. To become a number, a label, a resume, a failure, a defect, unproductive, desperate, wishful, delusional, depressed, poor and separated from respectful society. Being unemployed is to be silently disrespected. On a par with being homeless, mentally ill or addicted."
Unfortunately, there are those out there who have come from a generation when searching for a job was a relatively straight-forward process. Work was plentiful, and competition was less.
These “old-schoolers” are more likely to disregard any of your issues and provide super-helpful advice including statements such as “harden up”, “stop complaining” “you’re not trying hard enough” and “you must be doing something wrong”. They see rejection as a rite of passage that builds character. But they’re wrong.
Whilst the research clearly suggests that the process of job searching can negatively impact your mental health, there are other pressures too. They can be managing the pressures of an existing job, supporting a family while you find your next job or being able to meet your financial obligations when your income is distressed. As a candidate you need to make sure you are looking after yourself, mentally and physically to help you cope with the challenges of finding your next job.
The key take-out from my research is that it’s important to make mental health a priority whether you are a candidate or recruiting. Mental health is a major health issue with a reported 1 in 5 Australians being affected by mental health issues at some point in their life.
Recruiters and businesses need to recognise the role they play and ensure that they are supporting candidates, and not creating unnecessary stress that can lead to mental health issues.
So, if you are recruiting, just remember that the candidate you are assessing is a person. Someone’s brother, sister, husband, wife, son, daughter or friend. Treat them the way you would like someone special to you to be treated when being considered for a job.
A few tips for the manager who is recruiting:
If you are going to use a recruiter, remember that they are representing you, your brand and your company. If they mistreat candidates by not responding to them, ignoring them or just being outright rude – this is how you and your company are being perceived.
When a candidate takes the time to put themselves forward to work with your business, be thankful. - Reply to everyone – even the unsuccessful ones. And try to give them some feedback as to why they were unsuccessful and a little encouragement they can take into their next application. - Be clear about the process and the time-line you are working towards. If things slip, let them know and don’t leave them hanging wondering if they are in the hunt or not.
Ask for feedback on the recruitment process to find out what worked well and where you could improve the process.
Now if you are a candidate and you are in the interview process, there are plenty of tips in our Resources section for you to check out. But here’s a few tips to help you maintain your mojo while job-hunting:
Set a schedule.
The best way to approach job hunting is like it’s a job. Get up early, prepare yourself for a day at work and then put your head down and get into it. It is easy to slip into an unemployed malaise that sees you frittering away time on Netflix binges, social media surfing and online retail therapy.
By applying yourself to searching for your next role like a job you will get much more done and ensure that you are doing everything you can to give you the best chance.
Manage your time carefully; book your activities into a schedule; dress like you would for going to work and have an end to your tasks/day so you get a break. You may even want to book yourself time at a co-work space such as WeWork to get you amongst others who are working and keep you connected.
Healthy body, healthy mind.
Maintaining a focus on diet, fitness, health and wellbeing is even more important when you are going through a challenging time. Keep your exercise regime happening, be that gym, running, bike, yoga or pilates – whatever is your thing.
Whilst sitting back on the couch with your feet up scoffing comfort or junk food knocked back with a few drinks might be exactly what you feel like doing it – avoid the temptation. Snack on nuts, fruit and avoid carbohydrates and whilst the occasional drink won’t hurt you, plenty of herbal teas and water will serve you well.
A healthy body will help you keep your energy up and prevent you from getting down or falling sick.
Don’t forget, being your best you is key to securing that career change you are chasing.
When you get knocked back for a job or receive that “I’m sorry..” email, don’t just cast the rejection aside, go back and get some feedback. You want to know what specifically lost you the job so you can focus on developing that area in readiness for the next opportunity.
There may be some reluctance to share all the feedback with you, and that’s ok – you don’t ask, you don’t get. Following up in a polite and friendly way and not being pushy will normally yield the feedback you are seeking.
While you are in the feedback zone, it’s worthwhile tapping into your ex-colleagues and bosses to get some feedback on areas they thought you were strong and areas for development.
Whatever the feedback, don’t be offended and don’t get angry. Remember feedback is a gift – it’s entirely up to you what you do with it. Just say "thank-you".
