unemployed and floundering. sometimes i wonder if i'm a mistake.
February 6, 2013 6:58 AM   Subscribe

I am between jobs, looking for work, and am really struggling. Please help me figure out how to cope and keep moving forward. I am stuck and scared.

TL;DR: Unemployed and floundering. Have fallen into a hole in the last month and don't know how to get out. Keep thinking I should just give up and stop looking for work altogether (even though that is not realistic). Need strategies to figure out how to soldier on.


If you take a look at my posting history you'll get a sense of my backstory, but here are the highlights for context:

- Laid off from job January 2012, very suddenly, kind of felt like a betrayal but I got over it.
- In a stroke of luck, landed an 8-month contract position through a temp agency in February 2012.
- Contract position ended October 2012, have been unemployed and searching for work since.
- I had filed for unemployment insurance immediately after being laid off in January 2012, but landed the contract gig during my waiting week so didn't actually start collecting on the claim until the contract gig ended in October.
- I am in New York (work in NYC, live about an hour north).
- I have about 5 years' working experience (was consistently employed since graduating college until I was laid off).

So now it's February 2013. My unemployment insurance benefit year ends next week. I think I am eligible for Emergency Unemployment Compensation (EUC), which would give me about another year's worth of UI benefits, but I am not sure how EUC works. I am terrified that I won't receive EUC. I don't know if I should file another UI claim using the contract gig or not, and I find navigating the NY DOL website frustrating and intimidating, not to mention trying to get someone live on the phone to answer a question is nigh on impossible.

But the bigger problem is, I am terrified that I will not find another job, and this is causing me to freeze up when it comes to job hunting. For a while I was pretty good about applying to 2-3 jobs every day. I ended up almost accepting a job offer at the end of October but turns out the company had massively misrepresented the job to me and also wasn't able to make payroll (the current employees were all planning to quit (and have since quit) and warned me off the job), so that basically ended before it began. I landed one interview through a networking connection in December; unfortunately the job was one I was supremely unqualified for (it was for a director-level position requiring at least 10-15 years' experience and I can only assume they didn't really look at my resume as I was referred via a colleague). I heard about another job lead through this same colleague at the beginning of the year but it turns out the company wasn't hiring at the minute but might have a position open later in the year. Additionally, in January I applied for a job at the company where I had the contract gig last year - a different department than the one I was in, but the person I reported to when I was there put in a good word for me. Nonetheless, they passed on me.

Since then, nothing.

Applying for jobs at this point feels like an exercise in futility. I apply and for all I know my application just ends up in some black hole somewhere because I almost never hear back. It's making me feel hopeless and, for lack of a better word, blocked. Over the past three weeks I've gotten to the point where I find jobs online that I am qualified for, bookmark them intending to apply, but then cannot bring myself to actually go through with the application because I think why even bother? I recognize how unhelpful and silly that thinking is but I don't know how to overcome it. The thought of writing cover letters fills me with dread; I've never been very good at it and it ends up stressing me out, which contributes to my not being able to complete applications. I keep checking in with the temp agency that placed me last year but they don't have anything for me at the moment. I've submitted my resume to other temp agencies but no one ever contacts me back to set up an appointment. I wonder if my resume - the one that got me hired last year - actually secretly sucks. I wonder if my LinkedIn profile is lame. I wonder if my cover letters make me seem desperate. I wonder if I am just a hack. I feel worthless and stupid now, and I just want to give up.

I've applied to maybe one job a week in the last three weeks. For a while back in the fall I was pretty good about waking up at a consistent time, showering and dressing, and trying to keep a schedule, but Thanksgiving that had all fallen by the wayside. I signed up for an online course on basic accounting principles thinking it would be good to keep my brain engaged (and it's something I've been meaning to do for years since I'm interested in it) but have pretty much ignored the coursework since. I have managed to get a whole bunch of doctor and dentist appointments scheduled and taken care of, which I guess is a small accomplishment. But otherwise I spend my days dicking around online, looking at jobs that I then do not apply for, reading AskMetafilter, the Ask a Manager blog (where I get plenty of job searching advice that I then do not implement), and the AV Club. I don't eat meals consistently and it's been bitterly cold here so I can't go running or walking easily (running was/is typically my mode of exercise). I'm sure that doesn't help. Since October I've also been sicker than I've ever been in years; awful menstrual cramps (unusual for me), lots of migraines, a terrible bout of flu/bronchitis over Christmas, a lingering cough I've only just about managed to shake, and now I seem to be down with some sort of noxious stomach bug. I used to get maybe one cold per year; now I'm sick all the time.

