Applying for jobs can be stressful at the best of times, but what impact does the application process have on students’ mental health? For Mental Health Awareness Month, we’re examining the chief causes of anxiety for students when applying for and starting a new job, and some ways in which recruiters can help mitigate these issues. We’ve used the results from The Student Anxiety Study, conducted by Trendence UK in partnership with Blackbridge Communications to identify these key factors and built on them to investigate the reasons behind students’ anxiety and ways in which employers can help.
The application process
When asked whether they felt more anxious about the application process or joining a workplace, 73% of students said the application process caused the most stress and related anxiety, with video interviews, group interviews and assessment centres being highlighted as the most stressful steps within applications (over 58% of students identified each of these as a cause for anxiety). 15% of students felt so strongly as to say they would cancel an application over video and group interviews. But what is it that makes interviews so stressful?
An interview scenario is a high-stakes situation that can be very nerve-wracking. This is particularly the case for in-person interviews due to added stressors such as formal clothing, travel, locating the interview room and showing up on time. In the survey, students also said they worried about the strength of other candidates and having to demonstrate technical and presentation skills.
How can employers mitigate this?
Recruiters should make sure students are aware of the structure and general content of the interview and clearly communicate important factors such as timing, location and dress-code. Whenever possible, interviewers should also seek to create a less stressful atmosphere, adopting a more relaxed, friendly demeanour and not adding unnecessary stressors such as keeping the candidate waiting after the scheduled interview time. If a candidate has appeared especially nervous during the interview, recruiters should try to look past this as anxiety is not an indicator of a candidate’s abilities. Knowing that recruiters were not taking anxiety into account would also likely ease candidates’ concerns.
Prior to the interview, sharing videos or testimonials from current graduates can ease candidate’s minds showing that the process isn’t as scary as first anticipated and people do make it out the other side. In addition, it’s important that employers are aware of the financial aspects of attending assessment centres, particularly for those students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. By either covering the costs upfront or advertising that expenses are paid for interviewees, recruiters can eliminate any related anxiety.
Starting a job
When asked about their concerns when starting a new job, students say they’re most worried about not feeling like part of their new team, having an unsupportive manager, and discovering that they’ve chosen the wrong job for them. Students ranked further issues with starting a new job as follows (percentages are for number of students who considered this as making them ‘anxious’ or ‘very anxious’):
For a first job, particularly if new starters are moving away from home or the region they have been at college/university, living situations are a major stressor. A large shift in routine and movement away from existing support circles mean students and graduates are especially vulnerable when starting a new job. It is important for workplaces to ensure there is a supportive atmosphere with well-trained managers, and that new starters are given extra support and attention. Adjusting to a new workplace and understanding what is expected of them is also something students find difficult; when asked, one student at the University of Leeds said she most struggled with working out ‘how to dress, where and when to eat lunch and who with, [and] how long I should stay after hours’.
Suggestions for mitigating these concerns include buddying up new starters with each other or existing team members, and ensuring they have an invitation to eat with others at lunch. This helps cultivate a supportive atmosphere for both personal and work-related concerns, while confirming key details such as working hours and the dress code soon after the job is offered is useful, so that new employees have plenty of time to sort out practicalities such as clothing and transport before they start. New starters may also benefit from access to an FAQ sheet, employee handbook, or office manual to refer to for common queries and suggestions, before extending further questions to peers and colleagues.
The Student Anxiety Study had some interesting findings with regards to identifying which students are the most vulnerable during the application and new-starter process. Firstly, it found that female students in the survey were 37% more likely to be anxious than male students about the application process in general. This is especially the case when it comes to interviews. Over double the number of women (23%) than men (11%) said interviews made them ‘very anxious’. The survey also found that 38% of state educated students surveyed considered ‘talking about yourself’ as something that would make them anxious, compared to 29% of privately educated students. Regarding the new-starter process, the study found that students in the survey who attended a post-92 universities were significantly more likely to be worried about their finances and starting a new job than Russell Group students; it also found that 43% of BAME students surveyed felt some anxiety about moving away from home permanently, compared to 29% of white students. It is important for employers to take notice when some demographic groups of students are more likely to be anxious than others.
Graduate employers should be continually reviewing their recruitment and on-boarding practices to evaluate where they can be improved. For example, recruiters may find on closer analysis that they are losing female applications at the video interview stage of the application process, or that they are struggling to attract BAME students. Being flexible and implementing new practices such as offering a telephone interview rather than a video interview to candidates or promoting the relocation support offered to successful candidates may help address these issues.
Ultimately, our research shows how much anxiety the application and new starter process creates. Employers can help ease these issues by communicating clearly, minimising intimidating interviews, recognising the need for and providing support to new employees, and reviewing their recruitment practices.
*Data has been taken from a sample of 1700+ students as part of The Student Anxiety Study, conducted by Trendence UK in partnership with Blackbridge Communications in November 2017.
The Trendence UK Graduate Survey is now its 12th year. In early 2019, 74,748 students took part, making this the most comprehensive assessment of how satisfied students are with the support provided by careers services. To find out in even more detail what your students think of your careers service offer, what uniquely motivates your student population when it comes to careers (and how this differs from other UK undergraduates) and how you can increase the level of participation and engagement amongst your users. For a demo of this type of in-depth analysis and an opportunity to use our data to help improve the outcomes of your graduates please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 7654 7220.