Balancing job searching and mental well-being

Posted on October 11, 2018 by Christian Jameson-Warren

Being a full-time student trying to balance different commitments and expectations can weight heavily on you. As part of marking the recent World Mental Health Day, below are some steps to help you manage the weight of searching for a job as a student.

1) Get clarity on your direction

It’s easy to mistake being busy for being productive. You only have a set amount of time and energy, so knowing where to focus your job searching efforts will help you maximise your efforts and reduce unnecessary work and pressure. This includes understanding what motivates you, what skills you’d like to use in a job, what sort of work environment you want and so on. You can book a Careers Consultation with your university’s careers service to get help with this.

Putting pressure on yourself to get a certain type of job because it will impress people or to make others happy can be unhealthy and adds unnecessary stress as you may be pushing yourself to do something that deep down you don’t want to do.

2) Recognise your strengths

Many people feel they are reasonably good at a variety of things, but really being clear about your key strengths (including attributes, skills, experience and so on) can help you focus your job searching efforts, choose suitable extra-curricular activities, accept when you make mistakes in other areas and respond positively to any setbacks. You may not be as good as someone else at one particular thing, but that’s okay because you have strengths elsewhere. Remember employers aren’t looking for someone who is perfect at everything, and increasingly value the different strengths that people bring to a team.

This process is also closely linked with job satisfaction, as being able to do things you’re good at will enable contribute more in the workplace and have increased job satisfaction.

Understanding your strengths can also help as part of separating your self-esteem from external factors, such as whether you get a prestigious job you wanted or not.

3) Break activities down into smaller parts and plan ahead

Plan your time a week at a time instead of just day-by-day. Think of all your commitments and activities in the upcoming week – lectures, coursework, societies, work and so on, and try to plan your time so you that activities that you find draining are balanced by periods of rest or doing something enjoyable. For example, if you are trying to network with employers but find it stressful and draining you could consider planning something fun in afterwards as a reward for trying and to build your energy levels up again.

If you have tasks that you want to put off or are stressed about because they seem overwhelming, try planning to do them in smaller segments throughout the week. Breaking activities into smaller parts can make them more manageable. For example, rather than trying to complete an application form in one night the day before it’s due, try doing sections over 3 days.

4) Understand where you need help

No one is good at everything, and at the same time no one person achieves a lot in life purely on their own efforts without the support of others. Acknowledging where and when you need the help of others can help you move forward quicker and also feel pressure or negative self-talk. For example, maybe you want to attend a careers fair but feel shy and worried that you’ll say the wrong things to the employers there. Speaking to your university’s careers about how to speak to employers can help you feel more confident rather than worrying excessively about this.

5) Listen to yourself

Sometimes you may feel you should be doing studying or working, but part of you just wants to relax or do something fun. Feeling like can cause you to procrastinate rather than get anything or properly relaxing – instead just feeling like you’re achieving nothing and not feeling any better.

This conflict is often caused by using the suppressing your emotions. Emotions often act as signals that something that you’re doing is or isn’t working. For example, maybe your emotions are indicating that you are trying to do too much, or that your approach to a particular task needs changing.

Taking regular time to pause and reflect on your emotions will help you be more balanced and successful in what you do. Of course there are times when you’ll need to force yourself to do something but relying purely on willpower all the time is not a healthy strategy.

6) Dealing with setbacks

Everyone experiences setbacks in their job search at some point. Following on from the previous point, whenever you experience a setback it’s important to acknowledge your emotions. Research shows that taking time to embrace and recognise individual negative emotions you are experiencing is more effective than trying to suppress them. As you take time to do this, you may also be able to better identify things you could change or do better next time you’re applying for a job. Setbacks are part of life – in many instances as human beings we learn more from when something went wrong rather than when it went right.

– Christian Jameson-Warren

Commitment, Confidence, disability, Employability, employers, Schemes

The Disability Confident scheme explained

Familiar with Zbigniew Brzezinski (above)? No, neither am I. That said, he has a quote attributed to him which I very much agree with: “Commitment and credibility go hand in hand.” It’s with that in mind that I decided to find out more about the Disability Confident scheme, the logo of which I’ve seen on some company websites.

In all likelihood, either you haven’t heard of Disability Confident or you’re not sure what a company actually needs to do to be in this scheme.

