With this month, I am now a full year into my unemployment journey.
It, as you may imagine, has not been what I would classify as “fun.”
There is not enough space on the internet for me to fully describe the negatives of the situation. Besides, it would be a boring read. Anyone could predict what they are. The circumstances present major challenges to a person’s self-worth, finances, professional and personal confidence, and so forth.
Instead of focusing on what is difficult about the situation, I continue to concentrate on making lemonade out of current surplus of lemons.
I look back at this past year of my job hunt and see four good decisions I’ve made. These choices helped this first (and hopefully only) year of unemployment survivable and, dare I say, somewhat successful.
Use the Time
I honestly did not want to have the opportunity to write this piece. When I reflected at the 6-month mark, I hoped that would be my last milestone in this search. Clearly, a greater plan is in my play here, and my timeline doesn’t match up.
Therefore, these circumstances present me with a choice. I can be paralyzed by the pause or motivated by the moment. I choose the latter. We have few times in our lives when our career does not dominate our day. I choose to use this period to expand my mind, reach across perceived boundaries, and broaden the experience I already bring.
In addition to reading thousands of job descriptions and applying for literally hundreds of jobs, I took several online courses, created this website, continued my volunteering, stayed on top of my exercise routine, and even opened an Etsy shop – all while living through a global pandemic. For lacking a day job, I remained remarkably busy.
This gap in my professional life is temporary. I’m using it as an opportunity to both sharpen my mind and ensure I am well-rounded. Like a race car at a pit stop, I’m just making sure I’m primed and ready to speed back onto the course.
Ask for Help
Whether due to a lack of need or an abundance of pride, I’ve never been good at asking for help. However, this phase of my career journey teaches me regularly that asking for help is one of the best choices to make.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. After the child is grown, it also takes a village to find a job. Here are just a few stats illustrating the point:
- It takes between 100 to 200 job applications to receive an offer
- Over 85% of applications come from job boards and career sites, but those only account for around 45% of hiring sources
- Internal hiring is 6 times more effective than all other application sources; referrals are 5 times more effective
- Referrals are hired 55% faster than those hired through a career site
It’s easy to feel productive blasting off one online job application after another, but as the numbers reflect, it’s not the most effective way to pursue a position. Early in this job search process, I chose to reach out to friends who may work at my company of interest or friends who know someone at the targeted company.
Additionally, I’ve searched through LinkedIn and found professionals in my field who have similar roles. Regularly, I contact these respected professionals. My “ask” is not for help or references. Instead, I simple request a 15-minute phone interview. While some of these individuals do not respond, several others have. These conversations typically last well past 15 minutes. Results from these visits include a new professional connection, perhaps an introduction to someone new, and always valuable insight gained from hearing of someone else’s journey.
Other Forms of Help
On top of networking, asking for help during the job search takes several other forms. Ask a friend to:
- teach you a new hobby
- schedule regular walks with you
- have a zoom happy hour
- meet for an outdoor, socially-distant lunch
Between never hearing back about a job application to receiving rejection (or as I like to call them “redirection”) emails, statistically, job hunting has more swings and misses than home runs. Mental health has never been more important.
Given we live in the midst of a global pandemic, maintaining a healthy mental state also has never been more challenging. COVID-19 introduced additional pressures that would be stress-inducing even under normal circumstances. Combine these with unemployment, and the load can feel heavy. Apps like Calm, Headspace, BetterHelp and Talkspace all provide resources to help center your mind and relieve pressures that may build up inside. Knowing joblessness includes budget concerns, some of these platforms offer free features. Other services come at an additional fee. In the grand scheme, the investment make in self-care and preservation is always worth it.
Sometimes the best help you can receive has nothing to do with a job application but everything to do with your well-being.
In considering help, it’s best to remember that it is a two-way street. As a job seeker, I fight the temptation to direct all the attention to myself and my search, thinking I can help others once I get this matter settled. It’s an easy and dangerous trap.
“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”Mahatma Gandhi
Remembering the words of Mahatma Gandhi, I stay inspired to offer my skills and gifts to others, especially during this phase when I have a more flexible schedule. In addition to my regular shifts volunteering for the Trevor Project, I often post on LinkedIn my availability to help support others with my skills in Communications, particularly those with needs in the community and non-profit worlds.
