“When people are looking for a job for a long time, sometimes they get dysfunctional thoughts and negative feelings,” says Associate Professor Peter Heslin, from the UNSW Business School. After all, searching for a new job can be a long, arduous, and frustrating process.
“The job search process is often a bumpy ride, full of false-starts, knockbacks, and dashed hopes. These experiences can be demoralising, demotivating, and harmful to physical and mental health. It is important to understand what job searchers are going through and ways that they can more effectively navigate their way through this process.”
Because a harrowing job search process can leave people with a feeling of hopelessness and ultimately affect their job search outcomes, new research at UNSW Business School is looking at the potential role of a person’s mindset in how they handle the obstacles they face.
These mindsets embody beliefs about the plasticity of one’s abilities. When people hold a fixed mindset, they believe that their abilities are largely static and cannot be cultivated very much, whereas a growth mindset represents the assumption that job related abilities can be readily developed, especially when a person makes a concerted effort to improve.
Although mindsets might appear to be a seemingly simple concept, a person’s mindset has profound implications for their self-regulation, including the types of goals they set, their beliefs about the utility of effort, their attributions for failure, and whether they respond with helpless or mastery-oriented strategies for tackling challenges.
“It’s too easy to get ‘stuck in the muck’ and feel the job search will never be over,” says Peter Heslin. “Self-regulation is often required to prevent becoming distracted or discouraged and thus failing to persist until one’s job search objectives are accomplished. For instance, frustrated job search progress may lead to anxiety and depression stemming from having self-defeating thoughts of hopelessness, giving up, and negative expectations.”
Having spent the vast majority of his career studying adults’ mindsets and their impact on behaviour at work, Peter Heslin believes that mindsets likely also have an important role to play during job search.
“There is a substantial volume of research on a how a fixed, relative to a growth mindset cues dysfunctional thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. For instance, compared to introverts with a fixed mindset, those who held a growth mindset about their sociability used less avoidance and more proactive social strategies as a function of perceiving social interactions as a valuable opportunity to develop their social competence and confidence. They are subsequently judged by others as more socially competent than introverts who presumed that they could not improve their sociability.
"A growth mindset may thus enable developing the network of mutually helpful relationships and social capital that facilitate employment,” he says.
There are a broad range of factors that can influence self-regulation. “These include genetics, early childhood attachment, and conscientiousness. While such factors are predictive of self-regulation, alas little can be done to alter them. However, a growth mindset can be cultivated through construing setbacks as indicating a need for more effort and/or different strategies, rather than inadequate talent.
"It means knowing that those strategies can be learned and focusing on how to learn them, rather than feeling deflated because of a lack of presumably innate talent to do what is required. In striving to systematically develop their growth mindset, those seeking employment may be better equipped to handle and respond to the setbacks they encounter during the job search process in a more positive and functional manner.”
The first paper in this line of ongoing research, which Associate Professor Heslin is conducting with his doctoral student Lauren Keating, is about to be published in the forthcoming Journal of Employment Counselling.