How to be Unemployed

Being unemployed has led me to seek the opinion of and take comfort in the experiences of others who are also unemployed.  I wanted to add to that, so this post is about how my experience has gone thus far, how I’m coping and how I think you should try to cope if you’re in this situation.  

For me, my experience can be summed up into a circular process consisting of three stages:

  1. Living the dream
  2. Momentum and Applications
  3. The Sky is Falling

People will tell you there is a fourth stage; acceptance. I don’t think you ever accept being unemployed.  Maybe at 2pm on a Saturday when you can justify the 8 episodes of ‘The Good Wife’ you just watched because this is what employed people do too.  But that feeling never stays long.

Stage 1: Living the Dream

Common thoughts that occur during this stage:

“I’m not that worried, something will come along.”

“I have enough money to survive many winters – I’m going to be fine.”

“I can get in shape!!”

“I can FINALLY do that juice cleanse”

This is a nice position to be in and a really positive way to feel.  Cling to this.  You can normally churn out 3-4 quality applications daily and you don’t mind taking a day or two off.  You tend to get to the gym easily and you’re feeling confident that this time is like a holiday that won’t last long.  Wasn’t everyone unemployed at some point?  Maybe this is your artistic awakening.  You finally have time to paint!

If only it lasted, because I feel that if you stayed in this stage you’d be all right – you’d probably rock your juice cleanse.  It’s also a nice state to be in because the steely silence of your inbox just rolls off your back. You know it’s going to be all right.


Stage 2: Momentum and Applications

There’s no wasting time, you have to treat unemployment like a full-time job.  You will get a job today that will be your sole focus.  You’re having a little less fun and the guilt is starting to slowly build. You miss a day of applications and lay awake thinking that you could’ve missed the ultimate opportunity that appeared for one day only.  You’ve probably stopped shelling out on the pair of jeans your bank balance says you can afford, but the threat of long-term unemployment knows you can’t. You’re also setting yourself mini-targets like:

“I’m going to have a job by Thursday”

Unfortunately, save for sending out more applications this isn’t something you can control.

For the most part however, you’re still feeling positive. You’re going outside and delivering CV’s and it’s great.  You’re going to fix this situation.

And you might fix it during this phase – in which case, AWESOME!

If not, then eventually, like a tidal wave, stage 3 hits. And it hurts.


Stage 3: The Sky is Falling

I woke up at 7am.  I checked my emails once before 9am and again at 9:01am in the hope of some communication from a potential employer. Nothing.  I conducted my daily trawl of in the hopes of finding a new opportunity and I made some toast.  Then at midday, I cracked.  I physically couldn’t complete any more applications because thus far it felt like every hour I’d slaved over sending out cover letters and every second I’d spent perfecting my CV had been for nothing.  I was useless and worthless and hopeless.

So I did what any reasonable, grown-up, individual does when a hard time hits. I went to bed.

I also ate a litre of ice cream and watched 10 episodes of Friends, and wept.

At this point there is next to no joy gained from doing anything because you either feel too guilty to enjoy it or you feel like you’re letting those around you down by enjoying yourself when you should’ve been considering your situation.  It’s getting difficult to justify the purchase of anything, even milk.  You get to the point where you feel you don’t deserve coffee with milk; you’re unemployed! You’ve decided there is little need to get dressed because you’ve got no interviews or anywhere to go and sometimes, you get up just to go back to bed.

Here’s why it’s okay for the above to happen to you.

It’s really difficult to be unemployed.

It is an emotional rollercoaster, that isn’t always rational – OF COURSE YOU CAN HAVE MILK IN YOUR COFFEE! It’s really hard to maintain a sense of identity and determination and momentum when all you get in return is silence.

The two fundamentally, above all, most important things you need to do to get through these times are:

  1. Take good care of yourself and your mental health
  2. Ensure that any application you send out is of the absolute highest quality.

A few additional notes on point 1:

DO NOT DO A JUICE CLEANSE.  You will get upset, angry and you won’t be able to write any kind of quality job application because all you will be thinking about is the amount of cheese in your fridge and the biscuits in your cupboards.

Don’t panic if you have a mini-emotional breakdown.  Take an afternoon and cry it out. The combo of guilt, lack of purpose and fear of wasting time is a huge burden to bear.  So yeah, cry.  Afterward, or the next day, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep going.  To quote, what I consider the single most under-quoted movie of all time:

“Everything will be all right in the end, and if it’s not all right it’s not the end” – Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.

Even if it’s not all right next week, or next month, eventually, with hard work and determination it will be.  You have to make it all right and you can and you will.  But don’t worry if it’s not tomorrow.

Finally, try and exercise and do try to give yourself some kind of routine.  Setting an alarm to avoid the guilt of a wasted morning helps a lot!

Exercise also helps.

So, okay, I don’t have a job but I’m lifting heavier weights than ever and running a lot faster. It’s a small sense of accomplishment in a time where you can be very quickly convinced that you will never accomplish anything.

Take care of number 1. Power on through.  Get help if you need to.  There is no shame in asking.

Some additional notes on point 2:

There is nothing worse than reviewing your CV after sending it out to 30+ people and finding that it has confused tenses and a couple of grammatical errors.  You want to send out best version of yourself to the workplace (even if you’re doing so in your PJs). It’s also tempting to have written a cover letter and be so tired from writing about yourself that you just hit send.  You’ll feel better for taking a minute away and then coming back to read it refreshed.  Take it from someone who learned the hard way, you HAVE to proof read. AHHH.

Exciting websites I would direct you to for some interesting employment reading are:

  • – there’s tips for CVs and cover letters here as well as interesting questions from readers, e.g. “My co-worker clipped his nails during an interview, should I have said something?”
  • Your local university careers service. Even if you’re not a student, this is a great spot for cover letter and CV tips. If you’re at the University of Leicester, I cannot tell you how much they want to help and how capable and opportunity-ridden the service is.  I’m sure that this is pretty standard in all universities.


Ultimately please remember the following:

  • Unemployment is hard, you can be upset and you can ask for help.
  • You do need to continue to apply to positions, even if it’s entry level shovelling, just try and fill your time, you’ll feel better.
  • Take the best care of yourself, even mini achievements go a long way to boosting your morale at this time

It will be okay.  You are important and valuable and useful and you will find something.

Just. Keep. Going.

9 thoughts on “How to be Unemployed

  1. Pingback: IEC: The Unexpected Language Barrier – Lorna Pegram

  2. Pingback: IEC: The Job Hunt – How to find work, navigate temp agencies, update your resume and generally stay sane during this process! – Lorna Pegram

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