Yesterday I read an article on the AV Club about Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood, and then spent the rest of the day watching Mr. Rogers clips on YouTube. You'd think watching Mr. Rogers would be encouraging because he was so good at making kids' feelings feel validated, but it ended up making me feel sadder. I ended up sobbing pathetically for two hours after watching one clip featuring the puppet Daniel Striped Tiger singing a song called "Sometimes I Wonder if I'm a Mistake". (I'm actually tearing up right now thinking about it, which is humiliating.) That's when I realized I'm really in trouble and I need to find a way out of this rut and get my head back in the game.

I don't have a terribly supportive family, but I do have a wonderful roommate/best friend who is trying to help. He suggested this morning that I need to come up with some sort of plan, on paper, about how to structure my time/job search. But I don't even know where to begin there. I feel completely blocked and the more I try to unblock myself the more scared I get and I really literally don't know what to do. I have no idea how to get beyond this. I really like working and I like what I do and I like feeling like a productive member of society. I was/am proud of the career accomplishments I've had in such a short time. But right now I feel like a leech and a loser, and like a fraud, because no one wants to hire me and now this is the third week where I'm in this vicious circle where I can't even bring myself to apply for jobs.

I am looking for suggestions for how to get my head back in the game and push through this feeling of being blocked, strategies for how to complete job applications without getting bogged down in fear and taking three hours to write cover letters, ways to structure my time, and maybe some ways to stop feeling like such a failure all the time, and stop being scared.

Please help.

In case anyone is concerned, my last question was about figuring out how to afford the medication I take for my bipolar II since my new health insurance doesn't cover it. I've since spoken with my psychiatrist about the issue and have enrolled in patient assistance programs through the drug companies, so that is no longer a worry for me. That is to say, I at least have my mental health concerns taken care of and I am in constant contact with a very supportive doctor, so I think this bout of depression is mostly situational, though at my next appointment with him we are going to discuss whether my dosages need to be adjusted.
posted by thereemix to Work & Money (23 answers total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Some immediate, short-term, good news - I believe you can RE-file for unemployment based on the 8-month contract.

However - have you approached the temp agency that got you the work about getting you more work? I know temp work sucks, but it's money. And that will take some of the pressure off and give you breathing room to get real work.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:03 AM on February 6, 2013

Look, your employment problems are almost certainly primarily from the current economic malaise ("jobless recovery") and don't signify that you are a "leech and a loser". Try to cut those feelings off at the knee. I know it's easy for me to say that, not being in your position, but you're just making a bad situation worse.
posted by thelonius at 7:08 AM on February 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Glad to hear your medication issue is worked out! That's a win.

but I do have a wonderful roommate/best friend who is trying to help.

Being unemployed made me terribly lethargic and unhappy. One of the things that was most helpful was that every day, my boyfriend would talk with me for five minutes each morning and we'd come up with three goals for the day. (Many times, it was more like him giving me assignments; I wasn't even up for giving input.) Those three goals (which could be as simple as go to the grocery store, get out of the apartment before 10AM, write one job search related email) were the plan. Anything else that got accomplished was gravy, and I was officially not allowed to feel bad about the day if I accomplished my goals. Any day where all three goals were complete got a smiley face on the calendar, and I tried to have as many in a row as I could. Could your friend help you with that kind of goal setting?
posted by ocherdraco at 7:13 AM on February 6, 2013 [11 favorites]

Perhaps you could consult with some kind of career specialist who could help you construct the best possible resume and on-line profile? I don't know how much that kind of thing costs and I know you might not want another bill right now, but it might give you more confidence knowing that you are presenting your best possible self on paper and on line.
posted by Seymour Zamboni at 7:17 AM on February 6, 2013

If it helps, this is not an entirely uncommon feeling when you're unemployed for an extended period of time. I know I went through it.

