How to Stay Mentally Tough During Your Job Search


You’ve heard it before: “A job search is a full-time job in itself.”

Of course, if you were applying for a job as  “Professional Job Searcher,” you would want to get really, really good at it. You’d want to overcome the competition and wow the employer.

That means putting in the time, effort and energy to obtain the traits, attitudes and behaviors needed to succeed.

And one of the most important traits: mental toughness.

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

1. Seeing Barriers as Opportunity: Challenge

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.

We all have fight or flight instincts. Ask yourself, “Does pursuing this opportunity outweigh the challenge I’m facing now?” Chances are: it does.

2. Having High Levels of Self-Belief: Confidence

If 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 even the smallest of successes. Choose the behavior 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.

3. Being Able to Stick to Tasks: Commitment

Commitment 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 help; an accountability partner. If you declare your intentions to a valued friend or a coach, you’re more likely to do what you say you will; in part because don’t want to let them down.

The other big reason it can be hard to stick to tasks: that annoying invisible devil 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. Take a break. Go watch television or play video games. You deserve it!

To remain committed, try this proven method for staying positive while job hunting.

4. Believing You Own Your Destiny: Control

Research done by University of Florida psychologist Tim Judge, as reported by TalentSmart, showed that people who take control over events in their lives, rather than allowing events to control them, are more confident in their abilities. As a result, they 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.


For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at Learning to Leap!




David Shindler AuthorAbout the Author: David Shindler is the author of “Learning to Leap, a Guide to Being More Employable.” An experienced coach and people development expert, David specializes in developing and accelerating employability. He also runs the Employability Hub (a social learning community and resource center) and the Learning to Leap group on LinkedIn and Facebook fan page. Tweet David, or contact him via his website.


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