Severe job hunting anxiety
January 28, 2015 2:17 AM   Subscribe

I have always experienced crippling anxiety whenever I've tried applying for jobs, so I've stayed in the same lousy job for years just to avoid it. Now that lousy job is ending due to layoffs, so I have to get over this somehow. I have already tried therapy and I'm on anti-anxiety medication. What else can I do?

I have been this way all my life when it comes to pushing myself. In high school and college I delayed doing projects until the last possible minute and then turned in something that was clearly not my best effort. I somehow made it through grad school but I was so crippled by anxiety I sought professional help. Medication staved off the worst of it and I was able to finish school, but therapy did nothing to help.

Since graduation I have bounced around from lousy job to lousy job. The only reason I have the one I have now is because a relative set up the interview for me. I feel ashamed that it came to that. Everyone in my life knows I am "looking for work" (in quotes because I haven't actually done it) and when they ask well-meaning questions about how the job hunt is going, I feel deeply ashamed. I prefer to lie and say no one is calling me back than to tell the truth that I haven't applied to anything.

I am sure I am not depressed because everything else in my life is fine. I have a healthy social life, I sleep and eat well, I manage money responsibly, and I don't drink or do drugs. This is like a phobia like some people have with spiders and snakes. I have been told by therapists to break it down into very small tasks (open Word, write resume, edit resume, sign up for job site, look at jobs without applying, etc). I break down crying and throw up and I can't do anything else for the day except surf the internet (yes, I have tried limiting my internet access - I just go to bed instead).

The weird part is that I am fine once I get to the interview stage! I have gotten most of the jobs that I have interviewed for. And I perform well once I'm in the job, but that's because none of them have been a challenge for me. I'm just stuck at the applying for jobs phase.

tl;dr I have tried therapy and medication, what else do you suggest to overcome a phobia about applying for jobs?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Get a helper! Either a friend who will do this for you as a favour (pay them in beers/pizza) or actually pay someone to help you with this (I'd look for someone who offers English tuition and ask them if they'll take an unusual request at their normal rate).

They can sit at your computer and fill out the forms for you, with you in the room to give them info when they need it. They can draft the more verbose answers to the questions and then ask for your approval.

I kind of did this for a sibling once. I was glad to help, and in the end it got them a job. I'm sure there would be people who would be up for helping you with this, and there are sure as hell people who would do it for cash. You could even put it up on MeFi Jobs.
posted by greenish at 3:50 AM on January 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

Can you practice interviewing with a friend?

I used to listen to the Howard Stern Show, and I remember him telling a story about a struggling actor he knew who was petrified to go to a bank and ask for a loan. So, he treated it like an acting role, studied and prepared for this "character" he had to play and went in and did an "improv" performance as this slick, confident guy. It worked!

Job interviews are the worst, and IIRC studies have shown that's not how most people get hired anyway. It seems like most jobs involve knowing somebody, just like your current job did. So I'd say try to tap every possible connection in your life. You'll probably get a better job that way, and you'll hopefully avoid the interview process.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:55 AM on January 28, 2015

I experience some of the same anxiety, to a lesser degree than you seem to though. First of all, there's nothing wrong with being handed an interview by someone you know. Ask your relative who came through for you before, or other family members, or your friends, or whoever if they know of any open positions. See if you can skip the whole application process that way and get straight to the interview stage.

The next best thing is to work with a recruiter. Your keywords to search for are "staffing agency". Let them get you past the worst of it.

Try going to professional events in your area and networking. Meet hiring managers and exercise your interview skills before they even know they're interviewing you.

At your next job, become indispensable to someone in management, let them bring you with them the next time they jump ship (they always do).
posted by books for weapons at 3:57 AM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I have a fair amount of anxiety around similar things. I used to be a lot more anxious about applying for jobs - I think because I wasn't very confident in my cover letter writing skills, or clear on what kind of jobs I should be applying for.

A few years ago I was laid off and spent every day applying for at least one job, usually more. The more you do it, the easier it gets. The more I did it, the less anxious I was about it.

