‘I also had recruiters tell me that no one wanted to hire someone who was damaged goods’
I had an unique situation; the nonprofit where I had been working was going through some growing pains when I got there. I worked well for a long time (several years), taking on more and more responsibilities. Suddenly, I had too much on my plate. I couldn’t do it all (I was doing 3 peoples’ jobs at that point). My boss’ boss decided that it was time for new blood (out of a staff of 15, he had similarly let go 3 others in the 3 years I’d been there, although none of them lasted as long as I did). My boss fought for me and lost. That’s what happens when you have a situation like a nonprofit, especially in an “at will” state. You are never safe. Because it was not my choice to leave, I was still eligible for unemployment benefits. But I had a lot of explaining to do at job interviews.
There were days where I literally didn’t leave the couch, or shower. I was busy much of the time, taking classes, cleaning the house, gardening, and of course searching for jobs (trust me, there was very little out there … looking day after day I kept seeing the same crappy $10/hour without benefits entry-level junk … I’m college-educated with over a decade of work experience and a broad skill base). But there were days, especially after I’d had a pretty brutal rejection, or after I’d spent hours and hours sending my resume off into the internet with nary a response, that I couldn’t face the thought of another second of hunting. It’s different, when you’re looking for a job in times of plenty. Or when you’re employed. There are lots of great positions out there. But when you’re looking during a recession, and for a job without having a specific one in mind (I’ve got a ton of experience, but I’m not, say, specifically trained in healthcare billing or some other fast-growing specialized field), you’re stuck.
I remember one interview in particular where the interviewer pushed to find out why I was out of work, what had happened at my last job. She pushed and pushed until I finally cracked, saying “He was a hard person to work for, okay?” I knew I’d lost every hope of getting that job. But I just wanted to be done with the interview. I also had recruiters tell me that no one wanted to hire someone who was damaged goods and that I should just take whatever jobs came my way ($10/hour or not), just so I was employed.
Unemployment Insurance was the only way my husband and I didn’t have to move in with my parents. Even so, I felt badly about using it. And got a ton of grief from friends, who said I was “milking it” when I confessed that I’d been so depressed that week that I didn’t apply for a single job. I came dangerously close to exhausting my UI benefits - I was within a month of my last extension when I found my job.
The job I ultimately got used to be plentiful—in 2005, similar positions at the same company were being posted on an almost-daily basis, and would typically get around 50 applicants. Now, my job was one of only two posted in the last six months at that company. And there were 265 applicants. Yes, I feel blessed.
I started my full-time job a month and a half ago. It was worth the wait—I love what I’m doing and who I’m doing it with—but it was a really tough ride.
When you know someone who knows someone, who can vouch for you, you have a much better chance of getting a job with the company you want/in the field you want. Network, network, network. I can’t say it enough. LinkedIn is awesome, but enlist your Facebook contacts, or join a networking group. I know it’s horrible to ask your friends to keep their eyes out, but in the end that’s how I got hired.
There aren’t enough resources for retraining, especially of college-educated people. I was lucky enough to land in a pilot program through the Employment Development Department which helped me to focus my job search and learn how to network. But the vast majority of us are on our own (I even felt alone, after finishing the program at times). We need better support, including counseling and health insurance (the scariest/most expensive part of being unemployed). And we need to abolish the stigma of the unemployed worker. Just because you’re not currently working doesn’t mean you wouldn’t be an excellent asset to a company.
E.S., via email