We cannot get away from it: the job market is a tough place for young people right now, and job hunting is often a stress-inducing, energy-sapping nightmare. Taking care of your mental health while job hunting is important.
When I graduated from University aged 22, I applied for somewhere between 150 and 200 jobs before eventually returning to the company I’d worked for in my gap year – hardly what I’d envisioned! Looking back, part of this was probably because my CV and cover letter skills were weak. Part of it was because the formal education system does not equip us with the skills to job hunt effectively. And part of it was probably the sheer competitiveness of it all (especially as, at the time, I was planning to live in Oxford – however good my degree, competing with Oxbridge graduates was always going to be a losing battle!)
Several years, a few jobs and a Masters Degree later, I was looking to move to the area where I now live and searching for a new job. I applied for upwards of 30 jobs over a period of a couple of months, and had seven interviews in six weeks before I landed my current role. All of this to say it’s a difficult position to be in. But there are things you can do to make it easier.
Be strategic about your job hunting
When you desperately need a pay cheque coming in, it can be tempting to apply for anything and everything. But this approach not only saps your energy, it doesn’t work! Employers can tell when you’re desperately applying for dozens of jobs that are irrelevant to your experience, and they don’t like it. Instead, have a strategy in place. Know how many hours you want to work, in which area, and what your salary range is – and whether you’re willing to take something that’s less exciting to you for the sake of experience and an income.
My friend Katie Jade, a trainee journalist, is job hunting right now and she explained that she’s applying for a mix of jobs that will directly enhance her long-term journalism career goals (such as short term magazine placements and editorial assistant roles,) and jobs that are less immediately relevant but would pay the bills while she works on her goals in her spare time (such as service staff, retail and so on).
Whatever your strategy, decide on it and stick to it. Focus is always better than “throw everything up in the air and see how it falls,” which will depress and burn you out very quickly.
Set yourself achievable tasks
“I will have landed a job in the next month” is not entirely within your control. You could write amazing applications, do brilliant interviews, and still be pipped to the post by someone with more experience. What is within your control, though, is “I will spend at least one hour per day on job searching activities such as researching jobs, writing applications and preparing for interviews.”
On that note, notice that I said achievable tasks. “I will apply for five jobs every single day” is probably not manageable, at least not for long – you’ll burn out really quickly. But deciding you’ll apply for at least three per week might be doable, depending on what else is on your plate.
Ask for help
Asking for help can look a number of different ways.
Do you need someone to check your CV or cover letters before you send them off? Ask a friend with strong writing skills, a parent or teacher, or a careers advisor at your university or college. There is also lots of good information about improving these skills online, but remember to search for advice specific to your location (conventions are different in the UK vs the USA, for example) and, if possible, for your field.
Do you need financial help while you job search? Speak to your college or university to see if they have any hardship funding available, ask your parents or other family member if they’d be willing to help you out, or check if you’re eligible for Jobseeker’s Allowance or other benefits. Try not to get into debt if you can help it, but in a pinch you can ask your bank for an emergency overdraft or credit card. You can also check the Youth Employment UK student finance section to pick up tips to hang in there financially.
Asking for help can also mean needing someone to vent to about how difficult it all is, without necessarily wanting their advice. Going out for coffee with a friend and commiserating about your job hunts can be surprisingly cathartic.
Don’t beat yourself up!
The job market is tough, and you’re trying your best. Try to catch yourself in spirals of negative self talk such as “this is hopeless,” “I’m unemployable,” or “I really messed up that interview” before you get too deeply into them. Try to consciously reframe these thought patterns in your mind.
Try to (literally) say to yourself: “I’m doing my best in a really difficult situation, and I just need to keep trying. The right job will come along.”
Make time for you
Remember to make time for your mental health and wellbeing and for the things you enjoy. Spend time with your partner, friends, family and pets. Keep up with your hobbies. Get plenty of fresh air and some exercise. Eat nourishing, healthy meals. Get plenty of sleep. Allow yourself a treat every now and then. Develop a meditation or mindfulness practice. Write a journal. Ideally, you should be doing at least one thing that nourishes your physical or mental health and one thing that brings you joy every single day.
Seek mental health support if you need it
If you find yourself getting really depressed or anxious, you need to seek help as soon as possible! If you feel sad or hopeless all the time, no longer enjoy activities that used to bring you pleasure, have trouble eating or sleeping, or find yourself worrying excessively about the future, you don’t need to suffer alone.
See your GP, who will refer you to appropriate services and assess whether you need medication. There is usually a long waiting list for counselling on the NHS, and private therapy is very expensive, but some providers operate a “sliding scale” fee structure – do a Google search for what’s available near you. You can also call the Samaritans for free on 116 123 for a non-judgemental listening ear.
Remember: it will get better
However hard it feels, I promise it will not be like this forever. You can do this. I believe in you!