Help me rejoin society?
January 6, 2014 1:53 PM   Subscribe

I have been unemployed for a long period of time and it's really worn me down. I have an interview coming up, but I feel like I'm going to let my anxiety get the better of me and let this opportunity fall through if I don't get some kind of help. Any advice?

I've basically been unemployed for over 7 months now. I'm 24 and I live with my parents and I would really like to be able to move out again. Long story short, I graduated from university in 2012 and then eventually got a temp job that lasted 7 months (during much of this time I was living in my own apartment), and then I had these big life plans to move across the country, and I did that for a little while but I didn't really feel like it was working out so I moved back home. Since I didn't find an out-of-state job that I could deal with (I learned that I am too emotionally fragile to cope with crappy retail jobs), I have nothing on my résumé anytime after May 2013. Unfortunately I didn't end up volunteering, doing contract work, or freelancing (unless Amazon Mechanical Turks counts, but I've made barely anything from that and haven't done much of it anyway, so I'm kind of thinking it doesn't).

I'm being financially supported by my parents right now, and I feel like they don't care enough about this to force me out of the house, so I could potentially be here for a long, long time. And I don't want to do that to them, plus it's a huge embarrassment for my social life...I have a few friends left, fortunately, but I'm too ashamed to try and meet new people.

Now, someone wants to interview me next Thursday. The job pays well and it's similar kind of work to my last post-college job (incidentally, a permanent version of that job opened up recently as well and I applied to it, but I don't want to just assume it will work out). The problem is, my interview anxiety is so, so strong and beyond what is acceptable among normal humans. I have a pattern of setting up an interview, panicking shortly before it happens, and then canceling. I don't always do this, but I've lost count of how many times I have done it. I would like to not do that this time, but I'm afraid I may have to because I have no idea how I can convince someone to hire me after having been unemployed this long and not having anything to show for it.

So, is there any advice you can give me that will a) convince me to go through with this and b) help me be successful at it, considering the circumstances? I've read advice about this online, but it seems to be geared toward people who are more advanced in their careers, and it tends to assume that people have been very productive during their unemployment period. I don't even feel human anymore; I feel like people who go to work every day to a regular job are of another species and that the idea of me even trying to succeed at an interview is laughable. How the hell do I overcome this?

P.S. Because I think someone might ask and I want to try not to threadsit, yes, I do struggle with what one might call "mental illness" (I dislike that term) and have been involved with the mental health system for a long time. I am not currently receiving treatment of any kind...I'm considering it, but I don't think it's going to help me out with next week's interview in any case.
posted by cosmicbeast to Work & Money (17 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
One of the things I've found when talking to people about job interviews is that they give all their power away up front. They just want to be so impressive and they want the job (or any job) so desperately that they get all in their head about what they need to do and say in every second.

When we do this in dating, it comes off as desperate and unattractive. The same in job interviews.

The thing about interviews is that you can go into it with a different goal: "To determine whether this company/workplace/position is well-suited for me." That is much closer to what the people on the other side of the table are in search of (someone who is well-suited for the position). That way, its both of you taking about the job, rather than an interrogation or something that you need to perform for or be anxious about.

Best of luck.
posted by softlord at 1:59 PM on January 6, 2014 [18 favorites]

For what it's worth 7 months is not a long time in this economy, and 24 is not unusual to be living again in your parents' home (it's been that way for a long time).

If you can separate the job from the results you want - financial independence, the next chapter of your social life - and interview based on whether you want that particular job with whatever negatives that go along with it, then that particular basket won't hold so many eggs.
posted by headnsouth at 2:02 PM on January 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

So, is there any advice you can give me that will a) convince me to go through with this and b) help me be successful at it, considering the circumstances?

To relax before interviews, I ask myself, "What's the worst that could happen?" And the answer is almost universally, "I don't get the job and I'm in the same position as I am right now." So, it cannot hurt at all to do the interview - better to give it a shot, right? (Hopefully this helps on Point A.) And to be successful, take the relaxation you hopefully gained from the previous step, and channel it into poise and sincerity. Prepare in advance for the challenging questions regarding your period of unemployment that you might be asked. Know what you will say if/when they come up. And, most of all, see the interview as an opportunity rather than a test. Go into it optimistically (I know that is cheesy but it works for me) and try not to get bogged down with worries about the consequences of the interview.

Also: interview anxiety is so, so strong and beyond what is acceptable among normal humans. I have a pattern of setting up an interview, panicking shortly before it happens, and then canceling. I don't always do this, but I've lost count of how many times I have done it.