And you're not a failure. The employment situation in America is not great. You're not a leech and you're not a loser. You're a person who's come on some difficult times and you will get through it.

Seconding the idea that temp work really might be a temp fix. It helps to have someone else looking for stuff for you to do.

And let's not forget the message of Mister Rogers. You're special just by being you. You're not a mistake. Try to care about yourself and others. The small things matter.
posted by inturnaround at 7:19 AM on February 6, 2013 [7 favorites]

Similar situation, laid off- contract- laid off again. At that point I wasn't so much discouraged, but determined that I did not want to do contract work unless it was contract-to-hire. I applied for well over 50 jobs before getting a single call back. However while I was waiting for the "perfect" job I passed on several contract opportunities. So basically get your resume on the job sites like Monster and career builder and the roaches ( Sorry< Recruiters) will come at you for any job you are even closely qualified for. The new reality is that companies no longer hire employees. They hire workers, usually through agencies. Get used to it, live it, and realize going forward that you will have very few opportunities to actually apply directly to a company.

ps. currently working as a contractor...
posted by Gungho at 7:30 AM on February 6, 2013

You need to change your approach to your job search. Now you have a job, it's finding another job.

1. Set your alarm to get up, get showered and get dressed.

2. Commute to your computer.

3. Research the sites every day and apply for jobs.

4. Keep a spreadsheet of your applications, the company, the contact, the job title, the site where you found it. Trust me, when the phone calls start coming in, you'll appreciate it.

5. Volunteer, every afternoon if you can. Have somewhere to be and something to do. Even if you just sit at the desk at the hospital with one of the old ladies directing people to the elevators, you'll be out and doing, and that will help you with your self-esteem.

Don't turn on the TV, don't go to time wasting sites, don't get distracted. You're at your job now, and your job is to apply for as many jobs as you can.

Customize your resume for each job (somewhat, don't go nuts here.)

2-3 applications a day is very small. Aim for 10 to 20. The more the better. Think outside of your usual realm.

I was a telecommunications sales engineer, but the telecommunicaitons industry sucked and jobs were shrinking. So I assessed my skills and applied for:

Executive Assistant
Customer Service Supervisor
Secretarial Work
Anything I could find at all with the Government.

The point was, I wasn't picky, I'd apply for ANYTHING, because although I'd had a lofty job, with a great title, awesome benefits and good money, I didn't have it anymore, and I had to find something to keep body and soul together (and to keep me from going nuts and making little outfits for the cats.)

Here are my favorite sites for jobs:


Company Sites that are large corporations in my area (Home Depot, Delta, Coca Cola, etc.)

That's it. I hate to say it but it's a numbers game. The more you do, the better your chances.

We've all been unemployed, it sucks, and it's hard, but you'll get a new job and you'll survive just fine.

Don't let depression and fear paralyze you. Start with one foot in front of the other and keep walking.

Hang in there!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 7:34 AM on February 6, 2013 [25 favorites]

I was just laid off a few weeks ago. I'm really struggling with how to handle my days now, and that you were able to get up and get showered every day for such a long time shows a lot of self-discipline and resilience. I think that's pretty impressive.

There are two problems here - you need a job, and you are feeling pretty badly.

It's worthwhile to do something to address your moods and your bad feelings because they are clearly getting in the way of your jobs search. So it's ok to make that a priority.

Can you exercise in your home? Jumping jacks, pushups, jogging in place, yoga, and sit-ups if nothing else. Go outside everyday. Volunteer. Go to free stuff in your city. Go to thrift stores. Get coffee with friends. I think the isolation and sameness of spending every day inside starts to get to you after a while.

I was recently advised to spend about 30 hours a week on job-hunting. Less than that and you might not see results; more than that is too much.

