Does Anxiety Hamper Your Search?

We have all heard about the job market and how tough it is out there. With the national unemployment rate at nearly 10%, it is easy to see why people may feel anxious when looking for work. The job search itself can cause stress based on financial need or because of performance anxiety.

Over the last few weeks, I have started to notice that some of the issues or concerns that students encounter have manifested from anxiety. Anxiety is something that can cause people to act out of character, make mistakes, represent themselves poorly and make uninformed decisions.

Let’s look at a few of the ways that anxiety can hamper your candidacy:

Interviewing poorly

One of the key aspects that are often underestimated during the interview process is how a candidate connects with the interviewers. Typically, the interview process is about how the candidate fits into the organization’s culture in addition to the skills that they possess.  If you are overly anxious during an interview, you may:

  • Create an inaccurate impression of yourself
  • Miss key clues from the organization that will give you information about the position or organization
  • Forget to highlight information about yourself that is relevant to the position
  • Appear disinterested, desperate or distracted

Making poor decisions

Anxiety can cause you to make poor decisions.

Recently I have worked with students who have committed to positions only to realize later that they wished they hadn’t. A few days after they had accepted an offer, other options that the students’ deemed more desirable called them for interviews. Now these students are in a dilemma. Their decision essentially is between going back on their commitment with the original organization or staying at an internship that is not their first choice. These decisions are never easy because they are personal. In my role, I try to help the student process the decision, aid them in the implications of possible actions, strategize approaches, and ultimately serve as a sounding board for them in processing THEIR decision. Ultimately, these situations can be learning experiences for future encounters.

In the end, these situations can be avoided or rectified easier if you have a clear mind. Here are some strategies in terms of how to approach them:

  1. Anticipate that you may be given an offer and try to think about what your response will be if the position is offered.  Is this your #1 choice?
  2. Know that it is ok to ask for some time to make your decision. Sometimes students feel that they must make an immediate decision in order to not upset an employer or lose an opportunity. From my experience, most employers will appreciate the fact that you are being open and honest about your need to examine the position for fit.

Not evaluating opportunities accurately

It is always better to take some time to evaluate a position versus accepting and then realizing later that you might not want it. In most industries, people will know each other from previous experience so if you don’t honor your commitment you may create an unfavorable reputation for yourself beyond just the organization you dealt with.

Here are some ways that I see students make anxiety driven mistakes:

  1. Choosing opportunities that aren’t the best fit: Evaluate a job offer on multiple factors; not just on pay rate, title, or organization. Anxiety or stress can make you feel as if you have to make decisions rapidly. You may examine a job opportunity and think it is a good fit, but have you really examined what the job entails?
  2. Job scams: As people start to get anxious for jobs, they may start to overlook things that don’t look right on a job description. It is easy to understand why. As there are fewer opportunities, people tend to look less critically at the ones they see. Read this article to help you examine typical job scams.
  3. Going with the “one size fits all” approach to jobs: As anxiety heightens, sometimes it is natural to start applying to any and every job. You may be tempted to apply to a high volume of opportunities in the hopes that something comes about; yet remember that employers want to see your unique fit within their organization and position. Rather than going with a “shotgun” approach, focus on an amount of opportunities that will allow you to target your materials and spend adequate time studying the organization.
  4. Utilizing only a fraction of available options: It can be easy to get in the rut, of going to the same job boards online looking for work and maybe even worrying if you don’t see new opportunities. Remember, your personal network including friends, family, co-workers, classmates, student organizations and professional associations may also be important factors in identifying positions or even people who can connect you to work.

How can you curtail anxiety?

It is good to acknowledge anxiety and talk it over or deal with it in some manner. Simply being aware of the fact that you feel anxiety and talking to a school career counselor can be a good first start. No matter what you do, it’s normal to feel some nervousness surrounding a job search. However, you can manage the nerves that you feel so that you don’t make mistakes, represent yourself poorly, or get caught in situations that are difficult to manage.

But how can you reduce anxiety, you say?

Here are a few simple tips to help curtail anxiety:

  • Have a trusted career counselor, professor or family member review a job description with you to make sure it is a good option for you.
  • Once you have applied to various positions, make the assumption that you could be called for a phone screen or interview at any time and prepare yourself.
  • Organize and rank the opportunities that you have applied to so that you have a sense of how to proceed if you get an offer.
  • Ask questions to make sure you fully understand the job description and requirements before making any final decisions.
  • Realize that the job search is a two-way street.  If you are not comfortable with the way an organization operates, this may be a function of a mismatch between your values and the values of that particular organization.
  • Know that looking for work will take a considerable amount of time and energy. Prepare yourself beforehand by visiting your school’s career center to get a sense of what to expect.


Joe is a career counselor at San Jose State University. His areas of specialization include: experiential education, resume development, interview preparation, job search strategy, and assessment inventories. In his role, he also serves as the community manager for the Career Center’s social media outlets. Connect with Joe on Twitter or follow samplings of his work via the SJSU Career Center Blog and Career Action Now.

Related posts:

  1. Managing Your Job Search & Your Parents
  2. Name Dropping in Your Job Search
  3. “Out” in the Job Search

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