Hello Captain Awkward –
Please forgive me if you’ve done this one before. I’ve looked into the archives and I haven’t found one specifically about this.
Basically I (she/her pronouns) have been unemployed for a year. No matter what I do, I have only had three interviews in that time despite going to three job fairs. Now I am staying with a friend in a different city from my husband to see if I can find a job there/see if we can move there. It is scary. I’m not sleeping well and I keep feeling a nagging doubt in my stomach but I move on.
There is only one problem. I feel like I can’t hear my own voice and make my own plans because of the advice of others. My mother in law thinks I should be a home health nurse/carer. My mom believes I should try to find a forever job. My husband believes I should pick a job that I can see myself staying in for five years. My best friend thinks I should find a job right away. It is nuts! Everybody has their own opinions and they bombard me with them all the time.
What happened to talking about the weather or asking me about the books I’m reading? Seems all anybody can ask me about lately is whether I have a job and have I tried X,Y,Z? I would ultimately like to have some time, while I’m in a different city, to figure this out on my own. To find my own plan and my own way.
I guess what I’m asking is a) how do I stop the good advice from turning into a non-stop barrage of “have you considered ________” and b) how do I listen to what I want?
Thank you for considering this or even just reading it. Writing this has already helped a bit.
Hi, I think you are SO SMART to have taken some space in a different city to think about what you want to do next. And I think it is okay to issue some general “Back off!” scripts about the job advice and questions:
- “Thanks for asking but I’d love to talk about literally anything else!” + a question or suggested subject change to something you’re interested in
- “No news, but you’ll be the first to know when I have some! Let’s change the subject, though!” + a subject change or a question about something you’re interested in
- “Thanks so much, but I don’t actually need [that specific piece of help] but I could use [this specific thing that would actually help], is that something you can do?”
- “You know I respect your opinion but that’s all the advice I can absorb today. How about the local sports team, playing in that weather we’re having?”
And if they keep on? “Hey, I’m a person, not an Economic Unit, and I just told you I need to nix the career chat right now. I know you love me and you want to help, and I’m so grateful to have someone as caring as you in my corner, but this specific thing is not helping, and you’re really stressing me out! I need a break from talking about it, and for you to trust me that I will come to you if I think you can help me in some specific way!”
For the would-be helpers:
Unemployed people know that they don’t have jobs. They don’t make an agreement with the universe to act grateful and submit to endless advice & concern shoved down their throats until they begin contributing to the GDP again. It’s great to want to help a friend or family member get back on their feet, so if you know someone who is unemployed and you want to help, as with anything, ask if they’d like help before you dive in, and better yet, ask them if they’d like specific help or what help they’d like. Then listen to & respect the answer, and give them a little space while they decide whether they want to take you up on the help. For example:
- “Would you like to take a look at my company’s website and see if any of the openings there interest you? I think you’re great, and if you see something you’d like I’d be happy to answer any questions or put a good word in.”
- “Would you like help editing your resume and reading your cover letter? I’m pretty good at that, don’t hesitate to run them by me!”
- “Are you still looking to do x? I know someone who does what you do. Would you like an introduction?”
Also (and this comes up in the advice for depressed/struggling friends, too), if your friend is unemployed & struggling, could you maybe approach it from a place of “I want to spend time with you” (vs. “I want to fix you”) and schedule time that is fun (vs. time for helping)? And, when possible, can you consult them and ask their help/input/expertise with things they are good at, so there is a give and take?
Back to you, Letter Writer, the Listening To What You Want part is the hard part and the important part. I want you to know that you are extremely not alone in needing some help exploring all of this or thinking about career change. If I could design a process for you, it might look like this:
A. Grab a notebook or the word processing tool of your choice and some time. Look at all your past jobs & educational interests & hobbies (every single one) and think about what you were good at and what you enjoyed most (not always the same thing). Is there a point in your career where you felt like you were thriving? What were you doing/learning/making/researching/helping/managing/sorting that you enjoyed? What did you not enjoy so much? Do you like working in fast-paced team environments with lots of human interaction? Do you like to work alone, with quiet? Do you know people who really love what they do, and/or who do something that you’re interested in doing? What do they like about their jobs/what do you admire about them? Write down a big ol’ messy bunch of notes about your feelings about work, money, careers, what you want and admire and aspire to. Nobody’s ever gonna read this, just you. ❤
B. If you went to college/university, see if your school’s career center does coaching or offers resources for alumni. A lot of them do, and it might help you to have a sounding board right now. I get emails all the time about networking events, resumé updating events, virtual career fairs, etc. Maybe you do, too?
