Keeping Calm and Carryin' On in a bout of Long Unemployment ?
December 13, 2011 8:22 AM   Subscribe

How do I stay confident and not feel overwhelmed in my unemployment, 2.5 years after graduating ?

Since graduating with a liberal arts degree in June 2009, I have not had full-time, paid employment. I recognize that I am frustrated and overwhelmed in my job search, and don't feel much closer to a goal of having a full-time, paid job that I don't dread going to each day [preferably in a field that I am interested in, refugee/immigrant services, urban planning, public policy - more of the policy wonk/research side], that I had made shortly before graduating.

Since graduating, I have:
- Worked for the US Census for 5 months
- Completed a 30 hour paid research project for a non-profit.
- Completed a part-time 6 month unpaid internship at another non-profit;

- Teach ESL once a week (as a volunteer)
- Exercise on a regular basis (although much more difficult right now in the midwestern winter)
- Involved in young professional organizations and have a leadership role
- Also seeing a therapist [I have ADHD] to combat the job anxiety, although after a few months, my therapist recently told me that they do not have a lot of experience with this, and may refer me to someone else in addition to seeing them.
- Sprodically part-time work with a parent who has their own business in a trade. I dislike the work itself and working with them. Hours vary greatly [most weeks fewer than 10, some as much as 35], because of their declining health and nature of the business, which also disrupts establishing a set routine.


A] I still feel overwhelmed how should I structure my job search ?
My therapist suggested to set a routine, What sort of routine should I set ?

- How much of my day should I spend on: looking for people, organizations, companies that would be good
informational interview candidates ?
- Following up on leads that I receive from family/friends
- Work on my personal projects (I'm learning cartography and GIS) and try to go full out freelance ?
- Searching for jobs on indeed, linkedin, craigslist, idealist, the newspaper, the local employment center ? How much of this time should I search local ? Search nationwide [I am willing to relocate] ?
- Looking for jobs that I am remotely qualified for even if I am not interested in the work ?
- Spend more time/resources with opportunities for employment for places that I would prefer to work at and are in my area[s] of interest or any job period ?

Right now, my daily routine is doing anything that immediately needs to be done that day, then a combination of working on my freelance projects, and using my judgment of whatever leads that I have that would be the most promising and pursuing them, searching for
jobs on the websites above, blogging, working for the parent, helping them at home [I live with them. Both are semi-retired and I usually do an errand a day for them, the amount of time varies greatly], or helping 2 of my siblings [who separately live next door of my parents, I do a lot of odd jobs around the house for them]. Occasionally, I'll see a job on the aforementioned sites, apply and write cover letter[s] to them, usually don't hear back, and then become discouraged and figure it's not the best use of my time, and not go back there for several weeks.

B] How do I remain confident after 2.5 years ?
- When I have solicited for advice, it has sometimes been contradictory. On a small scale, example: Only apply to jobs that you're qualified for: NO, a HR rep for a Fortune 500 with a local young professional organization. YEA.
When faced with conflicting strategies, I search on ASK_mefi, and ultimately employ a strategy, writing style for a several weeks and then switch back.

I recognize the economy is pretty poor right now. It has been over 2 years and have recognized that I need to take actions to combat it and have been making these actions but I feel like I have been spinning my wheels much like this person and depressed, damaging my self-esteem and confidence without seeing any actions, changes, or evidence that my actions are helping.

C] Should I change my goal ? I've also set ones like 'Become employed in x months' and 'move out on my own in X months' numerous times but haven't reached them.

- I've tried setting smaller ones like 'Apply to 3 jobs today' but it's frustrating. In the past, I've said to myself as I apply or write the cover letter 'Shouldn't I be looking instead to find a job that I would be more qualified and more interesting to me than this one or work on my freelance project?' and 'This is a waste of time anyways' and 'Even if I work there [like a fast food place or restaurant], it won't further my career or job prospects'.

especially this one - esteem-How-do-I-keep-going

D] Should I just pack my bags and live on my own ? [I have about $900 in savings], [I went to school out of state, and lived off campus for a year, and studied abroad for 6 months, so I have experience].
posted by fizzix to Work & Money (14 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Do not just move out on your own. Can you not just get a job to get some experience somewhere? Even at McDonald's or Costco or something? I remember when Mr. Getawaysticks was unemployed for 2 years, many places flat out would not even look at you if him because he wasn't already working (even though he HAD been working for 15 years).

I think everyone knows the deal. People are unemployed or underemployed because the economy is a mess. But you need to start building up your resume, even if it's a retail job or something.
posted by getawaysticks at 8:31 AM on December 13, 2011 [2 favorites]

Here are thoughts from someone like you looking back from age 48:

The trick is to spread yourself around. You need connections, you need data points, you need to be involved with stuff. You're trying to approach via established channels, and that only works for those with a clean-cut in-demand skill set.

