Recognizing & Reframing Cognitive Distortions

By Amanda Beardall, CPDC Undergraduate Career Coach

Searching for a job or internship is already a difficult process. Add a pandemic and it’s even more stressful. When dealing with stressful experiences, it’s easy to be hard on yourself and fall into negative thinking patterns. These negative thinking patterns are called “cognitive distortions” and they can trick your brain into believing things that aren’t true. Sometimes you might become your own worst enemy and this may cause you to miss potential opportunities.

This post is designed to help you recognize cognitive distortions and identify some ways you can potentially reframe these thoughts. There are many different kinds of cognitive distortions. We will be focusing on five of them today:


1- Jumping to Conclusions: A thought pattern where you make up your mind without having all the facts. This could look like not applying to a job because you assume the employer won’t hire you, or assuming you’re not advancing in the hiring process because you haven’t heard back yet after an interview. If you find yourself jumping to conclusions, considering trying to gather more information and asking for clarification. This could look like sending a follow-up email after an interview, or speaking with a recruiter to learn more about what they look for in candidates.


2- All-or-Nothing Thinking: If you engage in All-or-Nothing thinking, you see things in extremes. It’s either this or that, with no room for alternatives or in-betweens. This could look like thinking that your only options are getting a specific job or going to a certain graduate program, and that the only other option is failure. If you recognize yourself falling into this pattern, considering making multiple plans and options. You can meet with a Career Coach to get help creating these plans and work together to create action steps for achieving them.


3- Negativity Bias: This is when you only focus on negative experiences, while ignoring positive experiences. This could look like only focusing on the application rejections you’ve received. Take some time to remember and celebrate times when you have done well and advanced, such as when you’ve gotten interviews or job offers, even if you didn’t take them.


4- Personalizing: We all take things personally sometimes, but personalizing goes a step further by blaming yourself for forces that are out of your control or that have nothing to do with you. Someone who personalizes may feel like everything is their fault when someone doesn’t get back to them or if they don’t get a position they applied for. It’s possible there are things you could work on to improve your application materials or your networking approach, but remember there are many factors that go into choosing a candidate. Just because you weren’t selected for one role doesn’t mean you won’t be considered for a different position if you choose to apply again.


5- Overgeneralizing: If you take one experience and assume it’s a pattern, you may be overgeneralizing. This may look like not getting a job at a company, and then refusing to apply to any other job at the company because you assume they won’t hire you at all. If you find yourself overgeneralizing, remember to treat each application and situation individually. A lot of different factors affect the hiring process. It’s likely that even if you’re applying to a role at the same company, the hiring team’s needs may have changed since you last applied.

If you find yourself frequently experiencing negative thoughts and getting down on yourself, please reach out to the University Counseling Center for support: https://counselingcenter.utah.edu/.