If you have a disability, is it worthwhile applying to a Disability Confident employer?

Also, who are these employers?

Let’s answer these questions by first exploring


The gov.uk website says that the scheme “supports employers to make the most of the talents disabled people can bring to the workplace.”

It goes on to say that through Disability Confident “…thousands of employers are:

  • Challenging attitudes towards disability
  • Increasing understanding of disability
  • Removing barriers to disabled people and those with long-term health conditions…”

Disability Confident image


In 2016, the Disability Confident scheme replaced the “Two Ticks” scheme (sometimes referred to as “positive about disabled people”). Two Ticks was a scheme whereby an employer signing up would agree to follow five commitments, one of which was to interview any disabled applicant who met the minimum criteria for a job vacancy. The perception was that only some employers kept to their word, with many paying lip service to the commitments; this played a role in it being scrapped.


According to the latest figures (taken from the gov.uk website, October 2018), there are 8347 employers across the UK that have signed up to the Disability Confident scheme. These include large companies and SMEs, ranging across a number of sectors.

This relatively new scheme has been met with scepticism from some quarters. One of the reasons for this is because of self-assessment. Let’s come back to that in a moment.

I didn’t realise this but all employers in this scheme are all at one of three levels:

Level 3: Disability Confident Leader (around 150 companies)

Level 2: Disability Confident Employer (roughly 3000 companies)

Level 1: Disability Confident Committed (about 5000 companies)

Therefore, the majority of employers signed up to this scheme are at the lowest of the three levels: Committed. To reach this standard, an employer does not need to have any external validation meaning they self-assess their own commitments. (Employers receive a template with some suggested criteria that they can fill out in order to keep a record, but this is just for their use). The same goes for the next level standard: Employer.

Those companies at Level 3 (Disability Confident Leader) do have external validation though and also have to evidence what they have done to meet this standard. They are few in number but seem to be particularly well-placed in terms of structures and may well be knowledgeable about, and have experience of, things like reasonable adjustments.

Organisations in this scheme benefit from being able to put the Disability Confident symbol on their website, giving the impression to their staff (and to the outside world) that they are positive about the area of disability and that they are keen to recruit and retain disabled employees.

We know that whilst individuals within companies may well have a commitment to disability (which is great) it’s actually something that needs to be institution-wide for the commitment to be long-lasting and for approaches to be changed for the better. The right policies and attitudes need to be in situ right across an organisation for disabled employees to feel valued and motivated.

The claim that through the Disability Confident scheme, thousands of companies are “challenging attitudes towards disability” is certainly bold. No doubt hundreds, if not thousands, of companies across the UK are indeed challenging attitudes towards disability, but not all of them will be signed up to this scheme.


When I speak to a disabled student or graduate about their job search, I make the point that an employer who has the Disability Confident symbol on their website is an indication, but not a guarantee, that they are positive about employing disabled applicants and are committed to supporting their existing disabled employees.

 I would encourage students to look further:

  • Aside from having the symbol on their website, what else does that company do with respect to disability?
  • Does disability get a mention in their values?
  • What is at the heart of their Corporate Social Responsibility?
  • How many of their employees are disabled?

To find this out, students could contact the company HR / Diversity / Disability Department (if they have one), look on their website / social media platforms or speak to the company face-to-face at a job fair. This doesn’t mean the student needs to disclose their disability when they do this. It is reasonable for any applicant to want to research a company throughout the application process to get more information and see whether they think the company would be a good fit for them.

In addition to Disability Confident, The Business Disability Forum’s Disability Standard has a roll of honour  which lists companies that are deemed to be “disability-smart”.


I take that view that whether you have a disability or not, if a company is signed up to (and hopefully committed to) schemes like Disability Confident, Stonewall, Athena Swan etc. then it suggests the company may well be inclusive, open-minded and non-judgemental. These are values and traits that would appeal to all applicants and employees, irrespective of whether you have a disability.

Just because somebody has a disability, it doesn’t mean that they have to apply to an employer who is signed up to the Disability Confident scheme. However, it might be that a Disability Confident employer already has the structures, attitudes or infrastructure in place to be the right employer for that person.

