Unemployment one year later

It’s really been 15 months of unemployment but I wasn’t yet blogging at the one-year anniversary of my liberation from my company.  Perhaps you can tell from the first sentence that I’m conflicted about my feelings about losing my job?  Don’t get me wrong – I like my former company and I’d work for them again.  This is not the time to be unemployed and looking for work.

I worked for my company for 18 years. For the last 2 or 3 years, a few employees in our department foresaw that we would eventually be made redundant but the money was good (it was really good) so we came to work every day wondering when the axe would fall.  It would only be a matter of time before the company would realize that they could consolidate functions in fewer offices and force the remaining employees to take over the extra work from the displaced employees for the same rate of pay. We would ocasionally discuss the future of our department and wonder if the company would give us a good severance package when the time came.  When I told Stephen about my concerns, he would say, “They won’t fire you. You’re a good employee.”  I realized then that he didn’t understand corporate America.

In February 2012, my co-workers and I arrived at work one morning to receive an email message inviting us to a meeting at 10 am.  We suspected that we knew the purpose of the meeting and weren’t surprised when we walked into the conference room to meet with the HR representative and our director.  Our director left us shortly after the meeting started and the HR rep distributed to us the blue folders that contained our severance packages.  I remained calm.  I am always calm.  One of my co-workers cried.  Two of my co-workers had 30 and 34 years with the company. I was the next senior employee in the group with 18 years.   Although we were expected to work for the next 60 days, we were told to leave early that day so the local market could be notified of our impending displacement.

We left the office at 10:30 am that morning and arrived at Buffalo Wild Wings just before 11 am.  I had sent a text message to Stephen that I would be coming home early as we had lost our jobs.  I didn’t have the words yet to speak to him about it as I was feeiling a bit numb after the meeting.  Stephen was concerned about the news but I told him everything would be alright.  I sent him a text later from Buffalo Wild Wings with a photo of the group (including our manager) drinking before 11am.  Stephen understood and responded, “Be careful coming home.”

Later that day, when neighbors and friends came to our house to socialize (we had a bar in the living room that served as the local watering hole), I told them calmly, “I lost my job today.”  Some were concerned about my complacent attitude when I talked about it and others told me I that I’d enjoy having the summer off from work.  I wasn’t looking forward to the summer vacation although I needed some time off from work.

For the next two months, my co-workers and I continued to work as if we weren’t leaving the bank.  I wished the time would go faster since I wanted to be home to properly look after Stephen.  He had recently been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness and needed to go regularly to the hospital for treatments.  I was coming to the office very early in the morning or staying later at night to bank hours so I could drive Stephen to his appointments without taking unpaid time away from the office.  It would be less stressful for me to care for him after our displacement date.

The last day at work (Friday the 13th) came and went.  Our last day at work ended in the same place where we drowned our sorrows 60 days earlier – at Buffalo Wild Wings.

Within days, I began working on my resume and registering for outplacement webinars. Stephen and I went to the hospital every day for his infusions.  I had never filed for unemployment so this was a new experience for me.  I had to take care of a lot of paperwork and questions associated with leaving the company – medical and life insurance, pension, severance pay, etc.  This was not turning out to be a fun summer vacation.

Stephen’s illness affected his employment so we applied for his retirement from the State and hoped all would work out even though I was secretly worried about how we would pay the bills if both of us were unemployed.

I joked with Stephen that if I had trouble finding a job, I’d get a job at Home Depot or Target.  I know he was worried too but we didn’t talk about it as his illness took priority over everything else in our lives.

We tried to live as normally as possible.  We were preparing to attend Stephen’s daughter’s wedding in July.  Stephen was in extreme pain but he tried his best to make his daughter happy on her special day.

In July, Stephen was admitted to the oncology ward in the hospital. The nurse’s aide brought a portable bed for me so I accepted the fact that I would be living with Stephen in the hospital.  Although I lived in the hospital, I was able to continue looking for employment with the aid of a laptop computer and the hospital wifi connection.  When Stephen was later diagnosed with cancer, I didn’t care much about anything but Stephen’s care and comfort.