The more people you know, the better your odds in this (and in everything else). The more places you go, the more scenes you're attuned to, the better. So you need to radically grow your network. If you're not outgoing, LEARN TO BE. If your'e a couch potato, get up and get moving.

I don't mean you need to press the flesh, shake hands of strangers everywhere you go, hitting them up for work (though that might actually work). You need to develop this network in an organic, human way. When you're introduced to people, pay a lot more attention, and work harder to befriend them. Trade contact info and initiate social events. Physically move yourself; don't stay in one place. Pollinate! In so doing, you'll brush up against more people, more knowledge, more opportunities.

The first step is to charmlngly resume contact with everyone you can think of from college and before college who you can think of. Send lots of emails, make lots of calls, and (shudder) do the facebook thing. Even with people you dislike (limiting your circle to nice people is a luxury you cannot afford). Pretend to like them. Yes, it's horrible, but welcome to adulthood (work hard/smart enough, and you may eventually reach a position where you can pick/choose more selectively, but you're starting at the bottom here!).

Doing this will probably be quite a shift, and teach you a lot. It will set you up for a much richer life, with a much broader support system and more useful network. And, as you do so, as a side benefit (not the main goal), your ideas re: career will focus and expand, and you'll have a lot more people to ask for suggestions. And you'll be a more experienced, socially-adept, savvy person much more in touch with trends and doings in a wider range of scenes and places.

If you don't think you can do that, then you need to take vocational training and learn to operate an MRI or something. If that thought doesn't appeal to you, then you have no choice but to make the Herculean effort I propose.
posted by Quisp Lover at 8:37 AM on December 13, 2011 [19 favorites]

From what I've heard--and am experiencing now--you should spend no more than 25 hours a week on your job search. Otherwise it will drive you crazy.

I can't tell from your post if you are actively networking with people who are doing the jobs in the field that you are interested in. If you aren't, then start. I've actually had a fair amount of success cold-emailing people on LinkedIn for informational interviews and such. It also makes you practice presenting yourself over and over again. You'll also learn the language of the fields that you are applying for. That makes a big difference in how you come off to people--more as an expert in their field because you'll be spinning your talents and skills to be relevant.

This should be the bulk of your job hunt:
- looking for people, organizations, companies that would be good informational interview candidates
- Following up on leads that I receive from family/friends

On preview, I can only second Quisp Lover's excellent post on networking.

Good luck!
posted by so much modern time at 8:44 AM on December 13, 2011

I graduated in 09 too, and it's tough out there. Here's the thing that I've learned: once I found a full time gig, my personal interests really crystallized, and I've felt free to devote a lot more time to my goals, whether they be creative or professional ones.

Your stated interests of "refugee/immigrant services, urban planning, public policy - more of the policy wonk/research side" are, unfortunately, very common among liberal arts/social sciences students. And, without a masters degree at the very least, you are not going to find a position in the field (I could be wrong, but that's my assumption).

So, my advice is going to be for you to "settle". Find a full time gig, with bennies, that won't make you kill yourself for a couple of years. This will give you time to volunteer, network, and really boost your hireability in the field you actually want to get into.

As for finding a job in this market: Searching for a job has to be your full time thing. So when you ask "how much of my day should I spend looking?", my answer is: at least 8 hours. Get good at tailoring your resume and writing cover letters. Get comfortable in calling up employers a couple weeks after you submit your application to see if they need anything else, even if you're just speaking to a lowly HR grunt.

What job boards have you been searching on? Many places won't post to craigslist,, or the newspaper. Where should you be looking, especially since you're interested in the non-profit world?

- Does your area have a non profit association/organization? Does their website have a jobs board?
- Have you checked the job boards of local colleges and universities? They will post things you may be qualified for.
- Generally, I would advise you to look for websites that are broad-yet-specific. Meaning they represent a certain type of group or association, but they are representing lots of them. They are more likely to have a centralized jobs board because they share a lot of personnel.
- What major foundations work in your area?

Understand the blessing that you have in being supported by your parents as you are searching. Also understand that you are not going to hit a homerun career in your early 20s. Stay focused and lower your expectations.
posted by Think_Long at 8:44 AM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

my advice to search for a job at least 8 hours a day may be a bit much, now that I think of it. I had the privelage of being able to apply for my current job while I was still minimally employed, so I never faced an entirely open day of applications.
posted by Think_Long at 8:46 AM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I had a few different thoughts after reading your post:

1) If you want to move out and get experience, you could get a job working at a university (especially your alma mater) as a Residence Life Coordinator. I looked into it while I was unemployed, and, since the job tends to be low-paying (though your room/board is included), schools always seem to be advertising these jobs and love it when young people apply. Your chances are especially good in rural Midwest and Southern areas.

