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How to manage your mental health when applying for jobs

Written by: ICAEW
Published on: 18 Oct 2023

Young woman


A major influence on mental wellbeing is applying for jobs for the first time. Psychologists Dr Neha Mundra-Walia and Dr Saima Latif, and psychotherapist and caba spokesperson, Kirsty Lilley, explain how you can prepare, take time to look after yourself, and learn from the experience.


How does job hunting affect your mental health?


SL: The job hunting process is often a vicious cycle of job applications, refusals, further applications, no response, that goes on and on. This is no good for your self-esteem or confidence and the younger and newer you are to the process, the more likely you are going to feel distressed and upset by the negative response.


KL: Stress arises from a perceived lack of control but also a lack of predictability. You may feel you have no control over the process, face unrealistic expectations or feel you are being pitted against other candidates.


NMW: A pre-existing mental health condition such as depression or anxiety could impact the quality of the application or you may put off applying for jobs and miss deadlines. You might be a perfectionist, who sets extremely high expectations for yourself. If you have a physical health condition or disability, you may feel anxious, depressed or vulnerable, or even unsure about declaring your condition on the application in case employers aren’t supportive.


What should you do to look after your mental health?


SL: Seek out social networks, ensuring you interact frequently with family, friends or peers. Social support makes you feel less isolated, motivates you to seek work and provides a good source of ideas and information. Treat the day as a job, with scheduled slots for different tasks, breaks and lunch. This routine will provide meaning to the day and allow for a sense of security, stability and routine.


KL: Acknowledge that job-hunting is a new process, it’s challenging and often difficult. Reach out for support when you need it. Invest time in hobbies and socialising that provide some comfort when things don’t go to plan and remind you that job-hunting, whilst important, is part of your life and not your whole life.


NMW: Keep a mood diary of thoughts and feelings to highlight the problems or issues. Talk with a parent, teacher, colleague, mentor or trusted friend. Give yourself positive affirmations such as, ‘I am determined to move towards my goals’, ‘I have a lot to be proud of’.


How can you reduce stress?


SL: In order to create that happy feeling once again, the release of endorphins from exercise is a natural way of creating positive feelings to buffer stress. Mindfulness, yoga and meditation can enhance overall wellbeing and help you focus.


KL: Carve out time to decompress and rest so that you have enough energy to deal with the next challenge ahead.


NMW: Set a dedicated worry time for an hour a day. Try to use this time only to worry about things and not ruminate at other times. Try breathing exercises and engage with your senses to ground yourself in the present moment. Name five things you can see around you, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste. Maintaining a healthy diet and sleeping sufficiently can help regulate our emotions. A poor diet and lack of sleep can cause tiredness and fatigue which may impact your concentration.


How can you build resilience?


SL: Boost confidence and imagine success by visualising yourself excelling in a job interview, shaking hands with the interviewer and providing poised and compelling answers to their questions. Imagine the interviewer nodding in response and giving positive feedback. Try solution-focused methods like role-playing for interviews and implementing action plans for job searching to help motivate you if you have self-defeating beliefs and ideas.


KL: Focus on process more than outcome because the outcome is not really in your sole control. There are many reasons you will either get or not get the job that may not be anything to do with the effort you put into the application. We learn through experience. Try to avoid comparing your journey with anyone else’s. What internal resources can you gather to support yourself and what external resources can help you, such as the people around you who can offer support or learning.


NMW: Feeling down, upset, tearful or anxious is a natural response to rejection. It would be strange to feel happy or excited about situations like this. Our minds may not always be our friend and it tends to flag up negative thoughts. We do not have to agree with these thoughts. We can challenge these thoughts or say ‘there goes my unfriendly mind again’ or ‘my critical mind has started again’. This can help us distance ourselves or defuse from the original thought and look at it differently or feel differently about it.


How can you turn the experience of rejection to your advantage?


KL: Success is predicated on a variety of things, some that have gone well and some that haven’t, and rejection is an opportunity to learn how to deal effectively with disappointment. Reflecting and allowing yourself time to process what has happened is helpful. If you don’t learn to process disappointment it shows up somewhere else. Ask yourself, what did you learn about yourself, and the process? What was successful, what might you do differently?


NMW: We can judge ourselves and be self-critical when we experience rejection. Be mindful of it. Would you treat a friend with the same harshness, or would you be encouraging and kind to them? Treat yourself with the same warmth, care and kindness that you would extend to others.


Where can you get help?

ICAEW Training Vacancies has a range of advice and support for the job-application process, including podcasts and articles on subjects such as planning your job search and dealing with failure. Occupational charity caba also offers some free articles providing help to write your CV, and top 10 interview tips. The charity Young Minds provides guidance on subjects such as self-care and self-esteem, and signposts to support for young people with their help with mental health.

What next?

  1. Take time to acknowledge the disappointment of missing out on a job before moving on. 
  2. Look after yourself physically with a healthy diet, exercise and sleep and mentally with rest time, socialising and hobbies, and techniques like visualisation and mindfulness.
  3. Talk to people in your life – whether family, friends, mentors or teachers.
  4. If you are struggling emotionally, consider seeking psychological support. Focus on the bigger picture and keep moving forward.
  5. This is one part of your life and career and you will move on from it. 

About the article

Dr Saima Latif is a chartered psychologist, Kirsty Lilley is a psychotherapist and mental health expert with caba, and Dr Neha Mundra-Walia is a chartered counselling psychologist.

For more information on ICAEW’s work to improve diversity and representation within the profession, see our new content series Welcome Inclusion and the Diversity and Inclusion Hub.