Tag Archives: unemployment

Unemployment month seven: end of my tether

The campaign aimed at destigmatising mental health issues spearheaded by the young royals, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, has received a lot of media attention lately. Prince Harry went public about his own struggles following the loss of his mother at a young age, making the point that bottling up negative emotions can have grave consequences to your psychological health.

This applies to the unemployed too. When you’re not part of society’s workforce, by default you’re marginalised from it, and this can be detrimental to your confidence and self-esteem. Not having an income impacts your social life. As bonding with friends at the pub no longer becomes an option, you may have become isolated from your usual social circle, and loneliness can have devastating effects on your psyche.

A job gave structure to your day – you had to be up and out of the house by a certain time – but not having a job to go to means it doesn’t matter if you never get out of bed, sleep during the day or stay up all night. Empty days roll into empty weeks, empty weeks into empty months. The loss of a sense of purpose in life can make you go literally crazy.

In January I had reckoned I’d have a job by end of February, just because the first month of the year tends to be slow. In February I told myself by March I’d be working, and noticed, slightly panicked, that the balance on my bank account was reaching critical point. By end of March I had stopped leaving the house for anything other than local grocery shopping , using public transport only for my fortnightly trips to the JobCentre and any job interviews. I cut down my meals to one and a half a day and, for extra reassurance, made nominal savings wherever I could – I cancelled my Netflix subscription and switched my facial cream from Liz Earle’s to one sold at Lidl for less than two pounds.

My JobCentre adviser reminded me my contribution-based jobseeker’s allowance would run out at the end of May. “How are you getting on with your job search?” It was more an admonition than a question.

By then my CV had been submitted to all recruitment agencies in town and most online job sites. I’d been to several job interviews that led to…nothing. Even attempts at being ‘proactive’, such as sending speculative letters directly to prospective employers and hounding friends in the industry to ask about vacancies, had ended up in a black hole.

Losing My Mind
Anyone who’s been unemployed for a length of time knows  how soul-destroying job hunting eventually becomes. The amount of time you spend preparing a job application doesn’t seem to be compensated by the outcomes. You may have expanded your job search to include positions that are beneath your qualifications, only to be met with a wall of silence. Or you dared going for your dreams and applied in an area you have no experience in but would love to get into. Those are called ‘dream’ jobs for a reason.

Well-meaning friends trying to be helpful can end up sending you further down the dark hole. A comment meant as a compliment can have the opposite effect and make you feel totally inadequate: “But you have loads of experience, you’re good at your job, and you speak five languages! How come you can’t find a job?!” The sympathetic ones won’t make accusations but would like you to meet them for lunch in town so they can comfort you, forgetting that lunch isn’t free, and London has the most expensive transport system on planet Earth.

The positivity tips I wrote about on this blog in the New Year no longer motivated me on a day-to-day basis. I’m known for being a steadfast optimist, but how long can one go on feeling motivated writing letters saying how good you are at a job, when all you get back is one continuous rejection. And, if, additionally, you suffer any upsets in your personal relationships during unemployment, they are bound to hurt twice as much and add to your feelings of inadequacy and failure.

Gradually, I started losing interest in tidying up the house, stopped going to libraries, stopped exercising, stopped answering phone calls and emails that weren’t strictly related to job search. All I wanted was the world to leave me alone. I had nothing to say to anyone anyway. The less I did, the more exhausted I felt, the more sleep I needed, the less I wanted to leave the house.

My day-to-day was starting to resemble that of a prisoner observing the world through the grid of a cell’s window, talking to birds and clouds because there is no one else to talk to. In my confused mental state, I wondered if being a prisoner would be more sociable than life as a jobseeker. There would be inmates, even wardens. I’d have no rent nor electricity bills to worry about, and meals would be provided for. I wouldn’t have a job, but I wouldn’t have to feel guilty for not having one either because my job would be to feel guilty for my crime. I wouldn’t have to prove myself in endless cover letters because I’d belong to the lowest rung of society anyway. I’d be a permanent reject rather than a potential on-and-off one.

It could be jobseekers’ fatigue, but some days I feel as if I’m losing my mind.

Meaning of Life
Being unemployed for seven months, utterly broke and heart-broken, with no family nor partner to rely on for support, made me question what the meaning of life is. What is the point of staying alive?

The other evening a friend said to me, “Do you realise most of our jobs will be taken over by robots soon? There’ll be no jobs for any of us!” According to this article by Yuval Noah Harari, by 2050 there will be a new class of ‘useless’, unemployable people because artificial intelligence will have replaced their jobs. The author says there is no meaning in human life, except what is ascribed to it by our minds. In order to generate meaning, some resort to computer games, some to virtual reality games, others to religion or to consumerism, which, Harari says, are ultimately also fantasy games.

But if I’m not interested in Pokémon hunting nor in collecting points to go to heaven, how do I fill my existence with enough purpose to keep me from slashing my wrists? It’s no wonder so many jobless people end up falling into depression.

If you’re unemployed and think you may be suffering from, anxiety, depression or any other mental health issues, you might like to know the charity Shaw Trust has a programme called Aim4Work, which offers support in getting you back into work for up to nine months, and even after you start working. You can call them on 0800 389 0177 or email Aim4Work@shaw-trust.org.uk to check your eligibility.

Tipping Point
As part of our upbringing, we are taught to put on a brave face and march on even when things become unbearable. We live by the motto “I can’t go on. I will go on,” as Samuel Beckett put it. Sometimes we can go on for a long time, unaware of our pain, until something breaks us open.