Also, knowing I’m not along on this journey, I’m sure to visit often with others on the search. Sure, “misery loves company,” but more importantly, humans deeply desire to be understood and heard. It’s mutually beneficial to share the job-hunting process with someone in the same boat. New opportunities, fresh techniques, strong connections, or additional resources may be discovered. If nothing else, identifying with another in a comparable situation offers some comfort.
If this all went according to my plan, I would have landed a perfectly-suited position a month into the search and by this time be well-established in my new role.
Spoiler Alert: It didn’t happen that way.
Like many professionals, I never anticipated I would experience a year of unemployment. Most people probably don’t think it will happen to them. I sure didn’t. And I was wrong. And, truth be known, if you think you’re immune, so are you. Any number of circumstances can happen in just the right sequence, and anyone could find themselves unemployed.
Initially, it’s easy to believe the best back on the employed path is via the route that took you there in the first place. Simply find something almost identical to the previous role, and problems are solved. But multiple factors affecting the job market, industry, economy, and demand impact the timeframe of any job search.
While the window of my unemployment period is much larger than I hoped, I see the valuable gift it provides. Rarely do we encounter time in which we can reflect and redirect. Whether personally or professionally, many of us practice habits that become comfortable. Before we know it, we live each day on autopilot.
When something stops our daily professional routines, we hear the record scratch, the brakes screech to a stop, and then… silence. The land of the unknown can be very quiet.
When my career was put on a hold, one of the first things I noticed was the lack of noise. No steady stream of emails, no meetings or phone calls, no list of projects due… New silence can be unsettling.
Soon, though, the silence began to fill. Sure, there were jobs to research, applications to complete, and so on. But, also, there was now room for questions.
“Is this work what I really want to continue doing?”
“Am I in the industry best suited for me?”
“Do I use fully and frequently use my greatest skills and gifts?”
“Am I open to change careers/industries/cities/states?”
Better than any other time, now is opportune moment to create change. This unique period offers freedom to grow in ways I decide to grow, pursue opportunities I deem worthy, and direct my steps where I view the best horizon. For the time being, the decisions are all mine, so I choose to make ones that lead to proactive, positive growth.
I have done just that. Previously, I never fully considered freelance or contract work. Despite that, opportunities presented themselves to me in ways and times that I could not find strong reasons to refuse. Now, directing my skills to support communications efforts with businesses in completely different industries opens my eyes to new worlds and sharpens my mind to undoubtedly better serve my future professional home.
Evolve, change, pivot, adjust… however you prefer to say it, now is the time.
Bet on Me
Lastly, I learned this last year that when looking for a new job, it’s all about options. What job options are available; what salary and benefit options do potential employers provide; what options do I have with how to best use my time today… With all the options that the job hunt presents, one thing is not optional.
Always, in every day and in every way, I choose to bet on myself.
An athlete doesn’t train for the Olympics aiming to come in last. A gambler doesn’t go to Vegas planning to lose all their money. An actor doesn’t go on stage hoping to forget his lines. And I don’t conduct this job search without the belief that I provide exactly what a company needs. I’m in this to win.
It would be easy to absorb the amount of discouragement after a year of unemployment and start buying into oversimplified thoughts on the experience. I could choose to accept false narratives that a long gap on my resume exhibits professional irrelevance or its best to give up on professional aspirations and settle.
As the saying goes, “I didn’t come this far to only come this far.”
To allow myself to believe what I know to be untrue would cost me a wonderful future career opportunity. It would also rob my future professional home of benefitting from everything I have to offer.
I know the truths of my experience, my knowledge, my skills, and my worth. Because of that, I choose to keep believing, to remain searching, and to continue betting on myself every day.
When It’s Over
In the not-too-distant future, there will be books, movies, documentaries, and classes all covering what we experienced and learned in 2020. While none of these will likely feature my particular story, although not yet finished, I guarantee this chapter in my professional life will produce sharpened strengths and fresh perspectives that have long-term benefits for both me and my next professional home.