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15 Recommendations for the Newly Unemployed

I caught myself thinking the other night about the day of work ahead and lamenting (a little bit, however grateful) about having to get up so early for the long commute and reminiscing (a little bit… just a smidgen) about my time being unemployed. In doing so, I couldn’t help but think of things I wish I could do again, things I wouldn’t do again, and general advice (or common sense) I would like to impart.

So this is for those who look forward to the day when they too can look forward to the morning commute again.

1. Stick to a budget

And I mean it. Break out the Excel spreadsheet, keep all your receipts, really take a critical look at how much you typically spend and what you can do without or cut back on for at least 3 months. Be firm but be realistic. If beer on Football Sundays is non-negotiable, choose domestic over export, cut back on the amount consumed, etc – and see if you can cut something else out of your spending (e.g. unlimited texting, mega cable packages, etc.).

You may want to rethink that data plan…

2. Do what you enjoy doing

Yes, you are limited in how much you can spend, but think about all the time you have now! I was lucky enough to enjoy nearly deserted beaches during weekdays and rediscover my love for reading and writing. It is important to do what you enjoying doing because there will be times when even the healthiest of us can be hit with bouts of depression and anxiety that periods of unemployment can bring.

3. Read a lot

For those of you who do not like to read (which I will never understand), I would still encourage you to find something – a newspaper, magazine, or even a blog to enjoy. Reading is learning and why not take the opportunity to learn something new? It is also a great time to do a self-evaluation or assessment of your knowledge, skills, abilities and other characteristics your next employer would be glad to hire. Who knows… your next employer could be yourself. This book in particular was a good read and helped inform some of the advice I’m offering you now.

4. Knock on some doors

Do not rely too heavily on job boards and advertisements. Print off some 1-paged resumes and visit some potential employers in-person. Yes, receptionists generally do not like having to handle solicitors, but some receptionists do more than their title may suggest. This is especially the case in small-to-mid sized companies where receptionists tend to hold more responsibility and have insight into company operations. Best case scenario: you ask to speak with someone in charge of hiring and actually get to chat with that person. Worst case scenario: you have to leave your resume with the receptionist. That’s not bad. And besides, have you got better things to do with your time? Introverts: more on this in a future blog post to come.

5. Try your hand at temporary employment

This may depend on your skill set, experience and industry, but temp work is advantageous for a number of reasons. For one, it helps keep your skills sharp. Two, it allows you to try out different industries in short stints (in case you are not sure which industry you want to be in going forward). Third, if you do a good job it can lead to an additional or extended assignment. And lastly, temp agencies can sell you to an employer in a way that your resume alone cannot. For this, you get paid slightly less, but – depending on the assignment you accept – it’s generally still worth doing.

6. Always have an interview suit ready

Remember that budget I spoke of earlier? Make room in it for the purchase of that special item that will allow you to fashion your favourite work wear into a bona fide interview outfit. Having it ready in your closet ensures that you are ready for any unexpected interview or last-minute temp assignment. It also provides a great psychological boost to your spirits in a “Let me at ’em!” sort of way. If you can, make room in your budget for a new haircut or style. It can make any outfit that much better.

7. Adjust your investment plans ASAP

Depending on how much you have in your bank account you may need to consider reducing the amount you contribute to any investment plans you may have. Please do not underestimate the power of even an extra $50 in your pocket.

8. Continue to save money

Yes, these are the rainy days you have (hopefully) been putting away money for. Having said that, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stop feeding your piggy bank. Sometimes it rains, but you need to save for the times it starts to pour.

9. Allow yourself a treat once in a while

With all this talk about budgeting and saving, it is important to treat yourself to the occasional pumpkin spice latte, bottle of wine, or other relatively cheap guilty pleasures you may have. You deserve it.

