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How to deal with career anxiety while job searching

Book open Reading time: 5 mins

Read our helpful hints for minimising anxiety about applying for graduate jobs.

Illustration of a woman using a laptop

You’ve edited and re-edited your CV, read up on dozens of grad schemes and you’re tired of scrolling job boards. To top it all off, you’re experiencing career anxiety, wondering whether all your hard work will be worth it.

If this sounds like you, you’re not alone. It’s natural to feel overwhelmed about taking the next step in your career. Your ideal opportunity might be right around the corner, but it’s hard to remember that when you’re in the thick of the graduate job hunt. So how do you feel better in the meantime?

To help you minimise those feelings of career anxiety, we've collected our best tips for staying sane while searching for your graduate role.

Minimise job-search stress by structuring your time

Graduate job hunting can feel like an all-consuming task. Making a schedule and including space for downtime can boost your productivity and give you much-needed time to rest.

Try creating a timetable and blocking your time into sections. Balance your efforts between studying, any current jobs you have and job hunting. Remember, you don’t have to do everything all at once, all the time. As long as you’re working towards your goal a few times a week, you’ll be making progress.

Most importantly, let yourself ‘clock off’ at least once a day to give yourself the chance to unwind.

Move your body between job applications

It might be tempting to keep scrolling until you reach the end of the job board, but spoiler alert: there isn’t one. Put down your devices instead and get some movement.

Exercise is an excellent outlet for stress, and it also helps break up the day. Whether you're going for walks, jogging, doing yoga or showing up at your sports practices, make sure you’re moving in some way.

Equally, don’t overdo it at the gym – your gains can wait if you need to focus on your mental health. When you’re stressed, your muscles can carry extra tension, so make sure to warm up, cool down and stretch properly to avoid any injuries.

How to calm down in the moment

Katie is a Senior Events Manager at Bright Network and one of our trained mental health first aiders. If you're feeling overwhelmed, try her tips for calming down:

"Take some time away from the screen. If you can, go for a walk or try to stand up tall and take some long, slow, deep breaths right into your belly, filling your lungs."

Katie, Bright Network's Senior Events Manager and mental health first aider

Boost your energy with satisfying meals and sleep

While your mind is worrying away about cover letters and assessment centres, your body will need some help to keep your energy up.

Keep yourself going with regular, nutritious meals. It's great to treat yourself here and there, but remember to prioritise a balance of protein, carbs, fat and fibre in the meantime. Giving yourself healthy fuel for your job hunt can make all the difference to your mental health – plus, a satisfying meal can be an instant mood-booster.

Tiredness makes any task feel tougher, too, so keeping well-rested is crucial. Going to bed and waking up at a consistent time each day creates a sleep schedule that'll help you get proper rest each night. Try to unwind and relax before you go to sleep as well, whether that's collecting your thoughts over a comforting hot drink or watching your favourite sitcom with housemates.

Reach out for support when you feel career anxiety

If there's one aspect of job hunting you can take comfort in, it's that everyone has been there. Even the people you look up to most will have had their share of rejection emails and career doubts.

That means there's no shame in connecting with people to chat or get advice about your job-hunting anxieties. You'd be surprised at how many people can relate. Whether you need to run through interview questions with a family member or have a good old vent to a friend, you don't have to be alone.

Our Mental Health First Aider, Katie, recommends making social plans to give yourself a chance to unwind.

"Having something to look forward to in your calendar can help, too – plan a nice dinner with friends or a day out to give you a change of scene and something to work towards."

Celebrate small successes along your job-hunt journey

One of the reasons why job searching is so stressful is the 'all-or-nothing' mindset of focusing only on one big goal – getting a job. However, breaking down your objectives and successes into small steps can help lower the stakes day-to-day, reducing career anxiety.

Even if you miss out on a role, you can usually learn something from the process, and that's worth celebrating. Finished a thoroughly researched application that took you a few days to write? It may only be step one of the hiring process, but you've already achieved a mini milestone by putting in the work upfront.

Or, if you made it to the interview stage but didn't get the offer, you've still gained valuable experience you can draw on for next time. Plus, you know your CV is looking strong because you got past the first hurdle.

Success doesn’t always have to be concrete, either. If you spent the day researching positions in your field but didn’t work on any applications, that’s still a win. A key aspect of job searching is figuring out what you don't want as much as what you do want. Ruling something out is also a form of progress – you’re one step closer to deciding what kind of job suits you.

A great way to practice self-awareness and keep up your mood is to keep a running list of everything you've achieved in your graduate job search. Note down whenever you hit a goal, get an interview or send an application. Then, whenever you feel anxious or overwhelmed about your career, look back at your list. You'll see all the small wins you've achieved and remember that you have plenty to be proud of already.

Think of job hunting as a two-way street

Job-hunting can feel like trying to pass one big, intimidating exam. The good news is, you can mentally reframe the process to reduce some of that pressure you're feeling.

Instead of thinking of your job search as a pass-or-fail scenario, consider this: both you and the employer have the same goal. In the same way that you're looking for the graduate best job for you, employers are also trying to find the best fit for their roles.

It helps to think of a recruitment process as a mutual journey where you and the company have the same objective – finding out if the job is right for you. It's not so much about passing or failing, but figuring out if you're a good match.

Take time to consider your values. Are you looking for a thriving company culture, opportunities to travel, a clear career ladder or a leadership role? If you're nervous about an application or a big interview, remind yourself that it’s not a test; it’s just getting to know one another professionally.

Ask questions, and remember: it's a two-way street.

If you’re experiencing intense or long-term anxiety, stress, low mood or physical symptoms, we recommend seeking medical support. You can get in touch with your GP, visit the NHS website or call 111 for immediate assistance.

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