For me that moment came when I was queuing at the till of my local Lidl a little over a month ago. A young Muslim couple was standing in front of me with a large trolley. I had a full basket myself, but the wife turned to me and kindly offered me her place in the queue, as I had less shopping than them. I had given up my place in the queue to other shoppers countless times before, but this was the first time anyone had offered me the same. Lidl tills can scan incredibly fast, and trying to shove all my shopping into three small cloth bags within seconds proved to be an inefficient idea. I started dropping my groceries everywhere while I fumbled with my wallet under the chilly look of the woman at the till. Her judgement of my clumsiness unnerved me. The faster I tried to put my shopping away, the more things I dropped, the more ridiculous I felt. Before I knew, the husband of the Muslim woman was picking up my groceries from the floor and helping me bag them, as if he was my bagging assistant.

As I paid for my shopping, profusely thanking the man for his help, my eyes caught his wife’s. I saw her face, framed by her scarf, her eyes dark, warm and sparkly. She was smiling, but it wasn’t a condescending smile. It was a look that said “I know”, which brought me instant comfort.

It was the end of March. London was still in shock from the terror attack on Westminster Bridge the week before. A few days later several Muslim women had formed a human chain on the bridge in solidarity for the victims. I’d felt ashamed at the bigotry these admirable women have to suffer daily from those who think all Muslims are terrorists, and I had silently apologised to them. It occurred to me that the human soul works in mysterious ways. Maybe the Muslim woman at Lidl knew something about my pain as I knew about hers?

As I walked out into the street, laden with bags, thick tears started streaming down my face. I took the back streets and sobbed all the way home. The kindness of two strangers had saved my day. Someone had cared enough to reach out and help when I hadn’t even asked. Because asking for help is so hard.

Unemployment messes with your head big time. I’m clearly at the end of my tether.

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Lessons from life on the dole: your job is not your ID

“So…what do you do?” In an age of soaring unemployment and people struggling to find any work at all, nothing can kill conversation as promptly as this seemingly innocent question.

I had a good share of those when I was on the dole. It made me start avoiding all social gatherings requiring self introductions, or I’d attend, but stick with people I knew, carefully avoiding eye contact with strangers. 

Having been unemployed for a long time, I can relate to that sinking feeling you get when, upon revealing your jobless status, the enquirer suddenly changes the subject of the conversation, or worse, they swiftly switch their attention to someone else who does have a job they can talk about. 

Columnist Oliver Burkeman wrote in a Guardian magazine that, in troubled economic times, the question ‘what do you do’ “is far more likely to draw attention to the fact that someone’s out of a job, or tolerating one they’re not proud of”.  I couldn’t agree more. 

“What do you do?” is no longer an icebreaker; it is a humiliator, a self-esteem destroyer. How do you explain to someone your occupation is….to look for an occupation? And why do we feel so guilty about it? No wonder there are so many sociophobes among the jobless.

Yet people can’t get out of the habit of asking it. Have you ever scanned delegate badges at a conference, looking for “the right” people to talk to? We feel compelled to classify and label people to increase our chances of associating ourselves with the right crowd. We need to know where we stand in relation to them, whether they have anything to offer us, anything in common with us. 

Being a terrible liar, when asked, I usually told people I was a “freelance journalist”, which is not entirely untrue, as I am NCTJ qualfied and am regularly involved in several journalistic activities. But the next question always tripped me up:  “What type of freelance journalism do you do?” “One that does not pay and keeps me going to the JobCentre”….is what I was tempted to reply.

There is no denying our job titles pigeonhole us into some type of definition of us as people. Think about how differently you react when someone has just told you they are a doctor (“must be educated and knowledgeable, wealthy”), or an actor (“never heard of you so you must be unknown and therefore poor, probably waits tables to supplement income”) or an accountant (erm…fill this space yourself).

We are going through the worst recession the world has seen since World War II, and many highly educated professionals can be found driving buses, stacking shelves or cleaning toilets in order to feed the family because they aren’t enough jobs in their field. There is no room for misplaced pride in the age of austerity. You do what you can in order to survive. But can people accept that? Can the unemployed accept it themselves?

During my many months of unemployment, I came to realise how much of my identity is defined by what I do as a job. Because without one, I felt like a nobody, I felt embarrassed and ashamed, as if I no longer deserved a place in society. 

The sentiment behind the stock answer: “I am between jobs” is like an apology on a train’s PA system: “We are very sorry for the interruption to your service. Normal service will resume shortly.” Like train services, we don’t actually know when normality will resume.

If losing a job blurs the borders that delineate who we are as people, if we can then no longer be defined by association with a profession, I wonder whether we should not use that time to reassess who we really are when we are not playing roles described on business cards.

I now have a job again, at least for the next few months, and a job title I can proudly announce when asked what I do. The irony is: I no longer identify myself with my title. That alone may have been the most valuable lesson I took away from life on the dole. Having experienced first-hand how transient jobs can be (here one day, gone the next), I now don’t take titles nor jobs for granted.

The new me is “dedicated but detached”, a healthy balance, come to think of it, for someone who has been overcommitted to work all her life.

I am no longer enamoured with concepts such as “career”, “promotion”, “progression”. I am, of course, immensely grateful for my current job, but what I do is not what I am, nor necessarily what I want to be remembered as when I die.

No experience, however mundane, teaches us nothing. Unemployment has taught me my real value lies in what I have to offer as a person, the things I can see and understand beyond the job, exactly because I am not blinded by the false security of one.

It is quite a nirvana. 

Do you have a lesson to share too?

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Off the dole; what next?

I squealed with delight when the P45 form finally arrived in the post from HM Revenue & Customs, confirming my long awaited news: the JobCentre had officially sacked me.