I am not currently receiving treatment of any kind...I'm considering it, but I don't think it's going to help me out with next week's interview in any case.

This may not be what you want to hear, but you have 7 full business days between now and your interview to seek out professional help. I think a professional could give you the tools you need to really overcome your interview anxiety (with medication or not) in a way that we here cannot. Call around and see if you can get an appointment later this week!

posted by schroedingersgirl at 2:03 PM on January 6, 2014 [4 favorites]

Seconding softlord. Anything you can do to take some of the interview pressure off of yourself will help you, both with your anxiety and with making a good interview impression.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 2:05 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

First of all, don't be ashamed because you have been unemployed for 7 months, and don't be ashamed because you live with your parents. Seven months is not that long! (though I understand it seems very long when you're going through it, and when you're still so young), and there are many, many things in life one should be extremely ashamed of. Being unemployed or living with your parents are not those things. I know that "work" is viewed in American society as being the be all and end all of one's worth and social worth, but it's not true at all. And (if you are American) we take very unkindly to people living at home with their parents (compared to other countries), but that's just ridiculous. Also, there is no shame in not being "strong enough" to subject yourself to the kind of environment that retail jobs seem to entail. It sucks, bad. So, while I don't have any practical advice for you in keeping your interview, I just hope you might learn to be a little less hard on yourself. You're obviously having a very hard time, and you don't need to be unfair to yourself on top of it. Be proud of your efforts, whatever comes of them.
posted by Blitz at 2:09 PM on January 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Propranolol. Or any other comparable Beta blocker. They do wonders to knock out the physiological effects of anxiety.
posted by wensink at 2:09 PM on January 6, 2014

Listen, in my experience it's more likely that any given interview won't result in a job than that it will result in a job, but every interview will DEFINITELY, and this is 100% GUARANTEED help you get better at doing job interviews - and help you relax more about future interviews.

Getting back on track is a process, not a single event. It's very important you start that process (by taking this interview, then hopefully also taking the one for the other permanent role you've applied for) and then continue that process whatever the result of those interviews.

Remember, the worst case scenario following this interview is not that your life will get worse, it's that your life will continue as it is - with a roof over your head and a loving family supporting you.

So why not take the risk, take the chance that it'll work. Who knows, it might.

The only way to guarantee that things won't get better is to not try to make these opportunities work for yourself.

All you've got to do is turn up.

Don't feel ashamed about having been out of work. But do think about how you're going to talk about the gap in your CV. It might be a personal growth thing, it might simply be about the prolonged job search.

If these interviews don't result in a job, think about what you can start doing yourself - maybe a small online business you can start - to start slowly filling up this gap. Starting a business while your parents are footing the bill is a HUGE opportunity that many people can only dream of, that could lead to a happy & fulfilled life even if you never have another interview ever again.

(And worst case means when they say "what have you been doing since you got out of university" can lead to you saying "I started and ran a business but now I'd rather come and work with you on yours".)
posted by The Monkey at 2:42 PM on January 6, 2014 [5 favorites]

If you were very confident that you'd ace the interview, would you still have the anxiety? If not, do whatever preparation you can that will help you ace the interview. Not preparation to help the anxiety, but the kind of preparation that those people of that other species do, and did to get the jobs they're in.

There are a lot of books, probably available in a library near you, and and online resources to help with this.

Back when I was interviewing, what worked really well for me was not thinking about the job, not trying to analyze whether I'd like the job, not thinking about anything at all but answering every question with the specific goal of getting a job offer (or second interview). I heard every question as a paraphrase of "why should I hire you" and I answered every question with a paraphrase of "here's why you should hire me". It made the difference between never getting called back, and always getting called back.
posted by still_wears_a_hat at 3:01 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I am on the extreme end of introversion/shyness, etc., and these are the things that I did to prepare for academic interviews before. In the end, these steps helped me lower my anxiety, and you can take/adapt anything that you feel may help you, too. Reminder again: yes, I was overanxious because this was overboard, as you will see, but now I interview pretty well:

-Prepared for the interview.This meant looking up possible questions for my field and even typing out answers so that I could review them. Also, since I knew standing in front of people/talking to people would make me nervous, I practiced with people. I don't know if you would consider practicing with friends/family, but it is one solution(only applies if you get nervous with pple, but YMMV).

-Doing research about the work place and industry. This will sound odd, but I did enough research so that I was very curious as to what they did/how they did it/tc. So there was often a point where I would/could ask them questions and I found this a lot of fun (what is the widget they are working on?). So in the end, I grew to view interviews as an opportunity to learn new things about an industry. It also projects enthusiasm.

