Friday, May 31, 2013

How to survive Unemployment

Unemployed? Welcome to our sad, cranky little club. There are no free snacks provided, because we're broke. But you're welcome to scavenge the cabinets for what you can find.

And now for some advice, since you asked:

First let's get something out of the way. I'm going to tell you something and you just need to swallow it, so the advice that follows can actually have an effect.

Here's the reality: while you're unemployed, you're going to get on Facebook. You're going to go to lunch with your friend who calls you randomly, because you're not working on weekdays and so you can go to (a very cheap) lunch. That's actually OK, because some socialization will keep your spirits up, and lead to specific networking that you couldn't perceive on your own. You're going to take naps, and have moments where you just need to reel, again, at the fact that you're unemployed before you can get back to your job searching.

You're not going to be perfect, adhering to an 8-5 schedule of resume doctoring, networking, applying applying applying. I was in the midst of applying for a job when I veered over to my blog to write this. Unless you're a Type A workaholic, which I am not, you're going to get distracted.

Did you swallow that? OK, let's move on to this:

Because you're going to be a Facebook user and a lunch dater and a nap taker, just try to follow this rule: Reserve certain activities for evening. The watching of TV or movies, extended fun phone calls to friends, baking 100 cupcakes, reading for pleasure, hobby of choice - surfing, knitting, what have you.

Personally I think it's OK to exercise during the day. But that other stuff? Wait until 5:00. Try to treat your day (kind of) like a workday. Because the people who can give you a job work during the day. They're less likely to take your calls after 5, so you might as well reach out to them during the day.

What I'm saying is it's easier to get away from Facebook than it is to stop watching a movie. And it is possible (though not always easy) to spend just five minutes of Facebook, but movies are more than an hour of your time.

Make yourself some records to update your progress.

These don't have to be perfect. Mine are so spotty that those type A workaholics out there would sneer at them. But my records at least exist, and that is a good starting point.

Right now I have a few of these going. I have an Excel spreadsheet that has info about jobs I've applied to: where I found the job (what website or person who pointed me to it), date that I applied, link to the job posting, contact email, reference number.

Having this makes me able to say, "Oh yeah, I guess I did apply to three jobs last week."

I also have a spreadsheet of writing contest information. This includes links to the contest rules, deadline for entry, prize details. (P.S. If you're a writer, check out this site for contest postings).

And most recently I started a "What I did Today" journal. This is in a Word document, and I like it because it is akin to a kindergarten assignment. I am finding over and over again in my adult life that softball assignments are helpful. They offer us mercy to ourselves, in our messed up, overachieving society that doesn't fully understand the value of vacation.

My entry for today in What I Did Today, I kid you not, reads as follows:

"Fri May 31, 2013

Got up earlier than usual
made coffee at home"

That's all that's there. It's almost noon. But this shows me that: Hey, I didn't sleep 'til noon! and Hey, I saved 2 bucks. 

It also reminds me that there is more coffee in the pot, so I can get a fresh refill without forking over 50 cents to Starbucks. Bonus. 

Some other entries from this week include "put training distances in calendar" (for my half marathon in December, aka positive, active goal to work toward; a good mirror to the job searching), "blogged," "applied for job at UCLA," "wrote big long essay," "wrote essay about forming community." Those last two essays may never see readers' eyes, but I'm a writer so I need to practice writing. 

The point in all of these lists and spreadsheets is not to be perfectly up to date with them, documenting everything, and then to get down on yourself when you fail to document something. The point is to, in general, remind yourself that you're doing something. You're being active, healthy, looking for something. You're not being a total waste of space.

And even if you're not documenting in your unemployment diary the way you would in your 6th grade diary, the fact that there is even some sort of a diary - however sloppy - will be in the back of your mind, which will push you a little bit to do something, so that you can put it in your record.

It's a low-grade dose of guilt trip. Which is about the only volume of guilt trip I like to listen to.

Start fresh with your cover letters.

I HATE writing cover letters, so the fact that I, as a tried and true hater of the practice, am telling you this, is saying something. I'm not saying I'm right in this, I'm just saying this has recently occurred to me and seems to be working for me.

Even if you're applying to several jobs that are very similar to each other, go ahead and write a fresh letter for each one.

Because I hate writing cover letters so much, I used to try and tweak old ones to mold them to a new job. So if I had applied for a writing position at one PR firm, for example, I used to open that file and edit it to fit another writing position at another PR firm.

I've found it's faster to just write a new one.

If nothing else, this keeps you from sounding like a robot.

Also, I used to get so nervous about cover letters. Now I just write them. I keep it professional, but I still let it be Bailey who is writing it, not the Career Center at my college or all of my friends and family and their advice doing the writing.

Tell employers what you're thinking. In almost all of my letters these days I write that "I'm not shy." They may not care, but they might like it. This week I mentioned in a letter that I am not above doing smaller tasks in a job, because I'm not. I kind of like making copies. An employer might like to know that they can ask me to put stamps on envelopes. They may not care, but at least you told them in case they do.

After a quick draft, I usually edit it on the second read through, maybe one more proof read, then send it. Don't spend all day on a cover letter, unless it's for a really big fellowship or the DREAM job. Otherwise, just write it.

One final thing I've recently started aiming for is this:

Meet one daily "unit" of active job searching each weekday/workday, as best you can.

I consider a unit to be one of the following:
  • apply to a job posting
  • send writing clips/resume/cover letter directly to someone who has requested them
  • go on an interview (this is a big event, and it's OK if you dedicate almost your whole day to it, focusing your energy on looking good, having calories and caffeine in your system when you get there, and having all of your necessary documents with you. It's better to "waste" time getting prepared than to focus on other job opportunities and then finding yourself not in your peak state at the interview)
  • have a coffee/lunch meeting or phone conversation with someone in your network
  • if you have a freelance or temporary job assignment, each day of that counts as a unit, too
Try to hit one of these a day. Don't pressure yourself to hit two or three a day. If you can, great. But I find that I can overwhelm myself very quickly if I think about a writing contest, a job posting, and a person I should network with all at once. Pick one and make that your task for the moment.

I'm going to leave you with that for now, because you and I both need to get back to the job search - aren't you so excited?! But feel free to reach out to me - in the comments below or via phone/email if you know me personally - if you want to vent about your own job search. I'm all ears. Except when I'm in chatterbox mode, which is often, but hopefully sometimes helpful. 


  1. I love this blog post. You're calming my nerves about my own job search soon to come in the future. Please post more advice!

    1. Thanks, babe! I've got another post in the works about being broke, so look for that soon! You're gonna land an awesome job, you copy editor extraordinaire!

  2. Great post friend! Sending positive energy your way :)