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Dallying With The Dole
Personal Experiences of Unemployment
Member Name: Hishyeness
Personal Experiences of Unemployment
Advantages: Loads of free time
Disadvantages: Frustration, self-doubt and uncertainty.
THE FINE LINE BETWEEN BRAVE & STUPID
When my son was born in late September of last year, I resigned from my job, intending to spend some time with my young family before taking up a fresh career challenge in the New Year. My job was headed in a direction I didn't want to go in, I was bored, disengaged and far from being able to give it my best. In those circumstances, I thought it only fair to myself, my colleagues and the business to make a fresh start somewhere else.
Given that I was voluntarily leaving work into the teeth of the worst job market for a generation, some of my colleagues and friends thought I was mad, whilst others thought I was being extraordinarily brave. As I said my goodbyes and walked out the door on my last day, I suppose I felt a combination of both. That said, I had the substantial safety net of a fully paid-up six month notice period, and full confidence in what I honestly believed were a highly marketable set of skills that would prove irresistible to potential employers.
A GRIZZLY BEAR OF A MARKET
I started actively looking for work in mid-November, having thoroughly enjoyed the brilliant experience of spending six unhurried weeks with my newborn son. The idea was to blitz the job market, start work in January and effectively get "double-paid" for at least three months of the notice that had been paid to me by my previous employer. Things started promisingly enough as a number of interview opportunities presented themselves, but none of them panned out, and before I knew it, the holiday season was upon me, signalling a traditional two month lull in the recruitment market.
My confidence took a knock. The delay meant that, realistically, I would not be able to start work (assuming some successful late January interviews) until March. Although we had substantial savings that would ensure we could keep afloat when the notice money ran out, all of a sudden, things were not looking so bright - the decision to quit, on balance, was starting to look more mad than brave at this point.
In addition, what I had not appreciated was that I was in a buyers market where employers had the pick of the available talent and were taking their sweet time to make up their minds. Even interviews for interim roles - three to six month contracts - were being subjected to two or three intense interviews over a period of weeks rather than days, as companies, in the face of financial uncertainty, prevaricated over hiring anybody. So there I was, in what looked like a mess of my own making, facing the prospect of being unemployed for longer than I had ever been before, and trying to figure out what on earth to do about it.
STRUGGLING TO COPE
I have always been the main breadwinner in my family. My wife does not work and takes great pride in being a stay-at-home mum. We decided early on that we would gladly take the scenic route to achieve some of our life goals if it meant we could raise our kids without the need for childcare. That put added pressure on me to ensure I could provide, especially as we had now grown into a family of four. However, the decision to leave work was taken after much family discussion, and my wife completely supported my decision. We were in it together.
Strange then, that despite this support, despite leaving work voluntarily, I felt strangely emasculated. In order to keep busy, I was doing odd jobs around the house, helping with the kids and the housework, but always with one eye on the e-mail and telephone, waiting for the next opportunity to come through. Despite a laundry list of DIY projects to get through, I felt a strange lack of urgency in getting on with them, and instead, lived my life in a sort of limbo - on hold, with no real aim, goal or purpose - at least until I got a job offer. I could not motivate myself to do anything constructive. As the days passed into weeks, and the weeks into months, time seemed to fly by with nothing really to show for it. Occasionally, I would drag myself out of my dull torpor and get something done, but there was no plan, no strategy, and certainly no sense of purpose.
After taking the opportunity, in the first few weeks to undertake a thorough overhaul of our finances - critically evaluating and auditing everything from interest rates on bank accounts, our investment products, our energy suppliers, insurance companies and the like, I turned into a pretty good imitation of the Son of Scrooge. We simply stopped spending money, especially on big ticket items - to ensure that the cash I had been given would stretch as far as possible. At first, this seemed like common sense - in fact, we recouped around £500 in overpayments to various utilities providers, but after a while, it turned into the fear of spending anything - at all. In my overzealous quest to budget, scrimp and save and live below our means, I ended up forgetting about the "live" part.
As the opportunities alarmingly dried up, I toyed with the idea of a complete career change, but the options we discussed - opening a nursery, writing professionally, running an internet café - seemed unrealistic flights of fancy given the much superior earning potential of my legal career, as well as the many years of study and work I had invested to get to where I was. Occasionally, a call from an agent would spark some hope, only to hear that the potential job was a six month contract in Luxembourg, a three month stint in Milton Keynes, or in a branch of law entirely unfamiliar to me - it seems the recruitment agents I was working with were getting as desperate as I was.
That said, keeping in mind that I was effectively paid through to the end of March 2010, the pressure and sense of worry seemed - on the face of it - entirely artificial - we had the resources to tough it out for a year or longer if necessary. However, many friends and fellow professionals had warned me that being "out of the market" for more than six months would result in a significant professional handicap - even in the current economic climate, so even though there was no financial imperative to get back to work, the clock was still ticking.
It is no exaggeration to say that looking for work is, in of itself, a full time job. That holds even more true in a tough market. The rewards come to those who exercise and seize initiative, are willing to look hard and long for the opportunities, and are flexible and willing to adapt. Every morning, I spent a few hours trawling through company web sites on the internet, visiting job portals, scanning the professional trade press, tapping up contacts and doing my level best to try and sniff out the opportunities before others did. Good things may come to those who wait, but only what's left over by the people who got there first.
However, I was coming up against recruiters who knew they could take their time, knowing full well that the bird in the hand wasn't going anywhere, so they could afford to wait for the two in the bush. I found the whole process very frustrating, morale-sapping and depressing, but the only option was to persevere and work through it. In the end my stickability was well rewarded, as I was offered a position with a company I had interviewed with in early January, but whose selection process has lasted three months, five interviews and face to face chats with no less then eleven people. After the gruelling interview process, the bouts of self-doubt, impatience and hand-wringing angst, it was a blessed relief to be employed again. Ultimately I got what I wanted - a better job, better prospects and a genuinely exciting new challenge - but in retrospect, it would have been less stressful to look for work while still employed.
I appreciate my story is atypical and that I have been very lucky to find work in the current market. I still have friends who have been unemployed for the best part of a year. But regardless of why they are unemployed, the experience of being out of work is strikingly similar - uncertainty, anger, frustration, depression, self-doubt and a feeling of uselessness are all familiar bedfellows - especially amongst those with families. It helps if you have a good support system, but for me, the best advice is to try and push through it, believe in yourself, stay positive and persevere.
© Hishyeness 2010
Summary: To be avoided at all costs!