The unemployment rate has fallen since 2013, but the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there are still some 2.8 million Americans who have been unemployed for 27 weeks or more. Those job hunters may not be surprised by the results of a new study that found being unemployed for a year or longer sours your personality to make you a less appealing–and less employable–candidate.
Researchers in the U.K. studied 6,769 German men and women, 210 of whom were unemployed for one to four years. They looked at how each person ranked on the the “Big Five” personality traits (conscientiousness, neuroticism, agreeableness, extraversion, and openness), which researchers often use as a measure of personality because the traits seem to be consistent across cultures and ages. Over time, the unemployed men and women saw decreases in their levels of agreeableness, openness, and conscientiousness–all traits that could affect how well a person performs during a job interview.
“The results challenge the idea that our personalities are ‘fixed’ and show that the effects of external factors such as unemployment can have large impacts on our basic personality,” says study leader Christopher J. Boyce of the University of Stirling in the U.K. “This indicates that unemployment has wider psychological implications than previously thought.”
But if you’re currently looking for work, don’t despair. There are things you can do to stay hopeful and confident (or at least seem hopeful and confident) while job hunting. As Fast Company writer Samantha Cole has discussed, sticking to a routine, meeting often with former colleagues and others in your field, and exercising daily can counteract many of the negative mental effects of unemployment.
You can also keep your skills sharp by temporarily accepting less-than-desirable work, advises Art Markman, professor of psychology and marketing at the University of Texas at Austin. Even if you work for free–at a nonprofit, say–you’re putting yourself in a prime position for networking, especially since administrators and directors are likely connected to local business, Markman wrote in a recent column for Fast Company.
And never forget than you can fake it ‘til you make it during an interview. This means preparing well for the questions you fear most–your gaps in employment, your greatest weakness, and when you didn’t see eye-to-eye with a superior, for example. Be prepared to go on the offensive: focus on what interests the interviewer and highlight your accomplishments.