I’ll add that this is the time to redeem any loyalty program points you may have (in Canada: Scene, Shoppers Optimum, etc.) – because who doesn’t like movies and who doesn’t use shampoo and conditioner? Also, while most would put away their credit card, I would encourage it if a) you can resist impulsive buys, b) if your credit card allows you to collect points that can be redeemed towards rewards, cash back, etc. and c) you are disciplined about paying off your entire balance each month (as opposed to just the minimum requirement). I was able to redeem points for gift cards. Score!

10. Give yourself permission to be scared

Unemployment is scary, I’m not going to lie. It is a precarious time so there will be times when you honestly do not know what to do. There were weeks when my phone was silent and times when I had to turn down job offers despite my lack of funds. So you can be scared, just don’t let that fear consume you. When you feel panic and anxiety, seek the comfort of others or explore your feelings in a journal.

11. Watch The Price is Right

I’m serious. I forgot how much of a pick-me-up that game show is. There is an eternal joy in cheering others on even if they can’t hear or see you do it.

12. Drink more water

This is a good chance to take up healthy habits that you had always put on the back-burner or consistently forgot to do. For some, exercise would be something to introduce or reincorporate into your life. For me, I always had a tendency not to drink a lot during the workday (I blame my small bladder) so I had no more excuses.

13. Do not let LinkedIn suck your soul

I’ll likely be elaborating on my dislike of LinkedIn in a future post, but unless you have awesome connections, do not focus too much of your energy on this site. Less of this, more of recommendation #2.

14. Accept the fact that you are unemployed

Some prefer to say that they are “between jobs”. Screw that. Just say it: “I am currently unemployed”. Better yet, be able to complete the sentence with what you hope to gain, as in “I am currently unemployed but I’m definitely looking for a managerial position in marketing. Happen to know of any agencies looking to hire?”. Let people know that you are unemployed and be specific about what you are looking for. People generally like helping people, and even if they can’t offer you a job or a lead, they can offer you valuable advice.

15. Do not settle for less (unless you absolutely have to)

You’ll know when you have to settle for less. If you can afford to mull over about a job offer, than chances are you can afford to keep looking for something better if the job offer isn’t what you are looking for. If you need to find a job to pay the bills there is no shame in that. If you can afford to job search in relative leisure, remember to ask yourself these three questions:

1) Will the job teach you something you want to learn?
2) Will you be exposed to industry professionals who may be helpful to you later?
3) How will future employers / graduate schools view this experience?

That’s all I can think of for now. What do you think? Let me know – and be sure to share any money-saving tips or words of wisdom for those following the blog.

Good luck with your journey!

 
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Posted by on November 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Well, well, well…

After months of idling, pondering, searching, sweating, blogging, researching, applying, scrambling, networking (or at least my version of it), ranting, interviewing, a short stint temping, and more interviewing, I have landed a job!

I started my 3-month contract last week working for a well-loved institution downtown. It’s exactly what I was looking for: a short-term contract, with the possibility to go permanent, doing something that ties in with my interests.

Yay me!

It would appear that I don’t have anything to really think about for the next few months – but that’s not quite true. When the contract ends, and if I am offered a permanent position, I’ll have to decide if I want to stay or if I want to cross the Atlantic to try my hand at surviving London (as per my 3-year plan). So… I need to be proactive: looking at London-prospects in case my contract truly ends at the end of January.

And my new job does not call an end to my blog. There are still issues I’d like to explore: introversion and the job hunt, how personal history can influence our future at work, and of course the world of exploring job prospects abroad.

Way to make my life more complicated than it needs to be. I have to trust that this will all be worth it in the end.

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

You left your job? In this economy?!

I wasn’t thinking about the state of the economy when I handed in my resignation letter in June. Yes, I had heard about the economic woes, but it felt too abstract for me to worry about it. And I kept hearing about how the Canadian economy was better than other western economies so how bad could it be?

From what I can gather from googling, Canadian employment growth has stalled due to economic uncertainty; despite that, Canada holds the highest employment rate among G7 nations. Also, the (NEET) percentage of youth under 30 who are unemployed and actively looking for work or are not in the labour force in Canada was calculated at 13.3% – which is supposedly low compared to other G7 nations. Our unemployment rate currently sits at around 7.4% (compared to 5.9% (’07), 6.2% (’08), 8.3% (’09), 8.0% (’10), and 7.1% (’11) of Septembers past). I dunno. Whatever.

