The hopelessness, it's bothering me.
April 27, 2013 8:51 PM   Subscribe

How does somebody not let their miserable job situation and constant failure in seeking new employment affect their judgment?

How does one acknowledge and address these feelings? Next week, I am graduating with my master's degree (public administration/health care administration) . Should be a momentous occasion, but I can't stop thinking that I do not have a job lined up at this point. I have worked a dead-end part-time retail job for the past five years (same place), and it is driving me crazy to think that I'll have to spend anymore time at that soul-sucking place. In theory, I should be hire-able - I have great grades, have done two good internships (one of which will be done in July), but I have not had any luck on the job market.

How does one not let this feeling of constant rejection and hopelessness seriously cloud your judgment? You are told you are doing the right things, but it's frustrating to be at the same place you started (but with more student loans). I have a great support network who has been my saving grace, but I want to become independent with my finances and that is just not feasible at this point.

I am willing to do anything (in the United States) at this point - I have no kids and am willing to pack up to whomever will offer me a job that is worth traveling for. (BTW, I live in New Jersey and turn 26 in two weeks)

And yes, this situation isn't doing much for my anxiety - it gets worse, but I am able to somewhat manage it by exercising frequently (another thing that has saved me from utter hopelessness)

Has anyone dealt with a similar situation? How did you get over this hump? You try your best to improve your working situation, and you end up feeling like a miserable failure. What can be done to stop this cycle, given limited finances?
posted by maffechr to Human Relations (17 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I'm really sorry....I know what it's like to feel hopeless and dejected by not having a viable career lined up. And also what it's like to really want to be independent financially but not having the means to be so.

Have you considered freelance consulting at least for the time being? With your credentials you should have a great "about" page on your website. A mentor of mine says that everyone should have a side gig and be able to make money on their own steam if need be. It's sage advice considering that no full time job is ever guaranteed to begin with. Should you find a good full time job then freelancing could still be a valuable skill that serves you well in the future.

Community colleges also hire adjunct instructors with Master's degrees. My ex did this while working on his PhD.

Otherwise I could just advise you to cast your net wide, but it seems you're already doing that. You're also taking care of yourself physically and relying on your support network, which are both very important at this time in your life. Dig your heels in and don't give up...I wish you all the best.
posted by Cybria at 9:24 PM on April 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

I have no clue what magic is currently involved in unemployment numbers, but right now, the Bureau of Labor Statistics puts New Jersey among the 5 worst states for unemployment (bottom 10%). Perhaps that offers some reassurance it's not just you, and your willingness to move may be a big factor in resolving this. Maybe you can look on that same list for states you might consider, and compare their employment rate with the number of healthcare sector jobs they have (warning: complicated UI) to get a rough idea about where you'd have the most luck.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 9:28 PM on April 27, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your first step is to stop blaming yourself for not finding a job when there are currently over 20 million under and unemployed in the US and youth unemployment is sky high.

I got a PhD and was forced, after searching for work for two years, to take a job in Asia (S Korea), where the job market isn't the worst it's been in many decades.

Knowing the following might not help you locate a specific position, but I think it's important to understand nonetheless: you're not a failure, the people at the top who are in charge of this country's economy are.
posted by airing nerdy laundry at 9:40 PM on April 27, 2013 [11 favorites]

Gallows humor? The official unemployment numbers are still, despite a meager recovery, absolutely terrible, and even those are probably understating the real numbers. And the present unemployment problem in the U.S. disproportionately affects the young generations. It may not help your situation to acknowledge that you have shit luck to be twenty-six in 2013, but it might help adjust your mindset.
posted by deathpanels at 10:13 PM on April 27, 2013

I've been in this exact situation (and still might be? I don't know yet) and the one thing that helped me was unstoppable optimism. It was a new skill I had to learn but it helped a lot. Even now, it helps to remind myself to be utterly convinced that I'm in the beginning stages of an awesome future every time those anxious niggling thoughts start up. It's a good way to keep them at bay because I couldn't find anything to argue against it. Eventually things will get better and you're putting yourself in the position to be there when it happens. You haven't had any luck yet, but times are still tough all around and things will get rolling soon, as long as you're out there busting your butt every day, etc. Basically you're treading water right now, which is frustrating, but if you stop, you'll sink. So just keep paddling.
posted by bleep at 10:20 PM on April 27, 2013 [2 favorites]

Sorry for the long response; I guess I have a lot of feelings about this.

