#1156: “How Do I Start Listening to Myself about My Job Search and Cut off Unwanted Advice?”

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.


Jobless Wonder

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.

116 thoughts on “#1156: “How Do I Start Listening to Myself about My Job Search and Cut off Unwanted Advice?”

  1. Co-signing everything the Captain has said. I have made the mistake of being too open about job hunts in the past and have had to fend off tsunami-level Halpful Advice from people who genuinely love me and want me to be happy and have a very hard time turning off the suggestion fire hose. (Love you, Mom!)

    What worked for me was putting those people on an information diet — in some cases, a near-starvation diet. (Love you too, Dad!) When they inevitably started giving me Halpful Advice despite having no hooks to hang that advice on, my response was “I’ve got it under control and this is a really boring subject; let’s talk about the latest family gossip instead” or whatever subject change would get them fired up.

    Captain, I love the idea of checking your online presence like a stranger. Opening an incognito window should be good enough, though, or using a browser that you don’t use for anything else (Hey, Edge, how YOU doin’?) and means you don’t have to remember how to log back into everything when you’re done.

    Best of luck, LW!

    1. I think this is actually the only purpose of Edge: the alternative to clearing cache/cookies/logins!

      1. That, and That One Client/government agency/weird thing that doesn’t work in any other browser

  2. I had this problem a year or two ago. I don’t know if you’re a person of faith, but I eventually came to realize that for me, the reason I wasn’t getting a job was because I wasn’t supposed to have one right then. It turned out I actually had chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia, and depression/anxiety, and needed time to detox and take care of myself rather than work. Luckily, I have family that can support me economically while I’m doing that. Nonetheless, I about drove myself NUTS trying to find jobs/trying to get on disability/trying to do ANYTHING to get some money. It is SUPER overwhelming after awhile, ESPECIALLY when things didn’t go my way: I searched for two years and did not get a SINGLE interview for a full-time job. And people WOULD NOT SHUT UP about “Do you have any interviews yet?” I feel your pain.

    I know your post was literally about asking people NOT to give you unsolicited advice, but you can ignore this bit if you want to: The single best thing I did for my future while unemployed was go to a therapist. Seriously. You may or may not have any of the mood issues or other life problems I was dealing with, but I know that feeling of anxiety, tension, and overwhelming pressure that I hear in your writing. The experience of being unemployed and the job search (especially in our economy) can chew you up and spit you out, making you feel lost, overwhelmed, and with seriously low self-esteem. Unemployment is a MASSIVE psychological stressor. If it’s economically viable for you right now, I cannot recommend therapy enough. Not only is the job search not worth sacrificing your mental health, but better mental health can help you make tough decisions and do what you need to do in this difficult time. A therapist might be able to help you hear your own voice a little bit better through the anxiety and the clamor of your over-helpful friends.

    1. I agree. I was unemployed/resting a lot on my couch/meditating/kinda freelancing/volunteering/doing some odd badly paid jobs for a year, and I was having a really tough time finding work, and you know what? It’s okay that I didn’t. I didn’t work because I couldn’t at the time, I had no energy. I had a right to rest, I had a right to take it easy, even if that meant living off of my parents for a while, even though they were pressuring me to find work. I got myself into therapy and chose to start with my mental health. Obviously, doing such a thing depends on the means each one has, and I know I’m lucky, but what I mean is, there is no need to feel guilty about not having a job.

      Our society is too judgmental about being unemployed, and too pushy and cruel with unrealistic ideas about productivity. And people disguise this judgement behind ‘advice’. The poorer and more vulnerable you are, the more people will try to judge you and try to make you feel guilty. Funnily enough, lots of rich people seem to be okay with not working, or working a little, or just focusing on their personal projects. I wonder why?

      It’s okay not to have work, LW. Unemployment is a structural problem inherent to our system to make sure people accept exploitative jobs out of fear of being made to feel ‘useless’. It’s not a personal failure, it’s a systemic issue.

      Eventually, you will find something you like / is useful to you / feeds your heart / keeps bills and rent paid / whatever it is you and only *you* want or decide for yourself. Don’t despair, take care of yourself, and feel free to be curt with ‘well-meaning’ meddling people, no matter how close they are to you. They are out of place when they patronize you like this.

      Best of luck!

  3. Thank you, Captain. I’m in a similar boat and didn’t realise just how much I needed this.

  4. I was unemployed from January – June of this year, and I found that typically, my daily job searching took up about two or three hours a day. I got up in the morning, took the dog for a walk, and then sat down at the computer from 8am to 11am. Then lunch, and another dog walk. (My dog loved this time in our lives.) Then the afternoon was mine to do with as I pleased.

    At first, it took a serious effort to stick to it (afternoons off). The pressure you feel to be in “full-time, 8-hr/day job search” is real, but these days, unrealistic. With everything online, it’s so quick to apply to several jobs in one morning. It’s literally impossible to “pound the pavement” in today’s world.

    Take time for yourself and relax. It’s okay.

    1. Right! If you’re spending your mornings checking the job boards, applying to a couple jobs, and sending out inquiries to people in your network, that’s enough. A period of unemployment is also a great time to declutter your home and check out some workouts you couldn’t do when you were working full-time.

      1. My closets have never been so clean and organized as they were the year I was out of work. They were goddamn beautiful.

        1. My house was actually messier I think. Everything was so exhausting. Although I wasn’t completely unemployed, rather working three part time jobs with weird hours which didn’t add up to one full time job but did stretch out the savings I was living on so they bled out more slowly.

          But even when I didn’t have a lot of hours, somehow it was harder to make time for cleaning.

    2. Thank you for saying this! It’s such good advice and applies to other situations besides job searching too. There’s so much pressure to be on this ONE THING for the entire time you’re awake. I’m in a similar situation right now for something else, and I used to feel so bad taking breaks or days off from doing the thing. I’ve realized that I need those breaks to keep me sane, but it’s still hard when people hit me up constantly for updates on how the thing is going.

  5. I especially love it when people suggest you go into a career that you aren’t interested in or suited for, and then *they* are all offended because you (to them) are “ungrateful.” I get this all the time that I should be focusing my career on a related, but completely different aspect of said field because there’s money in it. Sure, if you don’t mind ghostwriting other people’s crap for 20 years, and don’t mind having no control over your output…

    1. I get a lot of totally unsuitable career change suggestions too, usually from people who haven’t had to work or job hunt in decades. It’s kind of insulting that people expect me to be happy to instantly change to a completely different profession. (I’m sure it’s possible to do it in some cases, but it seems like a lot of profession changes would require an investment of both time and money, which I don’t have since I’ve been unemployed for 9 months.)

      “Why don’t you become a teacher?”

      “Well, I can’t afford the time/money it’d take to get another degree, I’d presumably need to take time to do some internships to get experience, working with children would be a nightmare for me since I hate working with people, and I think I’d have to start out as a part-time substitute teacher and would need to get a second job to support myself for the first few years. I don’t think anyone would hire me in time to pay for my groceries next month.”

      1. Oh yeah, I forgot about the “Well, just get your teaching degree!” Like I really want to go back to school for what’s a 5-year degree in my field to teach an age group I’m not the best with in a field that’s being eliminated from the schools.

        The other bit of career “advice” I love is to just hang out around malls and get any retail job. Or walk into any business with a copy of your resume and ask for an interview.

      2. “You should be a teacher!” is frequent non-advice in my extended family made up almost entirely of teachers, former teachers, and teacher-adjacent positions (school admins and such).

        Me and the few cousins who aren’t teachers very frequently get “You could TEACH (thing you actually do)” from people who are perfectly aware of the training and certification required to be a teacher.

        Giant blinders come in different shapes I guess.

      3. The one thing I couldn’t suspend disbelief for in _Breaking Bad_ was Walter White’s pre-meth career. You’re apparently one of the most brilliant chemists in the world, and it was easier for you to go back to school to get a degree in education so that you could settle for a low-paying teaching job you hate than getting a gig in your original field. Sounds legit.

  6. Oh, and helpers, there are ways to help a job hunting friend without actually helping with or advising the job hunt itself. Being considerate of the fact that your friend will be on a tight budget for a while, and may turn down invites for big group dinners and such – or if they attend a group outing but seem to order on a budget, see if you can help them get a separate check discretely so they don’t feel pressure to split with the whole group. Make sure they know they can come to your place empty-handed, and offer to come over and bring their favorite food, or invite them over and offer to cook or order it. Or beer, or wine. If they’ve given up their fitness routine to save money, see if your gym or studio has some sort of “bring a friend” promo. Don’t treat them like a charity case, or a beggar who can’t be a chooser, and definitely don’t give them money-saving advice, but if you can lend a hand in helping them maintain a sense of normalcy, that’ll help a lot more than dispensing advice.

    Also, and I hate having to say this, but a lot of job hunting advice floating around these days is unhelpful and outdated. If you are telling your friend to head downtown and hand out resumes in person, stop. If you’ve been telling people they need to call every day until they’re scheduled for an interview, stop. If you’ve been telling people who have no interest or aptitude for sales that they should really check out sales jobs because “everyone should have those skills,” please stop.

    1. Yes, making it easier to do things together without money (or without having to accept gifts) is a big help. There is so much free stuff that one can do!

      And try to act like you actually just enjoy their company and want to spend time with them, and not just ‘want to help them’ is a another that it’s easy to forget.

      1. I wouldn’t go that far. There’s also “there’s this specific opening at this particular job where my recommendation carries some weight, if you’re interested here’s the rough procedure and tell me so I can put in a word for you”.

