Unemployment is wrecking my self-esteem. How do I keep going?
November 7, 2011 2:43 PM   Subscribe

Six months of unemployment has destroyed my self-esteem. Help me persist through the awfulness of writing cover letters and applying to jobs.

I've been out of work since moving to New York, where I thought opportunities would abound--and while there seem to be plenty of job listings, I've had only a few interviews.

Part of the problem is that I often don't match the requirements in the listings for positions that I'm sure I'm perfectly capable of. (Listings that match my skills often ask for someone with a degree in English or journalism. I have a degree in a social science. They want someone with X years experience in a specific field, which I don't have because I've worked in a variety of industries. That sort of thing.) Part of the problem is that I'm anxious and prone to low self-esteem in general. And part of the problem is I can't afford my normal psych meds and therapy since I'm unemployed and uninsured.

After six months with just a handful of interviews, my lack of self-esteem has rendered this ongoing unemployment completely unmanageable. I get overwhelmed when I encounter an annoying online job application interface or discouraged when I don't meet the requirements in an otherwise promising listing, and then I can't work up the courage to apply to anything for days afterward. My work on my own writing projects has slowed to a crawl. I'm so convinced of the futility of it all that I'm having a hard time mustering the energy to deal with other tasks, like making phone calls and running errands.

Basically, I'm a mess. Most important: I need to get back to work and have an income and insurance, which will help me solve everything else. How do I boost my self-esteem so I can sell myself in cover letters? How do I handle the endless waits to hear from employers and the seemingly inevitable rejection without feeling like a meritless loser? And how do I feel confident enough to apply to those jobs that appeal to me, even when I don't precisely meet the requirements?

I know I need to go back to therapy, which I will as soon as I can afford it. And I am dragging myself to events to network as much as possible, and several people have offered to pass my resume along, but nothing's come of it.

Right now, I'm looking for specific techniques and insights for dealing with unemployment and applying for jobs.

Thanks. Anon for obvious reasons.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (20 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
Volunteer somewhere that uses your specific job-related skills. You can always find something that will use you for only about an hour a week, and you will feel useful and appreciated. Plus, it's a resume-booster.
posted by thelastcamel at 3:02 PM on November 7, 2011

Are you applying anyhow, even though you don't have the proper degree? I always have.
posted by Zophi at 3:17 PM on November 7, 2011

How much time each week are you spending on your job hunt? I was advised to spend no more than 20 hours a week.

I had the same problem job hunting on my own - a mish mash of skills and experience that made me feel unemployable. You really are employable though!

I went to a quality staffing agency and they found me The Best Job Ever, so it's possible an agency can help you out too.
posted by Calzephyr at 3:21 PM on November 7, 2011

I'm also unemployed. The only luck I've had so far (getting asked to apply for jobs I was unaware of and a phone interview) has been due to going to career fairs and meeting with company reps. Dress well, be personable, and follow up if you're given contact info.

Seconding the volunteering. Gonna go look for places to volunteer now.
posted by Logic Sheep at 3:40 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

To sell yourself in a cover letter you don't need self-esteem so much as a few people to give you feedback on your letters. If you believe you can get a job (you can), then you know the faster you get through the rejections the better, so just keep sending 'em out and have some confidence in your proofreaders.
posted by michaelh at 3:42 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

P.S. I would be happy to be such a proofreader.
posted by michaelh at 3:42 PM on November 7, 2011

I found I just had to network and really push people in my network to help. I was a little to modest in the first 4 months of my unemployment to really ask my network for help.

Applying and writing did little, ever. Introductions were a must. .
posted by patrad at 3:51 PM on November 7, 2011

I've had to take a few "between" type jobs in NYC in the past (actually can't tell if you are in New York or NYC, but this still may be useful), so if these suggestions help: if you are a female, try Sitter City and make your own ad (no, it is not forever, but just to get $ coming in and some employment until you can jump); Craigslist (check out the temp type jobs, too); run your own CL for any jobs/services that you do; and have you looked into Temp services, too?

I don't mind being a proofreader, either, if you would like.

To be honest, although I would treat the job hunting like a job, don't do it every minute of the day.Take time off and explore the area,etc....as someone who was between jobs in the past, it can get depressing if that is all you do. You will find a job again, it just takes time.