First, IT'S NOT YOU. I'm around your age and in a similar position, except worse off because I don't have a master's degree. I grew up in North Dakota, which currently has an unemployment rate of like 3%, so all my friends who still live there are all, "Why don't you just go out and get a job? That's what I did," which is not helpful if there are no jobs.

I totally agree with the unstoppable optimism technique. I'm actually an incurable pessimist, but sometimes if you say positive things enough, you start to believe them at least a little bit.

So. To that end, every time I get that panicky sick I'm-fucked-and-everyone-I-know-is-more-successful-than-I-am feeling, I tell myself that some people just get all the shitty parts of their life out of the way early, so that the rest is smooth sailing.

Also, this one's pretty cheesy, but I have a friend who gets it, and we occasionally send each other emails that consist of nothing but the line, "It's gonna be okay!" Sometimes it's nice to hear that another person believes that you can do it.

Find something to do that relaxes you and makes you happy. I'm a big reader, and I find it helpful to read engaging, escapist literature during periods of high anxiety. Your definition of this might vary, but surely you can find something. Maybe it's a new show on Netflix, or a crafty thing, or starting a blog. I think people underestimate how stressful it is to be unemployed, but it actually really sucks and it's important to have an outlet for your frustration.

I also find it useful to schedule my job-hunting, otherwise I get all frantic and start applying for all kinds of things that I'm not suited for and misspelling my own name in follow-up emails (yes) and crying when I get form rejection letters and stuff. It works much better to set aside some time each day from X o'clock to Y o'clock to hunt around for postings, get your applications squared away, work on the resume, send emails, etc. Otherwise it can consume your life and that's incredibly overwhelming. Knowing that you have a set stopping point every day might keep you motivated and helps keep you from thinking that whatever you're doing at the moment, your time would be better spent looking for jobs.

Therapy would be useful, too, particularly for the hopeless feeling.
posted by easy, lucky, free at 10:49 PM on April 27, 2013 [5 favorites]

You aren't really in the same spot because you've tried applying at different places and know what are your options and what aren't. You can help yourself by thinking that if you become negative rather than optimistic, it is only a downward spiral. Who knows, maybe the next place you look at is the job opportunity, no one ever succeeded without failure. At the end of the day if you are proud of yourself and your work, temporary unemployment should not be the one thing that defines you and brings you down.
posted by Trinergy at 1:26 AM on April 28, 2013

I often feel completely screwed career and money-wise and I'm quite a bit older than you are, so there's that. Be very glad this is happening to you when you are 26, and not when you're middle aged and tired and feel like you're running out of time. (That's not to belittle what you're going through. I'm just saying, younger is better.)

In hindsight, almost every job I've ever gotten has been because I knew somebody who knew somebody, or because I cold-called a million places until somebody agreed to let me work for them as a trainee. I don't have a degree, but for a lot of careers I don't think that really makes as much difference as a lot of people believe. (But that's a rant for another thread.)

I can't give you too much advice about avoiding discouragement, but in terms of getting a job, I'd say find a job you really want and cold-call them, offering to work for free if you have to. Also, think of every single person you've ever met and consider if any of them might know somebody who could give you a job. Seriously, that's probably how most jobs really happen: a friend of a friend.

You hate your retail job and the pay is probably pretty crappy, so why not see if you can get taken on as an overworked, drastically underpaid intern someplace?
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:18 AM on April 28, 2013

In finance it's common to go from making six (or seven) figure to unemployment that lasts for a year or more. It's a very competitive and picky job market and the more senior / educated you are, the tougher it gets to find a suitable seat. Hold tight!
posted by MattD at 4:49 AM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

While you are looking for that first gig, why not volunteer with an organization that falls within the scope of public health that interests you? Believe me, if you approach them and say, I am an MPH, these are my skills and the kind of work I'd like to do, I am willing to do this for free, how can I help you? - you will not get turned down.