Good luck!
posted by bunderful at 7:40 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Is there an employment services nonprofit whose help you qualify for in your area? I've been unemployed a couple of times recently and have really benefited from a "youth" (18-35) employment oriented non-profit. Their goal is to support the job search. So I've been to a resume workshop, an interview workshop, and drop-in career counselling. It's not only been helpful in making my applications better and helping me to look in the right places, but also in getting me out of the house and doing something that feels professional, which as Ruthless Bunny says is really important. Volunteering is a great idea, too--not only does it get you out the door, it also gives you something current to put on your resume, which helps!

Here's a page from the Brooklyn Library that lists similar-sounding agencies in NYC. Get some fresh eyes on your resume, get some fresh skills for yourself, and hopefully you will feel re-energized about the search.

Also, there is nothing wrong with temping more! Temp work is good because it puts something on your resume, and it's also good because you sometimes get paid to answer the phone and read AskMe. It could be worse, right?
posted by snorkmaiden at 7:54 AM on February 6, 2013

Headhunter's who don't take up front fees are also an option.

As for EUC, you really need to find out how your state is handling that right now. The amount of time it lasts has been dropping in many states as the economy picks up. I think it's tied to state unemployment rate. Some states don't have it at all, others have a shortened version of it with increased oversight.
posted by ZeusHumms at 8:10 AM on February 6, 2013

Hey folks - thank you for the kind words so far. Just wanted to clarify: I am totally not averse to more temp work! Work is work and I'll take it. I've been checking in with the temp agency that placed me last year; they're eager to place me again because I made them some serious bank for 8 months, but they say there's not much out there. My experience is in procurement/inventory management, and so companies that are just looking for general admin work are not keen to take me on. They presented me as a candidate for an inventory controller position at a firm downtown shortly after Hurricane Sandy, and then presented me again in December, and didn't get a response one way or another. The rep I worked with there is really awesome and keeps saying he's got his ear to the ground for me but I guess my skillset is a bit too much of a niche to be considered for more generalist positions.

I've submitted resumes to other temp agencies in the city and have not heard back. It is totally uncouth to show up in person to temp agencies without an appointment? I don't know what the protocol is anymore. I tried that once last year with an agency in midtown and got the feeling that I was pissing them off.
posted by thereemix at 8:13 AM on February 6, 2013

It's a shitty situation to be in and I know it all too well. I've been getting into and out of it ever since the recession hit. But you're okay, you're smart and employable and you will be able to get out of this. These thoughts you're having about being useless and such are just depression spinning its bullshit yarns. Here's my advice.

It's much easier to do everything else when you can keep your spirits up. Try to concentrate on the basic stuff that keeps you on track. Get to bed and wake up at reasonable times -- I find melatonin helps, but YMMV. Get outside every day, even if it's just for a little walk. Try and do some basic exercises, like pressups, situps, running and cycling, and whatever else you have access to and enjoy. Try to eat well, with a modest breakfast and lunch and a supper you cook for yourself, even if it's something simple and quick. Try to take some time in the mornings to think/meditate, to level yourself, lay out a basic plan for the day, and start doing things. The longer you let yourself linger in fuzz and depression, the more likely the day will slip by with nothing done. Start early! Even if you only get a few things done, you're moving forwards, not stagnating.

Stay on top of your medical issues. I wish I could say this was easy but if you're in America there'll be all kinds of money and insurance related issues that hopefully others will give you advice with. If at all possible, talk to a doctor or whatever mental health services you have access to, be honest about what you're going through and pursue the options they give you.

Structure helps. Keeping track of your progress also helps. What I've found extremely useful for this is to keep a To Do list (on todoist.com), and a spreadsheet (on Google Drive) to keep track of what I've achieved every day. I find it more effective to keep them online rather than on paper, but YMMV. My To Do list is divided into two parts. One is a list of things I need to get done -- Pay Bills, Set up Portfolio, Get Job, and broad goals like this. The other part is a daily list. I take a few of broad goal from the first part, and break them down into the smallest, first steps I need to take, and add a few of them to my daily list. Add in a few regular things like excercise, laundry, etc, until I've got a useful but *achievable* list of things to do that day.

