It’s time to face the facts. Mental health is just as important as physical health.
The lucky few of us experience long periods of good mental health, however, others will experience mental ill-health which can be caused by a chronic condition or triggered by life events.
One in four people in the UK will experience a mental health condition in the next year. One in six will experience poor mental health within the next week.
Triggers can include personal life changes such as a relationship breakdown, or a change at work (including happy events) such as starting a new job or dealing with an increased workload.
Hands up who of you would feel confident talking to your manager about your mental health?
Or to call in sick due to stress rather than a physical condition like the flu?
You’re likely not the only one who kept your hand down.
1 in 5 people have taken a day off due to stress, but the Mental Health Foundation has found that a whopping 90% of us feel unable to tell their employer that mental health is the reason for their absence.
Despite a huge increase of awareness about mental health issues at work, there has also been an unfortunate increase in negative attitudes and stigma towards those with mental health – leading to a growing lack in confidence of employers discussing the importance of mental health with their employees.
We all want to be valued for who we really are in the workplace.
Here are some top tips on how to manage your job search and navigate the employment world when you are experiencing a period of mental ill health, and to those already employed on how to disclose you have mental ill health to your employer.
Look After Yourself
Looking for the right job can be really tough. It can be frustrating, time-consuming, isolating and it if you are living with a mental health condition it can feel 100 times worse.
So try your best to keep things in perspective, don’t let looking for a job overwhelm you, and make sure you take time to look after yourself during the process.
Take time out to relax (perhaps some meditation, read a book or spend some time with friends), try to do some exercise (even a walk can help), try to get a regular sleeping pattern, and make sure you’re eating well too (a healthy diet is proven to make you feel better)!
You also need to be realistic about the job hunting process and manage your expectations.
The marketplace is competitive, the interview process can take a long time depending on bureaucracy at the company, and it might take some time to find the perfect fit. Don’t be disheartened when it doesn’t happen overnight!
You can do this!
Manage your time
Do you find yourself constantly applying for anything remotely close to what you want to do?
Do you think that your job search is all about quantity over quality?
In most cases, this will be counterproductive, and your time would be better spent focusing on specifically tailoring your CV and cover letter/application for each role that you REALLY want (4-5 is a good number). Rather than “spraying and praying” sub-standard applications!
You may find it beneficial to build a relationship with an agency recruiter that you trust, who knows you and what you want, and can send you across to the companies where they have built great relationships with their clients and can ensure the role is a perfect fit for both. It also helps with saving you time and effort!
If you suffer from anxiety and get easily overwhelmed, you will also find a recruiter useful for managing the interview process for you and as well as all the employer contact, and negotiating the best offer possible on your behalf.
Or if you prefer a DIY approach, you may find it useful to create a job search plan at the beginning of your search (Jobsite has a good template). As well as a job application tracker (Huntr is a useful free app) to help focus your time and help you feel less overwhelmed.
According to David Clift, HR Director of Stepstone UK, it’s all about time management.
“The key is to break your time down into manageable chunks so that you can keep yourself motivated. Utilise your time well; use your lunch breaks, evenings and weekends to search for roles, write your applications and prepare for interviews. Subscribing to job alerts is also a good way to help you keep on track of listings 24/7.”
Nail your CV
A clearly formatted and well-laid out CV is also an essential, often overlooked, part of the process. This will be your first impression on the hiring manager – and as we all know first impressions count to get to the next stage!
Here are some top tips to ensure it looks as polished as possible:
- Tailor your CV for each application you make
- Use a standard font such as Calibri, Arial or Times New Roman that is easy to read, with good font size (10+)
- Include a brief summary at the beginning giving an overview of your experience and what you’re seeking to achieve in your next role
- Following that, include a list of key skills which highlights technologies and experience you’ve had. Make sure technologies/experience listed in the job specification that you’ve had experience in is included here.
- Work history comes next, be sure to include company names with clear dates, job titles, responsibilities and skills. Key facts and metrics such as clients, products worked with, projects worked on and key achievements.
- Education follows experience – if you have a degree, don’t worry about including GCSEs but remember to include all the relevant certificates and courses.
- If you have any gaps between jobs don’t leave this open to interpretation. Write a short line between jobs explaining the reason for the gap such as:
‘Between Sep 2015 and Jan 2016 I took some time out for personal development where I completed X course’
Prepare for your interview
“Can you please explain what you were doing for a year between Dec 2012 and 2013?”
