A couple of weeks ago, I had a job interview. Much like most people before an interview, I was terrified, but not exactly for any of the usual reasons for pre-interview nerves. Of course the normal worries like “Am I going to look like an idiot?” “What if I can’t remember my own name?” “What if I can’t answer any of the questions?” were there, yet the leading racers in the anxiety Olympics were all mental health related. My main concerns were things like “Are they going to want to shake hands?” “What if I have a panic attack?” “What if they offer me a biscuit?” and “Is it socially acceptable to go into this interview with a hot water bottle shoved down my trousers?” (admittedly that last one isn’t exactly mental health related but I think we can all agree it isn’t on the list of the most common interview worries…I was just very cold…still, my mother confiscated the hot water bottle because it would make me “look weird”…yeah…I am sure they saw the icicles forming on my chin as totally normal…I’m not bitter at all…)
Prior to the interview then, I had a lot on my mind, and in turn a lot of preparations to make to ensure that I was going to be able to actually get through the interview. This meant that over the course of the experience I learnt a few things, so I thought I would pass them onto you now in case anyone else out there is struggling with the “please hire me by the way I am insane” issue. I can’t say these tips are going to make your job interview a jolly occasion, but in the end, I got the job which the interview was for, so I guess these tips have their uses…
1. Anticipate parts of the interview that are going to cause particular problems: Prior to an interview, there are several things that everyone will think about in preparation. Maybe they will research the company in which they are seeking employment, think about potential questions, or have a google search of the latest updates in the business world so they are prepared for any topic up for discussion. In the same way then, it is important to think about and prepare for any potential events that could be difficult. For example, I was worried about hand shaking, so in preparation I spent the days before the interview anticipating the touching of palms and speaking to people about it to get through some of the anxiety. In practical terms I also found an anti bacterial foam that supposedly lasts for six hours, so I was sure to pack that in order for me to be able to use it before the interview as a sort of protection glove. I then made sure I knew where the nearest bathrooms were for post interview washing. I even prepared how to turn down a biscuit incase one was offered, so anticipate potential mental health hiccups and solve them before they arise. (Thankfully water was the only refreshment offered so I never had to turn down a biscuit…I accepted the water and really wanted to drink it, yet never got a chance because I was too scared of making a slurpy noise. Had it been a job interview for a position as professional slurper I would have drunk the water as fast as I could and been sure to demonstrate all the slurping noises possible but alas, my interviews was not located in an institution that advocated slurping…or hot water bottles stuffed down one’s trousers apparently…)
2. Be realistic: In job interviews, it is sort of an unwritten rule that you say “yes” to everything and worry about consequences later. Can you speak french? Of course you can! You have a french dictionary at home and 24 hours to learn it…what could go wrong? Can you fly? Of course you can! How hard can it be to sprout wings /morph into a sparrow overnight (from experience I can assure you that is VERY hard indeed). As great as it is to say whatever you can to get the job though, it is important to be realistic and not agree to things that your mental health is going to make impossible and that you are consequently going to go home fretting about. If you have social anxiety and can’t speak publicly to a crowd of thousands, do not agree to do so and then regret it later. If there are things you are not going to be able to do, let the people know right away to avoid getting into a difficult situation further down the line. Yes it will be awkward and maybe you won’t get the job if there is a key part of it that your mental health makes impossible, but then again if that is the case, maybe that job isn’t the one for you. In terms of being realistic about actions you can perform, it is also important to be realistic concerning what you can manage when it comes to hours. Accepting a job 24 hours a day 7 days a week when you know it will overwhelm you, interfere with medical appointments and leave you no time to take care of yourself, is never a good idea. Getting the job is important, but taking care of your needs is vital as without looking after yourself you wont be able to perform at work and getting the job will not be a success you can celebrate for long. I for example know that there are multiple aspects to this job that are going to be extremely challenging and on the surface, if I am honest with myself, the hours are more than I think I can realistically handle. However, I made sure only to apply for a Christmas job for 6 weeks so that if I get overwhelmed/it is detrimental, there is at least an end goal in sight.
