Coping with Long-Term Unemployment

By Joe Stein

It is an unfortunate offshoot of this extended economic downturn that we find ourselves in. Many of us in Western New York have found ourselves in a long-term unemployment situation of one year or more. 
 
This long-term unemployment situation can have a profound negative impact in our job search behavior (and usually in our overall behavior). In this week’s article, let’s explore some of the feelings that a long-term unemployed Job Seeker may be facing and what they can do to make sure it does not impact the ability to find employment.
 
Before we move too far forward, a brief disclaimer is that I am hardly an expert on human behavior (if I was, I would make all kinds of changes to myself). My time working with Job Seekers, however, has resulted in me noticing some definite different attitudes amongst the long-term unemployed.
 
Phases of Long-Term Unemployment:
 
Job Seekers who are in long-term unemployment often find themselves in one or perhaps all (at various different times) of the following phases, but they often go in the order provided.
 
·         “I Can Do Better” – The mindset of the optimistic Job Seeker. This phase most often occurs early in the job search process, but is great if you can sustain it. This thought can be driven by the belief that you have been held back in your career, or you may have an intense desire to “show up” your previous employer. This is a great mindset for finding new employment as long as you don’t resort to speaking negatively of your past employer in your desire to show them up.
 
·         “I Will Work My Way Up” – In this phase, you are zeroing in on specific companies where (perhaps) the position is not quite at your level, but you are willing to come in and wow them. You are sure that once you join the organization, they will be immediately impressed and move you forward in the organization. This “get your foot in the door” mindset is also a good one to sustain in your job search.
 
·         “Time to Do Something Different” – After a few months, Job Seekers sometimes start fantasizing about doing something completely different. This is particularly true if you have a skill in a different area and are having difficulty finding a new job. Changing your search in mid-stream can add some time to the process, so be prepared for that.
 
·         “I Will Accept a Transitional Job” – In this phase, you begin to think that any job would be a good one. Your goal is to find employment while you keep looking for something better. 
 
·         “This Stinks…I Can’t Believe This Happened To Me” – This is certainly not a productive mindset towards finding new employment. If you are in this phase, you need to somehow break out of it, if you have not reached this stage yet, good…don’t! This phase is usually after a lengthy period of unemployment, but can sometimes occur early in the process if you are bothered by a particularly difficult termination. Speaking to a prospective employer (at any time) is not the moment to unload on how angry you are, or how you received the “shaft” from your past company. Similarly, you can’t wallow in your own pity and lose confidence over your employment situation. Your lack of self-confidence will be immediately evident to the Recruiter.
 
 
Tips for Those in Long-Term Unemployment:
 
A key will be to stay busy while continuing to move your job search forward. You want to avoid Phase #5, where your own actions are negatively impacting your ability to find employment.
 
·         Don’t Give Up – I tore this one right from a very powerful Peter Gabriel song on the “So” album in 1986. Hard to believe that not much has changed from 24 years ago, as this duet is about a person in despair over his economic situation and the support he receives from his wife. Acknowledge your situation and the impact it has had. By doing this, it will assist you in moving forward and continuing the fight. Do not succumb to accepting your current situation, as it will be very hard to get yourself back on track.
 
·         Stay On Schedule – Help yourself stay busy by keeping a schedule, much like you would if you were working. Avoid the traps of sleeping in, taking naps, and other items you would not be doing if you were working.
 
·         Give Back – When you are not plugging away in your job search, try to spend some of your time by volunteering. Doing these good deeds will provide you an opportunity to (perhaps) help others who may even be in a more difficult situation than you, providing some perspective. The time may assist you in feeling better about yourself and (also) possibly look really good on your resume.
 
·         Gain Some Additional Skills/Knowledge – Learning something new can be so rewarding and stimulating. It can be a real uplifting experience for you and also provide you with a new skill or area of knowledge that will really assist you in your job search. One of the perceptions of the long-term unemployed is that their skills have become rusty, but by participating in continued learning, you can help allay those fears.
 
·         Explore Yourself – Losing your job is rough experience…not really much you can do to get around it. It can also be an opportunity to explore another type of work, so perform some self-exploration to determine if there is something that you really would like to do.
 
 
It is important to remember that anyone who has been unemployed for a long stretch of time will find themselves in a challenging time. What you may be feeling is not unique to just you, but is being shared by many in the same type of situation. Don’t hesitate to reach out to others during this difficult time, whether it is friends and family, a professional counselor, or a support group of Job Seekers. The presence of avenues in which you can turn to can go a long way to assisting you in maintaining a positive outlook. This positive outlook will then help you immensely in finding new employment.
 
As always, best of luck in your job search.