According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 3.5 million people fall into the category of the long-term unemployed—defined as those individuals who have not had a job for 27 or more weeks. To put this into greater perspective, the long-term unemployed make up a little more than 35% of the total unemployed. The financial consequences are fairly obvious, but long-term unemployment has consequences that reach beyond finances. For example:
Loss of self-esteem— for better or worse, many people equate their self-worth with what they do professionally; in other words, what they do is who they are. Because of this, a protracted search can take a major toll on self-esteem.
Relationships—unemployment impacts not just the job seeker, but all of his or her significant relationships, including family, friends, and even former co-workers.
Uncertainty—for most people, the uncertainty associated with not knowing when, or where, the next opportunity will come from produces considerable stress and anxiety, which can lead to all manner of additional problems.
‘Black hole’ phenomenon—the scenario: a job seeker applies for a position for which they feel well-qualified, and never receives feedback—or in some cases, even as much as an acknowledgment that their resume was received. This lack of feedback—the feeling that their resume has fallen into a ‘black hole’— serves as fuel for the self-esteem/self-worth issues identified above. Job seekers frequently cite this black hole phenomenon as their source of greatest frustration.
Here are some things that job seekers can do to combat some of the negative feelings of powerlessness:
- Develop a plan – The best way to accomplish anything is to have a detailed action plan, and this is also true in a job search. Steve Dalton’s book, The 2-Hour Job Search, does an excellent job of laying out a systematic approach with concrete steps that will help to empower job seekers and take away some of the feelings of helplessness and anxiety.
- Buddy up – Job seekers often feel like they’re all alone, even when that’s obviously not the case. There are many job search support groups out there—you can find lists on sites like The Riley Guide, Meetup.com, and Job-hunt.org, among others.
- Examine your finances – Job seekers should develop a budget that projects at least one year forward, since the average job search seems to take about a year (depending on the source). The loss in income is obviously a major blow for most people, but keep in mind that some expenses—e.g., commuting expenses, daily meals, gas—may actually decrease. Examine other areas to identify savings and make the dollars stretch as far as possible, and identify a ‘pressure point’—that is the point in time at which the loss of income starts to produce the greatest strain. Having a sense of when that is can help with short-term planning as well as developing a contingency plan.
- But—don’t cancel your gym membership—The monthly gym membership fees seem like an obvious target for reducing expenses, but think twice. Exercise improves mood, reduces stress, boosts energy, improves self-esteem, and wards off anxiety and depression—all of which can actually help you in a job search. Plus, going to the gym on a regular basis provides the kind of structured schedule that goes away when a job loss occurs, and might also provide a casual networking opportunity that turns into a great job opportunity.
- Consider your options – Consulting may be an option for job seekers with a skillset that is highly specialized and in high demand. Temporary/contract staffing may not provide the exact type of work a job seeker may prefer, but it can be a way to stretch the budget further and further fund the job search. Relocation may be an option for job seekers whose skills might be in greater demand in another part of the country—or the world.
There are many parts to the job search process that are frustrating, that lack transparency, and are entirely outside the job seeker’s control—those things will always be true. By shifting the focus away from those things and on to the things they can control, job seekers can begin to regain some sense of empowerment and reduce some of the anxiety.