Job hunting and mental health

Job hunting and mental health

Long read

The past few months I wrote a few posts revolving around the corona crisis, but there’s one very important topic I haven’t covered yet – you guessed it – job hunting.

This topic is close to my heart as I’ve been unemployed, and have experience with the ups and downs that come with it. Now due to coronavirus things are different: many people have lost their jobs unexpectedly, perhaps overnight or without much warning. This creates difficult conditions in which to be searching for a new job, not to mention the mental health struggles that come with it.

There are a few angles I’d like to cover because the topic is complex and can’t just be resumed to the search itself. I already wrote a blog for Empower Amsterdam on “managing your mental health during your job search” back in March, as a starting point.

The different phases of job loss, search, and emotions

To start with, let’s acknowledge the different phases people will be going through in these particular circumstances.

The beginning of the process

  1. Coronavirus starts making the headlines and lockdowns are implemented: fear for my job. Will it be safe? What’s going to happen? Can I still do my job? What will I do if I can’t?
  2. If you’re dependant on an employer: finding out you’ve lost your job, will be furloughed, or your place of work is closing down. Fear and anxiety over what will happen next. A lot of uncertainty.
  3. You are self-employed or own a business: you know work is going to slow down, you’re not sure if you will be able to keep your employees or your business open. Once again a lot of uncertainty around customers and perhaps fear or anxiety over having to pivot your business.
  4. If you’ve lost your job or are facing some sort of economic downturn, you have no idea yet how you will be protected or what sort of compensation you will get. Everything was so sudden so it makes sense answers aren’t always available nevertheless, this can be unsettling, scary and create more anxiety.
  5. If you lost your job unexpectedly, you might be feeling sad or even angry and resentful as well as scared and anxious. This is completely normal – it’s very sudden and you’re not emotionally or mentally prepared to suddenly be out of work. There are a variety of different emotions you might be experiencing and it takes time to process them.
  6. If you are a business owner, in addition to worrying about the survival of your business you might be feeling responsible or remorse about having to let employees go. Even if this was the right or only thing you could do, it doesn’t change the fact that you might experience some difficult emotions. Once again, this is normal.
  7. Now we get to the thick of it as you are jobless or in some sort of difficult situation. Depending on your personal circumstances, this could be the pinnacle of your anxiety – and I’m not saying this to be alarming. The fact is even as a single person (my case both times I was unemployed), you still have rent and bills to pay, need to put food on the table and perhaps more. It’s stressful for anyone. When you have a family, a mortgage to pay or other people depending on you, I can only imagine the stress and fear of the uncertain circumstances and how they will affect you. And now the job hunt starts.

The job search

As mentioned, I already covered it in the blog post for Empower Amsterdam. However, there are a few things worth highlighting.

In addition to experiencing a lot of emotions, once you start your search there may be a fair amount of pressure to get a job quickly. Whether it’s self pressure, from your family or your peers, it complicates the situation. It’s hard enough having to cope with the uncertainty and challenging task of job hunting, so watch out for the additional pressure. Protect yourself by setting boundaries and being kind to yourself.

Second, at a certain point the image portrayed by society of unemployment was really negative. Given the current exceptional circumstances I hope things will be different and people will be more forgiving. Nevertheless there is a certain stigma or taboo, with people becoming uncomfortable when you tell them you’re unemployed or regularly asking you if you’ve found a job (which is not helpful at all). Once again this adds to the stress and pressure of the activity so be mindful of it and don’t let yourself get sucked into the negativity.

Last but not least, the circumstances of this current job search will be tougher simply because many more people are looking now. This means there’s more competition, fewer jobs going around, and therefore you might feel greater anxiety or fear. Once again, this is completely normal.

Looking after yourself during this time

You will not only be going through different phases but also different emotions throughout this time. First and foremost, be kind and indulgent with yourself.