C. If you didn’t get do the higher ed thing, no problem! In the USA, state “Departments of Labor” keep lists of open jobs and resources for job seekers. Even better, see if your local public library has career resources. For instance, mine recommends some books that sound like they’re right up your alley, and they break down some useful job search sites. Find a book (Hi Dear Businesslady!) or two that seems like it might speak to your situation and work through it. Did you know that in addition to her book on job searching, Alison at Ask A Manager has a free guide about getting ready for interviews? I’m sure commenters will be able to recommend specific resources that helped them, and know that you can ask your librarian for direct help: “I’m looking for jobs, and want some resources on [job searching/resumes/career changing], but I’m feeling overwhelmed and I don’t know where to start. Can you walk me through it?” Librarians trained for this moment!
D. Look also to see if there are job fairs/professional associations/MeetUps/Facebook groups for people in your chosen field and fields you might be interested in. You don’t have to be expert level at stuff to show up, have 1 drink, get a business card or two, and make some pleasant small talk. Don’t ask people to give you jobs or if they’re hiring, ask them questions like “How did you get into this?” and “What do you love about doing this?” and “If you were just starting out today, what are some things you’d be looking for in a company or a position?” Lots of people love to be experts about what they do and welcome newcomers, and everybody feels awkward at those networking things, and someone who is friendly and who asks great questions is going to make some real connections over time, the kind that might mean getting an email that says “Hey, we have an entry-level opening, would you like to come in for an interview?” down the road.
E. Look widely at jobs that are available and that match your interests and categorizing them, like:
- Jobs you would be great at (and an obvious fit for),
- Jobs you would be great at (but you’d need to make a really strong case or acquire additional experiences or training),
- Dream jobs – what you might do down the road with a little more training or experience,
- Career-switcher/entry level jobs that are in a field that excites you, where you would be willing to start at the bottom, and jobs with larger employers where you could start with something basic but there’s room to move up and around within the company,
- Jobs with employers that provide excellent training & educational benefits that you could use to build your skills, again, where you could start with something basic and then work your way into a career,
- Companies where you know people, especially people who are successful and happy in their careers,
- Finally: “Better than nothing!” Jobs you could do, where they’d be likely to hire you, and that would pay the bills right now while you look for something else. Maybe you really need a Right Now Job to pay the bills while you keep applying to things that you want to do. That doesn’t mean you’re giving up on longer-term goals, it just means you apply to at least some of those and see what happens.
Then go back to your notes/brainstorming document. Are there things the jobs you aspire to have in common?
F. Build a giant-ass color-coded spreadsheet and prioritize things to apply to. Use it to track the things you apply to and keep notes about the status & your thoughts about everything. You don’t have to show this to anyone, either, but it might help you to keep a record of how much work you’re doing and how much progress you’re making as you go.
G. With the above list in mind, revise and tailor your resumé and cover letter and update your LinkedIn. Maybe you need a few different ways of presenting the same information, depending on the position. Maybe this is a great place to invoke some of the help you’ve been offered, by having people proofread or help you with formatting.
H. Speaking of LinkedIn, log out of all your usual internet haunts and then Google yourself and look at your social media footprint as a stranger might. What would an employer learn about you from this? Time to clean things up/use those privacy filters? You don’t have to be a robot who has never partied or had an opinion or said a swear in order to deserve employment, but it can’t hurt to be mindful of what’s showing up.
I. Apply to things from all the categories on your list at a steady pace, and see where you get traction. You want to be mindful of people’s time and your own time, but it’s okay to interview somewhere and still be thinking about whether it will be a good fit for you. It’s okay to use the interview to investigate and explore whether this would be a good fit for you. You don’t have to accept every job you’re offered, and it’s okay to give yourself options.
J. This is way too important to be this far down on the list, but you can probably work on job search stuff for like, 4-6 hours a day, MAX. Honestly for some people, 1-2 hours/day is the right amount. So schedule out specific hours of each day that you work on job stuff – reading, compiling, looking at listings, going to networking stuff, applying, interviewing. Set a timer and give yourself breaks to help stay focused. And then when you reach your stopping point for that day, write yourself a few notes about where to start again tomorrow, and BE DONE.