It's always tempting to put too many things in the daily list, or make the tasks too big, vague and complex. This just leads to them not getting done. If I'm finding I have days where I'm too shut off and I'm leaving all or most things undone, then I accept it and the next day, I give myself a smaller list and concentrate on getting it done. When I achieve that, then I build from there.

Towards the end of the day or sometimes just ad hoc, I write in everything I've achieved into my spreadsheet. (I kind of goofily call it an Achievement Matrix). One row per day, one column each for various categories -- Job Search, Social, Creative, Exercise, Social, Housekeeping, and a few for various specific projects.

Anyway, each of those areas -- organization/tracking, wellbeing (excercise, housekeeping) and medical treatment feed into eachother. The bad side of that is the black hole depression can suck you into if everything slips. The flip side of that is how success tends to lead to more success. When things start to improve, you can make it so that leads to more improvement. And once things start to go up exponentially, all the opportunities that are slipping by now will start to fall into your lap. What was hard will become easy.

For me, taking care of all that stuff and getting in the right headspace makes it infinitely easier to get through things like job applications. Sometimes, though, you're still feeling low and you've gotta send off job apps anyway. I find it easiest to do that when I break the process into the smallest steps possible and commit to only one at a time. First I'm gonna download the job description. Now I'll read it. Take a little break do something else from my To Do list maybe, then come back to this. Now I'll check if it matches my criteria and my experience matches the requirements. If there are any gaps, can I fill them through study and learning on the fly? (You're smart, so assume yes more than no). Okay, now I'll download any relevant application forms. Now I'll fill out the basic information. Now the work-history and qualifications part. Maybe take a little break as a reward. I'm doing good, I'm not going faster than I can deal with, so I'm not scared to come back to it. Now I'll read through the more complex questions. Now I'll take pick one, think of relevant examples from my experience, and write out a first draft. Now I'll do the same for the rest of the questions. Now I'll go back and revise things, check for errors, and send it.

Handling it like that tends to work well for me. Recognise when you're getting stressed and overwhelmed, center yourself, step back and do something else for a while if you need, but stay wary of that urge to give it up, to let it lie until the last minute comes and goes, to follow that sudden whim to do something else that seems so important. When I feel time wasting, I update my spreadsheet with what I've done so far, check my to do list for a reminder on what to do next, and get back to work.

Here's my template with some examples of the stuff I put in it; weekends are highlighted grey, today is highlighted yellow.
posted by Drexen at 8:23 AM on February 6, 2013 [16 favorites]

I think most people get jobs from networking, not online applications. Get out of the house, and go see people you know--even if it's just for a second. This is not a time to be shy. People usually want to help, and most know that these are trying times. Brush up your social skills, work your social network (LinkedIn, alumni groups, friends, friends of friends), volunteer at something so you have a place to show up at, and stay strong.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:31 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

A few more thoughts.

The thing that has the biggest payoff in state of mind and productivity for me is tidying and cleaning my place, especially my room. A clear floor and desk make it vastly easier to get on with stuff. It also gets you on your feet and moving, which is another good way of jumpstarting myself sometimes. Even a little walk around the flat puts me in the mindstate to do something useful.

As above, keeping another spreadsheet for your jobsearch is a great idea. Working your way up to a high number of applications per day will see results much more quickly.

In terms of contacting agencies, they'll prefer to speak to you with an appointment, but don't be afraid to ask for one. If they turn you down, try having a closer look at the agency's site -- what sort of jobs they're advertising. Email to ask them questions about what sort of jobs they place the most and what are the useful skills they're looking for. Keep checking back in with them, ideally once a week, on Fridays or Mondays. Sooner or later, have another go at asking for an appointment/invitation to come in. Get peoples' names and keep track of them, and keep *them* aware of *you*, what you're up to and what you're looking for. It'll keep you at the top of lists, and that's where you want to be.
posted by Drexen at 8:32 AM on February 6, 2013

I've submitted resumes to other temp agencies in the city and have not heard back. It is totally uncouth to show up in person to temp agencies without an appointment?

