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Employment

How to reduce job hunting stress

Job hunting is stressful but ahead of furlough ending experts told The Big Issue there’s no need to panic.

The government will on September 30 end the furlough scheme and on October 6 axe the £1,040-a-year uplift to universal credit.

For the 1.6 million people still on the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, according to latest government data, this could be a scary cliff edge.

Hundreds of thousands of people could find themselves looking for jobs for the first time in years, and the Bank of England is expecting a small jump in unemployment after furlough ends.

Watching job applications go unanswered or endlessly tweaking cover letters and CVs is stressful for anyone, and will be compounded by a rise in energy bills this autumn. 

Job hunting also disproportionately impacts people experiencing mental health problems like anxiety and depression.

But after The Big Issue spoke to experts on how to drive down stress levels and get on top of applications, they said there’s no reason to panic in the post-Covid job market.

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There has been a power shift from employers to employees in the market, with a record 1 million UK job vacancies in the three months to August for the first time ever, according to the Office for National Statistics.

That means it’s the perfect time to find a suitable role, negotiate the salary you deserve, and integrate things like childcare or flexible working with a strong hand as businesses desperately seek workers.

Here’s what you need to know about how to reduce job hunting stress as furlough ends.

Why is job hunting stressful?

If you’re feeling stressed while job hunting, the first thing to know is you’re not alone.

“There can be no greater pressure than the financial pressure of wondering where your next paycheck is coming from and how you’re going to pay the bills and buy the food that to put on the table,” Dave Smithson, operations director at Anxiety UK, told The Big Issue.

“That stress, that pressure, is huge, especially at a time when we’re all coming out of this pandemic,” he said, adding this can contribute to anxiety and depression and exacerbate mental health problems.

“Money and mental health are often linked. If you are struggling to keep control of your money, you may find that it has a negative effect on your mental health,” Paul Spencer, policy and campaigns manager at mental health charity Mind, told The Big Issue.

Before you begin your search, Spencer added, “Try to remember that losing your job or being out of work is nothing to be ashamed of, you are not to blame.”

What is the state of the job market?

When it comes to cutting down on stressors and ironing out the causes of anxiety, if you’re exiting the furlough scheme it’s worth remembering today’s job market is not the same.

“The world of work that furloughed employees are coming back to is very different to what they might have left 12 to 18 months ago,” Andrew Hunter, co-founder of job search engine Adzuna, told The Big Issue. “There has been a power shift from employer to employee.”

Hunter added: “I would argue that there’s never been a better time to enter the job market, at least in the last sort of 15 to 20 years.”

“There are over 1.1 million job vacancies up for grabs, lots of companies and in a number of different sectors are hiring staff. So there’s plenty of choice and the power is really with the job seeker,” he said, “so that should be one point of stress relief.”

How can I make job hunting less stressful?

The key to stopping job searching from invading all aspects of your life is to block out designated time slots in which you seek and apply for roles.

“It is important to be organised when you approach your job search and allocate a specific chunk of the day for looking at the market, understanding what roles might be applicable to you and applying in a structured way in a compartmentalised chunk of time,” Hunter said.

For instance, around 5pm you might want to put your laptop away, transform a work table back into a dining table and mentally demarcate that your job search has ended for the day.

“There’s a real risk of job search and letting it become an emotional roller coaster and just hijacking your life and every hour of the day, I think it’s really important to strike a balance between proactive job search and just going back to a normal day-to-day life,” he added.

What tools can I use to make job searching more manageable?

When it comes to finding roles there are a host of job searching platforms, from Reed to Indeed to The Big Issue’s very own jobs site.

Tracking your applications can be done by deploying simple software like Google Doc or Sheets — to make sure you follow up promptly, stay on top of deadlines and can chart your progress. 

There are plenty of online resources for finding CV and cover letter templates. Hunter, of Adzuna, said his company’s ValueMyResume tool helps prospective employees land the salaries they deserve.

To make sure you’re marketing your skills efficiently in cover letters and interviews, Kevin Parker, chief executive at HireVue, told The Big Issue the STAR framework can prioritise your strengths.

“Be prepared to answer questions about previous work or school challenges by including thoughts on the Situation, Task, Activity, and Result (STAR) of your work on a challenge,” Parker said. 

“The STAR framework is particularly useful for open-ended questions about your experiences (e.g. ‘How do you work on a team’?),” he added.

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How can I prepare myself for a job interview?

Interviews can be anxiety-provoking but, in today’s job market, prospective employees can step into the interview room knowing the power has shifted in their favour.

Beforehand, familiarise yourself with who will be interviewing you, their role in the company and how they fit into its mission.

“Have a good read of the job description or two or three times again before you go into the interview so you know exactly what the company is looking for,” Hunter said. 

Mentally prepare your bullet-point list of things demonstrating your strengths — skills, successful anecdotes — you definitely want to mention. Then relax and be yourself.

To calm pre-interview nerves Smithson, of Anxiety UK, said focus on your breathing.

“If you’re sitting in the waiting room waiting to be called in for the interview and you can feel that panic growing, try to use a simple breathing exercise,” Smithon said. 

“The key thing to remember is, try and make sure your in-breath is shorter than your out-breath.” This can help pull you back from fight or flight mode, he said.

Hunter added that, if you’re offered a role, this is the perfect time to negotiate to suit your needs — a salary you deserve, a childcare and flexible working situation that fits for you. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.

Above all, how do you stay calm when looking for a job?

To cope with the stress of being out of work, some people might work on job applications late into the evening, eating into their own time. This can be dangerous because time off to relax is vital for recharging.

“Remember to be kind to yourself, practice some self care and spend some time reflecting on what makes you feel happy and fulfilled,” Spencer, of Mind, said. “Perhaps you could write a list of all the skills and qualities you have and take a moment to celebrate them.”

“Try to invest a little bit in self care and a bit of ‘me time,’” Smithson said.

Effective self care could be anything that forces you to be in the moment and stop thinking about the pressures weighing on your shoulders.

“Cooking, baking, gardening, sewing, knitting, crocheting, yoga — there’s a whole raft of really mindful activities that allow you to focus on what you’re doing and not let your mind wander or ruminate over the problems,” he added. 

If things pile up and get too much, remember there is always help and networks of support to draw on. 

Never be afraid to offload and talk to friends and family about the pressures of the job hunt. “Historically, job search has been quite a private search experience,” Hunter said. “But that taboo is slowly but surely going away.”

Anxiety UK helps people access therapy at affordable rates, and Mind has a range of advice and guidance if you feel you’re in crisis. Both charities run peer support groups to connect with people going through similar stress.

“It sounds a bit of a cliche,” Smithson said, “but a problem shared is a problem halved.”

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