In other words, I am off the dole. Off to a part-time freelance job.

Bizarre as it may seem, while you are claiming any benefits during uenmployment, the JobCentre Plus is technically your employer, the employer of the unemployed. Once you are off their books, you are “fired”, you get your P45.

And what a pleasurable dismissal it was too.

Signing off
On my last sign-on day, my amiable personal adviser Dennis greeted me with his usual enthusiasm: “How are you this morning, Mrs Elliott?” In keeping with our fortnightly routine, he moaned a little about the pain on his frozen shoulder while typing into the computer and preparing papers for me to sign.

“Oh dear. Is your shoulder still bothering you?” I asked, as sympathetically as I could, trying not to betray my glee at the prospect of never having to attend a  sign-on appointment again.

For once, the JobCentre didn’t feel like a dreadful place. I was actually glad to be there, glad to see Dennis, glad to talk about the hundreds of jobs I had applied for and didn’t get.

It is funny how drastically one’s mental status can colour the glasses through which you see the world. The security guard had smiled when I handed in my “dole book”, my latest personal adviser was friendly and helpful, even the JobCentre manager had shown a wacky sense of humour: a short time ago I had noticed the advisers at my local JobCentre were seated in clusters of two, with a sign above each pair named Michelangelo, Leonardo, Raphael and Donatello… That’s right – the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Whether this was meant to entertain glum jobseekers or provide comic relief to their own staff from the drudgery of their jobs, I do not know, but I appreciated their attempt at humour when there is so little for the jobless to be amused about.

Random acts of kindness
My adviser made a note of all the information he needed for closing down my jobseeker file and asked to keep the protective plastic pocket into which I used slip my “dole book” – the government had cut their supply to JobCentres.

Then he stretched his hand and wished me good luck.

“Thank you. Thank you for all your help,” I said.

“That’s what we’re here for,” he replied.

“I hope your shoulder will get better soon.”

I must have been grinning like an idiot as I exited the building. As I walked past reception, T., who had once snapped at me for arriving too early for an appointment, stopped chatting to the security guard to say goodbye. I saw both their eyes were smiling too.

Later a friend left a hilarious comment on my Facebook page: “You should have screamed ‘cowabunga!’ before somersaulting out the window like a true ninja turtle…”

I laughed, but I felt the panic rising inside. What exactly was I somersaulting into?

Expressions such as “career dreams” and “professional aspirations” have now left my lexicon…I am no longer unemployed, yet not fully employed, living in a vacuum I struggle to describe, where all that matters is food on the table, heating for the winter and a little spare cash to buy a present or two for Christmas.

Having only just left the dole queue, it feels as if I am already standing in line again at the back of another long queue. Where it will lead me I do not yet know, I’m afraid of knowing.

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The blog that made me ‘come out’ as a closet depressive

Last week there was a change in my fate: I was offered a three-day-a-week sales job locally, starting at the end of the month. It is miles away from what I had envisaged as a longer-term profession but it will help tidy me over nicely, while I wait for a more permanent and career-boosting opportunity to arise.

In my mind I am still unemployed, but in practice, I can finally sign off the JobCentre, which is almost enough reason to celebrate.

Later, at home, as I busied myself telling the good news to all and sundry on Facebook and Twitter, I saw a friend had sent me the link to a blog post by Bristol-based unemployed journalist Steven Baxter. It was one of those amazing serendipitous moments. Once I opened the link, I instantly knew it was all meant to be.

I read Steve’s blog and cried like a baby. All the anger, the frustration, the sadness and despair that had been festering inside me  for the past seven months came spewing out in one massive flood of tears and emptied me of all the heavy weight I had been carrying around on my shoulders for so long.

It occurred to me it was the first time in months I was crying at all.

Woman on the verge
Only the previous day, I had googled “nervous breakdown” and was dismayed to find out I could tick almost every single item on the symptoms checklist. I had been having inexplicable outbursts of anger, unable to cope with the simplest domestic tasks without injuring myself and screaming my head off each time, partly in pain, partly as a desperate cry for attention… Worst of all, my behaviour pattern reminded me of someone I knew well from my childhood: my own mother.

My mother was an intelligent, ambitious woman, good at languages. Before she married, she had dreamed of becoming a career woman but my father was an old-school Japanese man and would not allow her to work. She was forced into a lifetime of domestic slavery and her frustration at being stuck at home, as I am now, led her to several nervous breakdowns when I was a child. I remember them vividly: the constant screaming and hostility, the hysterical crying, objects flying about in the living-room followed by days in bed shunning the entire family, completely indifferent to the world.

It frightened me to think I could be becoming the kind of woman I had dreaded turning into all my life…

The D-word
I devoured every word on Steve’s blog with the emotional craving of a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Every question Steve had asked himself, every thought and every emotion he describes in his blog I had had too. He had translated into words sentiments that had been tormenting me for months but I had not dared express in public because I was concerned about the risks to my employability. What if a prospective employer saw my blog and found me too psychologically unbalanced and unfit for work?

Steve, however, with disarming honesty, goes on to admit on a very public platform that he is on anti-depressants, 40mg to be exact, and gives two fingers to any employers who may find out and object.

“The weeks of not having work have felt like a heavy load. Sometimes it’s felt like disappointment, and sometimes it’s felt like despair. Sometimes it has just felt OK, like nothing, like a glass of water, and that’s probably the most dangerous feeling of all: the time it feels all right to be like this is the time to worry. This isn’t all right. This isn’t good enough. This isn’t what I should be doing. I should be doing something – anything – rather than this. But mainly it has felt sad and dispiriting. I am a little broken.”