A last word on “Zbig” (Zbigniew Brzezinski). It seems he was a noteworthy and interesting person. At the end of this article, he explains his novel idea about how extra time in football could be revamped .


Edmund Lewis, AGCAS Disability Task Group, University of Westminster


World Mental Health Day 10th October

Wednesday 10th October is recognised by the World Health Organisation at World Mental Health Day, “with the overall objective of raising awareness of mental health issues around the world and mobilizing efforts in support of mental health.”

The theme for this year is young people and mental health in a changing world, which is very pertinent to a lot of university students.

More details, including how to get involved, can be found at:








disability, Training course, Uncategorized

Leonard Cheshire Change 100: 3 months paid internship opportunities for disabled students

We wanted to make you aware of the Change100 employment programme. It is a programme for: ‘Talented students and graduates with disabilities or long-term health conditions — including physical, visual or hearing impairments, mental health conditions and learning disabilities and difficulties like dyslexia and dyspraxia.’


‘Change100 brings together the UK’s top employers and talented disabled students and graduates to offer three months of paid work experience…

Since its launch in 2014, Change100 has partnered with over 90 employers across the UK to host interns including Barclays, the BBC, Skanska, Lloyds and Taylor Wimpey…

Change100 aims to broaden the public’s understanding of what disability is, as well as highlight the fact many disabled students are talented, ambitious, and would thrive in all business sectors.’


‘The key competencies which Change100 seeks to develop in its participants are customer focus, initiative, creative problem solving, communication, teamwork, resilience and time management…

Each participant is matched with a mentor, either in their own placement organisation or with another Change100 employer. Mentors are expected to dedicate at least six hours of time for six mentoring sessions across the programme year.’


‘Applications for summer 2019 internships open on Monday 24th September’


You can find information on applying via the Leonard Cheshire support page


The benefits of the programme can be found in statistics and testimonials


Edmund Lewis, AGCAS Disability Task Group, University of West London



Should I pursue my dream career?

When deciding on career options, there’s often a ‘push-pull’ between the ‘push’ of wanting to pursue a ‘dream’ career, and the ‘pull’ caused by fear it isn’t achievable. This can be complicated by worries that regardless of ability, having a disability could be a barrier to achieving an aspiration. Below are some suggestions to help with this decision.


Identifying if your dream career is a good fit

Before pursuing a career path, how do you know if you’re focusing your energy in the right direction? You might want to consider the following:


  1. It seems intuitive that a job that ‘fits’ your personality and interests will make you happy. However, empirical evidence shows moving from something you’re reasonably interested in to something you’re very interested in only marginally improves your job satisfaction. (Yates 2010: 48-49)
  2. As human beings, we’re not very good at predicting what will make us happy in future jobs.
  3. People change over time, including what they are interested in.
  4. Jobs evolve over time. For example technology has replaced some of the numerical work that accountants have traditionally done and instead customer-relationship building skills are more important.


All of this may make it seem like making effective career decisions is almost impossible, but giving a little thought to the sections below can help greatly.


Part 1 – Understand your motivations

A lot of our decisions are made emotionally using mental shortcuts and then justified rationally in our brains afterwards, so it’s important to understand what is ‘driving’ your decisions.


Subtly changing ‘what job do I want to do?’ to ‘what do I want from a job?’ is a good place to start. Think of your ‘dream’ job. What do you hope to get from doing this, i.e. how would it make your life better than if you got a different job? Make a list of all the things that come to mind.


From your list, look at anything you can ‘have’ or ‘do’ (e.g. money, travel) and ask ‘what would that give you?’ (e.g. freedom, making an impact, love/respect, fun). If you have a long list, consider prioritising it by which are most important. What have you learnt about yourself? How does this affect your career choices?


For example, many students I work with want a job that ‘makes a difference’, even if they’re not initially sure exactly what job they want. Other people want a job that earns a lot of money because it gives them a feeling of recognition.


Be aware of ‘conditional’ thinking, such as ‘if I get this job, I will be a success, but if I don’t I’ll be a failure’ or ‘people will like me more’. If you feel this is something you need help with, speak to your student services department.


Part 2 – Your career is not in a vacuum


The next step is to consider your career in the context of other people and extend the question ‘what do I want from a job’ to ‘what people do I want to help solve which problems using which skills?’ In other words, thinking of your dream career focuses on you, but to do well in the labour market it’s important to focus on what you can offer the world. Work that you are good at and makes a difference are also two key factors in job satisfaction and achievement.