My old agency encourages applicants to follow up on sending in their resume. Their deal was: you upload the resume to their web page, then a few hours later you called them to set up your initial interview. When you go in for your first appointment/interview, all that really is is them testing you on some software and then talking to you about the kind of work you've done, what your strengths and weaknesses are, and what kind of work you can do and are able to do and then you brainstorm about what kinds of jobs you can go do, and where you can do them. And the some of the software testing was often butt-simple (one of the sample questions on their MS Word test was "open this document"). After that, then you checked in with them once a week to see if they had anything for you.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:41 AM on February 6, 2013

My assumption about temp agencies is that if you don't have some contact with them shortly after you send in the resume it probably goes into a slush pile.

I never got anywhere from submitting my resumes to temp agencies online - I got assignments by applying for specific temp jobs they were handling, or by calling and setting up a time to come in and talk to someone.

So I strongly encourage you to not be a bit shy about picking up the phone and calling these people. Ask if you can set up a time to come in and meet with someone. Re-send the resume if they ask for it.

Also maybe make a generic version of your resume specifically for temp work. Think about the aspects of your roles that were less specific and speak to those. Tweak your titles a bit.

And if you are in NYC memail me. We can get coffee and it would totally count as networking!
posted by bunderful at 9:25 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was in your situation for 2 years on and off. I eventually got work through a temp agency, and I can happily say I'm currently diddling off at work as a full-time regular employee.

The worst part about this unemployment black hole, is that you feel like you must constantly be punishing yourself. As if the payment for unemployment assistance or family assistance must be a daily routine of self-flogging. I felt as if I couldn't do things I enjoyed, like painting or drawing, even though those things are nearly free. Every hour I wasn't seeking work was an hour wasted, or so I thought. And even if I was so down I couldn't job-hunt, I couldn't even allow myself to do something fun instead.

This was also where I really came to understand that I am an extroverted person, and being alone 8 or 10 hours a day wasn't helping thing either, but going to a coffee shop meant I might spend $2 on a tea, which I wasn't allowing myself either.

My advice is to cut yourself a break. You are employable. Even if you weren't you still have worth. The notion of "work ethic" it is pretty fully programed into my, and it sounds like your, psyche. It is important to know that this is a construct that often benefits people at the top, and not some inherent worthiness rubric. There is a myth that jobs/success/fortune come to those who work hard—that America is a meritocracy. This is false. If the job market has a demand for you (and it does) work will come to you unless you are pretty damned incompetent or if you give up entirely.

There is also a myth that applying for jobs equals getting a job. This is basically false. Networking, nepotism, temp agencies, being in the correct place at the correct time through alignment of planets or divine intervention, might just get you a job.

But, I think there is still value in applying for jobs. If nothing else, you can say to yourself "look what I've done!" I think a good way to do that is to keep paper copies of things. A huge sent folder in your email is too ephemeral. Towards the end of my unemployment I started keeping a binder. In the front pocket I'd keep job postings I'd printed off. I would print everything remotely tangible.

I made a template that listed the employer, job title, important points I should hit in my cover letter and how I should skew my resume to emphasize, the date I applied for it, a follow up number if I could find one, and a date I should follow up by. Also handy to track any user accounts/passwords if needed to apply online.

As I worked through my prospects stack, I went over each job posting, highlighting important points, filling out my template, then sending in the application and filing the posting along with the resume and cover letter I sent. I used this to make applying to jobs easier. I didn't have to spend all the mental energy at once, I could do it in pieces, and track my progress on each application. I also could look at the stack of paper (it eventually overfilled a one inch binder) and say "fuck off" to anyone, including myself, who thought I wasn't trying hard enough.
posted by fontophilic at 9:27 AM on February 6, 2013 [6 favorites]

I have been unemployed for an extended period of time (quit my job when my SO got a job in our home state and we moved), and I totally empathize. It's the worst.

