12 Things I've Learned From Being Unemployed

lessons learned unemployed

There's no question about it: being un- and under-employed for more than 2½ years teaches you things about life. I was pondering this in between applying for jobs (I've been extra busy with these recently) and wanted to write about it. But the more I thought about it, the more I saw that my "lessons learned" were sorting themselves naturally into positives and negatives.

So instead of writing a perky piece about all the great things I've discovered while being jobless, or a depressing one about all the bad stuff I've come to realize while out of work, I'll be accurate and combine them.

I will start with the positive, though. Long-term involuntary unemployment has taught me:
  • Taking care of one's personal health is important and, in fact, should be a priority.
  • Life is short and unemployment gives you more time to attend to your loved ones.
  • Volunteer activities for causes that are important to you help you keep your skills sharp. In addition, doing good for others is good for them and for you.
  • Exploring a variety of freelance opportunities helps you gain useful experience.
  • Some things are outside of your control, no matter what you do and no matter how much you wish it were different. So you may as well accept those things.
  • Networking activities enable you to meet many nice, interesting people whom you may never have met otherwise.

Gee, I really feel like I'm reaching now. I mean, if I were at a job, I would have met a whole different set of "nice, interesting people" too.

More: Employers More Likely To Hire Criminal Than Long-Term Unemployed


Let me take a stab at some of the negative things I've learned while being out of work.
  • There's a stigma attached to being jobless, especially the longer it lasts. Unfortunately for us, it's a stigma often held by our potential employers.

  • Employers aren't willing to "take a chance" on you. They'll hire you if you meet every single requirement they want; but the days of "on-the-job training" are over.

  • There really are no "quick fixes" or "magic solutions" to unemployment, despite all the hopeful things you read and hear on the Internet and elsewhere. Once you've corrected the obvious things (bad resume, clothes, attitude), there's not much more you can do, other than being the right fit in the right place at the right time.

  • Despite the fact that it's illegal, I have no doubt that there's age discrimination in hiring. For some reason, though, this seems to be the only form of discrimination in the U.S. today that's acceptable. Anyone heard from the ACLU?

  • Millions of people have suffered needlessly because of our government's ineffective economic policies. I'm convinced that many more of us would have jobs today if policies that led to vigorous economic growth after past recessions had been put into place this time around.

  • Prolonged unemployment can adversely affect your mental and physical health.

Looking at these on paper, I think that all the positives are things I already knew. All the negatives are things I didn't know and would have been perfectly happy never to learn.

No. On second thought, I don't mean that. Although I've had to learn some of them the hard way, I've gained wisdom as a result of all these lessons. Perhaps I've gained a little more empathy too.

I'm feeling philosophical now, but I think this is really the whole point of life: to grow -- I'm avoiding the word, but yes, to mature -- into better human beings, ones who can use our experiences to help make life a little better, maybe a little easier, for others. I think that's hard to do unless you've known some tougher times yourself.




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26 Comments

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Nikki

I think more unemployed people need to start considering contractual work and freelance opportunities. After just getting back from the National Association of Personnel Services recruitment conference in San Antonio, all of the top professional recruiters are hearing that their clients are going to go this way. Currently 10% of the workforce is on contract assignments. This is supposed to increase to 25% and resemble the european market a bit more in the next few years. The stigma with contract assignments needs to go and the idea that if you take one your unemployment won't be there for you if it falls through is BOGUS! That is what unemployment is for. Also the notion that why work a contract assignment when I can stay on unemployment is also just a disgrace and not what the "American Dream" is all about.

September 26 2012 at 3:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Careerleaf

The things that you've learned about volunteering, freelance work, and networking are truly going to help with your job search. While it can feel like there's nothing you can do besides wait to find the absolutely perfect job, you're doing it already. You're boosting your resume and garnering experience, plus expanding your network to include important contacts. Just be sure to maximize this experience! Ask your new network contacts if they know of any opportunities you'd be a good fit for, or if they have any suggestions of niche job boards and niche communities you can join. Although it is rough for job seekers out there now, you're doing all the right things. And by building your experience and keeping your skills fresh, you'll be ready should that perfect fit job come along!

September 26 2012 at 9:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Careerleaf's comment
Fran

Thanks for your upbeat comments, Careerleaf! You gave me a boost.

September 30 2012 at 9:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Robert

Great piece. I have also learned that you find out who your real friends are when you go through long unemployment. I am also not scared of being unemployed anymore as I learned to survive. Whilst I am not an entrepreneur in the true sense, you do what you have to in order to get by. There is also no such thing as job security. The corporate world is not a friendly place. I also learned that the best way to actually get employment again is not by going through a recruitment company. They just supply a whole lot of resumes and let the employer decide, even though they always say that they can find you work. On the whole, whilst it was a very difficult time, when you come out the other end you have a very different perspective to life. I consciously make an effort to enjoy ever day at the office now.