    2. Bad advice on saving money is so very not helpful if you’ve been laid off. I think my favorite was the relative who urged me to move immediately to a smaller apartment 2 days after I’d been hit by economic layoffs. So, you know, instead of circulating my resumes first thing and maybe nip round to the unemployment office, I should drop everything and apartment-hunt and pack first-thing.

      I said, dryly, I thought I’d be better off looking for a job.

      She said but I should do it right now to save money!

      I pointed out that the savings would not outweigh the costs of moving until about a year after I moved, so starting with a big cash outlay 2 days after losing my job seemed foolish. AND there was strong likelihood I’d be moving once I accepted a new job, so moving twice would just be a big delay in getting to that job and money wasted.

      She fussed that I should try to do it without movers and not spend any money. I pointed out that she knew full well I was not remotely physically capable of that and that I lived on the third floor with no elevator (did she think I could levitate heavy furniture?). She said I should move to a smaller apartment on the same floor of my current building and just have friends move my stuff from one apartment to another. I said all the apartments on my floor are the same size and price and they’re all occupied. At this point she got huffy and protested she was trying to think of anything that might save money. I said arguing for immediate big cash outlays was not helping.

    3. PLEASE do not tell people who do not want to be in sales that they should check out sales jobs. I share an office space with the sales team, and I am very good at my job — and would be very bad at that job. Listening to them for the past year has been an education in what I never ever want to do with my life.

  7. Hi LW! I spent a lot of time being unemployed after getting my graduate degree (about 16 months total) and have now been in stable employment doing the thing I went to school for for about 2 1/2 years, so I think I’m on the other side! Captain’s advice is always great. While unemployed I read a lot of Ask a Manager and used that free interview e-book to prep before every interview I had.

    Job searching sucks and is soul crushing and honestly it made me super depressed, so I’d like to extend a little “how I took care of me” advice for the time in which I was unemployed. I repeated the phrase “my value as a person is not my earning capacity under capitalism” to myself in the mirror A LOT. I lived in a college town at the time, and my local university offered sliding scale counseling services at their teaching clinic. I got to go see a therapist (in training!) for $10 a visit. It was a lifeline! In addition to what Captain Awkward said about spending some time on your hobbies, something that helped me was learning some skills while I was out of work. They weren’t necessarily job related skills–specifically, I got better at cooking and worked on some sewing projects. I’m still very much an amateur seamstress, but hey, getting better even incrementally at something was a big confidence boost. Making something with my hands felt good. Would recommend. My last little tidbit is that I joined a community choir around this time because I enjoy singing. In that choir I ended up singing with someone who found out I was looking for work, started feeding me contract projects, and eventually hired me full time. You never know where your connections will come from, so getting out of the house and meeting folks can only help. Good for brain health but maybe good for your job search too.

    Good luck!! Sending you good thoughts.

  8. Hang in there, LW. I have a few friends who seem to stumble into jobs like magic, but that has never been me. I’ve had job hunts that have lasted well over a year, even when I was sending out half a dozen applications a week. The first (and longest) period of this was when I was transitioning from academic to non-academic employment, and the fact is that I needed a lot of help and advice–I had no idea what I was doing!–but, looking back, I’m not even sure I was getting any good advice from my family and friends, or if I was equipped to sort the good advice from the bad. (There is always, where jobs are concerned, a LOT of bad advice floating around.)

    In short, I got pretty good at fencing off the job talk with friends (“I just need you to listen to me complain for ten minutes;” “I’m not looking for advice, thanks–let’s talk about xyz instead!”). And I latched on to a specific book specifically for jobseekers transitioning out of academia, and I think that really did help, so I co-sign the Captain’s advice to look for library resources tailored to someone in your field or the field you wish to break into. And I wish you luck and patience and perseverance!

    1. OMG so true about the bad advice. I transitioned from being a grad student in a program where everyone was assumed to be going into academia into the non-academic world, and even the JOB COUNSELORS at the UNIVERSITY were truly useless. They’re all, “Oh, people in various sectors will definitely want to hire a PhD! Just use Glass Door and Indeed and you’re all set!” WTF THAT IS NOT HOW THAT WORKS

      1. LOL, yes, I found the job counsellors at my University to be extremely clueless about anything to do with finding a job with a graduate degree in a STEM field.

        1. According to Alison at Ask A Manager, a lot of the advice on applying for jobs given at colleges and universities is not very good, because the people giving it haven’t looked for a job for a long time and are using outdated information. I’m going to be another voice here endorsing the Ask A Manager archives for tips.

          1. Yeah, my university literally had a binder with some ancient printouts about internships. SO glad that person has a full time job at a university to maintain the Binder of Outdated Internships That No Longer Exist!

      2. My university job counselor was useless too. I asked if he could look over my resume and give suggestions, and his only suggestion was that I should put my full home address instead of just “city, state.” When I wanted advice on what kind of jobs to look for since I was having trouble getting a job related to all the coursework and internships I’d done, he said I could take a career aptitude test and discuss the results with him. I didn’t bother since I didn’t see how a generic test would be helpful. (I remember taking a test like that in high school and it said I should be a veterinarian, which I did not go on to study in undergrad.)

        1. I once went to a free career counseling session at the career centre – I was in the middle of a graduate engineering degree and trying to figure out what to do next – and at the end of my twenty minutes they told me that I liked learning things. And said it like it was a great revelation that was totally worth shuffling my schedule around to find time to talk to them to find out.

          Amazing. So perceptive and totally not something I could have told you when I was eight years old if you just asked.

          I basically concluded that career counselors were basically the last people of anyone to ask about careers with a graduate engineering degree. Like literally, a random person from a coffee shop would have a better chance of saying something helpful.

        2. My university job counselor was like, “You must always find out the name and contact info of the hiring manager and follow up with them by email a week after applying if you haven’t heard back. It makes you more memorable to them!”

          1. Most of the companies that hire people with my skills are giant corporations that have a giant hiring infrastructure and it is literally impossible to get the name of the hiring manager unless you know someone in the company in the same general area.

          2. Now that I have worked at a few of these companies I can assure you that the only effect of emailing the manager about your application is to mildly annoy them. They already have your resume. They know you’re interested in the job. They are not going to forget you because you are in their applicant tracking system. If they are interested, they will call.

        3. I am really enjoying this thread of people commiserating at how useless university career services can be (they really can be!), but I’m going to jump in here and be probably the only person I’ve met who had a positive experience with a career aptitude test. But here are the things that made it useful: 1. it was a combined Meyers-Briggs and Strong Interest assessment, not just one or the other 2. I took it when I was a few years into my nonacademic career–so like, not brand new and not entry-level, but still newish to non-academic jobs and in need of some direction, and 3. my responses were examined by a human and returned to me with lengthy explanations.

          And it didn’t tell me what kind of jobs I should apply for, but it gave me a useful, specific way of talking about my professional strengths and preferences. What I mean is: we’re all drenched in corporate-speak by proxy and have a general idea of what we think employers want to know about us as job candidates. Some of the qualities that I perceived as my weaknesses–I’m very risk-averse, I’m more of a nuts-and-bolts person than an idea person, I do not like cold calls–were interpreted by the combined MB/Strong exam as strengths or preferences (I’m grounded and make research-based decisions, I like to be the one to initiate contact).

          One probably doesn’t need an MB/Strong to get there, but I don’t think I could have gotten there on my own, at the time. Anyway, I wrote more about it here. https://scribaltattoo.wordpress.com/2014/11/10/kind-masterminds/

        4. I took one of those tests in high school and it said I should be a lumberjack.

          Zsa Zsa Gabor would have been more suited to be a lumberjack than I am.

  9. Hi there! One thing that helped me figure out a path I liked (and that worked for me) was working with temp agencies. While I was looking for a permanent job, not only did this help with my finances, but I did a TON of jobs that were only a week long or so, though some were longer, which allowed me to get a little look in a lot of different fields. Most of the time I realized that there is no way I could work in X field or do Y all day (sometimes to my surprise), but there were a few really cool positions I enjoyed in fields I thought I hated.
    I know temp agencies aren’t for everyone, but for me it gave me breathing room, I was able to network, and helped me figure out preferences.

  10. Letter writer: I have such a similarly aligned experience that your letter could have been written by past me. If I could time travel to hug past me, I’d love to have brought this letter with me, because you wrote something that has mantra potential:

    “It is scary… but I move on.”

    In the midst of everything you’re going through, try to know that it might really end up being this simple. The job-search-without-a-job is so specifically terrifying and paralyzing… and yet you are still going to keep going forward. You will have a job again soon, and then out of nowhere, this is going to be unbelievably far in your rearview! If you can, try to have faith in the laws of probability.

    In 2016–17, I was underemployed after resigning a good enough job to chase down an uncertain dream. Everyone had an opinion and a concern about my choices. (Like the Captain said above, I had to learn to say thanks and smoothly change the subject. You are polishing your social patience skills beyond belief rn!) It’s been the most reckless and shortsighted choice I’ve ever made… but after so many months and months of interviews that went nowhere, I finally found my dream job. I’ve been here for one year now, and after all of that, I can’t even imagine my story going any other way. I have my fingers crossed wishing the same for you. ❤

    By the end of it all, here’s was the most simple conclusion I could come to: This is among most people’s worst fears, but it’s unrealized, i.e. nobody lounges around wondering about how they’d handle this in their own lives. That’s what clouds their judgment and responses. When someone they care about is living through it, outsiders end up projecting their own defensive narratives onto our stories… but it has less to do with us and more to do with a fear of the uncertain. These people will all cheer for you in the end! You are gathering your own lived experience, and it will become valuable, and you will some day tap back into it. (Have you kept a journal? It was freaking cathartic for me, I’d cry for hours, but I created a record. It kinda lets you hug your previous self.)