Your pulse starts racing, your throat goes dry, and you stumble over your words, as you struggle to explain that your ongoing battle with depression and anxiety caused you to take some time out to recover after having a breakdown.
You want to tell them the truth but fear it will go against you getting the role.
It is reasonable for a potential employer to ask about what they see as “red flags” on your CV.
Red flags include employment gaps and short stints at companies (i.e. “job hopping”); as they could perceive this as that you are an unreliable employee that loses interest quickly, and perhaps isn’t very skilled if it takes you a long time to get a new role.
When you have been invited for an interview – first of all – congratulate yourself!
Job seeking is not easy, so it’s important to celebrate every success, big or small.
Rejection is tough, made worse for people living with mental health conditions. That is why it is so important to recognise the importance of each achievement, each step of the way!
Next – you need to prepare, practice and then put in more practice.
A good recruiter will help any candidate prepare for the interview as standard – providing an overview of the interview, the role and company, what the interviewer will be looking for, tricky questions to prepare for, and remind you what your strengths and weaknesses are.
Further to this they will give you homework to do your research, and read thoroughly through the company website and job specification, and thinking through answers to potential questions.
If you know you have red flags, you need to take this preparation to another level and analyse your CV. Fiona Thomas, a mental health blogger advises to think about what stands out on your CV as a red flag for potential employers, and advises to be prepared to address those concerns.
Have you changed jobs a lot recently or even changed career?
Are there any long gaps of unemployment?
Although they might not even ask you any questions about this, it is always better to be prepared rather than unprepared!
It’s important to not see gaps on your CV as a barrier to future employment – lots of people have gaps in their employment history, but the key to overcoming this is knowing how to talk confidently about the gaps, and what experiences you gained during them.
Know your rights and how to disclose
Is it legal to be questioned about your mental health during a job interview?
When do I have to disclose?
No it is not legal. According to ELAS employment law consultant Jacob Demeza-Wilkinson, ‘A candidate does not have to mention any medical condition during a job interview,’ he says. ‘Even if asked, there is no obligation to answer the question.’
Disclosing your mental health condition is a personal choice – you don’t have to disclose until you decide you want to.
Legally, under the Equality Act, employers cannot discriminate against people experiencing long-term mental ill-health, however, some employers are less aware than others, so it is important you have the right advice and information before doing anything.
To find out more about knowing your rights and disclosing your mental health, take a look at some of the links at the end of the article.
Hopefully, after your preparation, you will have now made it through the interview process AND have been made and accepted your job offer. You will have also positively disclosed your condition and have started your new job, requesting the workplace adjustments you need.
If you need any further support, there is a free and confidential in-work support service run by ‘Remploy’, supported through the government’s Access to Work programme and is designed for anyone starting employment that is experiencing mental health problems.
Their services include: return to work plans, communication techniques, confidence building, Implementing reasonable adjustments or actions, mediation between employer and employee, using the parachute tool to help pinpoint the issues, and signposting to appropriate services such as counselling. Their web address is: https://www.remploy.co.uk/
I’m one of the lucky few.
Eligo has a fantastic supportive culture and has implemented a duvet day scheme. Woken up and feel that the world is too much? You just need some time off to chill out? No problem. Whatever it is, you’ve got 4 to use per year, no questions asked, in addition to your holiday and extra time off over the Christmas period.
Interested in finding out more about what it’s like working for Eligo? Find out more on our Hunted page.
If you have any questions about any of the above topics or would like some help on your job hunt, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!
020 8971 1883
- ELAS, Jacob Demeza-Wilkinson, Mental Illness and Job Interviews: https://www.elas.uk.com/mental-illness-job-interviews/
- Contact the Aim4Work employment advisors at Shaw Trust, who are able to offer you advice on disclosing (shaw-trust.org.uk/aim4work).
- Shaw Trust, How to Positively Disclose Mental Ill Health at Work: https://www.shaw-trust.org.uk/en-GB/Media-policy/Blog/April-2017/How-to-Positively-Disclose-Mental-Ill-Health-at-Wo
- The government website ‘Access to Work’ provides information on reasonable adjustments as well as other really useful information. Their web address isgov.uk/access-to-work/overview
- Telling my Employer: https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/legal-rights/discrimination-at-work/telling-my-employer/#.XEWzulX7SUk