I completely 100% relate to your thought-cycle - job searching feels like such a futile effort when you're not getting any success! And writing cover letters are the worst.

I honestly think the best thing that I did for my job searching was to make my resume and cover letter the best they can be. I was really really resistant but I finally hired a resume coach, and it's made a world of difference - I've had several interviews and an offer (still negotiating the salary, etc for that offer, but it's a solid offer). Once I felt confident about my resume and cover letter, it made it much easier to apply for jobs. Although I sometimes have to tweak them a little bit for each application, I now have three standard resumes (for the three types of jobs I am targeting) and a generic cover letter that is easy to customize to the job. I can't say enough good things about Jason at Resume to Interviews.

Also I highly recommend working on your networking. LinkedIn can be a powerful thing, because if you find that you have a connection to a company, you can email the person and see if they can get you to the hiring manager or recruiter. If it's a second-degree connection, I'll email the person I know and say something like "I'm looking at job x at company y, and I see you know person z there. I think this would be a good fit for me because of a, b, and c, and I've attached my resume. Is z someone you'd feel comfortable reaching out to on my behalf." Also LinkedIn can be kinda fun, going through the "people you may know" and clicking on them.

One thing that was really helpful for me was to focus on the submitting of the applications instead of getting the job. It was easier to celebrate those concrete successes.

In terms of getting the temp agencies to pay attention to you, see if anyone you know has ever worked with them before. I've been working with several recruiters and I got the most immediate attention when someone I knew had worked with one and I could email the recruiter directly and say "so and so recommended that I contact you." Don't just show up though, you can't do that with any company anymore. Are you looking at just "temp agencies" or general recruiters?
posted by radioamy at 9:28 AM on February 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

One thing that was really helpful for me was to focus on the submitting of the applications instead of getting the job. It was easier to celebrate those concrete successes.

This reminds me of something I meant to say earlier and forgot.

I've gotten through a lot of awful dating with a similar tactic - my goal is to meet lots of people because you have to meet a lot of people to find the right person. So every awkward cup of coffee brings me a little bit closer to meeting someone I will click with, and I don't get discouraged.

Similarly, when I reach out to guys on okc I don't keep track of who hasn't written me back (though keeping a spreadhsheet for jobs is probably a good idea). I wrote them, so YAY FOR ME, and if one out of 10 guys writes me back then huzzah, I will talk to that one guy. And keep emailing more.

So I think a similar approach to jobs is useful. You will likely have a lot of ignored applications before you get an interview, so look at every application that is ignored is a valuable stepping stone to an interview.
posted by bunderful at 10:38 AM on February 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

You'll have to apply some google-fu, but look for job fairs and free training/demo events put on by software companies that make stuff related to your field. For example, Microsoft has several ERP packages that include inventory control, purchasing, manufacturing, warehouse management, etc. Every so often they'll have actual live events at their regional offices or some other venue - they're sales demos, but they draw potential customers, partners, consultants, and other interested parties. Those people pretty much all make hiring decisions and are good to meet. (Any expensive software you've ever worked with probably does this, and may also have a user group you could join.)

It gets you out of the house, it's a professional activity, there are often snacks, and you'll meet people who probably know about some jobs, and with whom you can connect on LinkedIn for later reference.

This sucks, I know. It's awful for your self esteem. But getting a job these days is a numbers game - you're far more likely to get a yes out of 100 applications than you are out of 1.

I would say don't dwell on where you apply. People have a habit of applying for a job and immediately imagining themselves at that job, so that they have an emotional investment in it. Try to remain as dispassionate as you can, and just keep racking up the numbers.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:54 AM on February 6, 2013

The "three hours to write a cover letter" bit in particular caught my eye because I know exactly what you mean. I don't know what it is about them that feels so difficult. No matter how long I spend on them, they just never feel quite...right. When I was in a similarly "blocked" situation I borrowed my husband's approach to cover letters, which I will paraphrase below.
Dear Colleague,
Enclosed is a copy of my resume for position of [job title].

I have over [number] years of experience in [industry], the last [however many] years focusing on [subfield]. I have a proven track record of [major job requirements or career accomplishments].