His candid words liberated me. Thanks to Steve, I am no longer afraid to share with all who care to read this that, in the past few months, I too have been receiving regular counselling (but not drugs) for what the GP diagnosed as ‘moderate to severe depression’ – a direct consequence of being jobless for so long for the second time in three years.

I am sure I am not the only person, unemployed or not, suffering from this very common condition. But I also know that, unless you have experienced it, you may not be fully aware of what depression actually means (see video at end of this post).

It means your sleep patterns are disrupted, you are constantly exhausted, your zest for life gone, as if the lights in your house were being put out one by one. Women may find their menstrual cycle has gone haywire. Maybe you constantly have digestive problems. You may have panic attacks or feel extremely uncomfortable in social situations, so you avoid meeting your friends; you may feel you are not in control, that each task on your to-do list seems so overwhelming, it can take you weeks or months to complete – if at all.

Depression incapacitates you because, in trying to cope with the extreme stress, your brain and your body slow you down to a halt.

I had promised people I’d write blog posts for them (sorry, Shirley), or do the copy for their website (sorry, Pete), that I’d write an article after I interviewed them (sorry, Glenn), I’d respond to an email query (sorry, Ben). Although I am not one to to promise and not keep my word, I have been pathetically unable to accomplish ANY of those things. I let everyone down, including myself.

You may be a high achiever but currently you feel like an underachiever; you are paranoid people are judging you, labelling you as lazy and incapable, when, in reality, you are simply too unwell to get out of bed in the morning. Some days you may be too down to write a job application letter but some people, even your immediate family, may suggest you’re not finding work because you’re not applying for enough jobs and ‘what do you do with all that free time during the day anyway?’ You know that is not true, but your self-esteem is so low, after so many job rejections and what not, you don’t bother to explain, in fact you are not even sure you are not actually a total failure…

Well, the good news is: it is perfectly okay to feel like that. If you recognise some or all of the signs above, embrace them, own them. Acceptance is the first big step towards healing.

Coming Out
I love the Japanese expression‘kokoro ga arawareru‘. It translates as ‘the soul/spirit gets cleansed’ and it perfectly describes how I felt that day. The cry I had after reading Steve’s blog cleansed my soul of all the resentment I had been harbouring for months. I felt every single ball of pain inside me explode, then dissolve, until there were no more knots left.

It felt so good to know I wasn’t alone where I was.

We feel bad about feeling bad because there is a social stigma associated with depression and all mental health issues. It is almost like a homosexual “coming out”, done with trepidation, unsure of who will accept and who will not.

Unless you are a celebrity like Stephen Fry, whom no one would dare call unfit for work despite his bipolar disorder, admitting you are so low you need medical help can make people nervous. Perhaps you are hiding too?

Bitter Pill
The UK government has just released the latest ONS unemployment figures: 2.51 million without a job, an increase of 80,000 in the three months to July 2011. Last May the think tank IPPR had already reported that 850,000 people had been unemployed for more than 12 months, the highest figure since 1997.

How many of those are feeling the same way as me, or Steven Baxter, or worse and are terrified to say “me too”, afraid to ask for help, confused about where to go for help?

With the upcoming part-time job, I feel slightly more upbeat, less anxious, and definitely less angry, but I still have some way to go until I am completely back to being my old  self.

While I mend, my sincere hope is that this blog, like Steve’s, can inspire others in a similar situation to open up and share without fear of prejudice, to form a community where people will encourage one another not to give in. It may not help you get a job, but it might serve as a little respite from the bitter pill of unemployment. Or your own 40mg.

Dr. John Hague explains the difference between having a bad day and being depressed.

Links that may be useful if you think you may be depressed

  1. Depression self-assessment test – NHS
  2. Depression self-assessment test – Psychology Today
  3. Self-help and coping tips for Depression from Helpguide.org
  4. Understanding depression – Mind

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Surviving unemployment lows: what I learned from an actor’s life

Jenga work

Photo by 'santibon' (Flickr)

A few days ago my husband mentioned an article he had read in the Guardian about Scottish actor Jeff Stewart. I didn’t even know who Stewart was, but the story struck a chord with me so I went to look for it myself.

It was an ‘a-ha moment’. Sometimes you come across something seemingly trivial, which can unlock the key to a deeper understanding of your present situation.

My story
My situation was that I had reached an all-time low after a string of unfortunate job rejections, despite several interviews for which feedback had been excellent.

One thing is is not getting a job for failing to meet its requirements, or for interviewing poorly. That’s easier to accept and move on. Another is to be praised for your “strong CV”, your “outstanding skills and experience”, being told what a “fantastic candidate” you are…only to be informed you haven’t got the job for reasons that have no connection with your competency for the role.

Had this happened in the first few weeks after I became unemployed, I would have put it down to bad luck. But in my seventh month looking for work it pushed me over the edge – I felt literally suicidal.

Much as I try not to rest too long on thoughts about the past that cannot be changed, it has become increasingly harder to get back on my feet after a fall. When you can see no flicker of light at the end of a tunnel, is it even worth continuing the journey? How can you want something so much, work so hard for it and still not be able to achieve it? How can the universe be so cruel, slamming all doors in your face one after another?

Stewart’s story
The lights must have gone out in the life of actor Jeff Stewart too when he was told his role as PC Reg Hollis in the long-running ITV police drama the Bill was to be axed after 24 years. Feeling  let down, he went into his dressing room and cut his wrists but  changed his mind and called for help moments before he blacked out.

