As one of the most powerful countries globally, the diverse workforce and competitive job market fuel the United States economy. The most developed country in the world remains a magnet for top industries including tech, manufacturing, finance, healthcare and more. Small amounts of competition is an asset, and an indication of a healthy economy. The problem? The Covid-19 pandemic has unmasked the obvious flaws in the healthcare delivery. But has also brought upon even more unprecedented conditions for the next generation of workers. Perhaps now, we as a nation can address the long term health implications of what exactly this means. More specifically, acknowledging job search fatigue (depression) as a public health concern and addressing it as such.

A completely different competitive job market

The US job market has always been competitive (regardless of most skilled industries), now more so than ever. On the international level, the especially competitive markets often attract global talent to the states. The problem is this makes the already unstable market even more cutthroat. Job seekers are now competing against recent college graduates, (seasoned) professionals, laid off employees and now (because of the virtual work environment), international candidates that no longer have to relocate or need sponsorship. Large organizations have completely shifted back into ‘growth mode’ to make up for the losses in 2020. Opening the recruitment floodgates has almost tripled the candidate pool in already competitive industries. 

The obvious problem with this level of competition is the fact that it now takes considerably longer to find work than the pre-pandemic timeline. Because the candidate pool has now doubled in size in most industries (if not more so), organizations are forced to add more screening/interviews to the recruitment process. Prior to Covid-19, the average large scale organization has between 2-3 interviews before making an offer. Post pandemic, with a massive candidate pool, fully virtual onboarding protocols and Covid-19 uncertainty still looming, organizations are now interviewing prospective candidates up to 6 times (in some cases) before selection. 

Job search fatigue affects mental health, more so during the pandemic

The Covid-19 pandemic and the looming economic challenges that followed, has only made the mental health crisis worse. Over the course of this pandemic, 4 in 10 US adults reported increased symptoms of anxiety and depression. A July 2020 poll reported an increased number of adults with sleeping difficulty, eating irregularities, increased alcohol or substance use and worsened chronic health conditions as a result of stress over Covid-19. Now tossing in either the job search or unemployment into the mix, results in an even more mentally unstable combination. The longer American adults stay unemployed, the more likely they are to report low psychological well being. A 2010 study conducted by the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention call the high rates of unemployment amongst 18-25 year olds a growing ‘public health concern’ because young adults in this group are up to 3x more likely to suffer depression

A pre-Covid-19 job search involves routine feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, low self esteem, low confidence and depression. Now, because of the looming uncertainty regarding Covid-19 as a whole, and the resultantly competitive job market, mental health concerns are growing worse. Prolonged periods of unemployment paired with triggers that have exponentially grown post pandemic. For example student loans, being the breadwinner (or caregiver) in a family and individuals that are solely responsible for medical/utilities bills, only intensifies depressive symptoms. Humans are not robots, they are biologically programmed to feel. Oftentimes successive job rejections are equated with personal failures. The mindset that ‘it is not my resume that is rejected, rather it’s me’ leads to a continued loss of self worth. Amplified triggers in the age of instant gratification, paired with reliance on the internet creates a cycle of job search fatigue.

Calling job search fatigue out as a public health concern

Job search related depression and interview fatigue are very much a product of any competitive market even outside of the US. However, in this case the root problem points elsewhere. As a whole, we are simply not trained for continuous repeated rejection in this way (given all things Covid-19). The doubling and tripling of the candidate pool, multiple rounds of interviews, screenings, and employment tests were not as common prior to the pandemic. The solution? Addressing this as a public health concern and treating it as such. 

First, understanding and accepting the job hunt will at some point in time affect your mental and emotional health (depending on how long your search is). Acknowledge the deep rooted flaws in the recruiting system (depending on area of discipline). Recruiters are human, and therefore can fall into bias’ as well. Qualified applicants are rejected often as a result of human error in selection, timing, lack of communication, flawed algorithms or poorly organized interviews. With virtual recruiting processes driving the ship, more and more qualified applicants fall through the cracks. In these unprecedented times, create structure and boundaries where they otherwise might not exist. And most important, normalize conversations regarding job rejection and its effects on mental health for the next generations.

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