So naturally everyone wants to know why I left my job. Why did I leave my job?

On an early morning in June, working from my neighbourhood Starbucks, I received an email request to reschedule yet another work meeting. What would normally seem like a mundane request felt like someone had stuck out their leg in my path to purposely make me fall – making all things I was juggling in my hands scatter to the ground in the process. I had to put down my latte because I was physically shaking so hard. Something inside of me snapped. The proverbial breaking of the camel’s back.

I left because my job no longer felt gratifying. Because there was no longer room in my life for me. Because my life at the time felt like it was swallowing me whole. Because I felt like my work had become my life – which I swore to myself I would never do. And a part of me left because people were telling me I shouldn’t.

I felt that the only way to understand and reassess my life was to step out of it. I was spending so much of my waking hours working and what hours I had left were dedicated to putting out other fires existing in my life. I didn’t recognize my life and I didn’t like what I was seeing and I had no time to evaluate how to rectify the situation.

I needed to breathe. That’s why I quit.

The biggest misconception that has arisen from my resignation is the assumption that I am searching for a “dream job”. What is a dream job anyway?  To me a dream job is a job that you want to do rather than need to do. Since most people have needs – namely food, shelter and/or clothing – that are contingent on holding a job, most people cannot afford to hold a dream job. Anything you enjoy doing that much – something that is that dreamy – no longer qualifies as work. It’s a hobby.

Another misconception, which is related to the dream job assumption, is that I am naive and childish to think that a job can enjoyable; since nobody likes their job, to leave a job because you don’t like it is foolish. Well, there was a time when I did like my job so I know it is possible to enjoy what one does for a living. And I feel sorry for those who can leave their despised job but choose not to because they associate misery-on-the-job with wearing big-girl pants. Most of us have choices. My choice is to not live the one life I have spending most of it in misery.

Some of us don’t have choices. Some of us have economic, societal, or other institutional barriers that prevent us from reaching our potential. For obstacles that can be overcome, some people have larger obstacles in their path than others. Some of you reading this may not agree with these statements. For those who do not agree, chances are that you have not walked in the shoes of those with the barriers I speak of. In any case, I recognize that not everyone has the luxury of leaving their job without major repercussions. I would never suggest or recommend leaving a job one doesn’t enjoy, especially without having a new job secured, to everyone.

In my instance, I feel it made sense to leave my job and my rental apartment. I had some money saved, I had a network of family to fall back on, and friends who I could rely on. Not everyone has that.

I left my job in order to find an ideal situation. I suspect that “situation” will evolve as my life does. For the short-term, it means holding a job in a locale that is conducive to achieving new personal goals I have. I’d disclose them all but then the goals wouldn’t be as personal anymore.

The hardest people to explain this to are potential employers. How do I explain why I left my job? There really isn’t a way without sounding long-winded or finicky (possibly much like this blog post). I’ve settled for providing half-truths now since a lot of people do not understand why anyone would choose unemployment over employment – especially in this economy. One interviewer actually asked me, “You know the economy is bad, right?”. I grinned when I answered, “Yep!”. Not surprisingly, I haven’t heard from her since.

Anyway, the search for a new job continues. I have dabbled in some temp work which has helped with income and has been a welcome break from all the job board combing.  My new HR Management course has reintroduced me to student life: essays, tests, and exams – oh my! And I have replaced working in Starbucks with studying at my local Tim Hortons.

I’ll admit two things:

  1. It’s not the best time to be looking for a new job.
  2. I miss Grande Soy Chai Tea Lattes.

But I have no regrets. Not yet anyway.

 
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Posted by on October 11, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Welcome! Bienvenue!: Postscript

This morning – ahead of writing a new original post – I decided to read through my previous entries. The tone of my posts have definitely fluctuated and there will likely be no exception in future posts; the road of unemployment is no doubt a winding and bumpy ride.

