Applying the Concept of Mental Toughness to the Job Search Process

by Mary E. Ghilani

A successful job search starts and ends with a positive attitude. But how does one remain positive during the often frustrating process of trying to find a job? While I was writing Second Chance: How Career Changers Can Find A Great Job, I spoke with a friend about her job search experience. She told me how physically and mentally exhausting the whole interviewing process was. She described having to “really be on top of your game” for several hours at a time, experiencing a letdown after the interview, and then having to gear herself up to do it all over again for the next interview. She said it was difficult to remain positive, especially when you were sure you were going to get the position but didn’t. After listening to that story, and many similar stories, it occurred to me that job seekers needed to develop a degree of mental toughness when it comes to playing the job search game.

Sports announcers and coaches frequently refer to the concept of mental toughness. Think about the quarterback who fumbles the ball or throws an interception in a critical down of a play. The worst thing he can do is get flustered and throw another interception. Successful quarterbacks are able to put their mistakes behind them, refocus, and go out there and throw a touchdown. The ability to learn from the experience and move on successfully to the next play is a mentality that not only helps football players win games but would go a long way to helping job seekers progress from one job interview to the next.

Taking this analogy a step further, here are some of the key characteristics of mental toughness that career counselors can tell clients to apply during the job search process:

Today’s job seekers must be able to handle rejection and tolerate the frustration of waiting for responses from employers. Understanding what aspects of the job search process you can and cannot control will allow you to minimize uncertainly and exercise a degree of control over your situation:

Building mental job toughness is like building muscle, you have to work at it in order to make it stronger. Take care of yourself, mentally and physically, during the process. Focus on what you want to occur, rather than on the things that went wrong. The more interviews you attend, the better you will become at interviewing which will only increase the likelihood of receiving a job offer.



Connaughton, D., Hanton, S., and Jones, G. (2002). What is this thing called mental toughness? An Investigation of Elite Sport Performers. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 14 (3), 205-218.

Yukelson, D. What is Mental Toughness and How to Develop It? Penn State University, Retrieved August 12, 2009, from http://www.mascsa.psu.edu/dave/Mental-Toughness.pdf





Mary GhilaniMary E. Ghilani, M.S., NCC, is the director of career services at Luzerne County Community College in Pennsylvania. She is the author of Second Chance: How Career Changers Can Find a Great Job, 10 Strategies for Reentering the Workforce, and Web-Based Career Counseling and can be reached at mghilani@luzerne.edu.

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shelia mccomb   on Tuesday 05/03/2011 at 10:37 AM

Thank you, Mary Ghilani, for this very helpful summary of these concepts. I find myself saying these kinds of things on a daily basis - esp. in this economy. I sent it to 2 counselor networks in MN.

Mary Ghilani   on Tuesday 05/03/2011 at 11:52 AM

Thanks, Shelia.

Laird Crandall   on Tuesday 05/17/2011 at 07:34 PM

I loved the article and never thought of it this way but it is a great concept. Am in private practice and appreciated the article.

Mary E. Ghilani   on Wednesday 05/18/2011 at 09:16 AM

Thanks, Laird, finding a job in this economy just takes a long time. Key is to last longer than the proces.

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