The biggest reasons for doing this:

1. If you think your strategy through ahead of time, you can approach them and say, this is a project I would like to do or this is the kind of work I would like to do for you, and you will build your professional portfolio in the ways that support your career goals, even though you are not yet employed in your field.

2. You will expand your local professional network, and get to know the people who are in a position to hire or recommend you. I am the communications director for a health care advocacy group and our funding situation is such that I have no budget to pay anyone, but my best volunteers and interns get the benefit of my professional network, because why shouldn't my friends get an awesome employee even if I can't afford to hire them myself? I usually buy my vols/interns lunch at least once while they are with me to thank them for their work, and so I can learn more about their career goals. Then I go out of my way to introduce them to the right people. I also reach out to my contacts before I get called for a reference to put a good word in for them when they are applying for jobs at orgs where I know people.

I don't recommend you work unpaid forever, but if you are serious about finding employment in this kind of competitive environment, you need to cultivate personal relationships with the people who are in a position to help you. You can do it, even though it's a tough world out there right now. Good luck!
posted by deliciae at 8:53 AM on April 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

When I was in a not-too-different situation, I found the most helpful practice was to make my days highly regimented (but with space/time allocated for fun/enjoyable things as well). To that end, I allocated a certain amount of time each day, at around the same time each day, for job searching, following up on networking emails, telephone calls, job applications, etc. There was always enough to do to fill up this time. (Of course, I sometimes had to schedule ADDITIONAL phone calls -- especially to other time zones.)

I also made sure I exercised every day and ate regular, reasonably healthy meals. Without exercise, I was an anxious mess. The discipline and routine of cooking and eating was also a huge help.

Finally, you should remind yourself (as others have said) that the state of the job market is not your fault. (For example, in my current field, narrowly construed, there are literally ZERO job openings in the entire country, due to the sequester. That is not the fault of anyone in my field, including me.) Also be sure to talk to folks who believe in you, specifically, folks who can credibly tell you that you have something to offer in your field. (So other students who have seen you in actions, former bosses/mentors, professors, etc., in your situation.) I found it tremendously helpful to talk with such folks. They helped me remember that, as hard as job search was, I really did have something to offer and would eventually find a great job I would love.
posted by Nx at 9:10 AM on April 28, 2013 [3 favorites]

I suggest moving somewhere with very low unemployment. As low as possible. Because what you need is a job. You need a job because you need to start learning the skills and getting the experience you need for your next job in your career path. And you need a job because a job that suits you WILL be your therapy. Wherever that low unemployment place is, don't worry if it's a place you don't like, because you don't have to stay there forever.
posted by Dansaman at 9:31 AM on April 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you fail a dozen interviews and have a hundred rejected applications your situation will be no worse than when you started.

And you only need to succeed once.
posted by Lorc at 1:58 PM on April 28, 2013

I was in a similar situation not too long ago. I fought back by picking up a few new hobbies, gallows humor, and oddly enough, I refined my job search. Instead of applying for every single job that I was vaguely qualified for, I started only applying for the jobs that were either exactly what I wanted or jobs that I was uniquely qualified for. I also stopped thinking about every single job I applied for as the job that would save me and started doing things that made me happy.

I don't know what worked but last week I started the perfect job that blends both of my advanced degrees and a good bit of my previous experience. I'm making double what I was making at placeholder job and I finally feel like I've gotten my groove back. Also, the week I accepted the awesome job, I was called with an offers on another slightly cool job and got asked in for an interview on another.

It's been eleven months since I got my PhD, and over a year and a half since I took the placeholder job. It happens, it just takes time. Especially in this market.
posted by teleri025 at 2:45 PM on April 28, 2013

Response by poster: I'd like to thank everybody for their answers (and keep them coming!). As for non-paid interning, I'd like to avoid that as much as possible, seeing as I already have two unpaid internships under my belt (the second one is finishing in July).

Its very helpful to learn from many MeFis that my situation is not unique, and how others have coped in similar situations.