    Seconding the Ask A Manager shoutout, too. Where would we be without Alison!?

    Last thought: I’m an editor, and if you think you’d like another set of eyes on your résumé and cover letter, I would be happy to help!

  11. Co-signing the advice about temp agencies. Apply to more than one, even. This will help build a work history. Plus, if you have very short-term assignments, you can list them as one big block of time as you formally work for the agency and not all those separate little companies, so it doesn’t look as sad on a resume.

    The awesome Ask A Manager was listed, but beyond the free resource listed, hit the archives hard about questions like how to apply, how to follow-up, etc. A lot of career advice that’s given out is just plain wrong, but her site is a notable exception here.

    Agreed on the interview thing. I have had to ask my husband in the past to not share information about my interviewing/job searching; he gets very optimistic and brags to his family, and then we have to “nope, sorry” back at them.

    (Finally, to the Captain – thanks for helping to flip my district in this last election!)

    1. Good job, IL-6!

      And yes to temping!

      So many career guides are like “find the ONE TRUE CALLING of your SOULLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL” and while it’s great when that happens, the majority of jobs are just work. I moved to Chicago during the 2000 recession and ended up temping for a while. It’s a great way to earn some money while you try out different companies and roles. Think of it as a way to find something that you can do and can stand to do with people that you can stand to do it with.

      1. Another thank you from an IL-06 resident! I was throwing money at Casten but didn’t have time to volunteer, and I’m *so* grateful for all y’all who came out and canvassed and did the ground work.

        And, yeah, I bought into that one true calling stuff way too long. I think it’s easier to enjoy your job when you don’t expect it to be a calling.

      2. And even your SOUL CALLING job is mostly just work too! I get so tired of people who are mortally offended when their “dream career” involves paperwork and licensing and networking and, you know, LIFE. I can’t believe how many grown ass adults honestly think there’s a fairy princess castle filled with talking mouse servants out there with their name on it.

        1. Yes. I used to work with patients. It was rewarding but stressful as hell for me. I work in the realm of regulatory compliance and federal regulations and stuff now; I’m only indirectly helping patients at this point but it’s important work that needs to get done so people can be treated appropriately. And I’m good at it. There’s nothing wrong with being “a suit” or whatever.

        2. This so much.
          Whether it’s Specific Special Company, starting your own business, or glitzy highly paid work, there are always going to be parts you don’t like. There will be forms and mistakes and hassles, and sometimes the job will be perfect but the coworkers are terrible or the commute is untenable or it just doesn’t pay enough, and dreams don’t pay the bills.

          It doesn’t sound like OP is in danger of rejecting a job for the sake of a non-existent dream job though.

      3. Do many people even work in their Soul Calling, or rather, the first one that they identified? I’m not sure I know more that a couple of people who do.

        Partly because there’s a lot more out there in choices than most of us know about when we first happen upon one Soul Calling. But also because life is just difficult and we can’t all be astronauts.

        I’m close to a couple of people who have been so very sure for 15-20 years that no one know the level of pain they have known over having to give up their cherished Soul Calling. I stopped being patient with that about a year ago and now just calmly say, “I know it’s painful; we’ve all been there. It’s like falling in love in high school with someone who doesn’t want you — it’s excruciating, but it’s an excruciating almost NO ONE gets to go without.” Funny how they don’t bring that up to me anymore — I think since I didn’t talk about going through the same pain, they just assumed I hadn’t or didn’t care.

        And you always need a Plan B. So that when life kicks you in the teeth, you’re brain is already used to thinking there are options. (Anybody see that recent episode of The Rookie where they keep talking about that very point?)

        Me, I get to work in my current soul calling, but I didn’t even know about it until I was in my mid-30s. Life’s funny like that. So now I have to deal with those who grumble that just everything gets handed to me, which is extra precious if they got to go to college straight through out of high school while I was struggling as a factory worker with an exhausting disability.

      4. temping has gotten me several full-time jobs too! Once I even got a pretty sweet gig where they paid for me to get my forklift driving certification, where I was supposed to be helping for 3 weeks over christmas. It’s a great way to meet potential employers and if they like you, it gives you a leg up over an unknown external candidate when they are looking for permanent employees

    2. Ask a manager was a lifesaver to me just over a year ago when I was looking for a job. I would super reccomend the list she has of questions to ask during a job interview- I always had the worst time coming up with any questions, and once I started using those I got a ton of complements on my questions.

      Also – something that really helped me was to write out some stories about things I’ve accomplished before at work, then I would have great examples ready and practiced that I could adapt to interview questions.

      My rate of interviews also really picked up when I started doing a lot more tailoring to my cover letter and resume for each job I was excited about. Ask a Managers advice on cover letters is top notch- and the more individual you can make them the better. I never changed the essentials of my resume but I had a separate one for more customer facing roles vs. more administrative roles and would empathize whatever quality a certain job was looking for.

    3. Co-sign on not sharing information with loved ones- putting them on an “infomation diet” as a commenter said abovethread. I have wonderful, supportive parents and I would get so excited whenever I got an interview or heck, even applied to somewhere cool. When I was rejected or never heard back, I found I couldn’t handle their heartbreak as well as my own. I was too emotional to manage their sadness for me. Now I just tell them if I get far in the process- but mostly I don’t say anything. Sometimes I dream about the day I can surprise them with news of a well-paid stable job in my field, but today is not that day, and that’s okay!

      1. That should be “I got so excited and would want to tell them” my first time commenting and I forgot something, ha!

    4. Also hit up Ask A Manager archives for those reassuring moments of “well, I might not be employed right now, but I am 110% more employable than “takes naked selfies in the work bathroom”, “slut-shamed my manager’s daughter”, and “tried to fire someone for their taste in hot sauce sandwiches”, so there’s hope yet!”.

  12. Definitely second looking at Ask A Manager, Allison has really great advice on how to put together a resume/cover letter, prep for interviews and importantly, how to look after yourself and not be discouraged by a lack of response.
    Job searching is hard! And it is easy to get down when you let your JerkBrain take it personally that you aren’t getting called for interviews. You are so so much more than a job, you are a person too. Remember to take care of you and best of luck!!

  13. This is a great list! I just want to second the volunteer part SO MUCH. Volunteer work has really helped me figure out what I enjoy doing. I literally have my current job because of the portfolio I built volunteering. Don’t limit yourself to just the things that organizations have posted online! I was trying to go from technical writing to marketing, so I reached out to a few groups about helping with organizing events, creating promotional material, interviewing, etc. and ended doing a lot with a local cat rescue and a local land conservancy (I knew almost nothing about that organization going in – their motto just sounded good. Yeah, I want to preserve our local waterways and teach farmers more environmentally friendly tactics!). It can also a be a really good way to boost yourself if you’re feeling down. I felt really useless at my former job (I didn’t like the work and the boss was mean) but I really loved volunteering and feeling like I had a purpose there.

  14. This is a great list! I just want to second the volunteer part SO MUCH. Volunteer work has really helped me figure out what I enjoy doing. I literally have my current job because of the portfolio I built volunteering. Don’t limit yourself to just the things that organizations have posted online! I was trying to go from technical writing to marketing, so I reached out to a few groups about helping with organizing events, creating promotional material, interviewing, etc. and ended doing a lot with a local cat rescue and a local land conservancy (I knew almost nothing about that organization going in – their motto just sounded good. Yeah, I want to preserve our local waterways and teach farmers more environmentally friendly tactics!). It can also a be a really good way to boost yourself if you’re feeling down. I felt really useless at my former job (I didn’t like the work and the boss was mean) but I really loved volunteering and feeling like I had a purpose there.

    1. Also seconding Ask a Manager.

      Also seconding not sharing all the details of your search with (most) people. I hate giving people updates on if I heard from X job or Y interviewer… It’s a huge bummer after a bit. They all mean well, but just reminds me of things that didn’t work out or that I’m still waiting on (and feeling nervous as all heck about!).

      1. Agree with keeping most folks on an information diet.
        For those of us trying to support someone who is job searching, if they share about an interview, work to not ask if they heard back; trust that once there is something to share they will.

  15. My ex was unemployed for a long time and people always had tons of advice for him through me. From the outside job hunting seems simple but it is so complex and really gut wrenching. You have my sympathy LW.

    It can be so hard to not get hung up on specific opportunities or fixated on particular goals. Living with that kind of uncertainty is so challenging.

    Ultimately you are the one who knows you, your life and your situation the best. You may not be an expert on job hunting but you are the expert on your job search. Trust yourself.

    1. Yes, yes, yes. It is so easy from the outside looking in – do XYZ steps, or you aren’t trying hard enough. When you are tailoring the 200th cover letter and your network never quite comes through, making the effort day after day after day can be gut-wrenching.

  16. I had a period of unemployment after I graduated from law school, and the thing I found most helpful was volunteering. I was considering leaving law behind and going into nonprofit development, and I ended up volunteering about 30 hours a week for a brand new nonprofit. It turns out that I’m not very good at nonprofit development. But, that information itself was valuable, and it gave me both something of substance to put on my resume and something to do with my time that wasn’t applying for jobs or worrying about applying for jobs. I felt like I was contributing something of value, which helped keep the anxiety at bay.

