The struggle of finding a job while battling depression
Aug 29, 2022
Navigating the big bad world comes with its fair share of obstacles for college graduates. Going through significant life changes and transitions can be overwhelming and cause a lot of stress, as young graduates gain independence and get their first look at the world of work. Protecting our mental health is key in this transformatory stage of life, and with September being National Suicide Prevention Month, we’re shedding light on one young graduate’s mental health story.
Fighting depression is a heavy feat and can consume your life in more ways than one. For Steven, 24, it’s something he’s dealt with from a young age. As he got older, it started to eat away at his confidence and take over his life. When it came time to join the working world, his mental health was on a decline. He struggled with the societal pressure to get a certain kind of job and conform to what he perceived as being expected. He tells his story of how looking for a job while battling depression took a toll on his confidence.
A nasty mix of post-grad stress and imposter syndrome
In preparation for his job search, Steven set his sights on the Big Apple, perfecting his résumé and cover letter as he finished up his college degree. While post-grad stress is a common phenomenon among college students, Steven’s depression had an even more significant impact on his job application process. “Every time I applied for a job, I felt massive anxiety because I knew there was someone on the other side reading my resume. I thought they were going to see my application, see who I am, and then they were going to judge me for it. They were going to say things like, “his GPA isn’t good enough, he’s not smart enough to come work for us, or, his experience isn’t relevant”,” he explains.
As if that wasn’t hard enough, Steven noticed signs of imposter syndrome as he endured the job hunt. “I kept questioning whether or not I was even qualified - even if I met the criteria for the job. I would tell myself I wasn’t good enough.” This false perception of reality can quickly take a toll on your mental health, sometimes to the point of self-sabotage. “Sometimes, this voice in my head was so persuasive that I wouldn’t even submit the application,” he admits.
Comparison is the thief of joy
When looking for a job as a college graduate, the temptation to compare your progress to that of your friends is strong. Seeing your classmates advance faster than you in the job hunt can feel discouraging. Steven recalls having mixed feelings about a friend landing a great job right out of college, “One friend accepted a position at Amazon with a starting salary of over 200K. Although I was happy for them, I also felt discouraged.”
While he saw his friends as hard-working, qualified candidates, he had a hard time seeing himself in the same light. “I would look at them and think, you’re so qualified, you deserve that position and worked hard for it. I didn’t feel the same way about myself. I felt unqualified in comparison and less worthy of a job.” That discouraging internal voice was a side effect of Steven’s depression, and it ate away at his confidence.
Taking back control
In an attempt to turn things around and advance in his search, Steven threw himself into job applications. By taking control of the situation, he was refusing to let his depression sabotage his future. However, with this new outlook came new obstacles, as Steven battled with the anxiety of waiting to hear back from recruiters. “Sometimes I’d apply and there would be radio silence, but other times I’d be invited to the initial phone screening. These were nerve-wracking, but, the fact that they happened meant someone decided that I was good enough, smart enough, and qualified enough for the job,” he explains.
He started celebrating the small wins and seeing the responses he was getting as a step in the right direction. Admittedly, the screen calls he was offered came with their own anxiety, but Steven saw them as a learning experience: “After some trial and error, I started to get more positive responses after this initial conversation.” Rather than let the fear of failing overwhelm him, Steven began to see the positive in each situation, whether he moved to the next round of interviews or not.
Practice makes perfect
Over time Steven got into the swing of things and became better and better at preparing for interviews. “You need to sell yourself authentically but this is something that can be rehearsed. And it’s a lot easier to rehearse and remember than actually performing on the spot in an interview,” he advises. As time went on and he followed his trusty interview formula, Steven started to get more positive responses and found himself being invited to second and third-round interviews.
As is common in the job hunt, not all interviewers yielded positive results. However, each interview he did allowed him to practice his pitch and get used to answering common interview questions. “When you’re interviewing so frequently, for so many different positions, and you’re saying the same thing over and over, it starts to flow,” he says. It was also an opportunity for Steven to rebuild his confidence, something his battle with depression had taken a serious toll on.
Landing a job and moving forward
After many applications and interviews, Steven found himself in the final round for a job at a prestigious law firm. Coming out of the interview, he convinced himself the job wasn’t his. “I told myself that I was either going to be rejected or ghosted.” With such a great opportunity on the line, he spiraled into a negative headspace, “The opportunity seemed like a perfect fit, so, naturally, I thought there was no way it was going to work out.”
One month went by with no response, so Steven restarted his job hunt, applying to other positions. Then, one memorable day, he got a call from a recruiter at the law firm. “They’d been impressed by my interviews and wanted to extend a formal offer. A few hours later, they emailed me the contract and I was shocked to discover that they were offering me more money than I’d asked for,” he explains. After a tough few months on the hunt for a job and just as he was beginning to lose hope, the offer came.
Steven started his new role, surrounded by “incredibly smart people who studied at Harvard, Yale, and NYU.” Unfortunately, this triggered his imposter syndrome, which came back full throttle while he settled into the job. Looking at his colleagues, he felt less legitimate as “they had law degrees whereas I was fresh out of undergrad.” As he works on improving his mental health, Steven can tell that he’s heading in the right direction: “My depression hasn’t gone away, but honestly, the future is starting to look a little more bright. I know that if I was unemployed, it would be a million times worse. Today, I can say that at least I have a job that I like and it pays a decent salary,” he says.
Words of wisdom
For anyone else struggling with depression, Steven shares his tips on how to keep it from taking over your life. “You can get through the job search. Figure out a routine. Maybe you only apply to jobs twice a week after you watch your favorite Netflix series. Just make sure that you’re applying to jobs regularly. Then, practice, practice, practice. It doesn’t matter how nervous you get or what lies your depression is telling you about yourself. You can learn to master the interview,” he advises.
Putting things into perspective, Steven admits that “the job search is difficult but, especially if you’ve struggled with mental health, it’s not the most difficult challenge you’ve ever faced. Look back at what you’ve achieved. The relationships you’ve built, the risks you’ve taken, and the success you’ve experienced. Find the positivity in your life and use it to motivate you. If you work hard and face the challenge head-on, something good will happen, I promise.”
Check out more content related to Mental Health Awareness Month 2023 here.
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