5 Tips For Managing A Job Interview When You Have Mental Health Problems

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!

jobinterview

 

Unveiling The Secrets Of Life As A Mental Health Nurse

As you are probably all aware, this blog is a blog about mental health.
If you weren’t aware and thought this was actually a blog offering gardening tips, then I am sorry to disappoint you, but I really have no advice to offer in that department so you may want to look elsewhere for tips. All I know is that you should water your plants…but not too much…and plants need sunlight…but then some like to be in cool dark cupboards…yeah like I said I really am not qualified or experienced as a gardener…ANYWAY, browsing the titles of my current collection of posts I have noticed that most of them are aimed at people with mental health problems, but what about a post centred around the people who spend their lives trying to treat those without marbles? How do they feel about working with the mentally ill? What do they like about the job and which parts make them wish they had steered clear of the anxious and the depressed inhabitants of this godforsaken planet, to pursue a career in fish mongering instead? What makes them dream of swapping therapy for cod and medication side effects for a nice piece of haddock? What advice do they have for people thinking about becoming a mental health professional and how does one go about following that dream? If the mentally ill are plants, who are the gardeners providing enough warmth for seed germination and growth? (Please note I just used the word germination…that is a gardening term…maybe I am more qualified in that department than I realised). Well, if you have wanted to know the answers to any of these questions and even if you haven’t, I am here today to give them to you anyway in a hard hitting interview with a real, qualified mental health nurse working on the ward in which I currently reside. Prepare yourself for the secrets of the mental health professionals, the story behind the shift work and a very confused nurse wondering what on earth I am talking about…

LIGHTS GO UP.

[The nurse and I are seated in blue chairs in a place known as “the quiet room”. The conversation begins whilst the sound of the cleaner mopping slops rhythmically in the background]

Me: Hello Nurse Gertrude Potatobucket, thank you so much for joining me today for this interview.

Gertrude Potatobucket: What interview? Who is Gertrude Potatobucket?

Me: This interview. I want to know about the life of a mental health nurse for an article on my blog. Also you are Gertrude Potatobucket for the duration of this interaction because I am hiding your real name in the interest of confidentiality, so you can be brutally honest as nobody will know your true identity.

GP: I will agree to the interview but can’t I pick another name? Why does it have to be Gertrude Potatobucket? That sounds ridiculous.

Me: I will have you know it is not at all ridiculous but is an underused name that deserves more recognition, so no, you cannot pick an alternative. Anyway, I’m supposed to be the one asking questions here so please just accept your new identity and lets get to the good stuff.

GP: Katie I really think…

Me: [In a loud and interrupting manner] QUESTION ONE. WHAT DOES BEING A MENTAL HEALTH NURSE ENTAIL?

GP: [Sighs…there is a long pause during which the sound of mopping appears to increase in volume until Nurse Potatobucket realises that she is going to take part in an interview whether she likes it or not and gets on with answering the question at hand]. The role of a mental health nurse is different depending on what kind of service you are working for but in terms of my responsibilities on this Eating Disorder Unit, I am in charge of co-ordinating health care assistants on shift, running support groups, working with patients in 1:1 sessions, supporting them at meal times and I am in charge of handing out any medication prescribed by Doctors or psychiatrists.

Me: What a busy bee you are! I can almost hear you buzzing, your face is practically aglow with black and yellow stripes. So tell me Gertrude, how did you earn such responsibility? How does one go about becoming a mental health nurse? What training is required?

GP: To be a mental health nurse you need to have at least 5 GCSE’s including maths, English and Science and then go to university for three years to study mental health nursing. You don’t have to go to university to work in mental health though. If someone wanted to be a Health Care Assistant they would need to have something called a care certificate, but it is possible to get a job as an HCA without any official training. If someone has experience in mental health and does a good interview for a job, they may be offered a position and then have the opportunity to do the care certificate whilst working.

Me: Well to qualify alone sounds like a lot of fun but how about the job itself? What would you say is the best thing about being a mental health nurse?

GP: Supporting people and helping them to make positive changes in their lives.

Me: How nice. I don’t want to paint a misleadingly fluffy picture about the job though so tell me, what is the worst thing about being a mental health nurse?