  • ‘People’ can include customers, service users, colleagues and so on.
  • ‘Problems’ includes anything that is the focus of a job, e.g. helping people find the right product for their needs or helping people be happy.
  • ‘Skills’ are what you are good at and what you could potentially become good at, and most are transferable between jobs.


For example, someone exploring roles in education outside of teaching could say ‘I want to help young people to achieve more in their lives through using my research and presentation skills’ or an art student ‘I want to give people a thought-provoking, uplifting experience to make their lives richer using my fine art skills’.


Don’t worry if you can’t answer all three of these, start with what you can answer for now.


Job satisfaction


The following factors also greatly influence job satisfaction. Think about how they relate to you. Below are some prompts to help get started.


Factor What does it mean to me?
Variety of work tasks E.g. what would I like variety in and what things would I like to do consistently? For example, as an artist using the same skills but working on commissions for different types of clients.



Good colleagues E.g. What sort of people do I want to work with?



Working conditions E.g. working environment, travel/commute, location, hours, organisation structure/culture.


Workload E.g. time pressure, deadlines, amount of work.
Autonomy E.g. how much responsibility/accountability do you want for work, and how much freedom to complete tasks
Educational Opportunities E.g. how far do I want to go in my career? What jobs will give me the opportunity to develop the skills and experience needed to do this?
No major negative factors E.g. How do I want my job to fit in with the rest of my life? Are there any other significant factors for me personally that I need to consider?


While your disability(s) may influence your answers to this activity, try to focus on your strengths and what works well for you rather than any perceived disadvantages. Remember that employers are obligated to consider reasonable adjustments for disabled employees, and Access to Work may cover additional assistance beyond these.


Part 4 – Labour Market Information (LMI)


LMI is the latest information about the economy and employment. Researching current and projected employment trends is a starting point for researching how many job opportunities there potentially will be in different areas. For example, in the UK there are a shortage of engineers, meaning there are more jobs; whereas the majority of paid art therapist jobs are within the NHS which is possibly unlikely to receive funding for lots of new vacancies in this area.


Websites such as Prospects and Targetjobs have sector and job profiles that are a good place to start.


LMI can also tell you more about what skills are needed now and potentially in the near future. From this you can make some educated guesses about how jobs will evolve and where you can focus your professional development. Consider how this influences your opinions on career options, e.g. is a job you’re interested in going to possibly involve skills you would not like to use?


Part 5 – Research

If you have decided to explore other options but are unsure where to start, reading job profiles (as per above) can help. You can also conduct informational interviews with people who work in different roles to find out more details about jobs. Your careers service can help you with this.


Making a plan

Once you are clearer on options, the next step is to create an action plan and see how realistic it is to achieve your aspirations:


  1. Listing the actions needed to get into your career, including developing skills and professional contacts. How realistically achievable do you feel this every step of plan is? Why (or why not)?
  2. What skills are required in my chosen career(s) now and in the future? Job profiles can help here. Are these skills you can develop and would like to use?
  3. What other concerns or worries do you have about trying to achieve your ‘dream’ career?
  4. What resources do you have to help you achieve your aspirations, including addressing the above concerns/worries? This includes university careers and disability services, friends/family to offer moral support and a listening ear, specific reasonable adjustments, Access to Work and so on.
  5. Is there anything you can do now to find out more about my choices, such as work shadowing or informational interviewing?
  6. What are your thoughts now on career options? Why?


Final thoughts

Don’t put pressure on yourself to find one ‘true’ job that will make you happy for the rest of your working life. It’s obviously great if you achieve a career aspiration that you’ve always wanted, but it’s fine if you don’t – it doesn’t change your ‘worth’ as a person. By focusing on who you want to help with which problems using which skills you’ll have a good understanding of where you’ll do well in the workplace, have more job satisfaction and be more aware of suitable opportunities as they arise.


Regardless of what you decide to do, investing in yourself early in your career through developing skills, confidence, professional contacts and will put you in a better position for the future, even if you completely change industries. Remember that it’s normal to change jobs throughout your career. Even if you start a job that you don’t like and decide to leave the experience is never wasted as you’ll learn more about yourself and have gained skills that can be transferred to other jobs. Generally, prospective employers won’t think negatively of you for changing jobs early on.