In rereading my first post, Welcome! Bienvenue!, it is clear that I was high on optimism and had not really placed Toronto in context with the rest of the other cities I had listed.

For instance, I stated that “as far as I can tell it’s fairly easy to land a work visa for the US”. I have since done more research. Some of my findings and comments can now be found under my Stuff page, here.

Another thing that struck me about my first post was that I claimed that the economy here in Toronto is good. What is probably more accurate is that the Canadian economy, in comparison to others, is not bad – but it’s definitely not great. Anyone currently looking for employment here in Canada can tell you that.

This post not only serves as a postscript for my first post but as a preface for my next post – about looking for work in “this” economy. More to come.

 
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Posted by on September 21, 2012 in Applying for Jobs, Relocation

 

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How do you know when to accept a job offer?

I had a dream this morning.

I dreamt that I was in a small office with a former employer of mine. The office was bare except for a row of three desks, three chairs, and one computer. I was on one side of the row; my former boss was on the other side. He was explaining to me that his former business had gone belly-up shortly after I had chosen to leave. The reason I was summoned to his current office was to make a proposal: he will offer me $300/month, for one year, if I perform one task. At this time, an assistant materializes out of nowhere and lays out a pair of undies. Hideous, green, lace panties that appeared to shimmer in the stark light. I was to wear it everyday in order to test the quality of it. I asked if there was another pair to alternate with this one. No. The assistant places a contract on the desk. I would not be allowed to wear any other underwear but this pair. I’m now holding the underwear in my hand, inspecting the condition and the tag, to figure what material it was made out of. All it said was Made In Noneofyourbusiness. My boss is casually reminding me that I have not found a job yet, and that if I had any sense or conscience for what I did to his former business, that I should sign the contract. The green panties revolving in my hands was a kaleidoscope of aqua, turquoise, teal, peacock…

I woke up, had a bowl of cereal, and am now writing this post.

It is true that my former boss no longer operates the business I used to work at. It now seems to be a skeleton of what it used to be. Am I conceited enough to believe that my absence was to blame? A little bit.

What strikes me about the dream is that I was actually considering the job offer. I don’t feel desperate enough – in real life – to take on low-paying, unhygienic and sexually humiliating work.  I do think that being unemployed is a departure from the confidence and security one feels when he or she does have a job, and I have found myself – in real life – considering job positions I normally never would just to have a job again.

I recently received a job offer. On paper, it was a slight step backwards in terms of the level of responsibility I used to have in my former job. It would also be a huge difference of pay in the wrong direction. I found myself justifying my desire for the job by making excuses: I know I can do this job because I’ve held a similar job like it before; it is a smaller business in a different industry so their monetary offer is based on what they can afford; I haven’t received any other job offers and I don’t want to regret not taking this one.

In my internal struggle, I recalled a book I had read called The Sexual Paradox: Men, Women and the Real Gender Gap by Susan Pinker*. I remembered reading about how women have a tendency to not want to negotiate employment contracts, or higher pay, for fear of losing the job. This fear (and the employer’s knowledge of this fear) often helps to maintain the gender gap in salaries. Even if that woman ends up successfully asking for a raise in later years, because she accepted the initial contract that offered less, she will still find herself paid less than her male peers.

Upon remembering this, I tried my hand – for the first time – at negotiating an offer. My potential employer wanted to meet with me the next day to go over details. I decided to bounce my thoughts off of a friend to get her opinion. She reminded me that if the job doesn’t feel right then I shouldn’t accept the offer. Why negotiate for a job you don’t really want in the first place?

Since I love to over-analyze things to death I turned to Google. I love Google. I googled “how do you know when to accept a job offer?”. I clicked on a Harvard Business Review blog post titled Accept the Job Offer? Or Walk Away? While the author provided some good reasoning, it was actually a reply to the blog post that grabbed me. This person, named Sharon, suggested asking yourself three questions when deciding to accept a job or not:

1) Will the job teach you something you want to learn?
2) Will you be exposed to industry professionals who may be helpful to you later?
3) How will future employers / graduate schools view this experience?