That was in 2008. After a complete change of image ( he did not cut his hair for three years) to avoid being typecast as his old character, Jeff Stewart went on to get roles in four films. One of those, Under Jakob’s Ladder,  a low-budget movie made in only 21 days, and Stewart were both winners at the Manhattan Film Festival last month: the film won best period piece while Stewart earned the best actor award.

Newspapers this week have been reporting that Stewart’s award will probably shoot him to Hollywood stardom. The Bill, on the other hand, only survived for two more years after Stewart was sacked.

Jeff Stewart must be glad his life did not end when he thought it was no longer worth living. He told the Sun his suicide attempt was “sobering”.

His story reads like a fable.  He understood that  playing Reg Hollis was not the be all and end all of an actor’s career – there were many more roles for him to play in life, both artistically and literally. As a result, he got to where he needed to get.

Jenga blocks
Jeff Stewart’s success story reminded me that sometimes things you want don’t come your way because what you want is not necessarily what you need at the time. But if you persevere, sweet rewards and greater joys may be in store.

If you have ever played Jenga, you know how the blocks wobble every time a piece is taken out. How many pieces can you remove before the whole tower collapses?

You may also be aware that the blocks you can safely lose are those that will easily come out when you gently tap them with your finger. Likewise, if you treat each blow during your unemployment as a ‘loose’ wooden block you can get rid of because it is actually dispensable, you are more likely to end up winning the game. Remember: those blocks are expendable; there is no need to hang on to them. Let go.

Losing them may momentarily shake the structure but won’t destroy the building, which is supposed to grow taller. Think about this concept for a minute. By disposing of unnecessary “baggage” of past anger, hurts and resentments, whatever they may be, you can travel lighter and faster to your personal stardom.

Not that I am aiming for a career in Hollywood; I simply want to bid  farewell to life on the dole.

I thank Jeff Stewart for the inspiration.

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One too many interviews got me in trouble with the JobCentre

Yes, really.

Yesterday I was admonished at the JobCentre for travelling to too many job interviews, then snubbed and bullied for daring to claim for another rail warrant to attend an interview next week.

Travel to Interview…no more
I have blogged before about Travel for Interview Scheme (TIS). If you need to travel to a job interview outside your local area, you may be entitled to TIS – if your local JobCentre approves your claim, they will issue you a rail warrant, which can be exchanged for a train ticket on the day of the travel.

This helpful scheme is one of only two reasons (the other one being NI credits) I decided to stay signed on at the JobCentre, as I am not entitled to a single penny in Jobseeker’s Allowance this year for not having paid NI contributions in 2008 and 2009 (I was studying in 2008, unemployed in 2009).

It is the only incentive I have to keep filling in “the six actions I have done to find work” in the JobCentre’s “dole book” and present them to the JobCentre every fortnight.

Well, the bad news is that the scheme has now closed. I only found out because as I called the JobCentre to tell them I had another interview in London (I live on the south coast) next week, instead of the usual invite for an appointment to get TIS, I was summoned in for a “meeting with a personal adviser”.

It didn’t sound good.

So I googled “Travel for Interview” in advance and found out, purely by accident, that the scheme is no longer available. That is according to the DirectGov website, but, in reality, it seems as if, despite tighter controls, each branch is still handing it out at their own discretion.

Investigated
The appointment with the personal adviser turned out to be an inquiry into why I had been to interviews five times outside my local area and still had not landed a job. Was I going for the right type of jobs? Was I preparing myself appropriately before interviews? Had I requested feedback after each job rejection? Could I not find jobs more locally?

I had indeed claimed for TIS five times in the past few months, including two for second interviews, and all of them for publishing jobs. I happen to have more than 15 years of publishing sales experience; and my last job was in publishing… To me it is the fastest and most obvious route back into the job market. But not to the JobCentre.

“Money is tight,” the personal adviser said. I was not to assume I could automatically claim TIS, was I clear, and they would not be able to issue any more warrants for jobs in publishing, as it seemed I was not getting anywhere in that field. Instead, I should go for more general jobs, such as PA, which I could find more easily in the local area.

She then deleted “journalism” from the list of areas “where I am looking for work” to include “PA”. I now have:

  1. publishing
  2. PA/secretary
  3. event organiser

under the “type of jobs I am looking for”. Curiously, searches on the JobCentre site under those codes still produce jobs in “store cleaning” ,”nursery assistants” and “charity fundraising”…

Once the personal adviser was satisfied that I had not been trying to abuse the system but was genuinely trying to find a job, she printed my new “Jobseekers Agreement”, which I had to sign to show my commitment towards finding work. I was then sent to the floor below to see the adviser who deals with Travel for Interview warrants.

Bullied
The TIS lady received me with the warmth of someone about to interview a mass murderer. Scowling, she spat her words to drive home the fact that she was less than pleased I was travelling out of town for yet another interview.

She reminded me once more I would not be paid any more TIS for jobs in publishing, that any further claims for TIS would be considered on a case-by-case basis.  The conversation that ensued left me speechless and later drove me to tears:

“Where is the interview in London?”

“The nearest station is Sloane Square.”

“Sloane Square?! We can only pay until Victoria. You’ll have to make your own way from there. Sloane Square is not far fromVictoria.”

“….”

“The 12.05 train will get you there at 13.28. That’s an hour before the interview, so plenty of time….”

It suddenly dawned on me this was my punishment for daring to ask for a Travel for Interview warrant. She was suggesting I get there an hour early so that I had time to walk from Victoria to Chelsea. With trainers on, it might take me half an hour. Wearing an interview suit and heels, and if it rains, it could take from 45min up to an hour and my feet are likely to blister and bleed (Update for those who thought I was exaggerating: I have huge, problematic bunions on both feet).