Can you apply for jobs during your therapy session? I used to have a lot of anxiety about paying bills, and would take them into my therapist office so I could deal with them in a supportive environment.
posted by bunderful at 4:35 AM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

The weird part is that I am fine once I get to the interview stage!

Well that seems simple enough to work around, if not solve. Everything before that point can be outsourced. CV writing services, recruitment agents, and a friend to surf job boards for/with you.
posted by Leon at 4:54 AM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I apply for jobs for Husbunny I don't think it's weird to have someone do this for you.

Either contact a recruiter or have a friend/relative do it for you. Let the recruiter do the work for you.

Is your LinkedIn up to date? Work on that. They'll find YOU!

If you want to do this for yourself, take it in steps. Find the jobs. If you have a site that's used by your industry, use it or use LinkedIn. In most cases all you have to do is click a button, upload your resume and you're done.

Take your anxiety all the way down the line. Vocalize it, imagine each worst case scenario. What does it look like? At the end of the day, is the absolute worst thing that could happen, really all that horrible?

The worst thing that could happen is that your application is ignored. Trust me, you have to get used to that idea because I am 100% sure it will happen. That's why you apply for a bazillion jobs! By the time you get it going, you'll be really, really bored with it.

It's a volume thing. But it'll pay off, I promise!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:15 AM on January 28, 2015 [3 favorites]

The city I live in has a vocational rehab office. There, you can have hand's-on help with every aspect of the job search. If there's a resource like that in your area, I suggest you go there, meet with a job counselor, and tell them about your debilitating anxiety. They might have suggestions or they might assign a counselor to you to help you with this specific problem.

Job hunting does suck, and your phobia is a pretty common one. You are not alone and have nothing to be ashamed of and it's great that you reached out on Metafilter.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 5:38 AM on January 28, 2015

I was like this too, until I was on unemployment and I had to apply to at least 5 jobs a week. As other posters have said, volume helps. It was never not fraught, but by then end of four months of doing this I got a little more relaxed about the whole thing.
posted by fiercecupcake at 7:22 AM on January 28, 2015

Well, can you pin down what makes the situation so much scarier than others? Like, are you scared of being judged by a stranger, or scared of not getting the job? Or scared of getting the job or scared of something that might happen once you got the job, just to give a few examples?
posted by Ashenmote at 8:12 AM on January 28, 2015

Some of this is about the shame. It is hard (especially for men) to show that you are not as independent and self-sustaining as you might like. We put a lot of our value in our jobs.

You are not your job, gig, or vocation. you are a person. one component of you is the work you choose to do. You have other components too.
posted by jander03 at 8:40 AM on January 28, 2015

I somehow made it through grad school but I was so crippled by anxiety I sought professional help. Medication staved off the worst of it and I was able to finish school, but therapy did nothing to help.

I'm curious. What strategies did you use to do things in the face of anxiety-fueled avoidance, to get done with grad school? Because we can suggest a lot of ways you could tackle this (and pulling in a friend/therapist/outside agency seems on point), but it sounds like you have some previous experience with what works and what doesn't when you're very anxious and avoiding things you need to take care of. In addition to medication, did you go to a public place to get things done? Talk to a graduate advisor? Use a 20-minute timer and stop when it went off? It's easy to get self-defeating with the I've always been like this narrative, but it sounds to me like in truth, you've fought this impulse and won before - and recently! I recommend you take a good look at what worked when you were under extreme duress in grad school, and start trying to implement some of those same strategies for the job hunt.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:53 AM on January 28, 2015 [1 favorite]

I just saw a thing on tumblr of all places that might help reframe things. (Along with all the great advice upthread! I really like the idea of having someone - friend or paid outsourcing - to help you with the things that get you stuck.) Anyway, it was Natalie Dormer (actress) talking about how to think about going to a casting call/trying out for a role, but I think it's the same as applying for jobs. Remember that the person/company posting the open position has a problem to be solved. They need a qualified person to fill a role and do good work for them. And as someone who has hired before, let me tell you: hiring is hard. So instead of thinking about how you'll be judged and possibly found wanting, think about it as you trying to help them solve their problem. With your awesomeness. They want you to succeed, because that means they've succeeded too.
posted by misskaz at 9:43 AM on January 28, 2015 [4 favorites]

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