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me. I look forward to hearing from you.

It's not the most elegant solution, no, but it fulfilled the application requirements and got the damn thing off my desk and into the employer's hands, which I figured was much more important. You can draft a cover letter template that's more targeted or creative or whatever later, when you have more mental stamina.

Also, is there anything you can work on that's job search-related even if it's not explicitly applying to jobs? I applied to tons of jobs online everyday, but quickly discovered that there are only so many times you can cycle through the same old tired online job postings, and it can be really demoralizing to log on every day and see nothing new. For my part, that meant I contacted recruiters, researched companies, conducted a ton of informational interviews, applied to temp agencies, taught myself software that I'd slacked on learning while I had a job, sought out people in my field on social media and began conversations with them, and so on. Not all of it always amounted to anything—in fact, a lot of leads fizzled out eventually, but it was really critical to my self-esteem and mental health that I felt like I was doing something, anything, to better my situation and make myself the most desirable employee possible even if nothing came of it.

Here is a previous answer I wrote about structuring your days while unemployed. When I was in that situation, I spent four consecutive hours every weekday actively looking for work, and not a second more. I really like ocherdraco's comment about setting three goals for each day.

And yes, being unemployed in winter totally sucks, no two ways about it. Hang in there! Spring is coming.
posted by anderjen at 11:15 AM on February 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

If I read this correctly, you are now home all day, every day, getting physically sicker the longer this goes on, and now mentally less and less able to function.

The first thing I would consider is that your home is making you unwell and you did not know it while working fulltime because you got out regularly. Going to the library to jobhunt and just get out of the place might help. There also might be things you can do to get the place healthier or it might be a case of "sick building syndrome".

Whether your home is the problem or not, your physical deterioration is very likely a big part of why you are depressed and getting nothing done. Getting yourself healthier so you function better should be a top priority.

Best of luck.
posted by Michele in California at 3:35 PM on February 6, 2013

But right now I feel like a leech and a loser, and like a fraud, because no one wants to hire me

Great practical advice in this thread about how to keep going through this difficult period, so I just wanted to address these feelings specifically with a few points that immediately spring to mind.

Point 1: "feeling like" something (anything) is not the same as actually being that thing. Feeling like a loser doesn't actually make you a loser any more than feeling like you're so happy you could fly actually makes you a bird. In other words: don't mistake your feelings for objective reality or a fixed identity.

Closely related to that observation is Point 2: the critical voice in your head calling you a loser and a leech is A LIAR. It is a negative monologue/self-talk that is designed to punish or sabotage yourself. Once you start to see it in that light, you can begin to simply observe it as a thing that your brain is doing, not as any sort of objective narration of your life. That is, you can catch yourself doing it and gently bring yourself back to reality -- for example, you might say to yourself something like "there I go again, telling tales about myself. It's okay that I'm feeling frustrated and scared, but I know I'm not a loser." (This is basically the technique of mindfulness.)

Finally, Point 3 (and this is where I get on my soapbox for a minute): my hunch is that this critical voice calling you a loser may be an echo of a deeply ingrained "blame the victim" social-political ideology in this country, in which anyone who runs into hard times for any reason, ever, is somehow to blame, either because they made The Wrong Decision (and therefore Deserve To Pay The Price) and/or they are A Bad/Lazy/Immoral Person (and therefore Don't Deserve Any Help or Sympathy). This mindset (basically, it's "by your bootstraps" taken to the extreme) is a necessary precondition for shredding the social safety net, objecting to expanding access to healthcare, refusing to extend benefits for the unemployed, etc. It's a kind of callous, reactionary indifference to the sufferings of our fellow human beings (and ourselves), and I encourage you to actively refuse to internalize it any longer.

Bottom line: you are a human being and are deserving of dignity and respect. You have worked hard since college and are doing the best you can under historically difficult circumstances. Remind yourself of this -- kindly and lovingly -- as much as necessary every day.
posted by scody at 5:02 PM on February 6, 2013 [28 favorites]

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