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How to Survive Unemployment

Updated on March 22, 2013
My iron board, iron, and collared shirts took a long vacation.
My iron board, iron, and collared shirts took a long vacation.

In the grand scheme of things unemployment isn’t the worst thing in the world, but it the context of this article it is. I just went through a 10-month period of unemployment, which was definitely longer than I thought it would be. My situation is a bit unique though certainly not uncommon. Unlike many currently unemployed people I was not laid-off; I left my job due to a work-related injury. I suffered with it for over a year while working and I knew it wasn’t going to go away until I left the job. I knew when I made the decision and during all 10 months of being out of work it was the right decision for my health. But it was still a tough one to make. In light of my injury I took the opportunity to make a change career-wise, something I definitely didn’t think I would be doing only five years after obtaining my Master’s Degree in a Biology with the intent to become a researcher. Changing careers when the economy is at an all-time low is not ideal. But trying to look on the bright side I can say if I had to I’d rather make the change in my early 30s when I have no dependents and a manageable mortgage. In the long run I know I will look back without regretting the choice. It is tough though, being unemployed puts your whole life on hold. You can’t make decisions regarding the future- as complex as when to get married, as simple as when can I go on vacation, or when can I replace that sink in the bathroom that works but is so outdated it drives me nuts every time I am in there?

The dreaded, plain sink. Stopper long gone, faucet in dire straits.
The dreaded, plain sink. Stopper long gone, faucet in dire straits.

A forced career change is an interesting predicament, it changes your identity. Being a scientific researcher, on my way to being considered a scientist, was part of my identity. I took pride in being a science geek, I enjoyed being able to tell people I worked in drug discovery helping make a difference, contributing in a small way to the overall effort. I love a good mystery, a puzzle to figure out and researching was just that. I enjoyed waking up every day and going to work to try and solve the mystery du jour. As a long time sufferer of chronic pain, I always wondered if my lab life would be short-lived. Once this shoulder injury presented itself, due to repetitive and excessive pipet work at the bench, it lingered. I equate my overall chronic pain situation with not being able to bounce back from injuries the way ‘normal’ people can. In comparison with all the other ailments out there, chronic pain is manageable but it definitely has an impact on one’s life. In the end I am happy I was able to hang tough in the lab for the five years that I did, but I know for my overall health getting out now was the right decision.

Being unemployed sucks, no point sugar-coating this one. It’s a combination effect- 1) you feel as though you aren’t making your daily contribution to society and 2) you get rejected on a daily basis from potential jobs making it a two-fold crummy feeling.It made me feel better at the time to think I would have been highly sought after had I simply been looking for a new researching position. But I was not, for the most part I applied only to positions that didn’t have to directly do with my previous lab experience. And I was rejected left and right. It gets tough after a while, but it is best to remain professional when dealing with these situations, burning bridges won’t solve anything especially if another similar position opens up at the company. But one’s dignity must remain intact, a few times while making it to the very end of the process I did make it clear I remained a strong candidate, in my opinion, even if I wasn’t the one the company decided to go with. Daily affirmations help an unemployed person get through, you are a good candidate and you need to remind yourself of this as the unfortunate rejection parade occurs. A lot of times they already have someone else in mind for the position but are required to post it. Or they quickly weed you out because beyond the job description they are looking for some combination of skills doesn't appear in your cover letter and resume. That is one tough aspect of the process, you get pigeon-holed, type-casted into one narrow role and those reading resumes don’t want to re-cast you. If rejected from a position don’t be afraid to ask why am I no longer being considered for this position. Put them on the spot, a lot of times you’ll get a prefabricated BS answer but sometimes the person will give you specifics and it can be helpful in your continued search. Also when being considered for a position be sure to check the overall status of the process, wait the appropriate amount of time after an interview and send an email or give a call to get an update. It will keep your name in the mix and let them know you are still interested in the position.

Networking is an important thing to do while unemployed; LinkedIn is a great resource for connecting with previous co-workers and friends as well. Interestingly often times with friends, we forget what they actually do work-wise. Connecting to them on LinkedIn allows for networking that might not have crossed your mind. Also sending out an email to people, letting them know your situation is a good idea. It may not give you the instant, ‘Oh I know a job for you’ result you hope for while unemployed but having friends aware of your situation may turn something up somewhere down the line. A great resource is friends and/or former co-workers who work in staffing. These people’s brains just work a certain way- always thinking about staffing on your behalf, making suggestions of companies to look into; connecting you to people they know. For my situation-changing fields-several former coworkers connected me to connections of theirs that gave me information about the various fields I was looking into- medical writing and clinical research. In fact I wouldn’t be on Hubpages without the suggestion from someone to get my writing out there as a way to let potential employers know I am serious about it. Hubpages, in fact, deserves a big thank you from me for being one of the things that kept me sane while unemployed. The community interaction was encouraging. If I’d get a rejection email from a job I could toggle over to Hubpages to see someone enjoyed an article or question of mine. Affirmations are so important while out of work in order to stay positive.

Walking is a great, free way to exercise and socialize with friends and family. Source: Flickr creative commons, o5com, CC BY 2.0.
Walking is a great, free way to exercise and socialize with friends and family. Source: Flickr creative commons, o5com, CC BY 2.0.

So to those unemployed, hang tight, remind yourself that you are a great candidate and an employer will soon notice this and snatch you up. Make it your job to find a job, I tried to spend time each day working on my job search in varied ways. Of course job hunting on various job websites as well as checking the status of jobs I had applied to, looking into specific companies, along with networking and updating my resume and general cover letters to build upon. In addition to the job hunting try to enjoy the time you have to dedicate time to your friends and family as well as past-times (this is definitely easier said than done). Exercising is a great way to get out of the house (and your pajamas) and gives you something to focus on. DIY projects around the house- inexpensive but time-consuming ones- are perfect for the unemployed and then when your significant other gets home from work you can say look I contributed today.

To those changing careers, congratulations! It isn’t easy, especially in this job market- but most people change careers for strong motives. There will come a day when you are working in your new field and look back at how unhappy you were before and realize how everything fell into place. For me things have worked out, I am working on the editorial side of things- starting out new but also able to use my previous knowledge at this new position. I was able to stay within science/medical content which is exactly what I wanted and this job gets my foot in the door. After being unemployed for almost a year it is nice to get up and head out to work every morning, get back into the normal routine. It may go without saying but it is so great to be earning money again, I’m not making nearly as much as I was in my old field, but it comes with a trade-off. The major one of course, is my shoulder is no longer required to significantly contribute to my work and the pain is gone for the most part. Overall my previous job was a lot more stressful than this new job and for someone with chronic pain, and anyone really looking to live a less stressful life, that is a pretty significant difference. I am more comfortable now with finding an ideal work-life balance which was definitely lacking during my injuried time at my previous job. There is more to life than being married to one's job and I can really enjoy time with my family and friends, maintain a healthy lifestyle as well as pursue my hobbies. My personal life is back on track, planning a vacation, planning a wedding, and getting that ugly sink replaced!


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