  17. A note on point B – first Ask A Manager is great – and as someone who has written in a few letters in the past, I have had a number of questions answered quickly enough for real time action (i.e. I have an interview next and for situation have XYZ question/worry). My other point is that instead of going the alumni career center route – I highly encourage seeking out what different vocational/job services nonprofits are in your area.

    During one very difficult job hunt, I started using one and found out that a lot of my friends thought it was an option only for “low earners” or those without college degrees or other reasons. While some are more designed for ESL adults or those without a college education – a number really are present to serve a wide swath of the population. Stay at home parents returning to the work force, people who’s made a big move, people changing careers, people just struggling – etc. The one I used had a sliding fee scale – but some places are also free.

    In addition to using the organization to help with the technical aspects of the job hunt (proof reading my materials, helping me practice with interviewing, making sure my LinkedIn was as good as it could be, etc) – it was also a brilliant way to shut down the concerned and helpful masses.”Thank you mom/dad/brother/aunt/uncle/neighbor I’m now working with Jewish Vocational Services, following their career advice and as this is their full time job – feel this is the right step for me at the moment”. Telling someone I had a “professional” helping me was so helpful in shutting those conversations down with others but also quieting their voices in my head. I told myself I’d do everything they said for X period of time, and if it was a total bust then I could quit, regroup, and re-evaluate.

    Ultimately it did work – and do I swear by absolutely everything they told me to do now? Not necessarily – but it could not have helped me more at the time to have someone map out a plan for me, tell me what to do when, and allow me to turn off parts of my brain. Particularly the most jerky anxiety parts of my brain.

  18. A – I will open a browser in incognito mode in order to google myself! Same effect as Captain described.

    B – Will also shout out AskAManager, she has a free interview guide and so many helpful posts!

  19. I think volunteering is a great suggestion. I would say a solid 50% of our current employees started as volunteers! It also helps to realize you are capable of contributing and can help boost self-esteem.

    Good luck, LW. It can frustrating and I’m sending good thoughts and positive energy your way!

  20. If you are able to, may I recommend implementing many of these suggestion away from the home you’re staying at? At a cafe or library or park or cozy spot. This gives you a nice place to be that really gets you away from anyone with opinions. You’re the one who chooses the space to go to – which is something that helps me get in touch with my own personality and boundaries and wishes and skills. Then, you’re away from advice-givers and their space, which further protects you as you explore the Catain’s great advice.

    And it involves getting out of the house, which (if that’s an enjoyable thing for you), separates your life into “out” and “home” instead of “home all the time and unemployed”

  21. First off, Captain, this is a bit off-topic but I live in the Illinois 6th District and I want to THANK YOU for canvassing for Sean Casten. 🙂 🙂

    Also – good advice as always. My husband was unemployed for two years (during the Great Recession) and it was hard for me sometimes to keep my own anxiety in check, but like, making him more anxious would not have helped him get a job any faster. You want to be treated as a person, not just Unemployed Worker #45, and you need to treat yourself as a person too.

  22. I agree with earlier posters–I was unemployed for 10 months a few years ago. I decluttered my house, organized my basement, learned new cooking techniques, and spent time with friends. That gave me time to really think what I wanted out of a job. I got my “dream job” right out of grad school, but it ended up being a horrible experience that triggered my anxiety and depression. I was laid off from the job I got after that. With the help of Ask a Manager and Captain Awkward, I figured out my boundaries for a job, what my strengths and weaknesses were, and how to advocate for myself.
    The job that I got that ended my unemployment was not a good fit. I was so relieved that I got a job offer that I didn’t pay attention to a major job responsibility that was on my “weakness list”. I’m several months into a new job that I hope I will be able to stay at for a while.

    If I could have done anything differently, I would have taken additional training courses and updated my certifications, in addition to volunteering more.

  23. If this is helpful (ignore if not), I found it useful when job-hunting to have task-oriented goals for the day rather than time. For example, when completely unemployed I would apply for one job a day (including reading instructions, completing the application, tailoring my resume, cover letter, etc.). When underemployed I would do one application per week. Some days it might take the whole day, other days only an hour, but having that specific goal helped me feel like I’d done something concrete rather than going 2-4 hours (for example) irregardless of what I was working on.

    1. That’s really insightful.

      Task orientation over time-sheet-filling is a good mentality to have in a lot of things, I find.

  24. On my most recent job search, I asked my partner to set up a framework for accountability around the search. I would do at least one job search related activity a weekday (apply to a thing, respond to a recruiter) and they would ask me about it when they got home. Not the vague “how is it going” but “what was your progress today?” It helped a lot; I didn’t have to make emotional assessments of how I was doing, and they didn’t have to make that evaluation either. We still got excited every now and then, but it was less of a feeling that I wasn’t filling a progress bar well enough.

    Added onto the stress was the … situation … which threatens the health care access for people without jobs. My psychiatrist had put me on an anxiety medication which he recommended that I take a low dose daily to help me function instead of getting caught in worry spirals. After I started taking that low dose at night, I stopped waking up sobbing so often. I hadn’t realized that was an anxiety symptom in addition to being a valid response to everything.

    ===Actual job hunt mechanics===

    One of the things that was stressing me out was updating my resume and having different targeted resumes for each type of job I was applying for. Eventually I realized that I was worried that if I re-did the thing, I would lose or forget information. So I started storing all the information for my job history in a separate spreadsheet. That let me be confident in sending out versions that highlighted different skills and experiences.

    (I also have a references sheet and a Sheet of Awesome, where I collect anecdotes about times I was awesome and the job skills it exemplifies. That calms my anxiety about not knowing what to talk about in interviews a little.)

    1. A “Sheet of Awesome” is such a good idea. Been prepping interview question responses over the last week and now wish I had thought of that before. Struggling a bit now with the “tell me about a time when you did X” questions – hard to remember achievements later on.

    2. Last time I job-hunted, I was able to identify about four different types of jobs I might apply for. I drew up a comprehensive resume for each of them. Then for each job, I’d copy the applicable resume, and I’d tweak it (move some duties higher up in the list, based on what I knew about the job, for example).

      And I did have one complete master resume, but I didn’t ever send it out; I just copied it into a new file for the job I wanted to apply for.

    3. I have a giant resume that has EVERY POSSIBLE SCRAP OF RELEVANT INFORMATION EVER on it and I copy-paste the segments of it I need based on the job.

      It also turns out a lot of the jobs I apply to are very similar so I have a couple resumes that are targeted at the common variants that I can just send out with minimal editing.

  25. In the decade since I’ve finished school, I’ve been unemployed, underemployed, temporarily employed, well-employed on paper but throwing up every morning before work and hating my life, and finally… in a good place.

    In retrospect, the first “round” of unemployment was the worst. I came from this real “your career defines who you are” background, I had kicked ass through school, and I literally remember thinking I didn’t have an identity. That wasn’t at all a healthy or rational thing to think, but there it was. I felt like I was broken and a failure. So I stressed a LOT, and beat myself up a LOT, and felt bad a LOT. And well-meaning friends and family offered advice that was rarely helpful (this was all in 2009, Great Recession, I was a new grad with a liberal arts degree and mostly customer service experience). My brother and SIL kept trying to tell me to go into dental hygiene. My dad, who has run his own business since the 1970s, was just baffled and thought something must be horrendously wrong with me – and also complained when I did finally land a job in a call centre, as “you could do better than that.” My mother was sympathetic but kept giving me very outdated job-search advice that hadn’t been the case for at least 10 years at that point. Friends kept sending links to jobs I was wildly under-qualified for – like “Director of XYZ”, because they knew I had kinda, sorta, done a little work tangentially related to that. And in my own desperation, I kept taking jobs that were actually no good for some reason for another (see: call centre), instead of waiting for something actually good to happen or assessing what I really wanted.

    It’s okay to ask friends and family for a communication blackout regarding your employment status while you sort yourself out. Mostly they’re trying to help, and if “help” in your case means “please let’s talk about something that isn’t this”, most of them will probably be on board with that too. I’d also encourage you to remember that you’re the expert here – just because other people are telling you to do something doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for you to do (see: all that advice I was getting above. Basically zero of it did any actual good). You know best what the job market is like right now, you know best what kinds of jobs you like to do, are good at, might actually hire you. You know best whether it’s feasible or desirable to go back to school to get your RN (or other qualifications) like your mom wants, or whether you should change careers entirely, or whether temporary/piecework/WFH is a good option until you figure out the next step, or what have you. There are wrong ways to approach job-hunting, but annoyingly, there is no one “right” way to do it. There is no big glowing answer, even if people around you think there is.

    Best of luck. It’s a slog to be sure. Just remember – it’s not all of who you are.

  26. Captain’s advice is fabulous all around. I had a friend who complained about receiving too much advice and I’ve wondered how he attracted so much when I don’t, even from the same individuals in the same sorts of situations. I think it is because he shared so much with so many and did not have his own mind made up. It made him an absolute magnet for criticism and advice! So Captain’s point M gets double thumbs up from here: I think it not only saves you grief, but heads off more unwanted advice than seems possible.

  27. Definitely make the spreadsheet. When you do start getting more responses to your applications, it’s super not helpful to your cause when you get a phone call to set up an interview and you can’t remember what the company does or what position you applied for. Color-coded spreadsheets! They are the best.