I looked at her eyes and recognised the same crazed hatred I used to see in the bullies at school: those who spat at me for being the only Oriental kid in class, cut my notebooks in half with a knife and scribbled unrepeatable swearwords on my seat.

In shock and humiliation, my mind drew a blank and I had trouble remembering my postcode and my home telephone number to fill in my TIS claim form…

I can understand rules are sometimes harsh but need to be followed. But bullying? Can there ever be any justification for unnecessary cruelty, especially towards the unemployed, who are skint, demoralised and most likely depressed? Isn’t the job of the JobCentre to give support to help jobseekers get back into work as soon as possible?

Wasting money
I noticed the TIS lady wrote down £24.90 on her copy of the document. This is because it costs £24.90 for a return ticket from my local station to London Victoria if you buy it on the day. This is because the JobCentre doesn’t, as a rule, allow you buy your own ticket and claim for reimbursement later.

The absurdity is that, if they did, I could have bought an advance ticket online, including London Underground Zones 1-6, for £13.30 on the Southern Railway website. This would have saved the JobCentre £11.60 and myself the unnecessary humiliation of being “dropped off” in Victoria and told to walk the rest of the way.

How much travel money is actually being wasted by the JobCentre this way, while they try to make savings by restricting the number of times anyone can have their travel to interview subsidised? How much more money wouldn’t they save from closed JSA claims, if active jobseekers were, instead, encouraged to attend as many interviews as they can get?

Thankfully my partner is in work and, although we live on an incredibly tight budget, I can just about buy a London underground travel card once I get to Victoria.

But someone virtually on the breadline may not have been able to afford the extortionate £6.60 that an off-peak day travel card costs for zones 1-2. Depending on the time of travel, you can pay up to £15.00 for a London underground travel card for zones 1-6. That sum could exceed the cost of a family dinner in some households. What if it is a choice between eating or paying for a train ticket to get to a job interview, which, if successful, would mean one fewer benefit claimant for the Department for Work and Pensions and the JobCentre to sustain?

None of this makes sense to me.

Not too many interviews
In 10 days’ time I must present myself at the JobCentre again to show the adviser “the six things I have done to actively find work”. Due to the JobCentre’s ambiguous attitude towards interviews, I now know those entries cannot be six job interviews, as subsidised travel clearly becomes an issue after five interviews, especially if potential employers in your field tend to be located out of town.

I will have to start turning down any interviews I get from anywhere beyond zone 1 or 2 in London, as that is the most I can afford out of my own pocket, in my seventh month of unemployment.

Now I am also obliged to spend a few hours a week applying for secretarial jobs I come across, even though my experience as a PA is so outdated I am highly unlikely to be shortlisted for interview. Although time spent applying for such jobs will take away from time I could spend applying for jobs I am far more likely to get (in publishing), that is what the JobCentre wants me to do.

Again, I question: how many unemployed people are having their jobseeking efforts hampered by their JobCentres by being artificially forced to apply for jobs that are not suited for them at all? And how much precious government money is going down the drain because of an inefficient system that penalises rather than support active jobseekers?

Failure and guilt
More bad news awaited me when I got home. A voice message from a recruitment consultant confirmed I had not got a job for which I had been interviewed twice already.  Four nights without sleep preparing a presentation for the final interview; 16hs of travel in total; hundreds of pounds in train fares. For nothing.

I feel as if I have failed myself, my recruitment consultant, my friends, my parents, my partner, and now also the JobCentre for having wasted two of their TIS warrants. This is not right.

Being rejected from a job hurts. But having to feel guilty for going to too many interviews, and being bullied by the JobCentre before travelling to one is not only preposterous; it is utterly inhumane and disgraceful.

**********************************************************************************************************************

Have you had a similar experience and would like to share? Please leave a comment below or write to me privately if you do not mind being contacted for an interview for an newspaper piece. All names will be kept confidential upon request.

Related articles of interest:

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Too busy to write a rejection letter? What ever happened to good old HR manners?

Among the list of search terms that have been directing people to this blog I often see the query “how to write a rejection letter”. It is comforting to think that some HR staff and managers out there still invest time and energy writing one.

Those are, however, few and far between.

Every jobseeker knows employers these days rarely bother to acknowledge receipt of an application, let alone write back to let them know when they have not been shortlisted for interviews. Some already pre-warn you in their job  ad that it is up to the applicants to figure that out by themselves: “if you have not heard from us within X days, you have not been successful.”

Sadly, not making any personal contact at all with a job applicant throughout the application process has become so commonplace that when they do get in touch, it comes as a pleasant surprise, which we tend to remember long afterwards.

I have written a post before about how much pain rejection letters (or the absence of them) can cause but, ultimately, not sticking to good old-fashioned HR manners ends up hurting  employers too. Just as employers vet candidates for the best skill sets, candidates mentally bookmark companies that made them feel valued because an employer that treats applicants with dignity will most likely also value their employees. Wouldn’t we all like to work for a place that acknowledges our worth?

Mirrors
Whenever I attend job interviews, I use my interaction with the receptionist as a barometer to gauge whether the company has a good or bad work environment. The receptionist is the “face” of the company, and you can discover a great deal about your prospective employer just by observing their behaviour.

If he/she is friendly and makes you feel welcome, you can be sure the work environment is healthy and staff are respected and well treated. On the other hand, if the receptionist looks obviously miserable, doesn’t make eye contact and continues chatting to a colleague while asking you to sign their guest book, it could be a sign that the company tends to treat staff as disposable commodities and you may not be so happy working there.

