I’ve been unemployed for (roughly) a year.
Or really, “underemployed” is more accurate. I have had two very brief contract positions. But otherwise I have not had work.
I have applied for well over fifty jobs. Probably more. I’ve lost track. I used to worry that writing about my experience would deter potential employers, but now I’m not entirely sure it makes any difference.
This is what it is like to be unemployed, really:
I have learned that my family and close friends are amazing, giving, and very tolerant people. Really. I don’t qualify for unemployment benefits because I left my last non-contract job voluntarily (for a contract job that I thought would turn into permanent work. I was very wrong). This means that I am always broke (except for when I have contract work, at which point ALL OF MY MONEY goes toward food, rent, bills, insurance, and, ugh, interview clothes). This also means that I am generally bored and/or sad which means that I’m not always a joy to be around. It is also occasionally hard to convince the people closest to me that, for real, my cover letters are a lot more positive than I sound right this second…
Depressed is the exact opposite of what employers are looking for. This probably seems like a no-brainer, but no lie: Try to feel motivated, focused, and like serving the public when the most common answer you hear is “no”.
When someone asks what kind of work you are looking for, have an answer other than “anything”. I have no experience in the service or hospitality industries which means that it is extremely hard to find anyone who will even grant me an interview in my metro area. So when dozens of well-meaning people say things like “you know, you can always work at Starbucks/Whole Foods/ Trader Joe’s” that just isn’t true. Those businesses are not looking for people with extensive special collections experience. In fact, they are looking for people who are highly skilled in the customer service industry, and I find it condescending that people assume that these jobs are “easy” or somehow always available to whoever.
You will spend hours perfecting a cover letter and/or application for a job you really want and never hear a thing. It is soul-crushing.
You will spend hours perfecting a cover letter and/or application for a job you really want, and get an interview. You will then be granted a follow-up interview and believe that you have really made a connection with the people conducting the interview. You will start making arrangements for your new job. You will receive a polite form rejection letter on really nice paper stock.
Experience is absolutely not necessary when you know a guy. “Knowing a guy” is basically the best thing that can possibly happen to you in this economy. Make a point of knowing and staying in touch with as many “guys” as you possibly can. Which brings me to:
Don’t burn bridges. If you leave a job, don’t talk shit. Ever. It will bite you in the ass. Negativity isn’t flattering.
It is supremely hard not to talk shit when you are depressed about being unemployed. Just don’t talk shit. You don’t know who is listening.
People do not know how to make casual conversation with you when you do not have a job. I learned pretty fast that telling people I don’t have a job really bums them out. So I tell them that I’m a contractor. This is good because then I can tell them more about digital preservation. I used to say that I was a “stay at home cat mom” which made them laugh, but the truth is…
The cat is more mentally stable than I am. I spend almost all of my time alone because leaving my apartment means spending money I don’t have.
People assume that I must have all the time in the world to work on my art. I do. But see above, “depression”.
I am not taking advantage of “the system”. There is no “system” for formerly middle class, college educated thirty-year-olds with wildly specific work experience to take advantage of. In fact, should you seek any sort of help, the nice person across the table from you will look at you in a very confused way and say things like “I see that you have a bachelor’s degree in creative writing and that both of your parents have advanced degrees as well…” This person will secretly wonder if you have a drug problem. Sometimes this person will flat out ask you if you have a drug problem. You do not have a drug problem.
The people who care about you will send you job postings, constantly. It will suck. It will suck because you have inevitably already applied for this job. Twice. Or, alternately, the company in question is ALWAYS hiring/is actually a temp agency looking for recruits to boost numbers.
Temp agencies also suck. Unless you do really well on the intake exam. If you do, awesome, you’ll probably/maybe get some temp work. If your typing/accounting skills are lacking (which, let’s face it, if 90% of your professional experience has to do with photographing books that once belonged to long-dead dignitaries, you probably don’t know what “collate” means). Join a temp agency anyway. Call them every week. They are more fun to talk to you than your student loan company.
You will hate every person who frustrates you on a daily basis because they have a job and you don’t. That means YOU Healthcare.gov lady who told me to “just start a new account…”
The Office will make you deeply and profoundly sad in ways that you can’t quite articulate. You know, because they have JOBS.
Breaking Bad will give you ideas. You failed remedial chemistry. Don’t bother.
You will feel guilty every second you are not looking for work. And every time your boyfriend comes home and asks what you got up to and the answer is “I stared blankly at Buzzfeed and waited for the day to end.”
You will not deviate from this routine: Non profit job website, Indeed, Craigslist, regional job website, regional government job website, specific to your experience job website. You will also obsessively search for new job websites you have not considered. You will try various apps (they all suck).
Your LinkedIn will look AMAZING. Pro-tip: No one actually USES LinkedIn.
It is really hard to plan for your future when you can’t like… plan on anything. Five year plan? L.O.Fucking. L.
But there are things that aren’t terrible about being unemployed. For example, your resume will be FLAWLESS. You’ll always be caught up on world events. Hey, I finally beat Myst, Riven AND The 7th Guest!
You’ll develop a certain gallows humor that will keep you reasonably sane while you navigate the Kafkaesque Hellscape that is now your world. And deep down you’ll know that this can’t last forever.
Because something has to give.