GP: You see some really sad and upsetting stuff. Also shift work can be difficult as you never have a fixed schedule or routine and can be working at day or night depending on your rota. That said I know that “Bertha Potatonose” likes shift work as it enables her to be flexible when looking after her children, so it is different for everyone. Oh God I have just used her real name, can you cut that bit out?

Me: No need, I will simply hide her identity by replacing her real name with Bertha Potatonose.

GP: What is it with you using the word potato in fake surnames?…

Me: [Even louder and more interrupting than the first time the interviewee started to question the interviewer] QUESTION FIVE: HOW DOES BEING A MENTAL HEALTH NURSE AFFECT YOUR DAILY LIFE AND WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE WHO WANTED TO BE A MENTAL HEALTH NURSE?

GP: [Sighs. Despair at the situation is visible. The cleaner is still mopping in background]. First off I would advise someone to get some life experience or experience as an HCA. Secondly I would say that in terms of daily life you really need to learn to leave work at work and look out for your own wellbeing at home. You can’t look after someone else unless you have first looked after yourself.

Me: Does this mean there any people then that you would advise to avoid looking into being a mental health nurse? Are there any people you feel would be particularly unsuited to the role?

GP: No. It can be a difficult job but anyone can be a mental health nurse. Different people bring different life experiences, skills and character to the job and I think that is important. Mental illnesses don’t all fit into a neat box and neither do the people who are able to be great Mental Health Nurses.

Me: Inspiring. Truly inspiring.
Now Ms Potatobucket, I know that the people at home often worry when speaking to a mental health professional in candid honesty about their condition that they will be thought of as “crazy” or “weird”. Answer me honestly, do mental health nurses ever judge patients regarding what they say in a session?

GP: No, there is never any judgement. All I feel towards people talking about their difficulties is empathy and I want to show compassion towards the difficult time they are having in life.

Me: Well that is a relief. I am sure we will all rest easier in our beds tonight knowing that we can spill our inner most thoughts without fear of being thought to be “weird”. In addition to worries like that, a lot of people in treatment out there may also be struggling at the moment and feeling like things will never get better. Do you think recovery from a mental illness is ever really possible?

GP: Definitely. All mental health nurses hold the hope and belief that the people they are treating can get to a better place. I think everyone is capable of building the strength and determination not to let their mental health problem rule them forever, and in learning skills they can gain confidence they may not have had initially in fighting their issues.

Me: Fascinating stuff Gertrude. Truly fascinating. Now finally. The question everyone at home has been waiting for and the most important piece of information in all of this. Tell me, has being a mental health nurse in any way altered the opinion you hold with regard to penguins?

GP: What does that have to do with working in mental health?

Me: [Incandescent with rage at being asked a third question during the interview] MS POTATOBUCKET

GP: Oh for goodness sake ok, yes, being a mental health nurse has given me a new found appreciation for penguins.

Me: Aha! Just as I expected! Gosh! Looking at my watch it appears we are all out of time! Thank you so much for answering these questions Nurse Potatobucket. Your honesty and words will touch millions. On behalf of all my readers please know that we are eternally grateful.

GP: Can I go now?

Me: Absolutely

[Interview ends. The sound of mopping in the background has stopped. Upon leaving the room the cleaner is nowhere to be found and only a mop lies in the corridor. The cleaner has not been seen since…]

FADE TO BLACK

Well there you have it! The hard nitty gritty truth about what it is like to work as a Mental Health nurse, how to become one, and how such a career can affect one’s opinion on monochrome birds who refuse to comply with society’s expectations and use their wings to fly. I really hope that this helped people out there either if they are thinking about becoming a Mental Health Professional or those in treatment worrying about what carers in an inpatient setting may be thinking. It appears there is no judgement when it comes to working with the marble-less hoards and no matter how it feels at the time, it seems there is always hope and the potential to recover.
Now if you don’t mind me I am going to abandon my job as journalist for the day and turn to a little detective work. I really am getting worried about the case of the mysteriously disappearing cleaner that took place during this interview…any witness statements would be appreciated in the comments.

I will speak to you all next Monday, take care x

 

Gertrude Edited