3. Get there early: Everyone knows you should get to a job interview early purely because being late is not the best way to promote the “great time keeping skills” you bragged about in your CV. Nevertheless, with mental health problems I would always advise not just getting there early enough to ensure you are on time and make a good impression, but getting there super early to allow for potential disaster/to allow you to remove the hot water bottle shoved down your trousers. Obviously you can’t plan what your brain is going to do in advance and it would be unrealistic to decide that you are going to schedule a panic attack for 11:15 so you have time to calm down in time for the interview, but if there is a risk of that kind of thing happening, get there with the time such an event would take spare. If you often have panic attacks, get to the interview with enough time to have one. Even if you don’t have panic attacks but suffer with anxiety, still get there early just to allow yourself to gather your thoughts and carry out any coping mechanisms like listening to a certain song or practicing mindfulness if needed.
4. Do not take rejection personally: One thing I really struggle with when it comes to job interviews/anything in life, is the fact that I take rejection extremely personally. My main worries about not getting the job weren’t about not getting the job in itself, rather they were worries about the effect it would have on my self esteem. For example I know that getting rejected from roles in school plays/not performing as well as I wanted in a test, has always led to difficulties with self harm, self hatred and general feelings of “everyone hates me and this is a sign that they don’t want me to be alive anymore because I am so terrible”. Before you go for the job interview then, try not to build it up to be this majorly important thing on which your value as a person and entire future happiness depends. Don’t see it as something on which your life rests, as ultimately no job is worth that. Maybe even write out some bullet points in case rejection does come to remind you of the rational facts in the situation. When the rejection comes it is likely your thoughts will spiral into the irrational emotional side of the brain so get your pre-rejection rational thoughts in order first. If you don’t get a job it doesn’t mean you are a terrible person/rubbish at everything/doomed to fail in life. It likely means that there were a hell of a lot of applicants and even if you were more than skilled enough, perhaps you just weren’t right for the role or someone else was better suited. If you are a doughnut maker and don’t get a job as a doughnut advocacy speaker it doesn’t mean you don’t make good doughnuts. It might just mean that you were up against a talking doughnut, and lets be real, who is better to speak for doughnut advocacy than a talking doughnut? Nobody, thats who.
5. Be honest: This is the final tip I have to offer but it is also THE most important. When I used to be preparing for interviews I would debate whether or not to tell the potential employer about my mental health problems/how much to say. I always wanted to hide it incase my mental health would stand in my way, yet ultimately that just meant that by hiding my difficulties I made life more difficult for everyone involved. Eventually the truth would always come out, and it would have been a hell of a lot better simply to be honest in the first place. If your mental health affects your life in terms of abilities or availability, let the employer know. Otherwise you will find yourself lying about reasons you need a day off to go to an appointment and having to invent mythical physical diseases to request time off work when really you are having a mental health crisis. For the past few years I have even put my mental health problems somewhere on my CV or within any applications so that everyone is on the same page before I even get an interview. This then makes it easier to talk about in the interview and by being honest both I and the employer can see if the job will be possible/work out ways to make it possible. When I worked in a coffee shop I was open about my fear of touching the hoover and thus allowed to use it whilst wearing rubber gloves saving me a lot of anxiety and excuses to get out of having to use a hoover. Again, like the tip about being realistic, there is always a chance that being honest will affect your chances of getting the job, but if it affects your life so much that it will inevitably cause problems at work, again, maybe that is a job you shouldn’t be applying for.
So there you have it! My top tips for managing job interviews with mental health problems. Now of course I have the mission of managing the actual job itself… To be honest I haven’t figured out how to manage that bit yet, but I guess that is something I will learn along the way. If my experience over these next few weeks does teach me anything about mental health in the workplace though, I will be sure to pass on any helpful lessons to you later.
Take care everyone and good luck with any potential job opportunities. YOU CAN DO IT!