He died a few weeks later and I was faced with my new situation – not only unemployment, but I was now a widow – again.

Looking for work is a full-time job.  I’ve submitted over 350 applications and resumes.  I’ve networked and cold-called and cold-emailed companies looking for opportunities.  I’ve called my friends asking for help.  I carry copies of my resume with me wherever I go. I have expanded my search outside the financial industry and have also applied for positions in retail stores.  I have had only three in-person interviews and two phone interviews in the past 15 months.  I’ve provided weekly blog updates about my unemployment experience but I’ll try to consolidate some of my thoughts below.

I have learned a few things about job hunting in 2013:

No one is interested in hiring an experienced professional for an entry-level or retail position, even if I’m willing to accept the position.  I’ve applied to a number of stores and the rejection email messages from Target and Home Depot are demeaning to an applicant with work experience.

Many jobs (full- and part-time) are advertised at $8-12 an hour – with no negotiation. Although I know that I will lose my house taking pay at this level, I don’t think I have a choice and will have to accept the loss of my house as I know I cannot expect my previous salary.

I am perceived as “unemployable” due to my extended employment gap.  See previous paragraph.  It is better to take ANY job to close the employment gap.  Many employers will not interview or hire unemployed applicants.

Many Craigslist job postings are placed by scammers or staffing agencies.  Many job scam listings also appear in the local classifieds and internet job boards.

Most of the companies that are featured at job fairs are interested in hiring commissioned sales agents.  A person who is not suited for a sales position or someone who requires income should not accept this type of position.

The job seeker who hasn’t had the misfortune to look for work in many years will be surprised to know that the art of job hunting has changed in the last couple of decades. The applicant should become familiar the technology that is required to apply for jobs and be prepared to answer STAR interview questions, and have an understanding of types of interviews (group/individual/panel/phone), interview etiquette, and online personality assessment exams.

The applicant should also be aware that his or her resume may not be viewed by an employer unless the company’s HR software identifies specific keywords in the resume and selects the resume for consideration.  A resume is more likely to be read when it is submitted by email, not through the company’s online application process.

Age discrimination is real.  Job applications ask whether the applicant is over 18 and under 40 years of age.  Who has time and energy to complain about age discrimination? Nothing will be gained by it.  That being said, the job market is difficult for the new graduate as well.  I recently read a blog posting from a young blogger who suggested that job market is improving for those 55-69 years old.  I don’t know who created the graph provided in the post but I don’t believe it.  I meet a lot of over 50 unemployed who don’t believe it either.

Some friends hope that you will never actually call them when you need a job.  Those are the most awkward conversations an unemployed person can have.  New friends or business acquaintances have been as helpful as possible in helping to distribute my resume to help me get an interview.  One of my friends scans the job listings and sends me job leads at least once a week. An applicant is more likely to get a job because he or she knows someone within the hiring company. It is very difficult to get an interview as an outsider.

Some of the unemployed will quickly find a job.  It is not because they are better than me. They are lucky and they know it.  When I find a job, I won’t be cocky about it.  I’ll know that I was lucky to get the job.

It may be necessary for me to abandon my former industry.  I have financial experience in the finance industry.  While I know that my finance experience can be utilized in a new industry, such as healthcare, an interviewer may reject an applicant with no experience in the particular industry.

 Temporary and staffing agencies have more applicants than jobs and don’t have time to deal with applicants they can’t quickly place in a position.  One recruiter told us at a recent seminar that unless we have EVERY qualification listed in a job requirement, we will not be hired.  And the skills or qualifications must be recent – meaning that the skills are in use at the moment (unemployed need not apply.)  Another agency told me that I’m too old and my experience is too specialized.  They will have to be market me outside my industry.  I have a sense that marketing me is too much work for them.