Could you fill in more details as to what your job history was? What specifically you are looking for? Someone here may be able to point to something but we don't have many details. You can get a $5 sockpuppet and still retain anony status, or reply through a mod or one of us.
posted by Dances with sock puppets at 3:58 PM on November 7, 2011

Apply for the "reach" jobs -- those are the ones that I ended up interviewing better at and securing!

See if you can find a meeting of the 5 O'Clock Club for support and feedback. If need be, start one!
posted by jgirl at 4:14 PM on November 7, 2011

I've been in the unemployment boat with similar issues, and I can definitely relate as I have an anxiety disorder and tendency towards depression. A few suggestions, some of which worked for me (and for my friends as well), without knowing your background and your goals:

-Limit the amount of time you spend daily on your job hunt. It gets seriously depressing if you bury yourself in it.

-Staffing agencies can help find you gap work or even permanent jobs, and they can be helpful at pinpointing what types of jobs you should target.

-Career fairs, even virtual ones, are a great way to get your resume out to a lot of companies at once.

-Don't only apply for the "dream" jobs - the ones you know you can do but don't have the requirements for. I work in staffing now. I can tell you that very few people who don't meet the specific xyz make it through the first pass through of resumes. One thing that can help you make it to the next round is to make it clear in your cover letter how your current skills make you a better candidate. That's obviously going to be specific to what kind of job you are applying for and what you are bringing to the table, but you need to explain why you think you can do the job -- ask a previous employer or professor for a recommendation or to tell you what your strong suits are. Don't assume that the person reading your credentials is going to guess.

- Along with not only applying for the "dream" jobs, which can create a lot of pressure for you, apply for jobs that match your skill set more. They can be great stepping stones.

Good luck.
posted by sm1tten at 4:16 PM on November 7, 2011

First of all, DO NOT VOLUNTEER for experience if you are out of work and emotionally unhappy because it will kill your ability to perform well in the role and critically endanger your chances of moving up the ladder if the place offers mobility out of the voluntary role.

If jobs are looking for English or Journalism degrees the most important thing you will need to do is show that you can write, can edit well, and can handle deadlines admirably. You'll need examples which are not cover letters but articles that you have put your hand to writing. Finding something or someone in your immediate vicinity that you know well enough to not need to spend a great deal of time writing about is a great way to quickly manufacture a good two page "explainer" article that you can dangle at hiring managers. Really, forget about working on writing assignments that require you to do anything more than go further than a mile. Always walk to writing assignments and stop if you want to write something and don't stop writing until you're out of ideas. You can condense it when you get somewhere you can attack the project head on.

I have taken leadership roles in a large number of industries and have been successful because I can make the case that "X years of experience in a specific field" is a straw man that must be discussed succinctly in your first two sentences to a prospective employer. The best way to do this? Call ahead. Say, "I want to discuss this job opening with you. I have experience in these industries and I have looked at some of your products and see that I could really develop opportunities in these industries for the work/product/project that you do." Then let them tell you what they think and then ask for a meeting and be prepared for when they say yes. You need to make sure you are completely prepared for when they say yes. You need to get your ducks in a row. You're not going to that office to have a meeting about an ad on Craigslist, you're going to take a job you're prepared to hold on to and take leadership of. You are the entrepreneur you talk to your friends about being. Create a proposal you can speak and show why your experience matters more than their job description.

Then in your e-mail to them confirming the time and place you reiterate your experience in three lines. "I have been V and W for X years. I am interested in company's role because I want to raise the level of excellence for Y, Z and A and know how to close the gap in your company in reaching B people in C business. I will see you on this date." Sincerely, etc.