Likewise, rejection letters mirror the HR policies of a company. Employers who take time writing to a candidate to thank them for an application, and let them know even when they haven’t been shortlisted, show respect for people and therefore they deserve respect in return.

I understand during a recession some vacancies can attract hundreds of applicants and employers may not have the time to respond to all. But with most applications being sent and received electronically anyway, how much time can it actually take to copy and paste email addresses and send out template letters if only by way of thanking candidates for the the time they have put into the application?

If job ads are an invitation to apply, then applicants are “guests” responding to that invitation, not unwanted gatecrashers. Would you be so rude as to blank out guests to an event you were hosting, even if you did not personally like them?

“Simples”…
Rejection letters do not require time-consuming, elaborate language. Candidates need to know only two things:

  1. That they were not successful in their application.
  2. If possible, the reason for the rejection.

“We  have had applications from other candidates with more relevant skills and experience/who were better suited to the role” is a good diplomatic way out, as it stresses the fact that the candidate didn’t ‘fail’; they were simply ‘not suitable’ for that particular position.

The noblest letters conclude by inviting the unsuccessful candidate to apply again in future for any openings they may have. Despite being the bearer of bad news, such a letter leaves you feeling positive about yourself. Who wouldn’t feel flattered being invited to try again in future?

The candidate may eventually forget what you said, but he/she will never forget how you made them feel. If you come across them again in business or social circles – and that is a real possibility – they are far more likely to return your kindness. Remember: the Internet and social media have reduced the six degrees of separation into three or four.

Winner
One of the most touching rejection letters I have ever received was from a major trade publisher in North London. I had been called for an interview as a result of sending them a speculative letter, but did not get shortlisted for a second round.  Their message was so thoughtfully worded, it made me think they must be a wonderful company to work for.

“Dear [my name], Thank you for attending the interview for the position of xxx and apologies for not coming back to you sooner.

Unfortunately, on this occasion I am sorry to inform you that we will not be inviting you back for a second interview. If you would like feedback on your application or interview, please let me know and I will follow this up for you.

I hope that you will not be discouraged by this news and I hope you will consider applying for a position at [company name] again in the future. Please continue to check our website for details of all our current vacancies.  Kind regards, [HR officer’s name]”

Communication
While many jobs list “good interpersonal skills” and/or “excellent customer care” under required skills, very few employers actually seem to display those qualities themselves.

Just as in polite society people will make a judgement based on one’s social skills, the way an employer treats jobseekers interested in working for them can change their brand perception for better or for worse. Information sharing through virtual walls, microblogging sites, private messaging and blogs has never been easier. Poor (as well as great) reputation can travel fast…

Businesses need to understand good communication is not just about talking to customers. It is about keeping all communication channels open and fluid; and that includes knowing when and how to reject jobseekers gracefully.

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10 must-have items for your interview day (ladies’ version)

Interview days can often feel as they’re ruled by Sod’s Law. Just because you are nervous and desperate to avoid delays and unnecessary waste of time and energy, the universe seems to be conspiring to slow you down and test your nerves.

I nearly missed my train en route to an interview this week because I misread the platform number as 15, instead of 5, and had literally three minutes to run back to the correct platform on pin heels, carrying a large handbag and a laptop case. I never prayed nor sweated…nor swore to myself so intensively in my entire life… As the commercial says, “Should have gone to Specsavers….”

Dozens of things can go wrong between the moment you step out of the house until you arrive at the interview. On a day when you want to look as professional and tidy as possible, you need to be as prepared as you can for all eventualities.

I thought I would share below my list of 10 practical things I always carry with me for interviews, which have helped me keep my respectability despite mishaps along the way. Please feel free to add your own suggestions. This one is a lady’s version, but if enough male readers leave their tips, I will create a new list and update.

1) An extra pair of tights (=stockings in the US)

Tights are misbehaving creatures at the best of times. All you need is for the edge of your ring, or a broken nail, to get caught on the nylon, and RRRRRIP….another one goes down the dust. This happened to me two days ago on the way to an important interview, although the tear was on the heel travelling upwards. Luckily I had a pair of reserves in my handbag, so I could change into them. If I were only meeting friends, I may not have bothered but arriving for an interview wearing a suit with a huge ladder down your legs will make you look as if you don’t care about your appearance…. You can buy tights inexpensively from pharmacies like Boots or from supermarkets. Or traditionalists from Marks & Spencers. Believe me, you will never be sorry you have packed this.

You can also avoid troublesome tights but opting to wear a trouser suit instead of skirt or dress.

2) Oil blotting tissues 

Invaluable if you’re going to an interview in the summer. The ones I am using now came free with a magazine, but you can get them cheaply from Boots, Superdrug, Body Shop, Muji, etc. If you happen to have to run for a train, as I did, the sweat can make your face shiny, your makeup may have started to run… Or you may get stuck for 20 minutes inside a broken London underground train on a very stuffy day.

If you want to look cool and confident as you arrive at your appointment, blot out that shine. Aim for a matt look. (A compact powder top-up can also help). Sweatier types, add to that a small wash towel or a handkerchief to wipe yourself dry before your interview clothes get drenched.

3) Deodorant (for top-up)

I forgot to take this with me last time so had to make do with a little perfume instead. Even if you have showered and applied deodorant before leaving home, a long journey in a hot summer days can make the cleanest jobseeker in the world start to worry about their body odour.  If your interviewer catches any unpleasant B.O. wafting from your direction, you will certainly lose some precious first-impression points.

Don’t forget nervousness can also make people sweat. Always have a mini deodorant in your bag for extra confidence.

