Academic journal article Journal of Employment Counseling

Stuck in the Muck? the Role of Mindsets in Self-Regulation When Stymied during the Job Search

Academic journal article Journal of Employment Counseling

Stuck in the Muck? the Role of Mindsets in Self-Regulation When Stymied during the Job Search

Article excerpt

Although there is a vast amount of literature on the psychologically harmful effects of unemployment, there has been less scholarship aimed at helping those struggling with the motivational challenges involved in a frustrated job search. This conceptual article draws on theory and extensive research in educational, social, and organizational psychology to explain the likely role of mindsets in self-regulation during the job search. Specifically, the authors outline how a person's mindset can cue patterns of functional and dysfunctional thoughts, feelings, and behaviors during a range of job search tasks. They then provide practical advice for counseling individuals--and for people helping themselves--through the job search process.

Keywords: job search, implicit theories, mindsets, self-regulation, employment counseling, job search interventions


The job search process is often a humpy ride, full of false starts, knock-backs, and dashed hopes. These experiences can be demoralizing, demotivating, and harmful to a person's physical and mental health. For instance, frustrated job search progress may lead to anxiety or depression stemming from having self-defeating thoughts of hopelessness, giving up, and negative expectations (Wanberg, Zhu. Kanfer, & Zhang, 2012). The challenges of dealing with setbacks during the job search are particularly acute when viable job opportunities seem scarce and/or when financial hardship imposes a pressing imperative to quickly become employed (Wanberg, Zhu. & Van Hooft. 2010).

Considering the potentially devastating and derailing nature of setbacks encountered during the job search, this article focuses on self-regulation of one's thoughts, feelings, and behavior during the job search process. Specifically, we discuss how-people's implicit theories of ability (Dweck, 1986. 1999)--more intuitively known as mindsets (Dweck. 2006)--may affect the quality of their self-regulation when frustrations are encountered, along with their subsequent job search outcomes, such as successful job interviews and the speed and quality of employment.

We begin by introducing the concept of mindsets and review how mindsets affect the self-regulation of thoughts, feelings, and behavior when striving to attain a challenging goal. This discussion of mindset implications lays the foundation for our theorizing about how people's mindset may affect their self-regulation when frustrations are encountered while engaging in the job search, along with their resulting job search outcomes. We conclude by discussing future research directions and implications for maintaining effective self-regulation throughout the potentially harrowing job search process.


Mindsets are the assumptions people hold about the malleability of their personal attributes, such as intelligence and personality. An entity implicit theory (Dweck. 1986), relabeled by Dweck (2006) as a fixed mindset, embodies the belief that abilities are largely static and cannot be cultivated very much. It is reflected in statements such as "Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can't change very much" and "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." Conversely, an incremented implicit theory (Dweck, 1986), also relabeled a growth mindset (Dweck, 2006), represents the belief that abilities can be developed, especially when a person makes a concerted effort to improve. Statements such as "You can always substantially change how intelligent you are" and "People can always turn over a new leaf" reflect a growth mindset. Mindsets refine the concept of internal attributions within the locus of control (Rotter, 1966) because fixed and growth mindsets reflect attributions to static versus malleable internal causes of human behavior, respectively.

Mindsets create a mental framework that guides how people think, feel, and act in achievement contexts (Dweck, 1986). …

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