Job market / well being

How to build resilience for your career

In doing a quick search on which skills employers need graduates to have, resilience came up several times.  In a world of tremendous uncertainty, and with more attention being paid to well-being, it seems appropriate to unpick what ‘resilience’ actually means, and how you can develop and evidence it.

One dictionary definition is “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties”.  Resilience apparently comes back from the Latin word resalire which means ‘springing back’.  So what does this mean for 21st century students?

During our lives, things won’t always go to plan.

the unexpectedWe may encounter unexpected challenges or disappointments and each one can alter our perception of ourselves.  For those of us who are control freaks, this is very disconcerting and uncomfortable.  But we do get to choose how we view and deal with the difficulty.

It can be easy to catastrophise, by assuming that because you got rejected for your first internship application, you’re not going to get any work experience. And without that you won’t be able to get a job after graduation, and all the money that you’ve spent on studying will have been wasted.

Re-frame your thinking

But hang on a sec – it was only one internship you were rejected from, right?  So to re-frame this you can slow things down and think about how you approached the application. Is there anything you could do differently, for example?  Or you could consider that it’s very unlikely that you’ll get interviews for every role you apply for, so you are going to get some rejections.  Students sometimes say that everyone else seems to have got an internship already, and they’re feeling despondent about their failure.  It’s worth pausing again at this stage and asking if it is a definite fact that everyone else has got an internship.  Just because you’re thinking it doesn’t mean it’s actually real.  When you pause, you’re likely to realise that there are going to be other students in the same position as you, and that you’re not all failures.

Try to be objective

Whatever your options, make success the outcomeIf you do get a number of rejections, despite your best efforts, it’s worth talking to friends and careers staff about this to get their advice.  It could just be a hugely competitive market that you’re trying to break into, where persistence and stamina are going to be the name of the game.  Or there may be some things that you can do to strengthen your applications.  Getting an objective view of your applications can be illuminating!

So what steps can you take to develop this ability to spring back from adversity?

Here are some initial suggestions, but please feel free to comment and add your own ideas:

  1. Your natural instinct might be to intellectualise the situation and to spend a lot of time thinking about it. Whilst this might be useful up to a point, it can also help to give yourself a break and to get out of your head.  Exercise, music, art, nature, comedy or yoga all have their place in taking time out to stop ruminating on what’s happened.
  2. Connecting with others, rather than isolating yourself, can normalise your experiences. If all your friends really have got internships then ask for their help, and if they haven’t you can compare notes on how you’re going to move forwards.
  3. Break it down into manageable steps – if you want to change your application strategy perhaps start by seeing a careers professional to agree your next steps and then set yourself some realistic goals that you can tick off one at a time.

Past and FutureBecause employers want applicants to demonstrate resilience they will tend to ask questions about how you handle stress or disappointment.  In thinking of examples remember that you don’t need to be perfect.  It’s okay for there to have been stressful moments. It’s how you handle them that will determine whether you sink or swim.  So what did you learn about yourself as a result of the challenge?  Did you grow as a person in any way?  Do you factor in time to relax in a busy week to help you cope, and are you able to pick yourself up and dust yourself down after a fall?  This is what will reassure the employer that you can cope with the pressures of the working world.




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