  28. I really needed to read this. I’m not unemployed, but I’m at an alt-ac job where my administration is systematically getting rid of all of the things I’m good at. I’m in a brutal field that more and more seems to want to hire very young people b/c older, experienced people are seen as change-averse (and, of course, we cost more). That’s challenging enough, but b/c I’m originally from academia most of my friends (as well as me) are fairly far-flung AND are used to a model where you have NO control over where you live, meaning that every move ends up being hey! woo! You Are Adventure Girl Moving To A Brand New Place Where You Know No One At All! … but I am a super-shy extrovert, which means that I need people but am super-sensitive to being annoying, and since I now work in a field known for being home to intense introverts, the last x years of my life have been shy-extrovert hell. And I’ve already done moving alone to a completely new/far away place at least five times, and I don’t. have. it. in. me. anymore.

    It’s not so much that I don’t want to talk about the job search — I actually kind of do — but I don’t quite know how to stop getting this kind of YOU GO GIRL advice, if that makes sense. It’s like I reeeeeally need my friends to give me the space to not feel up to being Adventure Girl anymore and to understand that no, I really mean it when I say that an important criteria for me now in looking at postings is “who is it near?” I feel like I’m practically waving my arms and screaming I NEED TO BE NEARER SOMEONE WHO LIKES ME ALREADY, LIKE MAYBE YOU, FRIEND! and my friends are going instead NO, YOU SHOULD TOTALLY APPLY FOR THAT JOB THAT IS WHERE YOU KNOW NO ONE WITHIN IN A 16-HOUR RADIUS! IT’LL BE IMPOSSIBLE AND/OR PROHIBITIVELY EXPENSIVE TO EVER SEE YOU! IT’S A BEAUTIFUL LOCATION! YOU’LL LOVE IT! ADVENTURE!!! I know they mean well, but maaaaaaan, it feels like they’re just assuming that I’m totally OK with moving to a completely unfamiliar place because I’ve had to do it so many times. And I just…. want to be allowed off that hook.

    1. Internet Stranger but fellow Alt Ac Adventure Girl. Who tried to set down roots. But haven’t been such a misfit in a place since middle school years despite putting in A LOT of time an effort to connect with people. But wasn’t about to silence my Sensitive to Being Annoying Anti-Racist Feminist Killjoy self. But also don’t have time/energy to connect with people by doing all the activism all the time because Yay Job That Actually Fits Me Perfectly But Takes A Ton of Emotional Labor. And also health issues maybe needing surgery to improve quality of life. But all my already comfortable people who like me in far-flung locales. (See also, no partner, toxic family of origin…yes currently in therapy due to the thorough emotional exhaustion of grappling with all of this).

      It took me years of toxic jobs (but all with fabulous co-workers–several who sincerely seemed to like me and we had things in common and became friends) to get job that fits in place that doesn’t. Love Ask A Manager for all the fabulous perspective that confirms those jobs were toxic. Will be additionally useful when I am ready to start selectively applying.

      I get it. I really, really, get it. And this internet stranger not only gives you permission, but wishes you the wings to fly off that hook and nearer to people who like you already! We figure who we are and what we want and Surprise! it’s a new era of our lives and priorities change.

    2. For what it’s worth, I totally hear where you’re coming from and that makes total sense to me. I wish you all the best in finding a place you can settle into and make roots, and I hope it’s close to someone you already know and love dearly.

    3. Awwww, thanks, internet strangers. ❤️️ I just really needed to get that off my chest, and I appreciate being heard!

      Since my little rant here I got a first-round interview for a job in a location near a good friend I rarely see, and we spent the day happily texting about how fun it would be if I moved nearer her. Weirdly, I’ve seen a bunch of jobs relevant to me that happen to be near her, so it was really heartening to have her respond so warmly.

  29. I don’t have any specific advice about job searching, but in the past few years I went through a majorly stressful ongoing longlasting situation (utterly unrelated to job searching) and one of the stressful things about it was having my mother do the whole ‘so, is there any news? What’s happening about X? Don’t worry! It’ll all work out! I know it!’ conversation every time I spoke to her. And I spent months feeling that, since she was legit stressed about it as well and did desperately want updates, I just had to put up with these conversations.

    And then one day, while reading through yet another of her long emails on the subject which ended with a ‘please let me know if I can do anything at all to help’ I thought, well, why not give it a shot… and e-mailed back saying, you know, since you ask, there is one thing that really would help, which is for me just to let you and [Sister] know when anything changes, and that way we won’t have to discuss it all every weekend. And she was brilliant and completely accepted this, and although it didn’t get rid of the horrible situation it did mean that at least I didn’t have to go through the stomach clench of dread every time I was about to phone her for a weekly catch-up. And that really did help. The thing is, she was completely fine about it; she just honestly hadn’t realised the extent to which all the talking about it was stressing me out, and so it really was a case of Use Your Words and have them work. If I’d realised that was possible, I’d have done it a long time earlier.

    So, moral of this story… absolutely do let people know you’d prefer not to discuss it. And consider just sending out one group e-mail saying that you’re letting them know that you’d prefer not to discuss it, you promise to update them if there is anything to report [as the Cap’n said, ‘anything’ here should probably be interpreted by yourself more as ‘concrete job offer’ rather than ‘interview’], and in the meantime you’d rather your family-and-friends conversations were time out from it all, thanks for understanding, everyone, and you’ll be happy to hear more about what they’ve been up to. Good luck!

  30. I’m saving your advice since I am in a related situation and am having a horrid time dealing with looking myself and how you decide what to put the effort out for.

  31. My partner has been unemployed for 1.5 years during which time she’s had two periods of multi-month job-hunting (stats for those interested: about 150-200 applications, approx 15 job interviews, 1 job offer that got pulled, 1 temp role she declined at the start of her job-hunt when she thought she would get something better).

    Because of my income she is not eligible for unemployment (we’re in Australia). She is privileged to receive some cost-of-living financial support from her Dad. I cover our rent and shared household expenses.

    I thought I’d share some strategies that work well for her and me in handling and responding to long-term unemployment without fighting or becoming overwhelmed with stress or angst. YMMV of course!

    * First off – I’m an employment professional working with vulnerable clients. There was a huge amount of me realising I need to step back. My partner is not my job client!

    * We have a standing evening per week (that happens to be Wednesday nights) where we chat about job-hunt stuff. Our catch-up usually goes for 15-30 minutes. Outside of that one evening, I don’t ask questions unless my partner has brought up something job-hunt related and even then I’ll say ‘Am I OK to ask questions? You can say no!’ If I have a non-urgent question or suggestion I table it for Wednesday nights. If something super urgent comes up I’ll ask if I can talk about job-hunt stuff now (again, she can say no and it’s no harm no foul).

    * The exception is if she has had a job interview – that evening I can ask detailed questions about what happened (which is great, because I couldn’t take the curiosity otherwise!)

    * In this list, we go through a list of action items that we developed together and that she agreed to do in her job hunt. They include: trying to apply for a certain rate of jobs per week, going to Dress for Success (an agency that provides free interview clothes), reading over her cover letters before sending on, etc. She is a superstar and has ticked off 95% of the items on the list! There are some optional items on the list that are suggestions from me (like, doing further training) that she can consider and take up, or not – but that’s bonus round stuff.

    * We have joint action items that include taking care of ourselves health-wise and emotionally. I also put an action item on the list that I’m not allowed to be a controlling asshole about the job-hunt (just because that work is my day-job). It’s sort of a joke, but it reminds me that I have a genuine commitment around not inadvertently undermining or controlling her in the job search, especially if I am feeling stressed or desperate about our situation myself.

    * After previously doing a lot of applying on her behalf (which made me feel resentful even though I’d chosen to do that, and also undermined her confidence in her own job-hunting abilities), my role is now channelled/limited to finding job ads that fit the parameters of roles she’s said she’s interested in and logging them on a spreadsheet. She reviews these and if she’s interested, she applies – or not. Either option is fine as long as she is actively applying. I only want to help in ways that are actually helpful to her, not undermining or destabilising or controlling or upsetting or icky in any way – so I remind her to ask if there’s anything she needs or I table other suggestions at our weekly meeting.

    * We have an agreement that she will tell me if her income/savings goes below $500 so that I can make any budget adjustments from my own salary (for instance, her Dad will not be able to support her forever so I’ll change my approach if she loses that financial support). Having a pre-agreed cut-off stops me from being worried that she has no money or that I’m going to have to make changes money-wise in an emergency. This money-notification agreement came about after her Dad had told her he was looking at cutting the money he could give her in about a month’s time and she didn’t tell me for two weeks, instead internally freaking out and applying hard on her own and getting really upset. We both also committed to doing some financial literacy training so that we have some shared language and skills around money and budgeting.

    * My partner is transgender and the two multi-month periods of job hunting have been broken up with some surgery, some mental health stuff like social anxiety/gender dysphoria triggering panic attacks – all of which can be exacerbated by job hunting. Transgender people face labour market discrimination. The point is that job-hunting is more than usually hard for her and we take that into account in how and when we talk about it and treat each other around it, and I encourage her to take breaks or she lets me know if she’s taking a break.

    * I have mental health issues and while on a decent salary, am not rolling in cash, so I take care of myself around money, mental health, pressure and so on too. If I feel like I’m thinking too much about her job hunt I try to figure out what I’m really worried about (am I worried about my own job? My own money management? Do we need a long weekend away somewhere cheap or free?)

