Thursday, March 5, 2015

Seven Things I Learned After a Year of Unemployment

Getting laid off gives you a lot of free time, and while most of it is ideally spent searching for that next job, much of it is spent in reflection. I don't like looking back. Life is about opportunity and living every day like it's your last. The past is the past. But having worked nearly non-stop since I was 16, it's impossible for a day to pass without asking what I could have done better and what I can learn from my missteps. 

After nearly a year without a job, I've learned a lot about myself, my passions, and my inherent personality. But beyond the existential, I've learned a lot about the job market, the hiring process, and what it takes (or perhaps, more, what it doesn't take) to land a job.

Don't Waste Any Time
After twenty-two years of back-to-back employment, and nearly nine years of employment with my former company, I decided to take advantage of my downtime and travel a bit, take some classes in areas unrelated to my career path, and generally decompress. After about a month I hit the pavement and seriously started looking for my next job. The first question I was consistently asked was, "What have you been doing for the last month?" As shortsighted as it may be that a gap on a resume is a primary concern, it is one you will be pressed to answer, and you better have a good one. The truth is, employers want employed employees. It shows that you're an asset to someone. Much like dating, you're far more attractive when you're in a relationship than when you're single. You can hit the gym every day, but if you're single, people wonder why.

Join a Gym
Speaking of the gym, join one. Unless you find a job immediately, you are going to find yourself with a long road full of mind numbing boredom. You have two options. You can stay at home and watch soap operas while drafting cover letters, or you use your free time between writing resumes to make yourself more fit than you've been since college. No one else will have the free time that you do, and after a few months the boredom will start to manifest itself through self medication which can translate into alcoholism, drugs, or food. Doing a few dead lifts or biking twenty miles a day can really take the edge off and quell your anxiety and frustration. And feeling like Superman or Wonder-Woman when you go into a job interview shines through.

Your Family is an Asset
Your kids are more than just bundles of joy or the best mistake you ever made. They're invaluable marketing tools when you're looking for a job in the corporate world. Let's face it, most people interviewing you have them and they love talking about it. Use that to your advantage. Unfortunately, being single signals a level of immaturity in some people, even hiring managers. Despite my crow's feet and receding hairline, I've heard, "you're young" in more than a few interviews. I've worked specifically in the human resources industry for a long time and I know that the comment is not a complement, but rather a polite way of pointing out that I don't have a ring on my finger. Married candidates and parents are seen as responsible and disciplined by default. Use that to your advantage.

Some Companies are Looking for "Family"
Beyond your own family, a lot of companies view their corporate culture as one of its own. This can be good or bad. I've heard numerous hiring managers say, "we're like a family here." I smile and nod, but despite the fact that I don't have a husband, wife, or kids, I do have my own family. They're passive aggressive, guilt provoking, and not shy of discussing politics at the Thanksgiving dinner table. We're bound my blood. If you like your family, great. I like mine most of the time, but I haven't spent forty hours a week with them since 1994. I know my job and I do it very well. When I go to my office, I want to work, not argue about gay marriage and global warming or feign an interest in Dancing With the Stars during happy hour at a suburban Chili's.

Meaningless Certifications are Worth It
I've managed projects since 1999. I could teach a class on project management, any methodology of project management. That means nothing to some hiring managers. Unfortunately companies are more than repositories of talent, but also categorized lists of quantified qualifications. You can thank the non-profit industry for creating this ass ache, but it's something you'll need to deal with. Companies want to be able to publish statistics that include their number of post graduates and certifications, however meaningless. It makes them appear knowledgeable and relevant. Look at your community colleges and local non-profits for a certification program in your field. You'll likely breeze through it and spend $1000 for something to post on your LinkedIn profile, but it will set you apart. 

Beware the Sales Positions
If you're looking for a project management position, you've likely been scouted for door-to-door sales. In the Philadelphia area, Blue Steel and Fusion Marketing come to mind. If the initial point of contact sounds too enthusiastic and too good to be true, it probably is. And if they ask for a face-to-face interview before a phone screen, beware. You'll waste your time driving to the butt hole of suburbia only to be placed in a room with a fast talking douche bag telling you how much of a fool you'd be not to work for them. Two days later you'll find yourself canvassing the entire metropolitan area schlepping office supplies or nicknacks found in a Lillian Vernon catalog. 

Take a Class 
Beyond taking a certification course in your field, take a course in something you've always been interested in, something unrelated to your former career. You've got time to really study. It will give you something to do between writing resumes and interviews, and you might actually find your next calling. After a few months of unemployment, once the gym had become my routine, I decided to enroll in a personal training course through the American Council on Exercise. I did it solely because I wanted to apply the knowledge in my personal life, so I did my research and found ACE to be one of the best programs. Six months later I've been able to impart my knowledge on others as a freelance trainer, something I fully intend to continue doing part-time once I land my next job. Maybe your recreational interest is photography, writing, painting, pottery...go for it. If you've been working in a corporate environment for any length of time, it's easy to confuse your current career with the passions of your youth. I don't remember a kid ever saying, "I want to be a business analyst when I grow up." We work to live, we don't live to work. Who knows, you might find out you're great at something that allows you to have it all. My mother graduated college a year after I did. You're never too old to start over.


So that's my two cents, so take from it what you will. I mean what do I know? Coming up on my unemployment anniversary, I don't know how valuable it is. Then again, I rarely take my own advice. Remain confident. A slew of bombed interviews can really way on you. Don't forget that thousands of other people are looking for your job, and a few failed interviews doesn't mean that you're a failure.

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