They have a term in the medical industry for long-term patients who have successfully rehabbed themselves from care into independent lives. It is "Stepping Out". I suggest you start stepping out and start today. If you need more advice you are welcome to write to me.
posted by parmanparman at 4:27 PM on November 7, 2011 [10 favorites]

Do yourself a favor and get to the unemployment office of your county. Sign up for the Workers Investment Act (WIA) program. You'll have to jump through some hoops and play their game a little, but if you impress them (it doesn't take much), they'll invite you to networking/resume workshops that are free and somewhat decent. They can help with your situation of not matching requirements for jobs. Feel free to message me if you have questions or need further assistance. I'm currently in a similar situation and things are looking up. Been tempted to post a similar question multiple times, but held off thinking something was about to turn. BTW, I've accepted a job for measly $9/hr in the town over from mine, and it kills me. I don't start until the 21st, but it is an ego killer. It's 1st/2nd level computer/hardware support. I'm embarrassed and defeated, but I'm considering it 'stop gap' until the holidays are over. Now, that was last week...I just had a great interview today and I think I got the job if some things fall into place, like they should. Fingers crossed. Hang in there and search out free career guidance stuff! My local community college has some great stuff too; I've done that. Also, check out churches. I'm not a church going fella myself, but I've made some good contacts and meet some nice folk at multiple job search groups. Stuff is out there! Talk to people, let them know your story....persevere! Take care...
posted by littleredwagon at 4:45 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, for the medical stuff, I'd look into free/low-cost stuff for that too. Don't know anything about that, but thought I'd mention it.
posted by littleredwagon at 5:01 PM on November 7, 2011

Fill out this application for sliding-scale therapy. If they quote you a rate you can't afford, memail me.
posted by prefpara at 5:42 PM on November 7, 2011

It sounds like you're looking for some sort of writing job, which makes me suggest the variety of variety of posts about freelance online work that you could do in between applying for full-time jobs. I don't know that you'll be able to make a living wage from that sort of thing, but it could shorten gaps in employment on your resume, give you experience, and at least give you some amount of income. Not sure how it would impact any unemployment benefits that you qualify for, but it's legitimate work that you can (more or less) start right away.
posted by _cave at 5:48 PM on November 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

As for your medicines you can not afford, look at the drug maker's website, they almost always have a patient assistance program for the uninsured.
posted by sandyp at 6:13 PM on November 7, 2011

Hi, are you me? And can we swap degrees? The stuff I like and feel I can do require social work degrees very often but my degree is in the creative industries.

It is demotivating as well, especially if you're like me and you've tried every advice in the book. I have a volunteer record others envy, I've made all sorts of versions of my resumes, I've gone the traditional and alternative routes, and I still can't find anything. I don't know what's worse: never hearing back, or hearing "you were awesome!!...but we picked someone else".

I wish I had advice for you (ha, I typed "me", go Freudian slip), but I just wanted to let you know that you're not alone. Feel free to memail me to chat.
posted by divabat at 9:21 PM on November 7, 2011

There are pseudo support groups/workshops out there for job hunters. Try Meetup.com - there must be several career support groups in a big city like NYC. Some big churches may also have workshops. And I second the idea to try freelance online writing gigs. Scour Craigslist and online freelance writing job sites -- there are tons of freelance jobs posted everyday. Job hunting all day will really drain you. Try to go out, walk, exercise a bit and have a varied day, as others suggested. Good luck!
posted by KimikoPi at 9:26 PM on November 7, 2011

Repeat this as a personal mantra - being rejected for a job is not being rejected as a person. Really. It's not a personal failure and there is no reason to let it derail your self confidence.

All types of things happen during the recruitment process: job postings get cancelled, someone gets hired out of nepotism, the job never really existed, someone else is a better fit for the job....those are just the easy ones. Trust me, when 100 people apply for a job, the person selected has a combo of suitability and luck. Probably 50 applicants could have successfully filled that job, but only one person got lucky.

Keep applying for jobs even if you aren't a perfect fit with the requirements. The requirements are always a subset of what we're really looking to find and very rarely is the successful candidate a 100% fit.

Just keep applying and consistently remind yourself that job rejections are not personal attacks.
posted by 26.2 at 9:52 PM on November 7, 2011 [2 favorites]

Don't do this alone - you should job search in pairs, at least. Applying for jobs with someone else provides instant feedback on resume presentation, wording on application letters and a sense of sanity when considering jobs that appear too-good-to-be-true.

Ask an unemployed friend, join an industry group and team up with someone or find someone through MeFi who would be willing to join you.

Trust me, this is like exercise. It's a lot easier when you have a partner encouraging you and keeping you moving through the process. Today's reality is that the job search takes a long time. Having someone in the trenches with you can make it much easier.
posted by glaucon at 5:26 AM on November 8, 2011

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