Self-Esteem, Employment and Interviews

Published on: 18 Aug 2014

Self-esteem is no small issue when it comes to your career. Job satisfaction may not be the only factor governing your self-esteem, but it’s undoubtedly one of the most important: people typically seek employment that makes them feel more fulfilled. On the other hand, setbacks in job hunting and career advancement can undermine self-esteem, turning even the most confident people into wholly less self-assured individuals.

Effects of low self-esteem in the job market

Low self-esteem is frequently a self-perpetuating problem. A person who has low self-esteem as a consequence of their status in- or outside of work may be less likely to take the risks necessary to achieve promotions. Low self-esteem can also create other issues, for example:

  • It is naturally difficult for someone with low self-worth to approach their employer and suggest that they are worth more than they are currently paid
  • A person with low self-esteem may avoid tasks that would earn them the attention of their peers and employers
  • Many workplaces are intensely social places, and employees may find it difficult to gain friends and prominence within the company if esteem issues are a barrier
  • Low self-esteem also harms networking opportunities outside of the company that may lead to career advancement
  • If an employer is paying below the industry standard for an employee’s skills, their low self-esteem may still stop them from looking for employment elsewhere
  • Some may find it difficult to accept constructive criticism as anything but an outright attack
  • Perfectionism is a personality trait frequently paired with low self-esteem , and when perfection isn’t achieved it tends to lead to frustration
  • Modern business practice is heavily weighted towards self-evaluation: not just interviews, but annual appraisals. Those with low self-esteem may find such tasks particularly difficult

Self-esteem, CVs and interviews

A new position or job may well be the route to greater feelings of self-worth, but as we’ve suggested above, your feelings of self-worth will be tested on that journey. The following advice covers a combination of career specific and general esteem advice: it is important to tackle any underlying issues along with those that are specifically related to the world of employment.

Challenging negative beliefs

Mind UK suggests a good starting point is to identify your core negative beliefs. List what you believe your weaknesses and failings are and what you believe others think about you. It may also help to identify when these feelings started and the frequency of your feelings: an ongoing record may help you with this.

Once you have done this, you can start writing down the evidence that contradicts them. No item is too small: if you’re worried that nobody wants to speak to you, a phone call from a family member is a contradiction.

Self-worth and CVs

As a job seeker, you already list a large number of positive aspects about yourself on your CV, whether in qualifications, job experience or in a general overview of the skills you have accumulated through the years. You should be updating your CV regularly, but it may be illuminating to keep old versions: through them you can see how far you have progressed, as well as rediscovering positive things you have done in the past.

If you’re applying for a new internal position, it’s easy to forget that you were originally hired on a set of strengths that may have since been forgotten. When you do land a job interview based on your current CV, consider the fact that someone has already acknowledged the positives in your character and build upon that. For more information on writing a great CV, check out our guide.

“Extracurricular activity”

University graduates and school leavers are constantly being advised they need to put interests outside of work and qualifications on their CVs to demonstrate that they are a multi-faceted potential employee. Just because career advisers stop telling you this once you’re in the working world, doesn’t mean these activities aren’t still invaluable.

In particular, voluntary work is often linked with greater self-esteem, as well as healthiness and social engagement: it looks great on your CV, it allows you meet new people and it positively affects how you appraise your own circumstances.

Things to avoid focusing on in your interview

The following is a list of negatives that you must avoid being preoccupied with in an interview scenario. There is no harm in discussing these subjects, but candidates can often become focused on them to the point of excluding other discussion.

  • Reasons for quitting a previous job (see also: our redundancy guide)
  • Gaps in your CV
  • Appearance (obviously, you should try to be presentable, but there is no benefit in appearing obsessive)
  • Problems earlier in the interview (if something goes wrong, let it go – don’t repeatedly apologise or return to justify a dead topic)

“What are your weaknesses?”

This highly unoriginal question is one that troubles every candidate, and it is also one you should prepare for. Facing this question in an interview without considering it ahead of time leaves you vulnerable to dwelling on your weaknesses, and over-estimating how severe and numerous they are.

Nevertheless, a candidate should not dodge the question. Saying “I work too hard” or “I’m a complete perfectionist” will send you to the bottom of the pile: the best way to answer is to be honest about a single problem, but also to talk about how you’re actively working to overcome it. Obviously, this problem shouldn’t be a critical requirement of the job you are interviewing for.

You can find more examples of competency based questions in our guide to ensuring interview success.


It is important to not become preoccupied with feelings of low self-esteem: hopefully we’ve provided insight into some coping strategies, but we also feel that it’s important for candidates to see that they are no different to other job seekers when faced with an interview situation. The guides we offer on interview success and CV writing apply equally to all: thorough preparation and a positive attitude to past triumphs and failures will help anyone through the job application process, regardless of their self-esteem.