It's easy to be dogged by negative thoughts when you are looking for work, but it is also very counterproductive. If you have been job-hunting for a while, you start thinking the problem is with you, rather than the labor market.

Negative thoughts — “Of course they don't need someone like me” or “I'll never find a job” — can rob job seekers of energy and hamper their efforts.

People who reported using cognitive-behavioral techniques were more likely to show an improvement in depressive symptoms and report that they had received a job offer.

There is a set of skills, a study of unemployed people found, that helps overcome these kinds of thoughts and makes it far more likely someone will receive a job offer.

They were also less likely to suffer from depression.

“Searching for a job is difficult in any circumstance, but it may be even more difficult for people who are depressed. But we found that there are specific skills that can help not only manage the symptoms of depression but also make it more likely that a person will receive a job offer,” said study co-author Daniel Strunk.

These skills he refers to are commonly taught as part of cognitive behavioral (CB) therapy. CB skills include:

  • Learning to challenge negative thoughts such as “I'll never get hired” with more positive, realistic thoughts such as, “Looking for work is hard for everyone; eventually I'll find something.”
  • Finding ways to manage stress and anxiety, perhaps by exercising.
  • Setting realistic goals and figuring out how to solve problems; for example, researching new kinds of companies who may need your skills.
  • Coming up with ways to gradually approach fearful situations, perhaps by rewarding yourself by allowing yourself to spend time doing enjoyable activities such as hobbies.
  • Keeping track of your feelings, thoughts and behaviors, which makes it easier to notice and then change the ones that are not helping you.
  • Strunk, an associate professor of psychology at Ohio State University, emphasizes how important it is to learn techniques for dealing with negative thoughts: “Some people just naturally catch themselves when they have negative thoughts and refocus on the positive and use other CB skills. These are the people who were more likely to find a job.”

    Seventy-five unemployed people, aged 20 to 67, took part in two online surveys taken three months apart, and also completed several questionnaires that measured depressive symptoms, a variety of other psychological variables, as well as how often they used CB skills such as countering their own negative thoughts.

    About a third of the participants reported symptoms that would class them as moderately to seriously depressed, although they were not formally diagnosed. The remaining two-thirds had scores that indicated they were symptom-free or mildly depressed.

    After three months, people who reported using the cognitive-behavioral skills were more likely to show an improvement in depressive symptoms and report that they had received a job offer.

    While the study doesn't look at why CB skills helped people get job offers, it's a safe bet that negativity, or even a lack of enthusiasm, rarely sell well at a job interview.

    Some people naturally see the glass as half empty. There are probably some jobs, such as insurance claims adjuster, where that may be an asset, but in general, negativity is not what employers are looking for. So it makes sense that focusing on how the glass is also half full is much more likely to get you hired.

    The study appears in the Journal of Clinical Psychology.