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How To Be Mentally Tough In The Job Search

What helps to strengthen your resolve and keep going in the job search in the face of rejection or setbacks? One person’s mentally tough can be another person’s simples. So it pays to understand what you find mentally tough and easy, and see what’s possible for you.

The job search is a job in itself. If you were going for a job at being a ‘job searcher’, you would want to be brilliant at it to overcome the competition and wow the employer. That means putting in the time, effort and energy to get the knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviours needed to succeed. 

In their book, Developing Mental Toughness, Doug Styrcharczyk and Peter Clough identify 4 Cs of being mentally tough. I’ve filtered them through the job search to prompt some insights for your action:

  • CHALLENGE – seeing challenge as an opportunity

OpportunityWe all have fight or flight instincts. Deliberately test yourself in unfamiliar and seemingly scary situations. I walked 26 miles in a day across the Yorkshire Three Peaks last summer. Three-quarters of the way round, I didn’t think I’d make it and wanted to stop.

Three things helped me to overcome the tiredness, dizziness, aches and pains: achieving something on my bucket list (inspiring goal); the encouragement of my daughters walking with me (support); and the opportunity to be mindful by focusing on all of my senses (self-awareness) – the beautiful scenery, the sound of the wind, the sensation of wet clothing on my skin, the feel of my boots in each step. From trudging on auto-pilot to being awake, energised and appreciative of my surroundings, the pleasures outweighing the pain.

In my book, Learning to Leap, I recount the tale of Amy, a final year university student. She turned a challenge into an opportunity not to be missed when she was selected for a graduate scheme assessment centre at very short and unexpected notice (she was on a reserve list and someone dropped out). Amy went the extra mile, rearranged her plans, did some rapid research and dived in at the deep end with other graduates who had weeks to prepare. She was mentally tough and got the job, one of 12 graduates out of 2300 who applied.

Ask yourself, ‘does this brilliant opportunity outweigh the toughness of my challenge?’

  • CONFIDENCE – having high levels of self-belief

I CanIf you think can or you think you can’t, you’re right. Believing in yourself is a choice. That doesn’t mean it comes automatically. Turn it into a habit. Develop your self-belief muscle daily like going to the gym. Self-belief comes from within (determination), encouragement and from successes. Choose the behaviour that leads to the result you want.

An exercise I recommend to clients is to create (and update regularly) a full and honest narrative of everything they have ever done relating to work, education and relevant life experiences. This is different from a CV that is way shorter and has the single purpose of getting you an interview for a particular job.

Include facts (bio, qualifications, courses, roles including paid and unpaid, dates) and achievements (the difference your contribution made, soft and hard – people, projects, £). Label your experiences with the common soft and hard skills and attitudes employers are seeking (e.g. communicating, team working, digital literacy etc).

Clients get confidence from doing this in two ways: it’s motivational as a reminder of all your successes; it saves you time by more easily accessing examples of skills and the value you have added to avoid reinventing the wheel every time you create a tailored CV.

  • COMMITMENT – being able to stick to tasks

Do itCommitment is about wanting to do something, knowing why, putting yourself at stake in some way and willingly taking action. No one is telling or forcing you to do it. But that’s not always enough. It’s easy to get distracted and diverted by other attractions. How do you stick to tasks you know will help you in the job search?

Being accountable helps. You can hold yourself to account by giving yourself a small reward every time you stick to a task. Get someone else to hold you to account. If you declare your intentions to a valued friend or a coach, you’re more likely to do what you say you will because don’t want to let them down.

Accountability is the glue that ties commitment to the result – Bob Proctor

The other big reason it can be hard to stick to tasks is that annoying invisible parrot on your shoulder whispering in your ear that this is a waste of time, there’s too much competition and you’re not good enough. Try this proven method for staying positive while job hunting so that you remain committed.

  • CONTROL – believing that you control your destiny

PowerTalentSmart reported on research by University of Florida psychologist Tim Judge that showed people who take control over events in their lives, rather than allowing events to control them, are confident in their abilities and perform better in their jobs. When difficulties strike, their anxiety fuels passion, drive and tenacity rather than self-pity, despair and fear.

The prescription from TalentSmart’s Dr Travis Bradberry is


to anticipate and prepare for change, to focus on your freedoms rather than your limitations and to rewrite your script.

Yes, the environment plays a big part – the availability of jobs, the demands of employers and so on – and that is not always in your control. What is within your control is being mentally tough to ride the inevitable ups and downs. Shift your self-talk from ‘life is not fair’ to ‘what can I change?’ and from ‘hard luck story’ to ‘perseverance story’. Make your own luck.

When the going gets tough, the tough get going!

David Shindler

David Shindler

David Shindler is founder of the Employability Hub online learning centre, Director of Learning to Leap and widely respected in the industry as an employability expert. David understands the ‘soft’ skills, attitudes and behaviours needed by employers and can help people improve them to get the job they want.

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