Dealing with employability anxiety

Rose Watson, Careers & Employability Service Manager

You know that feeling. The knot in the stomach, the lump in the throat, the slowly creeping panic. Many of us struggle with anxieties from time to time, and for many finalists struggling with deadlines and exams, it is no surprise that employability anxiety has now become such an issue. Just as your workload seems to becoming overwhelming there is the added uncertainty about the future. Big changes are on the horizon. And you’re not sure what your future look like.

There’s no doubt that for many students this can be really scary. An NUS survey found that for 26% students, graduate employment was a major trigger of mental distress. Worrying about getting a job is making many students unhappy.

Worry is normal

Don’t forget that stress is our natural response to feeling under pressure and it can often be helpful. “Healthy stress” in small doses can motivate us, give us an energy boost and get things done. Feeling anxious about getting a job might be the only thing that makes us complete that job application before the deadline rather than lying in bed on a Saturday morning!

Sometimes it can feel that you are the only one feeling the way you do, especially if your friends around you already seem to have their next steps sorted. But it is normal to feel anxious about the future, so you are not alone.  Many of the students that Careers speak to are worried about their futures, but when we follow our graduates up, we find that 97% are in work and study a few months after leaving. So are these fears ungrounded?

When stress gets in the way

Sometimes anxiety can feel overwhelming and this can get in the way. Some people find themselves frozen into inaction, and they end up not doing anything at all. Sometimes this shows as a delaying tactic – ‘I am going to focus on my exams for now, and think about careers once I have graduated, or denial ‘I cannot think about this at all, I don’t want to discuss it’. For some people the anxieties show up in different ways, such as worrying about health, or something else. For others it may show as anger or depression.

For many this is resolved naturally as you progress through your exams and assignments, start to find work and establish your new life. The tips below will help you with this. However for some, the anxieties go beyond normal worries. If you’re feeling anxious in a way that is stopping you from doing the things that you normally do, such as socialising, or if you are feeling bad for more than just a few weeks, you might want to talk to someone about this. I talked to Rod London, one of the Counselling and  Mental Health managers at the university and  he said that it’s not uncommon for students to become paralysed with a desire to either get it ‘perfect’ or put things off when it comes to leaving university. If this sounds like you consider attending a workshop on Perfectionism or Procrastination.

Six tips for dealing with your employability anxieties

1. Small steps

Taking small steps to begin with can really help.  These could include updating your CV, researching a company, or asking for a mock interview. You can then build up to other more daunting activities such as arranging some work experience, or applying for jobs. Make a list of some of the things you need to do and tick them off as you go. You’ll be surprised about how this can make you feel better.  Book a careers appointment for help in getting started with this.


2. Face your fears

Sometimes anxieties can be caused by a vague, ill- defined view of the future, which can look a lot worse than the actual event. It might be helpful to have a cool objective look at the worst that can happen.   You may have to return to living with family, or take a temporary job for a while. You may be unemployed or in a job you don’t enjoy for a bit. These are all situations many new graduates have faced and have dealt with. And importantly, it doesn’t have to be forever. You will find ways to cope and you will also move on. It doesn’t have to be that bad!


3. Prepare for change

So, there will be some changes in your life, many of these quite major. Apart from practical changes such as where you live and what you do day to day, there may well be changes to your self – identity (how you are perceived as a student may be different to how you are perceived in the wider world). And whereas there seem to be lots written about the transition into university and adapting to student life, there is a lot less said about the change away from university. Remember that you have made changes before and have coped with them in the past. Focus on the benefits of change – the chance for a new start, what you have learned about yourself so far, and how you want to build on this for the future. Here are 10 ways to make it through your life’s transitions.


4. Stay connected

We all deal with worries in different ways but for many isolation can increase anxiety. Keep in touch with close friends and share your feelings and experiences. You may well find that other people are going through the same feelings as you and you can support each other.  But  a BIG warning about social media here – we all know that we only share the most successful and glossiest version of ourselves online, and it can be so  easy to focus just on those contacts who seem to be having the best/most successful times. Don’t compare yourself to others, and if you really can’t help it – then just unfollow them!


5. Speed isn’t the same as success

It’s easy to feel as though you have missed the boat if you don’t have a job lined up when you graduate. There always seems to be someone from your house or course who seems to have the perfect job lined up!  But the speed at which you get going is really no indicator of your future success. Your first job is almost certainly not going to be your last, and a number of people take a bit of time to find their niche. Be patient, keep making your applications, and in no time at all you will be looking back over your successful career!


6. Learn how to handle your anxiety

You will keep your stress at a lower level if you have a routine that allows for regular meals and a regular sleeping pattern. Develop a successful ‘winding down’ routine before going to bed. Put your electronic devices away, and relax quietly.

If you begin to feel panicky, concentrate on breathing slowly and deeply; put your hand on your diaphragm and breathe so that you feel it expanding and contracting slowly.

Picture yourself positively; maybe at a job interview or assessment centre but doing so competently and successfully. Imagine how good it will be when you’ve started your first job, and what it feels like to be happy and positive at work.

Keeping yourself well in mind and body will also help. Have a look at the fit4life  pages for tips in keeping well in different aspects of your life.

If you need more help our colleagues in Counselling and Mental Health run excellent workshops on Managing Anxiety .


And finally…..

If you are suffering from anxiety about your future employment, it can be really helpful to talk it over with someone else to unpick your thinking and get a sense of perspective. Book an appointment with a Careers Adviser  or talk to your Personal Academic tutor.

If you feel that your anxieties are becoming more of a problem, if you feel some conflict about leaving university, or if endings have been difficult for you in the past, this is an opportunity to do things differently and perhaps on your own terms. Talking this through at Fancy-a-Cuppa in Firstpoint may be helpful, or you could contact the Counselling and Mental Health Service for an individual appointment.

Further reading

Dealing with transitions and stress as a student

Lacking confidence and nervous about starting work?

So you’ve graduated, now what?

Dealing with Exam and Assessment anxiety 



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