Many companies require applicants to be bilingual, or have proficient knowledge of its specific software programs and applications.  Industry experience is required even for an entry level position (this is difficult for the young graduate as well.)  Job listings require a Bachelor’s and Master’s level degrees for entry-level positions.  The requirements for very specific skills, industry related experience and upper level degrees (such as a Master’s degree for a position as an administrative assistant) severely limits applications from experienced professionals and makes the job market especially difficult for recent college graduates.

Applicants who don’t interview well will not find a job.  I think I interview well enough but apparently not as well as others in line for the same positions.  I can attribute my lack of interviewing skills to the fact that I have never had an interview until 2013!  I worked as a temporary employee for several years prior to becoming a temporary-to-permanent employee with the bank more than 18 years ago. I  never interviewed for subsequent positions as I transferred to positions within the same department.  The interview process has been a learning experience for me.  Job seekers should be prepared to have formal interviews for temporary/contract positions as well.

Note to recent college graduates (witnessed in a recent group interview) – When the interviewer asks you why you would be the best person for the position, do not tell them that you should be selected because you have a college degree.  All of the applicants who were called for the interview have a college degree.

Unemployment is mentally and physically draining.  I’ve gone from feeling hopeful to feeling depressed.  Then I get a call for an interview and I think I’m back in the game. When I don’t hear anything after the interview, I’m depressed again.  Sometimes I feel despair over this situation.  My friends ask me why I haven’t found a job or tell me I’m not trying hard enough to get a job.  I’m also weary of hearing people complain about unemployed people leeching off the system.  That’s easy to say when one is currently working or is not looking for a job.  They haven’t had to deal with it.  I hope they never have to deal with it.

Mom told me that her unemployed friend asked a political group (which uses the donkey for its mascot) at a local event why there aren’t any jobs and what is the government doing about the problem – well, really she was trolling, but she asked valid questions.  One of the party members responded that there are “plenty of jobs” and told her that Menards is hiring.  This is a typical answer from someone who doesn’t understand and doesn’t want to understand the current employment situation.  If 1000 people are applying for the one available position at Menards, then telling the other 999 who didn’t get the job that it’s their fault they are unemployed isn’t useful – and it’s not political if the unemployed-bashing is coming from both the elephant and donkey parties.  I’ve read that the implementation of Affordable Care Act is causing employers to delay hiring or only hire part-time employees (some employers admit the ACA is influencing their hiring decisions) but I’m not sure that is the only problem.  There must be more to it than the ACA.

I have no job interviews or prospects lined up for the coming week but I’ve just been accepted as a volunteer at the hospital and look forward to starting there this week.  Then I just need to find one or two part-time jobs to bring in some income until I can figure out what direction I am heading with my career.  It’s a good start.

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4 Responses to Unemployment one year later

  1. Chin up! I wish those elephant and donkey parties would reinstate the WPA projects. I would gladly accept a job giving back to our infrastructure and cities. At least I’d know my days were being filled, doing something positive. I need to start volunteering; my hardest part is maintaining a schedule and feeling useless. Thanks for sharing your insight!

    • Natasha says:

      I’d take a WPA job as well. I wish I hadn’t waited so long to volunteer again. I never thought I would be out of work for so long. The hospital is willing to give me a regular (routine) work schedule which is what I need right now. Good luck.

  2. lucycatten says:

    I wish you all the very best Natasha. I am new to the job hunting – I’m just about to start week 4 and I’m in the UK, but I can already identify with a lot of what you’re saying. I am also volunteering as an intern – it keeps my brain active and am hoping it will be looked on favourably by potential employers. Good luck 🙂

    • Natasha says:

      Lucy – I’m glad the post was useful. I want the newly unemployed to know that it’s not that easy to find a job and hope that they are taking the job search seriously so they do not have to write about unemployment one year later. I had recently considered relocating to England to be near my husband’s family but am put off by the high unemployment numbers in your country. The employment situation there is dismal. Your internship will be looked on favorably by employers though. Good luck in your job search.

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