2) Also, it looks like you're interested in working in the nonprofit field. Have you checked out your chapter of Young Nonprofit Professionals? They have really good networks for people in your situation and are generally free to join. (Disclaimer: I am a volunteer there.)

3) In terms of your schedule, when I was unemployed I tried to split my day evenly between applying to jobs and networking. But it's hard to have a set schedule when you're unemployed, because you need to take advantage of any opportunity--which it looks like you're doing. I think you do have a good general routine--maybe just add in applying to more jobs. If you can't do 3/day, do 1/day. Ignore those voices in your head worrying about qualifications or interest or whatever. You won't know about a job until you start it, anyway.
posted by dovesandstones at 8:51 AM on December 13, 2011

The 2008 edition of What Color is your Parachute talks a lot about effective and ineffective job-hunting strategies. Based on my recollection of that book, you should spend little time looking for a job through internet job postings and the traditional resume & cover letter approach, and spend a lot more time meeting people who know people who know people, and letting them know that you're looking for work.

Remember that you only need to meet one person who can get you a job.

It's good that you're volunteering but unless that's the field you want to get into, you should cast a broader net: go to meetings of your local alumni club, join Toastmasters or some other group, find ways to meet young professionals in a professional setting (i.e., not necessarily at the bar on Friday).

Smile and shake hands firmly and make eye contact and do all of those things. Those are actions that you can take, even if you don't feel confident. (That Parachute book will help you here, too: see if you can get it at the library or cheap, used, online.)

And, don't blame yourself. It's hard out there. It really is. Especially for people in your cohort.
posted by gauche at 8:52 AM on December 13, 2011

Oops...that's Young Nonprofit Professionals Network! But the link is still good.
posted by dovesandstones at 9:00 AM on December 13, 2011

Response by poster: getawaysticks: "........Can you not just get a job to get some experience somewhere? Even at McDonald's or Costco or something? I remember when Mr. Getawaysticks was unemployed for 2 years, many places flat out would not even look at you if him because he wasn't already working (even though he HAD been working for 15 years). "

I have applied to numerous retail stores (although admittedly, only one or 2 this fall, I was discouraged by a now-healed broken hand) in the past although this reminds me that I should reassess my situation and apply to them again. I also have my current job working in the trade listed on my resume. I haven't applied to a fast food place yet because, rationally, or irrationally, I don't want to be trapped into that career since it would make me less qualified for jobs that I much rather want later on, and limit my availability to pursue those other options.

dovesandstones: "I had a few different thoughts after reading your post:/...... 2) Also, it looks like you're interested in working in the nonprofit field. Have you checked out your chapter of Young Nonprofit Professionals? They have really good networks for people in your situation and are generally free to join..........

Yes ! The local chapter of YNPN is one of the YP organizations that I referred to in my question =) I have had numerous leads and interviews and have greatly expanded my network through YNPN.

Thank you for the feedback so far and looking forward to more.
posted by fizzix at 9:07 AM on December 13, 2011

Just making sure I'm not misinterpreted. When I said this:

"The first step is to charmlngly resume contact with everyone you can think of from college and before college who you can think of."

I don't mean you should get in touch with people so you can get them to help you find work. No; the aim is to develop strong relationships, not any one fixed goal. Do as I suggest, and work will come. Or, at very least, you'll be vastly savvier about what you actually want, what's actually out there, and how to navigate there.
posted by Quisp Lover at 9:12 AM on December 13, 2011

Don't feel shy about telling people you meet your situation. Usually "what do you do" comes up in the course of chatting with someone new. Honestly, it seems like you're doing all the right things and are involved in some organizations/positions that may have people who can potentially help you. It doesn't have to be slimy networking at every turn; you just never know who might be able to help you out.

When I got laid off and was unemployed for a stretch of time, I finally got desperate enough and took a job waiting tables. It was definitely not something I ever saw myself doing or really wanted to do but it was the best thing I ever did. The ol' blessing in disguise. Earning a (shitty) paycheck and being around people instead of being inside my head inside the job hunt mire for a few hours everyday made so much difference in my confidence and concentration in job searching. Definitely reconsider/reapply to the retail/service jobs.