    * My partner does more labour at home than I do – this will shift when she gets paid work outside of the house, but it’s really important that she does do that work and that her great work is acknowledged and not taken for granted just because it’s not salaried.

    * I’m reading over this list having written it – it sounds like the least romantic thing ever! So we also take lots of time to just have quiet hangouts or fun dates that have NOTHING to do with job-hunting. I also ask her for help with things a) because sometimes I need help from my lovely partner but also b) so that there isn’t a helper-helpee dynamic happening that makes her feel like shit or makes me feel like I’m ‘carrying the load’ (with a risk of me getting a bit resentful until I realise and unpack those thoughts).

    Best of luck to you LW. Job-hunting can be so challenging at the best of times, and people can be so awkward about careers/jobs/ways of approaching labour/how we value individuals in a capitalist society/etc that so much gets wrapped up in it. I sincerely hope you find a great gig soon but regardless, I hope you and the people around you can treat each other with respect and care, and that you get some time and headspace to figure out your own thoughts and plans.

    1. The structure and care you & your partner put into this IS the most romantic thing! This comment is amazing!

    2. I’m going to need to read this over a couple of times as I cope with my adult child’s unemployment.

  32. Seconding Captains letter A suggestion. Write down everything you’ve ever done for every single job, volunteer, high school group, learned on your own thing you’ve ever done.

    Work on this over days or a couple of weeks. Write stuff even if you think it’ll never be significant in any other job ever (hey, I had to determine the sex of Canada geese while banding them. Not exactly something you see in job descriptions!).

    The great thing is that when you’re done, you will have an amazing list of stuff you’ve done. You will be surprised at what you’ve accomplished.

    Then, when you get the advice, you can think of all the stuff you’ve accomplished, and hopefully it will help you use all the other suggestions on how to stop the *helpful* advice.

    1. here’s another idea.

      Think of some of the basic job questions someone might ask:

      Tell me of a time you handled multiple conflicting priorities.
      Tell me how you handle difficult coworkers
      Tell me how you approach boring and repetitive tasks
      Tell me of a time you recovered from a big mistake

      And others.

      Then think about things you’ve done, and develop the (short) stories you can tell that illustrate how you handle these.

      One other thought:
      Before every interview, play “let’s pretend.”
      Let’s pretend you are the hiring manager for that job. What are the tasks, and why are they important to you? What do those tasks add to your business/organization, or to the colleagues you work with? (Like, when people file stuff correctly, then busy colleagues can put their hands in them rapidly, which adds productivity) What are the skills and abilities you would want to see in your best applicant?
      Saying, “I know you’re going to want someone who can file correctly, because that will increase productivity immensely,” will give you a HUGE advantage. Just saying it.

      Now pretend you’re you–how can you frame any of your experience to indicate that you have those skills and abilities?

  33. Context note: Australian, in Australia.

    Speaking as a person who is unemployed (long term unemployed, in fact – it’s been over a decade since I last had steady employment) the one thing I don’t need is people close to me attempting to “help” me by telling me what careers I should be looking at, what kind of work I should be looking for, and what I ought to be doing in order to best perform The Dance of the Deserving Poor in the current economic climate. I get quite enough of that from the mainstream media, the people at my JobActive provider’s office, the local Centrelink office, and so on. Unless you actually work for a JobActive provider, or for Centrelink, it is likely you literally do not know as much about the systems I’m involved in as I do, and your advice, help and so on is therefore uninformed, and thus, less than useful.

    One of the core things I’ve learned about being unemployed over the years is this: while we’re sold the myth our joblessness is solely within our own control, in actual fact the process of getting a job involves at least two people, one of whom (the potential employer) has far more structural power in the system than the other. If you’re not getting jobs, it is because employers aren’t choosing to employ you, and sometimes it’s worth looking at the reasons why their choices might factor into things, rather than solely framing things as questions about why you’re failing all the time. This is where factors like age, race, physical appearance, social skills, socio-economic class, religious background, disability status, and so on come into play. If you’re not in one of the structurally privileged groups in society (eg white, tertiary-educated, cis-heterosexual, middle-class-passing, able-bodied, neurotypical men), you will find it harder to get work, and sometimes it’s worth accepting this fact. It’s not you, it’s them.

    (Certainly I’ve found when I accepted I was doing everything feasible within my control to find work, and therefore any problems with my efforts were happening on the employer side of the equation, it made the weekly job-search a lot less fraught and worrying. When employers are asking for five years experience in role for entry-level positions, it is not me who is being unreasonable).

  34. Hi LW, I’m in the same boat of unemployment/underemployment. I second getting busy with other things. I really recommend contacting nearby vocational services and employment services. I’m working with two and they really lit a fire under me in terms of job searching. I know they have a reputation for only finding grocery store stocker jobs but that’s not true. They do that and more. The one I’m with has connections with AirBnb and other companies. If you’re disabled and American your state’s Department of Rehab is where to start.

    One of the things that helps me fight off the depression about being underemployed (besides getting hobbies) is reminding myself I still have my entire life ahead of me and I won’t be stuck at home forever. Another is rock-solid boundaries about getting everyone to stop giving me advice, demanding accountability, asking how the search is going, and giving me bad job advice. If people fight you on that it’s tough to deal with in the moment but you’ll come off feeling better.

    Also: Ask a Manager is really great. She makes me write better cover letters and feel more confident in telling my pushy mother to back off the bad job search advice.

    Good luck! Here’s to getting a job!

  35. Ugh, this is a hard one for me. I was marginally employed for a year and a half a couple of years ago, and although I was able to manage financially, one of the painful things it made me realise was that I did not have a single person in my life I could talk to about it without having to endure advice, criticism, people trying to fix my obviously broken life, or pressure to do something or other (generally pressure to do literally the last things I was willing to do).

    I had either people too busy and engrossed in their own life to have time for a conversation, or people who were openly unwilling to show any sympathy if I refused to follow their advice. I wasn’t literally alone, but I certainly sometimes felt like I was.

    I really felt like I had to be super aggressive about suppressing _any_ signs that I wasn’t perfectly happy or that I was ever discouraged, because it would come back to haunt me.

    1. I have come to this realization. and it changed how *I* act now.

      I realized that every time I shared a worry with my best friend, she launched right into telling me it would work itself out, or reassuring me, or whatever.

      It ended up feeling really dismissive. I don’t know if she was just not wanting me to worry, but it ended up feeling as though she didn’t want to hear anything about my feelings. That she wanted me tos top talking about it right away. So I stopped calling her.

      And I realized that I didn’t want to do that to people, So I vowed to only say, “wow, that sucks!” when someone told me their troubles. I shared this epiphany with my colleague.

      Then one day she came into the office and said, “Guess what, my kid really IS allergic to peanuts; it’s not that he got sick once from something else on the same meal that he ate them, the way I thought. He really IS allergic!”

      For a brief moment, I thought, “Oh, I’ll tell her sometimes kids grow out of it, or that lots of peopel are and they figure it out. I don’t want her to worry.”
      And then I stopped. Adn said, “Wow, that sucks! Oh man, now instead of just humoring him, you really have to work at this–and it’s going to be scary, not just annoying.”

      She kind of relaxed. and spoke about how they’d found out, and I could see her shoulders loosening. And I said, “I’m really pissed at the world on your behalf! And on his.”

      Later she said, “You did that thing, didn’t you? It was better than being reassured. It was company, and commiseration.”

      I try to think of it as coming to stand NEXT to them, to look at their problem with them. Not standing over here where I am, and looking at THEM, and trying to fix them.

      I try to be the friend you can be unhappy in front of, who will keep you company for a little while, and be mad on your behalf, and validate how you feel.

      And I am remembering only now that my mother did that very thing: “this is an unsetting sort of thing to happen to anybody, of course you’re sad; that must have been really difficult; it’s OK to be sad, it’s a sad kind of time; I’m pissed at that person on your behalf!”

  36. This might be a bit confrontational, but I like: “I’d prefer it if you listened to what *I* want for my career, rather than telling me what *you* want for my career”.

    Or alternatively: “I don’t try to tell you how to live your life. Please stop telling me how to live mine”.

    Seriously, people need to quit it with the unsolicited life advice. Just stop.

  37. One thing I thought of in the unsolicited advice category that I hate: networking. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that networking is the *only* way to get a job these days. I care about people a lot and am social but am also an introvert and this is SO impossible! Going up to people at parties and schmoozing with them until they magically provide a job? How??? Do they find this as manipulative as I do? What do you even SAY?? My first job ever maybe counts as a networking success (I applied for a work study job at my college where the boss happened to be one of my profs and so she knew I was dependable already and knew my stuff). Other than that I have gotten NO jobs from networking. All of my jobs have come from one of the following two methods: a) go to random places, get an application, and then turn it in; or b) go to a job fair, see who’s hiring (without trying to have manipulative conversations; it’s like online dating for jobs, since if they’re there then you know they’re wanting to hire), and then sending them an application. I’ve fallen into some wonderful jobs that way, and even the one job I hated led to another job at the same employer that was a much better fit for my skills and I loved it. So networking is not the only way!!

    1. The idea that you can network your way into a job, like, tomorrow, is pretty much a lie as far as I can tell. It is helpful to have a network of people who think you’re great at your job when you’re trying to make a *specific* move and you are *not picky* about the timing. “Hey, I’m really trying to move into Weasel Grooming; let me know when your company is hiring.” If you know a lot of people in the weasel industry, and they will vouch for you, this can really improve your chances of moving into a lucrative and rewarding groomer role. Even if you don’t have the experience on paper, you have people who will endorse you and maybe give you the inside scoop on how to present yourself the best.