-Make a list of harder questions to make sure that they are a good match for you. I included things like see the workplace and meet a colleague to ask more questions. But in the end, I learned to view it as I am interviewing them for a good fit as well as they are interviewing mes.

-View this as a learning experience for you, too. Even if things don't go smoothly now, you can learn things that will help the next interview or future interviews go well.

Finally, if you know that you have a tendency to cancel and not show up? Build things that make you go, the same way that you would build a certain path to make sure the mouse follows it. So perhaps have someone drop you off (so you have no way back, but can only go to the interview), etc. Play with the idea and how you can control the environment to get there.

One more thing. AS others have said, let go of the shame. To be honest, I have known quite a few people in your age group and the the norm right now is either having a hard time getting employment/living at home/or going through quite a few jobs. If I was interviewing someone in your age group for a job, I would not judge them for that. Do come up with a story if you can, but again, I would not judge you if you had a hard time and/or were unemployed.
posted by Wolfster at 3:05 PM on January 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

I think most hiring managers are more than well aware that the entry/post-graduation employment situation is incredibly dire right now. Just the experience of posting the opening - I can't even describe the firehose of applications I have had to deal with in the past couple of years even for incredibly specific positions. It's massive, it's an avalanche of responses, and most of them aren't even in the neighborhood of what we do. So it's not a surprise to anyone that someone at your level has been out of work. There's no shame in it, it's just a fact.

Also, out of that firehose, they chose you. They're probably only interviewing 5-10 people, surely not more than 20, and you are one of them. On paper, you must be at least relatively qualified.

Go in there as if you have been invited to consult with them on how to handle the job. Sit there as if you are just doing some knowledge-transfer before you go to your desk and start. Be a person who has done this kind of work before. And if your methodology or skillset or experience turns out to not be compatible with what they want to happen, then it's better that you don't get the job! You don't want a job that sucks!

No more cancelling interviews. Not even if it's for something you've never even heard of. Go to every one as practice if nothing else, so you stop being so nervous.

And while you haven't done any of the gold-star stuff all the articles say, that doesn't mean you have to get all tied up in knots about it. Spin it, and distort the truth to make yourself look good in vague ways that can't be checked or measured. "It's been a real struggle even getting interviews, it's tough out here. I'm lucky that my family have been able to help me, and I've taken advantage of the time to help them with some projects at home, but I'm starting to wear out my welcome and I think we're all ready to see a little less of each other." Everyone understands you're putting the best possible face on it and that most people don't have a lot of money to spend on extracurriculars, and can't commit a whole lot of time while still being available for interviews.

You know that saying about how it's easier to get a job when you have a job? Part of that is because you can walk in there ready to take it or leave it. It's a little bit hard-to-get, but it's also just not desperate. The fact of the matter is you're not going to starve if you don't get the job, thanks to your parents, so you CAN actually take it or leave it. Keep that in your mind during the interview.

Just go do it. You can't possibly get the job if you bail, so at least go try.
posted by Lyn Never at 3:09 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I feel best able to have upbeat conversations (including interviews) when I'm well-fed, well-rested, and, especially, well-exercised.
posted by aniola at 3:24 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm almost 30 and moved back home last year after being laid-off and a hard breakup. I've applied to about 60 jobs and have had about 10 interviews, none of which lead to an offer. It sucks and I know exactly what you're going through, both on the job-front and life-front. It's draining and some days I feel like giving up.

But, you know what? You're not going to get a job if you panic and cancel, so quit doing that right now. Plain and simple, life threw you a major curveball and you're struggling to get back on track. No shame in that whatsoever. It will only bring you down if you let it. Interviewing is hard no doubt about it, but it's a necessary evil that everyone dreads. It just so happens that all those other people you mention already have jobs, so they don't have to worry about it.

I read this on MeFi a while back and it really gave me some perspective...

If you're not finding jobs to apply to, you're looking in the wrong place.
If you're finding jobs but aren't getting interviews, something is wrong with your resume.
If you're getting interviews but no job offers, you're doing something wrong in the interview.
If you're getting job offers, you're doing everything right.

Where does your current approach break down?

Don't be afraid. It will work out. In the mean time, keep the dream of living on your own again, having a job, enjoying life, having money, having a social life, etc alive! It's the only thing that's going to get you out of this mess!
posted by mrrisotto at 3:28 PM on January 6, 2014 [3 favorites]

Prepare, prepare, prepare. Glassdoor the company and see if people have posted sample interview questions. If not, google a list of situational interview questions and prepare answers for those. (They're the hardest to answer, and, if you can answer those, you can answer anything.) Always focus on scenario+action you took+positive outcome. Pull from any experience you have (including college group projects). Once you start preparing and rehearsing your questions (I do this in my car, alone), I think you'll start to feel more confident. Don't worry if your answers start out lame (mine do!): the more you practice, the better you'll get.

