Depression, anxiety and other mental health issues affect many in the recruiting industry. It would be easy to overlook this because of how well recruiters are able to hide it while they are at work or around their peers. If you were to meet some of us in person and hang out with us after work or at ERE or SourceCon or some other event, you may think our worlds are always bright shiny places. You wouldn’t be wrong, sometimes they are. For many of us, even the majority of time they are. There are so many others that, like myself however, have dark spots riddled within our worlds.
Harvard Health Publications stated, “Researchers analyzing results from the U.S. National Comorbidity Survey, a nationally representative study of Americans ages 15 to 54, reported that 18 percent of those who were employed said they experienced symptoms of a mental health disorder in the previous month.”
The study also points out that 6 to 8 percent of the US populations have a major depressive episode associated with a non-bipolar major depressive disorder each year. An additional 1 to 2 percent of the population has episodes that are associated with bipolar disorder each year. This doesn’t include the numbers of people that may suffer from sub-threshold depression.
With over 30 million people suffering from clinically diagnosed depression, the chance of it affecting someone you know is pretty high.
In an effort to bring to light what some of us are going through, I reached out to some of our peers to talk about this and how it has affected them, what it took to realize it, and how they fight it. I hesitate to use the word “overcome” when talking about this subject because this isn’t something that just goes away. It’s something that many of us will fight with every day. That’s OK. It’s OK to keep fighting. You have people here that will help support you.
Huge thanks to Stefano Echanique, Dean Da Costa, and Derek Zeller for allowing me to interview them and being willing to share their stories and advice.
A First Step
Self-awareness is an important first step for everyone. We all need to find ways to become aware of our emotions and what’s causing them. Triggers of emotions at work can come from anywhere; from dealing with rejection from candidates, hiring managers, prospective clients, or where it may come from to the elation we receive when we get the hire, sign the client, or have a win with our favorite hiring team.
Da Costa gave this advice: “Once you learn how to be self-aware, it doesn’t really leave you. You check to see what’s going on and repeat the same steps. Never stop accessing yourself and how you can get better. How do you know if it’s a situation or something you just need to get out of? Maybe you’ve tried everything but you need to be aware of what you’re doing.
“Be cognizant of your emotional state at different times through the week. Make notes of how you feel and try different things to alleviate those feelings. You have to make conscious effort to make notes and find the pattern.
“Take classes on being self-aware, read books, take advice from people that have your best interest in mind, a friend that doesn’t just pump you up to make themselves feel better.”
Scheduling is key for Stefano: “Schedule your day, and stick to it. I’ve noticed that the days that I stick to a schedule were my most successful. It’s not always easy to stick to it, but it can help. Also, take mental breaks, work those into the schedule. Don’t get stuck in front to the computer for a long period of time. We’re machines that sometimes need a reboot.”
Derek says he takes a pause every morning. “Every morning while my computer is warming up, take a few minutes to remind yourself of what it looks like to be looking for a job, buying a found, the loss of a friend, getting married. Understand that the person on the other end of that phone may have those same feelings. When you approach candidates, they will feel that too. You have the chance to make a new connection.
There is a stigma around talking about mental health though. Andrew Solomon pointed out that “people still think that it’s shameful if they have a mental illness. They think it shows personal weakness. They think it shows failing.”
Zeller talks about how he grew up in a household where you didn’t talk about it: “I had an uncle that was unstable. The lyrics of the chorus of the song Voices Carry by ‘Til Tuesday really touched me, ‘Hush Hush, keep it down now, voice carry’. At home was a very hush hush thing. We just didn’t talk about it. And that’s not good.
“People try to forget about stuff but it’s always going to come back. You have to face your demons and it’s not easy. It’s OK to go talk to a stranger about stuff, it’s OK to talk to your friends.”
Depression manifests itself differently for everyone. For some people like my mother, depression is a dark fog over the world. “It was like living where there was never any sunshine,” she described. After she found the treatments that worked for her particular situation, she said “it was like the fog evaporated and I could actually see the sunshine again.”
Stefano relates, “Sometimes I feel like a rock star, and then sometimes I feel like a complete failure. It was hard to adjust to the realization that the time that you put in to a candidate or search may not show results right away. Sometimes I may not see results for a few hours or even a few days.”
“I noticed it the first year I was in recruiting,” remembers Da Costa, now a 20+ year recruiting veteran. “Four months in and I hadn’t made a placement, and I was starting to get really depressed. In the military, we’re taught the importance of being self-aware and how to do that and so I just had to apply that to my new role of being a recruiter. I had to realize that I could only do WHAT I could do. After I made that first placement, my boss came up to me and they converted me to full time because they saw the value in what I was able to do. One in the first four months, but then I made thirty over the next four months.”
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Finding an outlet to deal with your depression can be helpful to keep a mental balance as well. For me, it’s video games and family time. I can get all the thoughts that are bouncing around in my head to chill out when I’m focused on a game or doing something with the family that forces me to devote 100 percent of my attention to that task at hand.
“For me it was writing,” says Zeller. “I didn’t find out that it was my outlet, it just happened. I’ve been writing my whole life and just started sharing four years ago. I used to write poetry when I was really young and have been an avid reader my whole life. I started noticing that people were very two dimensional and they talked about things that they saw, not things that they felt. I started writing as the Angry Recruiter. I was a very angry writer, writing about all the things I was upset about. Then I realized that the real issue was me and how I was internalizing that. Then I just started writing about it.”
Stefano tries to occupy his mind with something besides work. Playing sports, playing video games, deep conversation with his wife, anything to reset. “Sometimes I just have to change the scenery. Take a gym break or go to Starbucks seems to help me break out of the routine enough to help with the reset. I’ve also found it helpful to work for 45- 50 mins and then step away for 10-15 mins and do that every hour.”
Da Costa uses music, exercise, and faith. “I look for whatever moves me and keeps me upbeat. It may be Ariana Grande or reflecting on 2 Timothy 1:7 … ‘For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but one of power and of love and of soundness of mind.’ Even when I first started recruiting I always listened to music on the way home and I used to go swim laps or go play basketball. It helps to read a book or something that’s not related to recruiting. Things to move you mind off the issue so you can come back to it fresh.”
There isn’t a magical cure. There are people who care.
From Derek, Stefano, Dean, myself, and the nameless others that helped me in this pursuit, please know that we care about you. We care about what you’re going through. We want you to know that it’s OK. It OK to talk about this. It’s OK to share. It’s ok for the world not to be bright and shiny every single moment of every single day. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
No matter what is happening around you. Your health is the most import thing to think about. Physical and mental. If you’re having dark thoughts or struggling, seek out help. It’s ok. Go to friends, family or those people are enablers, find someone that doesn’t know you that is professionally trained and see out those resources. It is going to get better. There are hills and valleys in this business and in life.
Remember that we’re in the human capital business. We’re dealing with humans on a daily basis that also have their own struggles and life problems. Get to know your candidates. Find out what they are doing. Find out what their day looks like. Not just what language they code in, but what they actually do.
Sometimes people are going to say no. They aren’t going to want to change jobs, they aren’t going to want to hire the person you sent over, they aren’t going to want to use your firm. That’s OK. Sometimes the best decision for them isn’t the best decision for you. Don’t take it personally. Have thick skin and an open heart.
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