What I Wish I Knew Before I Became Unemployed for 1 Year
“You have what it takes, but the job market is too saturated with applicants right now, so you may not hear from us for a while. Hang in there!”
This new version of “it’s not you, it’s me” is just one of the many excuses I would get from recruiters I met up with before they went radio silent on me in my many attempts to get back into the workforce.
This won’t be one of those articles where I tell you how I voluntarily quit my job to travel the world and discover my true passions or how I stayed home for a well-deserved time off.
Instead, I’ll give you a front-row seat to what I learned while being unemployed against my will for a little over a year and what you can do differently to avoid staying in the unemployment hole for too long.
So, without further ado, here is what I have to say to you if you’re struggling to get back on that workforce horse.
Don’t pursue something just because it “looks good” — you will burn out
Before graduating from college, I had this idea that success could only come with 3 letters attached to my name: CEO.
Following this mindset, all my efforts and resources after I graduated were directed to finding the jobs that would bring in more money and “look better” on my resume. Without giving it much thought, I decided to pursue a career in Finance, even though I didn’t even major in that area.
Hell, I didn’t even like anything that had to do with numbers.
By the time I landed my second internship — despite feeling accomplished — I could already feel a little voice inside of me, whispering, “this isn’t right.” I didn’t pay much attention to it, though. I figured it was a normal thing to experience for anyone working a 9 to 5.
But, as the months passed, I started to feel the burn out slowly creeping from inside. I always found myself trying to find excuses to skip work, and I could feel the quality of my work deteriorating at alarming levels.
Eventually, I was asked to leave.
After a few days of introspection and feeling like a bag full of crap, I realized that I had indeed burned myself out in my journey to achieving what I thought success was.
I was trying to push myself in a direction I wasn’t supposed to go, and it ended up taking a toll on my overall performance and mental health.
As a result of this first job fiasco, I got caught in a never-ending loop of not being able to do something else because I didn’t have the experience and not being good enough to get hired for what I already knew how to do.
Know your abilities — and put them to work
In the months that I was struggling to get someone to hire me, I was in every job search engine you can imagine, applying to jobs left and right and from dusk ’til dawn. I got a few interviews here and there, but nothing that resulted in a job offer.
I wasted almost an entire year, pushing for an office job when I had a perfectly good set of skills that were not being used at all.
I identified 5 different abilities of mine that I could think of at the top of my head; then I narrowed that list down to 1 thing I felt the most confident about and had the most potential of success in a Spanish speaking country: English.
My sister helped me create a very basic business card, and I started offering after-school lessons to little kids from the school near my house.
In a matter of hours, a couple of moms contacted me and wanted me to start right away. When those first few kids started to show improvement, other parents called me, and my client base just kept growing from there.
Granted, this was a far cry from a fancy office position, but it allowed me to earn some money and, at the same time, I gained valuable experience and developed new skills I didn’t know I had in the first place, like teaching.
All I had to do was take the time to pinpoint what made me stand out from the rest and figure out how to put that to work in my favor.
Talk to people — it’s not as bad as you think
When I became unemployed, I already knew I had a good network of professional acquaintances that I could use in my favor. All I had to do was shoot them a message like I always did and ask them if they might have anything for me.
I’d start with the usual. “Hey! How’s it going?…oh, that’s great, I’m glad to hear that! So…What have you been up to?”
But every time it got to that point of the conversation where they would ask what I was up to, I’d freeze.
I didn’t want to tell them I was unemployed. Everyone seemed to be doing all these amazing, productive things, and there I was, the unemployed 25-year-old who couldn’t get a reply from a single interviewer.
I was ashamed of that new title of mine. But as I later came to realize, no one gave a crap about it. At least no one that mattered.
The moment I decided to start telling people I was looking for a job, they put me in contact with a couple of recruiters here and there, and, since I had already been teaching English for a couple of months, I was able to get hired as an Interpreter for one of the biggest interpreting companies.
While being an interpreter wasn’t what I really wanted to do, it became a reliable source of income that allowed me to save up some money that I would later use to work towards a career change. Everything finally started to fall into place.
Being unemployed sucks. That’s it.
Don’t freak out just yet. Here’s a couple of things you can do to avoid getting stuck in the unemployment hole for too long:
- Arm yourself with knowledge before pursuing any job. If you’re unsure of what career path to follow, do some research on the positions you’re interested in. Go to the job search engine of your preference (Indeed, Linked, etc.) and check the responsibilities list to see what a typical day at work would be like for you. Also, go to Glassdoor and see what people already working in those positions are saying. Remember, this is what you’ll be doing for a good portion of your life, so you don’t want to rush choosing whatever sounds good and end up burning out early in your career.
- Make a list of your abilities and skills. Even if you think you don’t have anything special to offer, sit down, grab a piece of paper and write down any skill you can think of. Anything you’re good at. Now do some research on how people could benefit from what you do and start converting those skills into sources of income for yourself. Even if it’s not what you first intended to do, it’s a way of paying the bills while still looking for other jobs you’re interested in, only with way less pressure.
- Get in touch with people. I know it can be awkward to tell people you’re unemployed, but pride won’t pay for your bills. Check your Linkedin network or Facebook profile, and see what your contacts are up to. If you see something that interests you, shoot them a message or get together with them, they might have something for you or be able to introduce you to someone who does. Make sure to show them what you can bring to the table as well.
Get in touch with yourself, re-arrange your priorities, and, most of all, question if what you’re pursuing still makes sense. Maybe there’s a thing or two you can learn in that time off from the workforce that could help you get back on your feet sooner than expected.
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