To lessen the risk of backing out of the interview, plan a reward yourself for after the interview, no matter how (you think) it goes. Preferably, this reward would be something you wouldn't otherwise do/buy/whatever. Make it something special. It's not only a motivator to get you there but something to look forward to afterward. (I do this for almost every stressful time I run into, but especially things I'm really nervous about. It reminds me that life goes on and that I'll be the same person who enjoys the same things no matter what happens.)

Finally: your interviewer(s) are people. Just people. They're at work, doing their job. And they want you to do well, because if you do, it makes their job that much easier. (I recruit and screen candidates and sometimes sit in on the interviews. I am pulling for each and every one of them and want, more than anything else, for them to have a great interview and do well. Because it means I can stop looking for candidates.) Point being, try to see the interviewer(s) as your allies instead of as a formidable unknown with so much control over your future. Because really? They want to put you on their short list. You're there to help them do that.
posted by coast99 at 3:40 PM on January 6, 2014 [2 favorites]

Hey - good job getting an interview! This could be a good starter, but I am sure you could get more interviews in the future. If you live in a bigger marker, there are probably many 'temp' jobs that don't involve retail. Maybe you can go to a couple agencies and get a number of interviews for different types of non retail work. You can get some interview experience and feel better about your interviewing skills. Maybe you even find a job you'd like to do for a few months and fill in some time on your resume. But don't stress this one interview - the world is your oyster - and you will have lots of chances!
posted by Kalmya at 3:43 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Congratulations on getting the interview. This means they believe you are qualified in regards to experience and education. Interviews just determine if there is a fit.

I recommend practicing answering questions out loud. Look up the most common interview questions and go somewhere private and practice. It will help you feel more comfortable by using those appropriate phrases. Think about past situations that were fantastic, and those that were challenges. You will likely have a question about best/worst traits and past examples.

As others said, research the field and the company. And mention that you did that in the interview in some it in.

Lastly, have 3-4 questions prepared for the end of the interview. Sometimes, your questions get answered in the interview so you likely want general and specific questions. Things like, "What type of employee is successful in this position" or "How would you describe the culture?" or "What's a typical day at work" are some ideas. You'll do great and if you are nervous, being prepared will help get you past the anxiety. Best wishes!
posted by Kitty Cornered at 6:08 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

I used to interview candidates for positions, so from that perspective...

1. They already know about the gap in your employment, and decided to interview you anyway. So you already meet their baseline criteria, and they just want to see if you will fit in with the people already there.

2. This is your chance to see if you like the vibe there. I have interviewed well-qualified people who just seemed wrong for us, and I've been interviewed at places I just didn't like the feel of. A good interview is not a guarantee of a good fit, but a weird or uncomfortable interview is a pretty sure indicator that the job wouldn't work out anyway, which is best to find out before you sign a contract. Think of it as a trial meeting, to see how you get along.

I also have anxiety issues, so from that perspective....

1. People doing the interviews can be anxious too. You're all in it together.

2. Scenarios in order from best to worst:
- you get the job and it's great
- you get the job and it's ok, giving you valuable experience for other jobs
- you get the job and it's crap, so you quit and are in the same situation you're in now with slightly more money
- you don't get the job but you gain valuable practice at interview skills; you call and ask for feedback, which they give you and is useful to you in tweaking your resume/interview skills
- you don't get the job and you're in the same position you're in now.

There is no scenario where you are worse off than you are now. Feel the fear and do it anyway.
posted by harriet vane at 7:36 PM on January 6, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Alright, I've decided that I am going to go for it. My plan is to revamp my usual strategy a bit to make it feel easier...I'll start by preparing what I will wear, researching the hell out of the company, and coming up with questions (I usually do these parts last but I feel like starting with this makes the process somehow less intimidating). Then I will work on polishing my own answers to make them come out of my mouth more easily. I will also try to avoid reading job interview advice articles online (aside from maybe looking at sample questions) because those tend to spike my anxiety the most, and just use my own judgment. I already understand the basics of interviewing, but in general these answers made me feel like less of a freak for being in my situation, which takes off a huge load. I won't choose any best answers because they all had something valuable. Thanks!
posted by cosmicbeast at 7:10 PM on January 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

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