After reading this, and realizing that my answer to all three questions was No, I decided not to take the job.

My job search continues.

I am one of those people who believes that dreams have meaning. It’s like your conscience saying “Since you clearly aren’t getting it while you’re awake, let me hit you over the head with it now while you’re sleeping”.

What I’m going to take away from this dream is:

  • Acknowledge that I have deep-seeded desperation and figure out how to challenge it without needing to consider jobs that I know I aren’t right for me.
  • When I receive a job offer, don’t be a girl about it (yes, I cringed just typing that). Have confidence in my position and decide to either decline or make a counter-offer.
  • It’s probably time to buy some new underwear.
NOTES
* I highly recommend this book, The Gender Paradox,  to anyone curious about gender psychology and its relation to the world of work. Highly, highly recommend it.
 
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Posted by on September 15, 2012 in Applying for Jobs

 

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Where am I going?

As anal as I am about planning and details (I just finished drafting a 4-day itinerary of things to do, hour-by-hour, during my upcoming Chicago trip), I never really came up with a plan for my life.

I’ve been applying for a slew of jobs so interviews will likely (hopefully) follow. And there is one interview question that I’ve always loathed because I never knew how to answer it:

Where do you see yourself in five years?

My first thought is always “What the f*** are you talking about?”, closely followed by “How the heck should I know?”. My actual response is usually “To be honest, I don’t know. I never plan my life that far in advance. What I do know is that five years from now, I want to have gained more skills and competency in my job, enjoy what I am doing, and know that I am of value to the company”. I always worried that my response demonstrated a lack of ambition, but it the only way I can think of answering the stupid question.

Well… I have a plan. At least I think I do. Along with all the job hunting I’ve been doing, I’ve been weighing a bunch of options. At first I was overwhelmed – working from morning-to-night combing and searching for answers regarding career changing, continued education, visas, job markets, etc. For someone without a job, I’ve been pulling a lot of hours! Anyway, I think I finally have something:

My 3-Year Plan

  • Now-Feb 2013: Work part-time or temporarily here in Canada; start part-time HR certificate course
  • Jan 2013: Apply for UK visa
  • Mar 2013: Work in London; continue HR course online; learn German
  • July 2014: Get TESOL/TESL certification; apply for German visa
  • Sep 2014: Teach Business English in Germany
  • Sep 2015: Return to Canada; graduate from HR certificate course; prep for HKE exam

It’s not a perfect plan but it’s a plan. At least I have a sense of direction – which is a far cry from where I was weeks prior.

I moved out of my apartment the last week of June. The following week I vacated my items from the cubicle I had been occupying for four years. After I leaving my job, in early July, I felt restless. Not to the point where I was losing sleep but I kept wanting to move or do something. I thought jogging would do the trick but it didn’t.

A couple of weeks later my family went down to the Caribbean for a family reunion. We landed and I kept staring at the mountain at the center of the island with this immediate incessant need to climb it. I didn’t pack the gear to do it so the next best thing to do was walk the hilly roads that snaked around and through the island.

The locals could tell I wasn’t one of them because I walked with speed and purpose; they knew they had a city girl in their midst. I’d walk and walk and walk, assured by them that it was impossible to get lost on such a small island; the road doesn’t end so you’ll always meet your destination. Except I didn’t have one. I just needed to walk it out. I’d walk from one town to another. One day I walked and walked until the road ended. The road ended. I was on top of a steep hill looking at the pavement stop sharply in front dense bush. It wasn’t a bad place to be lost – being on a hilltop overlooking a turquoise ocean – but I was tired from climbing and the sun was going down. So I sat for a few moments to catch my breath. And then I followed the same road back down the hill.

I didn’t have an epiphany in those few moments before heading back down, but there was a sense of calm as I descending down the hill. I knew I can always go back. If you know you have the possibility to return to where you came from – even if you’re not sure where you are at that moment – are you ever really truly lost?