With that in mind, plan other things to do with your time! Read for pleasure, find a way to move your body a little bit in a way that feels good for you, work on your hobbies, catch up with friends & family that you “never have time” to see when you’re working, make tasty food that nourishes you, check out a pass to the local museum from the library (seriously, the library is your best friend right now) or figure out when they have free days, find out when the local massage therapy school gives cheap or discounted massages so their students can get experience, go to stuff like free concerts and art showings, volunteer with a cause that’s important to you.
One of the things that sucks so hard about unemployment is that we get all this anxiety about money and not working at the same time that we get a little bit of time to actually enjoy our lives. If you can find a way to carve out time for yourself and the people you love each day and to make sure you do something enjoyable and caring for yourself with this time, that too is a victory.
Strategically, this stuff not only gets you out of the house and gives you pleasure, it gives you stuff to talk about when the dreaded “So what do you do?” question comes up, like, “I’m still job-hunting, so let me know if you hear about any event-planning jobs! In the meantime, I decided to read every single Agatha Christie book this year and help out the community theater with their set design. Got any old desk lamps you’re dying to get rid of? We’re trying to make a cosy reading room on stage and I need a few more practical lights.”
K. Did someone say VOLUNTEER? (j/k, me, it was me). You’re not sure what you want to do next, and you want to learn some new skills and meet people, so, volunteering is one way to do that. Find a good cause or a good organization and give them a little bit of yourself. It feels good to be useful and remind yourself that you have something to contribute to the world even if it doesn’t make any money. It hopefully feels good to get back in the habit of showing up somewhere to be with other people, esp. since you’ve been out of work for a while. If this is possible for you, look into it.
L. It’s great to volunteer and to catch up with family & friends (including doing nice things for family & friends, like, “Want me to take the kids for a few hours so you can get some errands done, friend?” or “Want me to look in on Grandma this weekend?”) but it’s also okay to keep boundaries in place. Being unemployed doesn’t mean you now become everyone’s on-demand unpaid servant and caretaker. Or advice/feelings repository. It’s okay to have limits.
M. You’re going to want to update your spouse (at very least) about your job search progress and the career options you’re exploring, but may I suggest something?
The second you get an interview it’s going to be tempting to tell your mom and the world and everybody what’s going on so they’ll get off your back. But job-searching comes with a lot of rejection and uncertainty, and you don’t have to tell your people about every single step you take or the details of everywhere you applied and what’s happening with what. Especially since you know they tend to jump in with advice, and since you know you’re having a hard time listening to yourself right now. You’re on a roller-coaster with all of this, you don’t have to take an audience on it with you. In other words, it’s okay to give people very strategic and very brief updates, like, “I have some interviews coming up, and I’m cautiously excited, but I don’t want to jinx anything or get too invested right now.” + A MASSIVE SUBJECT CHANGE. “I’ve been expanding my search into some fields I hadn’t thought about before, I’ll let you know if I turn up anything interesting.” + A MASSIVE SUBJECT CHANGE.
I hope there are some people on Team You where you can be totally honest and say “Everything sucks and I’m feeling really hopeless about it this week” but you’re allowed to be choosy about who gets to know everything that you’re thinking and experiencing. You’re allowed to ask and expect your spouse to not update your MIL about your job search. People who lead with judgment and the word “should” maybe don’t get invited into your confidence.
N. Bad advice or the wrong advice or annoying advice can still be useful advice. When you don’t know for sure what you want to do about something, and someone tells you strongly that “You should definitely do x!” pay attention to your own strong reactions. “I wouldn’t do x if it were the last job on earth!” is useful information. It may piss you off and be unwelcome (and rude and unnecessary esp. if it’s unsolicited or pushy), but it is information, and you’re not obligated to follow the advice. (Meta-conversation: If I advise you to consider breaking up with someone based on your letter here and you decide Nah, they are my One True Love, you are the boss of your life! Don’t make yourself unhappy because a stranger got your situation wrong!)
Ok, that’s a lot of alphabet letters, time to bring it home. I hope some of this helps you find a path to finding the thing you want to do for money. Career stuff is not easy or obvious, lots of people are in the same boat, and there’s nothing wrong with needing some time and space to make sure your next moves are the right moves. Sending you lots of support and good wishes.