When I finished college, I thought I’d have a great job within a few weeks. I had solid work experience throughout my college years and a respectable degree in my pocket. But those few weeks turned into four full months before I landed a job in the training industry.
Those four months without work took a terrible toll. I didn’t sleep soundly for more than a few hours each night. Stress and worry tear down immunity quickly. I got so sick with the flu that looking back, I think I could have died. The few thousand dollars we had saved evaporated quickly and my wife was pregnant with our first child; we had no health insurance!
I spent most of each day either searching Internet job sites or driving around commercial areas in Denver inquiring at businesses about openings. I annoyed friends and family members with my “networking.” Worst of all, I lost hope and let my self-esteem deteriorate.
Here are some important lessons I learned about how to survive unemployment:
- Job Hunt 2-4 Hours Per Day. After a few hours of searching new listings on job sites each day, each additional hour I spent became more ineffective. I would read the same postings over and over again. I would check for email messages from people in my network dozens of times each hour. While all those things need to be done each day, they only deserve a few hours of attention. I also found that Monday mornings and Friday afternoons are useless times for trying to contact people. Use those times to do something else.
- Get a Mobile Phone with Email capability and a Part-Time Job. I worried incessantly about missing a recruiter’s phone call or email if I left my perch by our phone and computer. I thought I couldn’t afford a cell phone with a data plan. A cell phone with email would have permitted me to get out of the house much more than I did without missing a job-related call or message. I could have easily worked a part-time job in the afternoons or evenings to slow our financial hemorrhage. The activity would have distracted me from the worries and concerns of unemployment. It may have provided some much needed socialization and could have even led to a more permanent career.
- Learn New Skills. Knowing that my job hunt was leaning more and more towards instructional design work, I should have spent an hour each day learning new software without having to spend any money on it. I could have added the results of this software study to my online portfolio for enhanced marketability. If you want help and guidance to teach yourself higher paying skills without spending a lot of money, I suggest you get my book, “How to Learn Higher Paying Skills,” Available on Amazon.com. The Kindle version is only a few dollars. It’s got great information about how you can identify your own learning style as well as links to many free or cheap job training resources.
- Exercise. Even a mild amount of activity would have done so much to reduce my physical and psychological stress. The exercise would have cleared my mind and enabled me to concentrate better. That ability to focus would have come in handy during the countless resume revision sessions.
- Pursue Hobbies. Do you remember that my first manager out of college said my online portfolio and one other thing that convinced him to hire me? Well, at my wife’s insistence, I attended an amateur radio (HAM) certification workshop while I was unemployed. (She wanted me out of the house!) I went to the classes, took the test, and received my license. For some reason, I added that HAM radio license to the “certifications” section of my resume. When I did get hired, my boss said the other reason why he hired me was because I had a HAM radio license! He was familiar with the technical nature of getting an FCC license and thought that if I could pass that, then I would have no problem working on his technical training team. So take time, while you’re unemployed, to pursue some hobbies. It will help you deal with stress more effectively and may also be the gateway to a new job or career.
- Have Fun. I knew that I would eventually get a job, but I let fear and anxiety ruin what could have been an enjoyable four-month semi-vacation. I could have read more books on my to-read list or gone on longer walks with my wife. I should have taken many more naps. I regret that so much of that time was spent in fruitless searching and worrying.
What is underemployment? If you’re underemployed, it means you’ve got a job, but the job’s responsibilities and demands offer no challenge to your interests or abilities. When you’re underemployed, you’re probably not being paid as much as you’re really worth either. I believe underemployment in the workforce is as much (or more) of a drag on the economy as unemployment is. Here are some symptoms of underemployment:
- Inability to concentrate
- Trying to get out of projects rather than taking them on
- You have a larger workload than other coworkers who are in the same job and salary range
- You feel that if you were suddenly fired, that wouldn’t be such a bad thing
How do you overcome underemployment? Start by initiating an honest discussion with your manager and express your feelings. Seek a promotion or another opportunity from managers in other departments.
One other path you can take to overcoming underemployment is to simply quit your job. Pursue an entirely new career path. After four years in one position at a company–with no other opportunities immediately available to me–I quit because I felt so professionally stagnant. True, I had some freelance work lined up before I left, but the courage to jump ship sparked a new fire of motivation and ambition for me.
I hope that if you are ever unemployed or underemployed, these lessons will help you weather the experiences better than I did.