The vulnerability, self-doubt, and pleasures of unemployment

Applying for work while unemployed is emotionally and psychologically challenging. I am still learning how to stave off feelings of self-doubt as I approach month two of unemployment, but I do know that keeping active, healthy, structuring a 9 to 5 day, setting goals, and being excited about life and the future goes a long way.

Waiting, and waiting…amidst self-doubt

Time was limited and valuable while working, but suddenly becomes a void expanse. The first weeks of unemployment resulted in skewed sleeping patterns, too much binge watching, and unhealthy navel-gazing.

Self-doubt is the little voice that squeaks in idle time, the cruel strings that pull at your heart and mind, the occasional punch to the gut.

Job applications go unanswered, infrequent interviews result in rejection, and waiting amidst uncertainty becomes the norm: waiting for phone calls, waiting for interview results, waiting for good news, waiting for bad – waiting.

The wait compels you to look inward – who are the other candidates? What makes them better than me? What are my weaknesses? Could I have done something differently in the interview? What have I done wrong with my career and life?

Hope is equally a motivating force and a dangerous crutch that can quickly crumble under the realities of a competitive market. A looming recession compounds occasional anxiety.

Keeping healthy, positive

I quickly learned three practices that are effective at keeping me healthy and positive:

1) Get up and go to the gym: I strive to leave my place by 9 a.m. and go to the gym. This starts my day with a sense of healthy accomplishment.

2) Stay out and active, retain structure: I don’t go home after the gym. That too easily turns into a stagnant day with naps and television. Instead, I go to a local café and work on applications, emails, journaling, reading a novel, or life planning.

3) Retain sense of accomplishment and excitement: work provides meaning and a sense of accomplishment. I usually finish my day by deciding on one or two accomplishments that I would like to complete the next day. This is often as simple as buying a printer, writing in my journal, or cleaning my storage room. I also plan trips and events that bring me joy. I’m going fat biking for the first time this weekend, and I’m looking forward to cabin rentals with family and friends.

In short, I keep my days active, productive, and full. My social life is healthy and active. I’m getting things done.

Positive HR experiences

I want to commend employers that implement these practices:

– Prompt and personal communication: I had a very positive experience with McGill University recently where the HR person kept me updated throughout the application and interview process. Thank you to Linda for this.

– Portal with application status updates (ex. “Under consideration”): some employers have this but do not update the portal frequently – I have one application that has been under consideration for several months.

– Personal phone call after an interview/rejection. I really want to commend McGill University on this, which has set the standard for my application process thus far. A call provides closure and clarity, and gives me an opportunity to ask what I can do differently/better during an interview, or where there may be gaps in my resume that I can improve upon. So a big thank you to Thierry for the quick call. It makes a world of difference.

McGill really set the standard for what an HR process should be like, and I wish other employers adopted these practices: an online portal where the status of applications can be reviewed, a preliminary screening call, clear communication leading up to the interview, clear next steps leaving the interview, and a gracious phone call if you are not selected.

One thing missing from most employers is this:

– Automated email to candidates who applied but were not selected: I have roughly 10 applications pending, but many of these have likely selected a candidate by now (maybe?). Sending a simple automated email informing all applicants that another person has been selected provides invaluable clarity and closure. Uncertainty and ambiguity are not pleasant.

On the bright side

Part of me does not want to shy away from feelings of hurt, doubt, discomfort, and uncertainty. These are feelings I can work with, reflect on, and take with me into my new job, serving as useful reminders of what unemployment can feel like.

On the bright side, I am reading more, writing creatively, my days have a more natural and healthy rhythm, and I feel energetic and rested.

This time also allows me to reflect, plan, feel, and think in new ways – this is personal growth. I’m trying to make the best of this time.

There’s also the pleasure and privilege of knowing that something great is on the horizon and will come in due time.

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