“Try to learn to let what is unfair teach you.” — David Foster Wallace
June! I used to be a fall person. I loved September’s golden light, soft winds rustling crisp leaves, and the elegiac mood of the garden. But I’ve been converted to the hope and promise of early summer. Weddings, commencement ceremonies, the first buds on the rose — why look back when you can look ahead?
Still, the future can be daunting. It’s a tough time to finish school and look for work. I have a little bit of experience with the looking for work thing, so thought I would share the limited wisdom I’ve gleaned over the past year of unemployment. I can’t help you get a job (clearly I’m no expert), and I’m fortunate enough to not have to worry about food and shelter (yet), but being unemployed over an extended period can take it’s toll emotionally, and that’s something I do know about. So, for you, my Fifteen Tips for Surviving Unemployment! Plus! An Extra! Bonus! Tip!
- Read. You have the time now anyway. Crack open that copy of War and Peace or In Search of Lost Time that’s been compressing a little rectangle on the rug beside your bed. Want something inspirational, but non-traditional? This is Water by David Foster Wallace and Make Good Art by Neil Gaiman are great grad gifts. Or just read the latest escapist fluff — no shame.
- Take some classes to upgrade your skills, if you can afford it. This was something I put off because it was expensive, and when advice-seeking at the beginning of my search I was told that I didn’t need classes for my chosen field (publishing.) Also, I had so much career and life experience — that had to be worth something, right? Hee. Jobs in the field are scarce, and no one gets an interview, or even hears about open positions, without being enrolled in one of the city’s three publishing programs. Besides, learning new stuff is fun.
- Volunteer, maybe. The reasoning goes like this: your volunteer work might lead to a paying job. And even if it doesn’t, you’re gaining experience that you can put on your resume! I’ve tried a couple of versions of unpaid work. One was an internship, where I met some great people, learned about the publishing business, and brushed up my office skills. I was working with like-minded people who were respectful and appreciative of my efforts. It was wonderful. The other was with a local social agency. I met some great people and participated in a worthwhile cause. It was thankless and depressing. After eight weeks and some soul-searching, I quit. If you find something you like, great, but it’s not for everyone.
- Get some exercise. If you can find a sport or workout you enjoy, it can be a life-saver. If it’s with friends, you’re socializing too, and if you’re alone it’s meditative. Either way you will feel better. At the very least, there’s three hundred extra calories you can spend on pancakes or tequila.
- See friends who let you whine. But bring cookies sometimes.
- See people who distract you from whining. Babies are nice.
- Read advice on job websites. Sometimes all those tips seem so obvious, you think you must be head and shoulders above the mob and why, why, why is no one calling you? But there might be one little thing you haven’t tried yet. I’ve changed my resume seven or eight times.
- Subscribe to internet searches, but tailor them to your needs and decide which ones are worthwhile. Some job sites are clogged with postings from one or two major clients, spammy “opportunities” to earn your way to that yacht in the Bahamas while working at home, or unpaid internships disguised as paying jobs (thank you, Bell.) Or old postings are “refreshed” and show up as new jobs when they’re actually a couple of months old. If the results seem irrelevant and you’re just deleting that email every day, unsubscribe and try another site or different search parameters.
- Give yourself the occasional day off from being strong. You’re not a freak just because the latest inspirational quote on Pinterest makes you stabby. Follow your passion? Do what you love? Maybe. Some people are made for striking out alone and creating their own awesome jobs. But what if your passion is watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer and following internet memes? Even introverted geeks need to eat. Platitudes aren’t always helpful, and can make you feel worse. (Why don’t I have a passion? Why? Why?) Some days, you’re just going to feel that everything is shit. You’re not wrong. Life’s painful. Let it wash over you today, or drown it — you still have that tequila, yeah?
- Maintain a profile on LinkedIn. Ok, I have never met anyone who has got a job through networking on LinkedIn, but you need to be there anyway.
- Eat cake. With people. At a particularly low point, I sat at my sister’s house drinking red wine and eating chocolate cake she had baked that afternoon from a recipe that said, “Serves 10, or 1 with a broken heart.” I believe I am alive today because of that night.
- Learn how to play an instrument. Or just play your music loud and dance while you do the dishes. Send some notes into the air. It will seem less lonely, and the cat will give you weird looks that make you laugh. That’s a thing.
- Ignore advice. It’s contradictory and might not work for you. Should you be applying for anything and everything. Yes! You want to work! Or, No! You should target your search! Which is it? Who knows? I suspect that the carpet bombing approach of cold calling a bunch of companies with your cover letter and resume is no longer relevant. That might have worked in the past, but with everything online now and so many applicants, it’s unlikely that your letter will be retrieved when that company is hiring. And it’s possible that applying for something you have no interest or experience in will just irritate the person hiring. What seems to make sense? Try that.
- Don’t take it personally. This one’s hard. You will be ignored. Again and again. Even if you get an interview, there is no guarantee you will be acknowledged afterwards at all. Your phone will not ring, your inbox will remain empty, until one day reality sinks in and you realize you didn’t get the job. This used to bother me until I went online and found out this is happening to hundreds of other people every day. Ok, it still bothers me.
- Have faith in yourself. This one is really, really hard. But it’s really, really important. Do it.
- Wake up. Get out of bed. Drag a comb across your head. Check the job sites. Get through the day. Do it again. Hope that it will get better. Who knows? It just might.