The job search is difficult enough. That’s no surprise to the 6.4 million currently unemployed people in America, including the 240,000-plus tech workers who have been laid off this year. Between shouldering the financial burden, enrolling in unemployment benefits, and sending out applications for dozens of new roles, the process can often drag on for months, winnowing away at both one’s savings account and one’s mental health.
But new research from one of the world’s happiest countries offers a potential solution. According to a new peer-reviewed paper from ETH Zurich, a research university in Switzerland, people who question their innate value tend to have lower confidence and generally send in fewer applications, which only stands to prolong their job hunt.
“Maladaptive reactions to unemployment can trap people in a vicious cycle that derails their reemployment efforts,” the study authors wrote. A brief, values-based self-affirmation intervention can increase reemployment odds in the short term, “which presumably breaks this vicious cycle.” Pausing for just 15 minutes to reflect on one’s progress and strengths can bolster self-confidence and belief, which can actually increase the chances of landing a job, the Swiss researchers found.
“People who…know who they are and what they stand for find it easier to market themselves convincingly to potential employers,” Gudela Grote, an organizational psychology professor at ETH Zurich, wrote in the report.
Grote and her team carried out their experiments with 866 Switzerland-based unemployed people, who they divided into two groups. They gave each person a list of 13 values, spanning from areas such as “sports and fitness” to “nature” to “the joy of learning.” Grote and her team “deliberately chose very general values” so as not to remind job seekers about the hard skills they may be lacking, she wrote.
The first group spent 15 minutes explaining why a couple of those values were important to them and how they’ve shaped their lives. The other—the control group—was also asked to write about values, but were told to focus on ones they didn’t find particularly pertinent to their own lives. Rather, they needed to describe why they were meaningful to others.
Grote and her team found that the first group—those who had spent 15 minutes reflecting on their own values—were instantly more likely to find a job. That even held for group members over 50 or who had been unemployed for long stretches, identities that have long struggled more than younger, active job seekers to get work.
In fact, the chances of finding a job doubled four weeks after the experiment. 13.7% of those who did the reflection exercise landed a job, compared to just 6.2% of control group members. But after eight weeks, the halo effect of the values exercise dropped off, and differences in hiring rates between the two groups no longer held statistically significant.
“This could be because the self-reflection exercise provided a motivational boost, the effect of which wore off after some time,” wrote lead author Julian Pfrombeck, an assistant psychology professor at The Chinese University of Hong Kong.
By mulling over personal values and acknowledging how they live in accordance with them, job seekers “are more likely to see themselves as valuable individuals who have something to contribute at work and in society,” Grote wrote. It can also help workers cope with the often punishing and thankless application process and encourage them to put their values on greater display to hiring managers.
The practice could be useful for workers across the globe, even those who don’t live in the comparably happy and well-paid European countries. Even employed workers could take note; a recent survey found that 75% of workers are looking to change jobs in the next year. Even better news: At least in the U.S., now is the best time to find a new job. So as you scroll through Indeed or Glassdoor, don’t forget to spend some time thinking of your innate value just as much as your hard skills.