The lovely (and lonely) journey of unemployment

Being unemployed is not easy. Especially when you are in your 40s and for the first time in your life you find yourself in an uncharted territory. I’m a UI/graphic designer and I was lucky enough to start working almost immediately after finishing design school. I got my first job at 21 in a big publishing house with magazines and books and at the same time I was working as a freelancer. Never in my life have I had to struggle my way through a job interview. I got accepted in every job I applied, as simple as that. But life plays funny games and twenty years later many things have changed; I quit my job to move to another country, I’m married to a wonderful man, I have three step kids and I’m unemployed.

After 7 years of living abroad I can honestly tell you that moving to another country is like a walk in the park comparing to the unemployment journey. Yes, unemployment is like a journey, where you are traveling alone, afraid, wondering what will happen to you and how you can survive out there in the wild. But like in every journey you also have good moments (and they are more than the bad ones). You get the chance to evaluate things through a different prism, you are open to new possibilities and at the end you learn what are you made of, what are your true strengths and weaknesses.

This is what I learned:

Networking is important: I’m not an extrovert and in that case being introvert doesn’t help. How I overcame this obstacle and started networking with people who could take me one step closer to my future employer? I took some courses at the university because I wanted to learn more about user experience and UI design. In university I participated in group assignments, met new people from different backgrounds and cultures and while I’m writing these lines I participate in 5 other projects, with different teams that have different goals and targets. In some I’m a designer, in others I’m an organiser. And that leads me to the second thing I learned.

Use your free time to learn new things: Remember when you wanted to learn a new language, read more books, go to the gym and finally manage that extremely difficult yoga pose? Now is the time to do it. I spend my free time learning HTML, CSS, calligraphy, I started a bullet journal, I’m reading educational books like How to win friends and influence people and gave a lecture at the university about graphic design. Through my projects I learned what it means to organise a symposium, how to be a good public speaker and what is a poster presentation. Empower yourself with knowledge. You never know when you’ll need it. And even though I don’t get paid, the satisfaction of the result gets me going.

Do things that you didn’t have time to do when you were working: Redecorate your house with DIY projects. Go through all the stuff you have packed in the garage or in the storeroom and sort them out. Get creative and this year make your own Christmas cards. Try a new recipe. Focus on yourself and reflect on what you really want in your life.

Everyone handles unemployment differently: More often than not friends and family that surely care about you, will tell you to take a job because you need to pay the bills. Even if that means that this job is not good for you and you’ll be miserable if you take it. Yes, money is an issue because you still have to pay the rent. Only you know what you’re going through and how difficult is to be unemployed. Think about how much you want to compromise. Being unemployed means starting from scratch. Take a moment and think what will make you happy in your new job and go for it!

Realise that your future employer needs you as much as you need him: I was brought up in a culture where I had to do exactly as my boss said otherwise there was a great chance of being fired. I like to believe that nowadays this doesn’t happen very often or at least it shouldn’t be. The relationship between employer-employee is a two way road. Your employer wants someone with your skills and you want to work in a nice company that offers you health benefits, nice environment and good team members. You might think that there are thousands of people out there like you but only few companies. While this is true, we often forget one thing: good employers know that they need to keep their employees happy and satisfied in order to be more productive. Both parties of this relationship have responsibilities and rights. Try to find an employer who is going to respect you and give you what you need. Not an easy task to do, but it’s worth it!

Don’t expect to get a reply to every resume you send: Applying for a job means you get to send you resume to a bunch of different people. Sending open job applications means exactly the same thing. Be prepared that most of them they won’t bother to reply to your email. Don’t take it personally. A recruiter has a big number of resumes at his desk and he spends like 6 seconds to scan each resume and see if it’s good or not. What can you do about it? Do your research about the company you want to apply and make sure your resume is tailored for each job you’re applying. Will it guarantee that you get a reply? No, but it increases the chances to a tenfold. After all, there’s only so much you can do…

After an interview, there’s nothing more that you can do but wait: Finally someone replied to your email and invited you for an interview. You got prepared, answered all possible online questions you could find about job interviews, wore your best outfit and headed to the office. The interview lasted for an hour (that felt more like a century) and now you’re going home thinking how it went. Don’t. There’s nothing more that you can do about it. Don’t stress over a silly comment you might have said or because you didn’t understand immediately one question. It’s out of your control. It’s a job interview not the Spanish Inquisition. What you can do is learn from your mistakes and move on!

Don’t get intimidated by job descriptions: If you’re in the creative field like myself, you know that companies that are looking for designers, in reality they want a unicorn with a rainbow horn that can do anything they want. They ask for HTML, CSS, Java, Ruby, UX / UI / graphic / animation / interaction design, you name it. Job descriptions not only are intimidating but there’s a great chance that they are not precise either. Example: I got an interview about UI designer job. At the end of the interview I realised they wanted a front-end developer. Even companies don’t know how to describe what they want. So, don’t let a long job description to keep you from applying. If you never apply, you’ll never know what they are looking for.

These are my own experiences while being unemployed. Every day I become a little bit wiser, I face new challenges and test my personal limits. At the end of the day this is how we grow. Embrace this difficult period of your life and try to make the best out of it. I know you will make it eventually! This is what I say to myself every morning!

Good luck!