Cooking has been a hobby I've picked up over the last few years, and it has helped tremendously to manage my anxiety and depression regarding my job situation. The job situation part is just so extremely frustrating, and since I've never worked a real job before (part-time retail all my life, various sidegigs), it's hard for me to internalize anything but job failures and most importantly, job searching failures.
posted by maffechr at 8:08 PM on April 28, 2013

Best answer: Ah, do I feel for you. I was in this position for about a year until very recently. I graduated with a masters but not much experience into the same terrible economy. I lived freelance paycheck to freelance paycheck, which is even more terrifying than living paycheck to paycheck. On top of it all, I had $80,000+ in student loans. I wasn't able to find a full-time job. Months passed, I sent out what felt like hundreds of resume & cover letters, to absolutely no acknowledgement. I felt totally hopeless, sure I would never, ever get a job. I know that feeling. My education had been a waste, I felt, and now I was stuck with the bill. After months of dwindling finances, I tried something new. I made a plan of action, executed it, and 2 months later had three job offers, all with excellent salaries.

Here's what worked for me. It's simple to the point of feeling dumb:

Make an Excel or Google spreadsheet of your job search. That's it! Make the following columns: job title, employer, date applied, date of follow-up, date of interview, date of follow-up for interview, website/source of job posting. Every time you apply to a job, fill in a row.

This will do a number of things.
1. It will give you a reality check about how many jobs you're applying for. (I felt I was applying for 5 - 10 jobs a day; in reality I found out it was about one every three days: ah, hopelessness. I guarantee you are not applying for as many jobs as you think you're applying for. That alone significantly reduced my hopelessness).
2. It will get you to apply for more jobs! (Oh, I only applied to one job in the last three days? I guess I should apply to at least one today).
3. It will allow you to keep track of which sites yield responses. I realized I was getting zero responses from a particular specialized site that was supposed to be the best place to job search in my industry. The sites that actually yielded responses were Linkedin & Idealist.
4. It will remind you to do a follow-ups. The job I ended up taking I followed-up twice with before I even got an interview.

Also, keep track of your cover letters. Try different writing styles, different structures. See what gets a response. Turn your job search into a controlled experiment!

Instead of sending out tons of cover letters in one day, set a goal to yourself for sending out one or two a day, every day. That way you can make it a structured part of your day, instead of exhausting yourself on Monday and then spending the rest of the week gloomily checking an inbox that only seems to contain emails from Netflix and your credit card company.

Avoiding hopelessness? Yes to exercise. Yes to cooking for yourself (save money, eat healthier, eat delicious-er, learn a new skill). Yes to highly regimented days (go to bed at 10!). Avoid the internet as much as possible; as an unemployed person, the internet will beckon with the promise of work and keep you there with youtube videos of monkeys riding large dogs. Do not heed its siren song. Limit your internet use to a couple hours a day.

And for me the number one way of avoiding hopelessness, and in this I disagree with many of the above commenters: Do.Not.Ever.Work.For.Free. Don't offer it, don't take it up if they offer it to you. I have never, ever gotten paid work as the result of having done unpaid work. People who pay you nothing will think that's what you deserve, and worse yet, you'll start to think it's what you deserve too. Don't work for free, ever, ever ever. Don't take another unpaid internship. Hold out for a place that will pay you. Your time is worth money, always remember that.

You will get a job. It may take a while, it probably will take a while, but it will happen.
posted by MaddyRex at 11:38 AM on April 29, 2013 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: I've come back to read this (it's been a busy few months), and I am thankful for all the answers. They have been very helpful. The job search continues to go on, but I am getting more optimistic as time goes on. I have reached out to people within the industry in which I am seeking employment, and they are going to help me in this process. That, combined with my awesome support network (friends and family) keeps me optimistic, despite my somewhat pessimistic outlook regarding the job (at times). Unlike other parts of my life, which I can control (and are going very well), my employment situation seems very uncontrollable, and I think that is the heart of the issue.

Thanks for all the advice.
posted by maffechr at 9:01 AM on July 19, 2013 [1 favorite]

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