  • Practice self-compassion. Remember this isn’t your fault, you didn’t do anything wrong and the circumstances are way out of your control. Don’t be too hard on yourself when it comes to finding a new job or setting yourself extremely high goals.
  • Be realistic when it comes to the current situation – with more people searching and fewer vacancies it’s quite possible it will take you longer to find something than in times when the economy is doing well. Once again this has nothing to do with you, so focus on the things you can control like your application and how you present yourself.
  • Build your resilience or reflect on previous difficulties you’ve experienced and overcome to remind yourself that you are capable and can do this. Have you been on the job hunt before? What did you learn then that you can re-apply now?
  • Acknowledge your emotions. This one is so important! Once again another circumstance where we’re not used to acknowledging or discussing the emotions that come with such a challenging activity. But it is exhausting, it can be disappointing and spirit dampening to say the least. Sometimes you might lose all hope and wonder when you will ever catch a break, other times you might be super excited by the prospect of an upcoming interview. Allow yourself to feel all of it, good and bad. Don’t reject or try to bury your emotions.
  • Talk about it. After feeling the emotions, talk about it with someone close to you. Remember, it’s ok to be nervous, tired, frustrated, excited, hopeful… And it’s important to be able to talk about it, voice your fears and have someone (or several people) who can help you rationalize or celebrate with you when the time comes.

How you can support someone who has lost their job

There is no doubt you will know someone who has lost their job due to the coronavirus crisis. This is one of the opportunities for us to make a difference and help however we can.

  • Offer moral support. Simply listening to your friend and showing understanding around their difficult circumstances can already do a lot.
  • Open up your network. This can be an invaluable gift, by putting them in touch with people you know, or putting them forward for a job vacancy. Of course it’s a responsibility, but if you feel comfortable doing so, pay it forward.
  • Give them a recommendation. Once again if you feel comfortable doing so, a LinkedIn (or other) recommendation can go a long way for someone when looking for a job.
  • Depending on circumstances, maybe they’ll need a place to stay or might be facing financial difficulties. Think about how you can help: it might be a small thing like offering them a meal or a place to crash, but every little thing makes a difference.
  • Offer to review their CV or proofread a cover letter and provide feedback. Not something you can do all the time but once in a while, it’s always helpful.
  • Help them practice for interviews and rehearsing by acting as the recruiter.
  • Be supportive of their job search and show empathy. Try not to keep reminding them of it by asking “have you found a job yet?” but try asking different questions.

How employers and companies can support those who lost their jobs

Last but not least, a very important section as companies also have a responsibility towards those who have lost their jobs. While the circumstances may have been beyond their control, this doesn’t mean they can’t help.

My favourite example to date has been this letter by Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky. It is compassionate, sombre, thought out. It shows respect, transparency and focus on the business.

Here are a few things companies can do

  • Show compassion for those who have lost their jobs (as did Airbnb) and the difficulty of the current situation.
  • Recognize them for their work and show your appreciation.
  • Help them find new jobs to the best of your ability. Airbnb set up a Talent Directory and I saw many posts on LinkedIn of people recommending others who had previously worked for them.
  • Support your employees’ mental health. Whether it’s those who are still with you or those who have lost their jobs, they are going through a lot of change and uncertainty. The message for them to look after their mental health should be a priority, and they should have the right resources in place to help them do so.
  • Treat candidates with respect and compassion, and most of all, don’t ghost them please! 🙏🏼 Job hunting is hard. It takes time, commitment and effort. There’s nothing worse than never hearing back from a company or getting an automated rejection five minutes after applying. Help your candidates and set them up for success by giving them tips on how they can do well throughout the process as Johnson and Johnson does for example.
  • This may sound obvious but make sure your jobs are fully and frequently advertised so those who are searching know you’re hiring and open for business. Most people probably believe there have been hiring freezes and few vacancies so get the message out there.
  • Make use of employee advocates and your network. Now more than ever is a good time to make us of word of mouth. Your employees can not only speak well on your behalf, making you an attractive employer, but you can also potentially hire faster if you make use of an employee referral system.

While this may seem like a lot to take in, the key takeaway is for us to support one another through these difficult times.

If you’ve lost your job due to the coronavirus crisis: hang in there! Remember, you’re not crazy, you’re not alone and it’s ok. You’ve got this. 💪🏼

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Currently working in marketing and comms in Amsterdam. Passionate about all things digital, writing, dancing, travelling and much more. Mental health blogger and advocate.

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