September 26 2012 at 5:47 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Jason Sharma

So how is that job blogging about being unemployed treating youL

September 25 2012 at 10:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Marion Guthrie

I've got a similar story to Fran's. Here are a couple of things I picked up between freelance assignments and consulting gigs since 2009 that helped me land some opportunities - http://www.marionguthrie.com/2010/09/older-healthy-and-out-of-workyou-too.html Perhaps they'll help you.

September 25 2012 at 9:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Marion Guthrie's comment
Fran

Thank you for your link, Marion! I'm going to check it out.

September 30 2012 at 9:22 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Fran

Thanks for sharing your link, Marion! I'm going to check it out.

September 30 2012 at 9:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John

Sorry for multiple posts, the link kept telling me there was an error and to try to repost.

September 25 2012 at 7:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John

Sorry for multiple posts, the link kept telling me there was an error and to try to repost.

September 25 2012 at 7:19 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John

I have been going through a long unemployment streak myself (going on 2 years). I think Fran hit it on the head with on the job training and being the exact fit. I hold two post graduate degrees, have sent out over 1000 resumes, networked, and worked for free to try to land a position. But because my experience is stale (prior to my undergrad) and entrepreneurial, I am not a "fit" anywhere.

The system is broken. There are few jobs out there which I am not willing, or able to perform, but employers are not willing to even take the time with a candidate such as myself, its their loss... and some other future employers gain. But I will remember how I was treated, and by which companies.

I have heard that I am jaded by my search, but I am of the firm belief that HR and recruiters are doing companies a massive disservice by finding candidates who don't need training. I wonder what advantages companies would get by hiring people who were new to systems and processes and challenged the inefficiencies of the processes in place because they were new enough to ask the questions that the rest of the herd never thought of. In my undergrad and in my MBA we were warned of following the "Cow Path" as a way to the water instead of looking for a better route. Hiring people who don't "need" training may save some money in the short term, but with people having no affiliation and going on to supposedly greener pastures, companies are probably wasting more money through turnover than they would through training and investing in staff.

But for now, I am still working for free trying to gain some new experience (owing as much on student loans as the house I am currently living in), hoping to find a company to take a "chance" on me. www.linkedin.com/in/johndahl

September 25 2012 at 7:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to John's comment
Fran

John, thanks for your comments and I'm sorry things have been so tough for you. I hope things get better for all of us soon.

September 30 2012 at 9:28 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John

I have been going through a long unemployment streak myself (going on 2 years). I think Fran hit it on the head with on the job training and being the exact fit. I hold two post graduate degrees, have sent out over 1000 resumes, networked, and worked for free to try to land a position. But because my experience is stale (prior to my undergrad) and entrepreneurial, I am not a "fit" anywhere.

The system is broken. There are few jobs out there which I am not willing, or able to perform, but employers are not willing to even take the time with a candidate such as myself, its their loss... and some other future employers gain. But I will remember how I was treated, and by which companies.

I have heard that I am jaded by my search, but I am of the firm belief that HR and recruiters are doing companies a massive disservice by finding candidates who don't need training. I wonder what advantages companies would get by hiring people who were new to systems and processes and challenged the inefficiencies of the processes in place because they were new enough to ask the questions that the rest of the herd never thought of. In my undergrad and in my MBA we were warned of following the "Cow Path" as a way to the water instead of looking for a better route. Hiring people who don't "need" training may save some money in the short term, but with people having no affiliation and going on to supposedly greener pastures, companies are probably wasting more money through turnover than they would through training and investing in staff.

But for now, I am still working for free trying to gain some new experience (owing as much on student loans as the house I am currently living in), hoping to find a company to take a "chance" on me. www.linkedin.com/in/johndahl

September 25 2012 at 7:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John

I have been going through a long unemployment streak myself (going on 2 years). I think Fran hit it on the head with on the job training and being the exact fit. I hold two post graduate degrees, have sent out over 1000 resumes, networked, and worked for free to try to land a position. But because my experience is stale (prior to my undergrad) and entrepreneurial, I am not a "fit" anywhere.

The system is broken. There are few jobs out there which I am not willing, or able to perform, but employers are not willing to even take the time with a candidate such as myself, its their loss... and some other future employers gain. But I will remember how I was treated, and by which companies.

I have heard that I am jaded by my search, but I am of the firm belief that HR and recruiters are doing companies a massive disservice by finding candidates who don't need training. I wonder what advantages companies would get by hiring people who were new to systems and processes and challenged the inefficiencies of the processes in place because they were new enough to ask the questions that the rest of the herd never thought of. In my undergrad and in my MBA we were warned of following the "Cow Path" as a way to the water instead of looking for a better route. Hiring people who don't "need" training may save some money in the short term, but with people having no affiliation and going on to supposedly greener pastures, companies are probably wasting more money through turnover than they would through training and investing in staff.

But for now, I am still working for free trying to gain some new experience (owing as much on student loans as the house I am currently living in), hoping to find a company to take a "chance" on me. www. linkedin .com/in/johndahl

September 25 2012 at 7:17 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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