      Networking does not work so great when you need a job now. If your friends’ companies are not hiring, they cannot just magic a job out of the air because they like you.

    2. AFAIK “networking your way to a job” is only true at the later stages of a career. It makes sense for a higher level person to leave one job b/c they were headhunted into another, or get scouted out as soon as word gets out they’ve moved.
      This doesn’t even hold true across all industries and places.

      For entry level people? HAHAHA No

      1. I once went to a talk which was supposed to be about how women in my field found worked their way into their careers. One woman told a story about how she happened to be talking to someone on the subway, and it turned into an invitation to apply for a really high level job, which she was then offered. I left the talk. Great that it worked for her, but really, really not helpful for literally anyone else in the world.

  38. Hi LW! I made a fairly dramatic career change a few years ago, and I’d like to co-sign everything the wise Captain says. I’d just make one small addition from my experience though, in case yours is similar – on your Amazing Colour-Coded Spreadsheet (TM), you might want to consider *not* tracking the application deadlines of each job, and whether or not you heard back from them. YMMV, but I found that tracking this stuff made it basically impossible for me to not obsessively track the date and status of each application once I’d sent it off – did they get it yet? Have they closed application yet? Why haven’t I heard back? – it drove me BANANAS and made the process feel much worse.

    Eventually, I started keeping my Spreadsheet without that information, and doing everything I could to let go of each application once I’d submitted it, and mentally move on to the next thing. The tracking, for me, was useful and important – but not that stage, the post-application bit.
    Love and good vibes beaming your way, LW – everything crossed that your next cool thing is just around the corner!

  39. I like the volunteering idea a lot…if you can afford the time to do it. I was certain that I was going to be a modern day version of Mary Leakey/Margaret Mead…traveling the world and doing archaeological work. While I am an anthropologist, I learned very early on that I don’t dig (hehe dig…get it? I’ll show myself out…) archaeology.

    Even though I have all the education training (archeology, bio, social, linguistics…) necessary for my degree, I am a social/cultural anthropologist. I also hold degrees in history and sociology (specifically women’s studies). The intersection of those degrees really help me focus on understanding the people I work with.

    I volunteered at women’s shelters and immigrant help centers. I pretty much fell ass backwards into domestic violence advocacy through volunteering. It wasn’t something I would ever have looked at as a ‘job’ TBH…so you never know where your path is going to lead.

  40. #J is in so many ways helpful.

    If you set an fixed amount of time to do something you create a lot of positive feedback for yourself. Because every time you reach the end of a session you have a success.

    It’s like trying to get an empty inbox. We’re used to call an empty inbox a succes. But with this you’ll have only one very hard (or impossible?) goal to reach. If you work maybe 1 h a day to get the inbox empty you’ll have one goal reached every day, even when the inbox still isn’t empty.

    You’re desired outcome is to get a job. If you only count this as a succes it’ll get very frustrating. With the fixed times on working to get employed you have a measurable action to count as an succes on a dayly/weekly basis.

  41. I feel you LW! Last year I was unemployed for over 8 months, then 6 months as a freelancer on a very dry spell.

    What helped me (and might help you too) was looking through the Eventbrite in my area. If you live in/near a large city, there are often free events, and very often there are workshops to skillsets you might be interested in having, or interested in honing. If it turns out you disliked a workshop, that’s okay because it was free/under 10 bucks! It can also help you find places you’d like to volunteer or work at, and will allow you to meet new folks (who don’t have to know about your employment situation if you don’t want to tell them)!

    Another thing (in particular for startups and very small, “industry-disrupting” companies, but it can apply to any workplace) is to listen to your gut-feelings. Is this employer making you feel very uncomfortable, or just a really, really bad kind of weird? If so, can you pinpoint what made you feel that way? Maybe it was their attitude when explaining their mission, or an offhand comment about work conditions (I utterly squirm every single time I hear the word “exposure”, and I start getting wary when I hear “PASSIONATE” too often, for instance), or that you find strange that it’s the CEO’s LinkedIn account that is doing the recruitment (that is my own red flag, it shows desperation to find alllicants, and it’s never a good thing if there is a job offering without anyone applying to it). If you feel in any way uncomfortable, explore why it is, and do some research on the workplace’s conditions, pay grade, etc.
    So far, my gut feeling helped me avoid a few workplaces that turned out to be really exploitative and toxic. If I had gone in I would have not only been miserable, but would have had to get back to job-searching within 3 months of employment. In one case when I investigated a “Dream Job That Made Me Uncomfortable” I learned that the employer had a history of ‘forgetting’ to pay his freelancers unless they threatened to sue him.

    Toxic workplaces that exploit employees to hell and back are killer on the self-esteem, and they are not worth pursuing. Listen to your gut when you feel extremely weird about a workplace, and investigate why you feel that way. It might be for good reasons.

  42. I think unemployment is one of those undesirable life situations that people can over-identify with or personalize. It’s like the thought of being unemployed (which they are reminded of by being around you being unemployed) freaks them out so much that they want to fix YOU now now NOW! so that they can feel better about their imagined unemployment. I think this can lead to offering unsolicited advice.

    When I’m offered unsolicited advice, I have learned to simply say “Oh you know what? I wasn’t actually asking for advice.” with a warm tone and a friendly smile, or “Oh you know what? I wasn’t asking you to fix me/my situation/whatever.” MOST people, if they care about me and truly have my best interest at heart, will immediately catch what they’re doing and be profusely apologetic. If someone takes offense or doubles-down, now I know it’s about them, not me.

    (I think it’s worth mentioning that the other form this–freaking out over someone else’s undesirable life situation–can take is “othering.” This is where you hear people blaming someone’s illness on their body-type, treating mental health issues as a personal failure, or otherwise blaming a person’s situation on their race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, etc. etc.)

    1. “Oh you know what? I wasn’t actually asking for advice.” with a warm tone and a friendly smile, or “Oh you know what? I wasn’t asking you to fix me/my situation/whatever.” MOST people, if they care about me and truly have my best interest at heart, will immediately catch what they’re doing and be profusely apologetic. If someone takes offense or doubles-down, now I know it’s about them, not me.

      I love this so very much.

    2. Oh, and also:

      The concept that your unemployments hits all THEIR anxiety buttons about themselves?

      Absolutely true.

      (and my god, we need to separate health insurance / health care from employment!)

      1. My life was a catch 22 of “I cannot get a job that is good enough to have health insurance, because the symptoms of my numerous severe health issues (both diagnosed and undiagnosed) prevent me from doing so, and I cannot treat/diagnose those health issues, because I don’t have any health insurance”

        (and I did NOT qualify for disability, Medicare, medi-Cal, or any other form of public aid whatsoever – believe me I tried. Though once I get a formal diagnosis for my dyspraxia I’m going to try for disability, because I now realize that between ADHD, dyspraxia, and several other neurodevelopmental disorders (not even counting my chronic physical illness), that I have been so profoundly disabled that I probably should have been on disability for my *entire adult life*.)

  43. I’m going to need to start job hunting soon and this is so helpful and encouraging, thank you!

  44. I left my old industry a couple of years ago. Leaving was hard for lots of reasons, but one was I had no idea how to find a job outside that industry or even what I wanted to do. I wound up going to a professional resume reviewer/writer who translated my skills into language people outside my old industry can understand. She also suggested a bunch of jobs she thought I was qualified for to help me refine my search. Some of them I hadn’t even heard of. Her feedback made a big difference; I landed more interviews after using her, and got a job I like soon after — a job I never would have even thought to apply for if I hadn’t gone to her.

    LW, I know you said you’re already bombarded with advice, so maybe the last thing you want is one more voice; however, could you use this option to quiet people like your mother, mother-in-law, etc.? You could say, “Thanks, but I’m getting professional advice about my job hunt” and then change the subject. With the added bonus that the professional assistance could help you find a job much faster anyway.

  45. I kind of feel the need to say, specifically: I got a home health aide job because it was the only one I could get in the mental health field. It was the worst job I’ve ever had. My supervisors practiced active worker suppression because they knew how bad it was and didn’t want us to compare notes or learn we should have been unionized. And I learned that in many places, “home health aide” is literally exempt from minimum wage legislation.

    I worked 48-hour shifts where I slept on a fold-out sofa bed in a room next to my charge. I was asked to do tasks I was NEVER trained for, like changing adult diapers, administering medication, and bathing adults who weren’t mentally capable of doing so themselves. And my clients were frequently physically aggressive towards me, which I did not receive training in dealing with for many months after I started. My supervisors cared most about the cooking and cleaning I did, not about the physical care I provided, and ESPECIALLY not about emotional care or quality of relationship I had with the person I cared for. It didn’t matter if a client who routinely self-harmed hadn’t actually hit themselves once when I was there–it mattered that all the time I spent helping them be calm and self-regulated meant the kitchen wasn’t sparkling clean at the end of my shift.

    I tried looking for other jobs in that position, but I was so physically and mentally exhausted, I could barely hold it together. I’d come home from my shift and sleep a day straight. I left the job because I had a physical and mental breakdown.

    I know this is really specific and not very good in general terms, but that one’s just leaping out at me and it seems like nobody else has addressed it. “Everyone’s always looking for home health carers!” YES, BECAUSE IT’S A SHIT JOB THAT PAYS SHIT-ALL.