Finally, your university careers and disability services should be able to assist you with every stage of choosing, applying for and starting suitable employment.

disability, Strategy

Worried about starting a new job? Pick an approach that works for you

I wanted to share with you some thoughts that I have had about starting a new job.  Since finishing University 10 years ago, I have had 3 jobs. Although everyone’s experience of starting a new job is different, I think these tips will help to keep things in perspective:

  • We all experience the first day in a new job. Everybody goes through being introduced to new people and (usually) instantly forgetting everyone’s name. Worrying about what to wear and where you’ll be sitting are part and parcel of starting a new job.
  • The reality is that it’s the long-lasting impression that you give your colleagues and your manager that matters, not just the impression you give during the initial few hours on your first day.
  • I have noticed that becoming familiar with your workplace, getting to know the people you are working with, and grasping what you’re supposed to be doing every day is a gradual process that takes time.

Picking an approach

I can’t think of a job where managing your own time and showing a bit of initiative isn’t really important. Making sure you cover the basics during the opening days and weeks of your new job will help to ensure that you are making a positive start. These basics include:

  • Being on time.
  • Having the frame of mind where you want to learn and take on board new information.
  • Asking questions and asking for help if you need to.

It’s undeniable that we all have our own individual worries about the different aspects of starting a new job.


My tip would be to focus on the 3 main worries you have before you start your new job. Pick an approach to deal with those 3 best you can, so instead of hoping they won’t come up, you will have thought of an approach to overcome those worries and you can start to focus on…

Your potential

Don’t overlook your strengths and potential to excel in your new role. It’s often easy to forget about the many great attributes that you have. Hard-working, loyalty, listening, perseverance, persistence, resilience and approachability are characteristics you already have that will help you overcome your worries about starting a new job.

Revisiting the job description, what you wrote on your application form or the answers you gave at interview are all ways of reminding yourself of your ability to do well in the job and can help you to identify your strengths and potential.

Do first impressions really count?

For most of us, we worry about how others might be viewing us when we first meet new people, particularly if that new person is a colleague or the manager.

It’s human nature to form an instant impression of someone when we first meet them. But that first impression will seldom be the same impression that we keep of that person forever…

Take my first impression of Dave. My first job after University was as a trainee Careers Adviser. I started that role alongside other people that I had never met before and, because we were all in training, much of the first weeks were spent together as a group.

On my first day, we were asked to introduce ourselves and tell everyone in the group a bit about our background. I was worried about this as I hadn’t had many jobs previously and had just finished University so didn’t feel I had anything particularly impressive to say. One of the first people to introduce themselves was Dave. He said…

“Well, before this I was working in the film and distribution industry.”

*When he said that, I remember thinking to myself that this person seemed confident and must have had good jobs in the past. I started rethinking what I should say when it was going to be my turn to introduce myself*

The trainer replied to Dave asking “The film and distribution industry -that’s interesting- what did that involve?”

With a cheeky expression on his face, Dave said, “Oh, I was serving popcorn and drinks in my local cinema.”

Remember the Picking an approach section in this blog? Well, thinking about it now, I’m pretty sure Dave (who is good friend of mine to this day) was nervous about meeting new people and was worried about being asked about what he had done in the past, in front of other people. He picked an approach that meant that he could deal with the situation in a way that worked for him.

Dave used humour, but the approach you pick might be to take some time away from your desk if you start to feel worried or anxious. It might be to read some positive words that you have written down, to call upon when you need to.

These approaches don’t cover all situations, but the important thing is to choose an approach that works for you.

It’s normal to feel unsure and to make mistakes when starting a new job. Everybody has their own apprehensions about it, but allowing yourself some time to get know new colleagues and reminding yourself of your strengths will really help.

That’s the end of this blog post but the eagled-eyed among you may have noticed that a few expressions and phrases have crept into this post…keep things in perspective, part and parcel, cover the basics…

Look out for a future blog post where I hope to untangle the confusing world of clichés and workplace jargon. Until then, thank you for reading this blog.

Edmund Lewis, AGCAS Disability Task Group, University of West London