Most people when faced with the challenge of finding a new job tap into their network to find new opportunities. Whilst this is important, networking outside your immediate contacts is equally as important.
Connecting with people that you see some alignment with or have common professional interests is a good way to grow your network. Similarly, getting along to conferences relating to the work you want to be doing, and attending seminars are other great ways to connect with your industry peeps.
If you are struggling to find a way to connect with someone you would like to network with, try asking for advice or help first. People are generally quite open to helping others. Seeking advice, feedback or guidance is a genuine way to create a conversation without being too confronting. Also, you are not asking directly for a job or introductions – just a few minutes time for some help.
The advice you get will be invaluable, and you never know.. the person you are talking to might be hiring, or know someone who is!
A word of warning, - networking and connecting with people could be a challenge if you have been someone who was always too busy to talk to people, rarely responded to calls or emails, provide advice when asked, or always too busy for that catch up or that impromptu coffee. Remember, networks only return when you give.
Relax and Recharge
Yes, being out of work is stressful, but on the flip side, you do have some extra time to yourself to explore those things you’ve been “planning” to do for years. Whether that be learning a new language, going on a holiday, learning yoga, checking out some bands or catching up on that reading list you keep adding to, but never crossing any off.
You do not need to be on the job-hunt all the time. Ensure you have some time to recharge your batteries with some good R&R. This will help keep your spirits up and give you an escape from the toils of job searching.
Invest in your own development
None of us should ever stop investing in our own personal development. But when you are out of work and trying to re-energise your career, this activity carries more significance. I will always rate a candidate higher when they are investing in themselves through training, coaching or giving time to a charity as a volunteer.
Similarly, those who are actively posting on LinkedIn, or to a blog, so they can showcase their skills, knowledge and personality get ranked ahead of those who aren't.
If you haven't already, ditch listening to commercial radio and start listening to podcasts by people who can inspire and motivate you. Even better, subscribe to podcasts that are teaching you something new about yourself or the industry you want to work. These topical learnings keep you abreast of what is going on in the industry whilst providing some education - all for a just little time every day
Finally, being able to stay positive and keep on moving forward must be a major focus for the job seeker.
I know, easier said than done. Being able to survive a drawn-out period of unemployment whilst looking for that next gig, is frustrating. There will be days when you feel down and the only thing that seems worthwhile doing involves you, a tub of ice-cream, your couch and Netflix.
As tough as it might seem, you have to push on (but it is ok to have the rare self-indulgent day to forget the world - just don't make it the norm!).
Knowing that your next role is close and you are doing everything you can do to be successful is all you can do. Remember back in an earlier Cazoot post where I spoke about E + R = O (which stands for Event plus Response equals Outcome)? Might be worth revisiting here. The short summary is that the outcome you want is determined how you respond to an event - like a rejection letter.
Above all else you need to believe that you are going to come through this a winner and if you don't get exactly what you want, it won't be through lack of effort on your part!
To end this post (which ended up being way longer than I planned) I just wanted to leave you with a couple of comments for those recruiting, and also those candidates who follow Cazoot.
For you Recruiters and Businesses:
Candidates deserve your respect - treat them like you would want someone you care about to be treated if they were going for a job.
An honest and quick response takes only a little effort and time for you, but means a lot to the Candidate.
If you get an application please read it properly.
The best Candidate may not be the best self-promoter.
For you Candidates:
Job search is tough - it's ok for you to feel like it's tough.
Rejections sucks and it's not always character building, but it is a learning opportunity.
You have what you need to be successful - believe in yourself and focus on what you can control, not what you can't.
Each knock back is taking you one step closer to your dream job - don't give up.
If it all seems to be getting too much for you, just know that you are not alone. Talk to your friends, your family and your mentor(s). You'll be amazed at how helpful they can be. You can always drop a note to us at Cazoot to share your story and get some help progressing your career.
Please note, we are not health professionals nor experts in managing mental health issues, so if you feel you need help you should see your doctor asap. There are also a number of fantastic organisations you can reach out to who can help you deal with those dark days - they are listed at the end of this post.
Make 2019 a year where you make a difference. Good luck!
The Black Dog Institute: https://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/
Beyond Blue: https://www.beyondblue.org.au/
Life Line: https://www.lifeline.org.au/