It's been said that losing your job can be as traumatizing as a divorce or a family death.
But the situation can feel more stressful after the dust has settled and a lot of time has passed without finding new work.
This reader feels as if they have tried everything. Psychologist Art Markman offers his suggestions for finding hope in a situation that feels hopeless.
I hope you can help. I feel completely at a loss. I’ve been unemployed for over a year and a half. I was laid off from my mid-level communications job because of "budget cuts." I have about a decade of experience and excellent references from all of my past employers.
I spend several hours every day looking for a job on all the job sites, and I’ve sent out hundreds of resumes and cover letters. I’m always reading articles about how to improve myself in the eyes of prospective employers. I’ve heard that most people get jobs from connections and I’ve asked everyone I know if they know of anything, and have even tried going to networking events but nothing has come from any of it.
I’m getting so desperate that I’ve applied for jobs that are way beneath my skill level, but I've been told that I’m "overqualified" for them. Aside from my financial worries, being unemployed this long has made be feel hopeless that I’ll never find a job again.
What should I do?
I am sorry that the past year has been so tough. Here's some steps you can take to feel less hopeless:
In addition to what you are doing, you need to find more opportunities for people to see you in action. It is much easier for someone to hire you if they already feel like they are working with you in some way and if they have a clear sense of how your work will benefit their organization.
That requires re-conceptualizing what it means to be looking for a job. Most people have a view of how getting (and keeping) a job works: You have a skillset. You get hired by a company. The company sets the tasks you perform, and pays you to do it.
Part of the problem with this view of jobs is that, when you lose a job, you move into a job-search mode. You focus your energy on the job search, but you spend very little time actually sharpening your skills and engaging in the work that got you excited about having that job in the first place.
So, rather than spending your time primarily on digging for job interviews and attending networking meetings, look for opportunities to do some work. Even if some of that work is done without pay or in barter for something else, it gets you in contact with lots of people who may ultimately want to hire you.
For example, there are lots of medium-sized nonprofits that need help from someone in communications. They don’t have skills in house to get out the word about what they do, but they also cannot afford to hire someone to work for them. Your skills would be of immediate benefit to these organizations, whether they can afford to pay you for your time or not.
What do you get out of it? Find organizations with active boards of directors. The people who give enough money to end up on nonprofit boards are often well-connected in the local business community. Doing good work that gets noticed will increase your visibility among people who can eventually help you find a job.
At the same time, this work is deeply rewarding. A big problem among the long-term unemployed is that the sense of hopelessness pervades their attitude toward the job search. Without realizing it, you may be bringing less energy and passion to your interview than you did when you were first looking for jobs. A great way to restore some of that energy is to feel like you are using your skills to help others.
Another way to reach this goal is to find your local entrepreneurial community. A trend over the last several years is for entrepreneurs to find co-working spaces where they can have an office environment without the costs associated with owning or renting a whole building.
These co-working spaces are a great place to connect with people who are starting businesses and probably need a lot of the communications skills that you bring to the table. No single business may be able to hire you full time, but there is likely to be a lot of work around that you can do.
And if one of those companies starts to take off, they are more willing to take you along for the ride if they already know you than if you are applying to them cold.
The more you get out there and start doing work rather than looking for work, the more opportunities that will ultimately open up to you.
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[Image: Flickr user markus spiske]