Which leads me to: don't search everyday. And dear god please don't search as if it's your full-time job. For the sake of your sanity and for the sake of living your life that you have right now. As you know, being unemployed for a long time is really, really hard and demoralizing. Don't let it take you over. Set aside a few very disciplined hours every few days. Everyday is too much and will make you insane.
posted by Katine at 9:24 AM on December 13, 2011 [3 favorites]

Teach English in another country, perhaps? It might help distinguish you from other candidates when you get back.
posted by Wordwoman at 9:50 AM on December 13, 2011

>>The few times that i have been unemployed in my life (for a few months because i waked out), i found it very depressing shortly after that. Based on that experience, i would limit how much time per week you looked for a job because it can consume your mind and even view of yourself, plus, some of the tactics that you can use do not need to be done daily. So i would limit these activities to one day or two days aweek, max. Remember sites like indeed (if you let the cookies stay active) remembers search terms and should give you updates when you log on.

Here are a few things that i don't see you doing, which have paid off for me as afreelancer:

--Get a master list of companies that you want to work for --it may be through google, linked in (search desired comapny and see where employees go to and come from, or do a search for those type of businesses) , or go to the library, whatever. Now write to each company on that list. A few sentences --basically describing who you are and that you are looking for a job-send it as an emial so you can go through your list quickly. Again, ive used this strategy to get projects and it works well--i have talked to ppple who were unemployed and wanted to wrok in
field x,and they sent out hundreds of lletters, but they got the job.

--Join groups on linkedin for your industry. Now what you want to do there, but here are two strategies that i would suggest for you (provided it is a large group, with members in your desired field). Ask a group question, "Does anyone have al list of companies in area x that is in field x?". I did see someone post this question --i contacted someone who had replied and the guy gave me a list of twenty comapnies with contact info. Or you could post that you are looking for pple to have info interviews with and find out how they got in, etc. Followup (ive posted before how i do these to get info that can lead to employment in a field you want, i can point you to this if you want)

--Use the tools in adifferent way. So instead of searching monster for jobs, post your resume with the job title that you want (this worked for me several yrs ago, even new to the field). Also, in craigslist, instead of lloking for things, try listing your services a few times.

Also, just something to think about if you are making more per hour in freelance vs a part time minumum wage job ...stay witht the freelance then. Look at x per hour to make best use of your time. Good luck.

As i preview, irealize there are many typose, which i cant fix very easily on a smaller screen. Please forgive this
posted by Wolfster at 10:10 AM on December 13, 2011

The gap between college and career is scary. College teaches you how to write coherently, and it does so by giving you exciting things to write about. In the Real World, you have to write coherently about very dull things. It's hard not to feel like your talents are being wasted in that situation.

So your major means less than you think. It matters in a few narrow careers that you don't have the credentials or luck to get into. And if your liberal arts degree was anything like mine, your advisor only had advice regarding additional schooling. It has since become a pet peeve of mine.

Things I've done that might be useful:

Go back to school. I took a few business classes at the local university. The class gave me structure and the university connections were fantastic. The business school had networking opportunities, practice interviews, and most of the large firms in Houston get their entry level candidates directly through the school. I made sure the class would not interfere with any full time work that came my way, and I found part time work was much easier to get as a student. You're advertising you're smart enough for the job, but have commitments that will stop you from bolting when you finally get a "real job".

In the morning I would wake up and job hunt until lunch. About three hours. Indeed, USAJobs. Since so much is electronic and requires new accounts, I kept a pretty good log of what I had applied for and the passwords. Do good research into each application. No boilerplate cover letters. Read the 10-k to understand the industry and language if possible, but anything you can find. Every firm has their own culture and language, and it's very different from college. You want to try and mimic it.

The afternoon was dedicated to everything else. If any of my job-hunting required leaving the house, it would go here. Self-improvement (like keeping your ADHD in check), errands, working out. Most networking isn't in the day, but if it is, this also applies.

I had to keep strict rules on television and other guilty pleasures. I also found it very helpful to talk and write a lot about being unemployed. Give yourself an outlet to work through your frustrations and self-doubt until you can be in a place where you view your unemployment as a temporary natural set-back that everyone goes through. While you have every right to feel any range of emotions, few of those emotions will help you sell yourself.

Both of these I found out the hard way. It's so easy to lose a week getting sucked into a tv show that distracts you from being unemployed, or blow an interview because your insecurity and self-doubt makes you sound like someone who deserves to be unemployed.

Even seven years later, I'm still having to explain the awkward 2 year gap between college and that first career-like job. I always laugh about how my family and college expected me to go to law school, so I had a hard time learning how normal people go about finding jobs. If they also have a liberal arts degree, they usually know what I mean. If they don't, they'll enjoy someone noticing the downsides of a liberal arts degree. I also make sure I mention the good things about being unemployed. I finally had time to take that tax class I keep putting off, I've been able to help out my grandparents who won't be around forever y'know. Being able to see the opportunity in adversity is always a great trait to show off.
posted by politikitty at 11:53 AM on December 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

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