I wonder if the reason I never made plans for my life – choosing instead to trust that life will take care of itself – was because I was afraid of failing and losing myself in the process. With this three-year plan, there is comfort in knowing that I can always go back. There is also a slightly sick exhilaration in knowing that I may fail. And if I do fail, I can do something else. I can choose my own adventure – like those books I loved when I as a kid!

Those books essentially illustrated the idea that life is about the choices we make and the subsequent path it can lead us down. Can I plan and make goals for the next three to five years? Sure. Do I know where I will be in three to five years? No, because nobody does. And that, my friends, is why that interview question is stupid.

I think I just need to walk it out a bit more. And Europe looks like a great place to do it.

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2012 in Relocation

 

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The Curriculum Vitae: Not Beating Around the Bush, eh?

The Curriculum Vitae: Not Beating Around the Bush, eh?

So it appears that when applying for jobs in Germany (and Europe in general), job applicants are expected to provide a curriculum vitae (better known as a CV). It’s like a resume, but different. In Germany, it’s called a lebenslauf.

It shouldn’t be a big deal but… it kind of is.

The biggest difference between a resume and a CV is that the latter requires the applicant to include a picture and personal information – and when I say personal, I mean information that would be illegal for a hiring employer to illicit during the recruitment process in Canada: age, sex/gender, marital/family status, citizenship, etc. I’ve even seen samples of the CV where the applicant lists the names of their children.

So… I’ve drafted a CV but I can’t help but wonder what bearing these insights into my personal life would have on me getting/not getting the position. Will my photo work in my favour, or against me? Will they see that I’m childless and think “Oh good, so she won’t mind working lots of overtime”?

Having said that, at least they’re not beating around the bush. They are admitting to having a discriminatory eye upfront rather than trying to pry the same kind of insights by asking roundabout questions during the interview process. If the German employer is not looking for someone like me then at least they’re not wasting both of our time going through the niceties of an interview that would go nowhere.

If anything, it’s not like one cannot pass judgement on resumes lacking personal details. If someone earned their high school diploma in 1992, does this not help imply (infer?) someone’s age? If someone has been employed and educated in Warsaw, is there not a big possibility that he/she is not a Canadian citizen?

I borrowed a book from the library: Unbeatable Resumes, by Tony Beshara. The book is okay; it has some good tips. I was somewhat disappointed though when I came upon this section addressing – what I’d like to call – textually-apparent minorities:

“If your name makes it obvious that you are of a member of a minority group or are foreign born, you may want to consider changing it for resume purposes only. Now, you probably will respond with horror: “Well, that’s discrimination! People shouldn’t decide on interviewing me based on my name.” You’re absolutely right! It is discrimination. All hiring is discriminatory. Some of it is legal, and some of it isn’t. But remember that you are trying to get job interviews, not change the world. If you’re uncomfortable doing this, don’t do it.”

I’ve seen coworkers disregard resumes that have crossed their desks based on the applicant’s name because it was “funny” looking, or took it to mean that the applicant couldn’t possibly be fluent in English – or that even if they were fluent, our customers/clients wouldn’t be able to get past their (assumed) foreign accent.

On the flip side, there is the instance when your English/Christian name awards you an interview – only to arrive for the interview and be informed that “the job has been taken” because they weren’t expecting you, racially speaking.

According to Beshara, “All hiring is discriminatory”. This is true. If it wasn’t, recruiters would place all resumes in a … big hat, close their eyes, and draw one from the bunch. The degree of discriminatory practices may vary, but it will happen: if not based on your resume, or CV, then based on your interview. It’s inevitable.

So is my hesitation of submitting a CV a reflection of the discriminatory practice or my assumptions/paranoia regarding the practice? In other words, is this anxiety about the curriculum vitae? Or is it about how I see myself in the eyes of others?

One thing is for sure: I am overanalyzing the s**t out of this.

 
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Posted by on August 8, 2012 in Applying for Jobs

 

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