  46. Just want to say Thank You for this! I am in a little different situation. I came out of retirement because of inflation and gentrification (read: broke!) and took my Right Now Job, two years ago. Then due to inertia, lack of time and energy, and optimism that the RNJ was temporary, I didn’t really look for anything else. I didn’t like this job all that much ever, although I have learned valuable life lessons and maybe made a few friends. After two years and some things that happened at work (basically working hard and being treated poorly and underpaid) I am done! But since I do have this income, I have the luxury of taking the time (but not too much!) to do a real job search. I am going to use your suggestions. Fortunately, only one or two persons know I’m looking, and they’re on Team Me 100%, so I’m not deluged with advice, other than “You’re working where? You can do better!” which I take as encouragement. An hour or two a day is probably all I can do, since I am working, but I am going to do it! Thanks again! I appreciate the work that you do.

  47. Dear letter writer, I feel your pain. Job hunting is scary and your brain is trying to be in several places at once (the future – what if I don’t get this job? What if I do?… – and the present: omg I have to do interview prep now, but should I apply for that other job too, how much time should i invest in this, aaagh) – and you don’t know when it’s going to end, so you panic and don’t enjoy any of that time.

    A wise friend who spent some time figuring out what job she wanted said to me that she wished she had enjoyed this unstructured time more, used it as an opportunity to have some fun too, while she had all that time. ‘I can tell you how it ends – it always ends in the same way, by being a job’. I like the Captain’s advice of taking some time out every day to enjoy your ‘freedom’ (although it often doesn’t feel like freedom).

    I spent 4 years on casual contacts and in a grotty side job, the kind no one wants to do so it was easy to get and they always offer you work (and you hate the work, so, ugh. I’ll reveal the secret: it was substitute teaching. Grotty thankless job with an unstable income, but it gave me an injection of cash and some security when I needed it.) This summer I’ve just finally secured a great job – I managed to turn a casual gig into the real thing. For years I couldn’t get there; now I’m there. This time it was my turn. Remember, one of these days, it will be YOUR turn.

    Good luck! Rooting for you!

    1. PS I love what another commenter suggested in the comments of another CA job hunting thread: this one person said that she decided to reframe ‘I suck at getting jobs’ as ‘I’m just great at being unemployed!’… So if someone asked how the job search was going and had she had any luck yet (a ridiculous question, because by that standard you are always ‘unsuccessful’ until you get the job) – she would say ‘yeah, I’m doing great! I applied for three jobs this week and I’ve made this amazing lasagne. I’m just great at being unemployed!’…

      I loved this advice so much and it helped me.

  48. I vote for having a serious talk with those closest to you–tell them how you feel, that it is stressing you out, and makes you feel as though your only value is in earning money.

    And then for everyone else, try a script like this: “I don’t talk about job-hunting during social situations.”
    And then don’t. Talk about job hunting, that is.

  49. Thank you, everyone. I’m under less pressure to keep explaining my situation, but the second question is very relevant to me. I’ve been underemployed (working very part-time for an organization as a “self-employed independent contractor) for three years and struggling to seek anything better. I have transferable skills but a narrow range of work experience, and disabilities — severe vision impairment, chronic pain, chronic low energy, anxiety, and depression — greatly limit the types of work I can do, so I infrequently find anything I feel able to apply for, and feel unable to use the popular “apply for everything everywhere” method. I feel like my career peaked with a temporary national-park-ranger job I got immediately after college, and that’s a lousy feeling. There’s a lot of great advice in this post and comments, and I’ll be sure to read it thoroughly, bookmark, and reread as needed.

    Advice I would echo:

    Volunteer. I volunteer now and have done so whenever unemployed. It’s essential to my quality of life as a source of social interaction, a way to test which kinds of work I can do, and a way to do the nature education work I love best, even if I don’t get paid for it and sometimes resent that fact. And it really can sometimes lead to paid work if you seize opportunities. I began as a volunteer at the organization I now work for, and when the staffperson I was assisting resigned, I asked about taking over her job for pay.

    Take networking opportunities. They often lead to nothing, but you never know. My park ranger job was made possible by a ranger who was a graduate of my college, met me at an alumni networking event, told me about the federal Schedule A authority for hiring disabled people, and made sure my application paperwork passed success through the system.

    Seek local resources. I’ve been getting some guidance and assistance from my county’s Workforce career center, as well as the local independence center for disabled people.

    Don’t take everyone’s advice to heart. I know that’s your aim already, but I’ve had to remind myself of it when a friend said that I could find a job where they wanted me so much they would pay a driver for my commutes (my inability to drive is a severe limitation, an undesirability to employers, and something I’ve had to deal with alone) when that’s hughly unlikely, and that my background in environmental studies/education would suit me to advise insurance companies on adapting to climate change (uh, no).

    Best of luck to you!

    Note: First time posting here at Captain Awkward. I’ve been spending hours reading a small portion of the posts, focusing on dating/relationship topics and absorbing as much guidance as I can from my fellow geeky introverts. You’re a wonderful community. Though my heart lurched a bit at the glossary’s description of “Party Smeagol,” as Smeagol (combined with Gollum) is the fictional love of my life since 2004. Geeks and our weird crushes, right?

  50. Oh man oh man… the constant unsolicited advice sucks. SUCKS! It sucks that it’s constant, it sucks that it’s unsolicited, and then it sucks because it really does suck. The only thing I’ve found to work is to never bring up the job hunt, give no specifics when asked, and change the subject. I’ve come to hate the pseudo-pep talks of friends and family telling me I’ll get the job — when I make the mistake of telling them I have an interview — plus the advice of how to dress and act, like I’ve never done interviews before, with some body-shaming thrown in for good measure. And when I don’t get the job, it becomes an exercise of analyzing everything I did and how I might have screwed it up. Because it can’t be that they wanted to hire someone else for whatever reason. So, yeah, the only thing I can do is not talk about the job hunt at all. That, and inform them of reality of what they are suggesting (e.g., “You wanna pay for me to go back to school for pharmacy? I’m too old for that much debt.” and “No, I can’t just send out lots of copies of the same resume. I have to judciously add in keywords from the job posting, so it gets past the computer scanning filters and gets seen by a real person.)

    Ever notice how everyone has lots of advice on job hunting, usually unrealistic, but they never offer do anything truly useful? Like refer you to someone they might know in a relevant field or company? Like go through their network of people and put in a good word for you as a potential hire? Even for one of these jobs you never worked in or trained for (e.g., retail, customer service, etc) but supposedly anyone can do, so they recommend you do that so at least you have a job?

    Then again, maybe some of you have had people get super pushy that way, and maybe I’m lucky my family and friends don’t – and to some extent, can’t – get more involved in my job search….

    1. I got a mix of occasionally helpful things and contacts to people, mixed in with pushy advice and pressure to give up on things I cared about and do impractical things that made no sense.

      The help actually was sometimes things that could potentially have been helpful (although they happened not to be) but it was so intertwined with bad stuff that it made it really difficult to accept the helpful stuff without people seeming to feel that I owed them listening to their unhelpful pressure. And it also kind of made me feel like a project that people were trying to rescue.

    2. Nobody I know knows anything that can help me in a job search, that’s why. I supposedly know a lot of people at my giant org but that doesn’t mean they can get me hired elsewhere either. Networking is shite if you’re not a person in power, I think.

  51. I was sort of unemployed for about 4 months last year. I job-searched pretty intently every day for the first few weeks and I found it Soul sucking so I cut it back to an hour or two per day. I also had to deal with non-helpful advice from my Dear Husband, who started to sound like the parents we all read about in various Ask A Manager letters (think: gumption!).

    I found that I needed to be busy, because somehow, magically, busy begets busy, which generated work. I found various community things to do, I exercised (is unemployment bikini body a thing? I had that, albeit briefly), I networked like mad. This led to feeling useful which led to work, and suddenly I was able to see my way to what I needed to do (which turned out to be starting my own business – I realize this is not applicable in every situation). I just needed to let my brain organize how to get there.

  52. Technically I have been underemployed since 2016. I am 50, a woman, and used to have a six figure income. Policies changed in my Fortune 500 workplace and suddenly I lived in the wrong location to continue my career. Turns out similar jobs where I live pay 40% less than what I had been making and didn’t want me anyway. Too old? Wrong education? Class issues? Who knows. Turns out I can make the 40% less total without the corporate stress – I clean houses and do odd jobs. So I’m hanging in there, although things are tight. But two things: 1. Turns out that powering through 6-8 hrs of heavy cleaning multiple days in a row is *VERY* hard on a middle-aged body and 2. The conversations about what I do for a living are fraught. I may have grown up in blue collar near poverty but where I live now and the people I associate with are very comfortably middle class. These are people who are paying someone like me to clean up their messes, but in their minds, as their friend/acquaintance/associate, I’m supposed to be one of *them*, not *one of of those people*. I mean, here I am, essentially a self-employed small business owner making an average wage but as soon as anyone hears what I do, it’s immediately a tiresome uncomfortable pity party at best and a frigid shutting-of-doors and looking-down-of-noses otherwise.

    I don’t know if I have anything useful to add, really, except to say that even people with decades of experience can find job hunting difficult. Networking is shitty if you aren’t a charismatic popular outgoing person and having every conversation with a new person inevitably focus on what one does for a living is the fucking worst. Can we start a movement of people who never ask that question, and focus on ice-breaking/getting to know you questions like “Do you have pets?”/”What do you love most in the world?”/”What’s your favourite book?”/”Which boots are you wearing to the revolution?” instead?

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