4) Plasters

For your feet. If you are like me and normally live in flat shoes and trainers, you may find yourself in agonising pain wearing court and/or high heels, particularly on a warm day, when your feet are more likely to be bloated. Apply plasters on those “problem corners”, which most rub against your shoes, before putting the shoes on, to prevent blisters. If you suffer from painful bunions, invest on some good-quality bunion pads and protect all sensitive areas.

Carry plenty of extra plasters with you. Blisters or no blisters, you can’t take off those shoes until after the interview, so save yourself the pain and the tears. Get plastered!

5) Flats (feet again)

A comfort-loving girl’s best friend. Your feet will thank you for a change into them, after you leave the interview. Plain, light ones are the best (rather than anything fancy or designer items), so you can carry them discreetly in your handbag. Large supermarkets and discount stores sell them at laughably affordable prices  (I think I bought mine for £6 at Sainsbury’s).

6) Pocket tissues + wet tissues 

Most ladies seem to carry tissues in their bags anyway, but I find having one small packet of wet tissues (about a pound in most shops) is indispensable, especially if I am travelling a bit further out for the interview and need to eat/drink on the way. What if you get something sticky on your hands and there is no water in the train’s toilet? What if you spill coffee on your suit? Better be safe than sorry.

7) Breath Mints
Mints, Mints & lots of Mints... Apart from body odour, what can be tremendously offputting for an interviewer is bad breath. Use your common sense.  Avoid eating anything too garlicky on the day before your interview, as it may still be on your breath the day after.

I brush my teeth and use mouthwash before leaving home anyway, but as most of my job interviews have been out of town (=long journey), I always need to eat again on the way. Chewing gums can be good for cleaning any food debris from between your teeth when you are on the go, but minutes before the interview, pop in a couple of strong mints to clear any remaining food smells from your breath.

8 ) Pocket-size mirror

It is always a good idea to do a final check in a mirror for any signs of smudged mascara, lipstick, messed up hair, etc before the interview. There may or may not be enough time for a visit to the toilets before the interview, so better have that compact mirror ready as a backup. You may have groomed yourself perfectly before you left home but train journeys, hot weather, rain, humidity, all of these things can have a disastrous effect of your appearance. The last thing you want is to walk into an interview looking like a slob.

One tip about make-up: aim for professional look, not drag queen. Be wary of wearing very bright red lipstick unless you are applying for a job in the sex industry. It can give all the wrong messages…

9) Umbrella

Did you check the weather forecast before you left home? If there is a chance of rain, pack in a compact umbrella, even if you have never used one in your life as you love walking in the rain… You want to arrive there looking dry and smart, not like a bedraggled rat. As with all items so far, look for a small, light version so as not to overload your bag. My emergency brolly cost £1 at a pound shop.

10) Pen & paper/notebook

Not everyone does this, but I like to take notes during an interview, as the interviewer will usually tell you about the company and the role. Annotating can be useful in many ways: a) it shows you are interested enough to write things down, b) the notes will help you expand further on points discussed if you’re called for a second interview, c) having something to do with your hands will help you feel less nervous (BUT don’t forget to make regular contact with the interviewer or it will look as if you are avoiding them!), d)  it can help you look more professional.

I always jot down beforehand some questions I would like to ask during the interview and some key words on subjects the interviewer might want me to talk about. Basically, I use the notebook as a cue card. I personally like reporter notebooks but you may prefer a smaller memo pad. If you do take a notebook, have your own pen(s) ready so you don’t have to ask for one. It shows forethought: you have prepared for it; you are organised, a very important skill in any position.

What do you normally take to an interview that has been helpful?

 

Products and images shown:

  1. Bare Cooling Ladder Resit Tights Open Toe Tights (7 denier) from Marks & Spencers £4.00
  2. Natural Powder Facial Blotting Tissues from Body Shop (£4.50 for tea-tree ones)
  3. Lemon & Coriander deodorant from Neals’ Yard £7.50
  4. Clear plasters (pack of 40) from Superdrug £1.69
  5. Wet anti-bacterial handy wipes from Boots £1.05
  6. Black pumps from Marks & Spencers £19.50
  7. Photo of mint assortment by pshegubj on Flickr
  8. Aluminium Compact Mirror (S,M,L) from Muji  (£3.95-£7.50) – image from Muji US
  9. Totoro’s umbrella from,well, the magic forest in Hayao Miyazaki’s animation (£priceless)
  10. Reporters Notebook from Asda £0.53

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Fairy Jobmother? So fairy tale…

Did you watch Channel 4’s Fairy Jobmother this week? It makes compelling viewing if you are a jobseeker yourself.

The programme follows the same tried-and-tested format of dozens of other Channel 4 programmes, as a blog in The Guardian has pointed out, where a hero figure arrives to rescue people in a difficult situation, exposes their faults, makes everyone (and the audience) cry,  teaches them new life/business skills, leading up to an inevitable happy ending.

On Tuesday night’s programme three out of four people on benefits ended up being offered jobs. That is a 75 per cent success rate, but, if you ask me, completely disproportionate to what happens in real life. Had this not been a television programme with a supernanny for jobseekers doing a great deal of hand holding, the outcome would probably have been very different.

Employment expert Hayley Taylor, for all her straight talking – or maybe because of it – is quite endearing. But her waving a copy of The Daily Express at the four benefit claimants, while telling them Iain Duncan Smith, “the Head of Employment”, had said “there ARE jobs out there” but “people are being too selective about the jobs they are going for” infuriated me.

Of course we are selective about the jobs we go for. Not everyone is cut out to do every job. And if Mr Duncan Smith really said there are plenty of vacancies and it’s our fault we are not finding them, he has not been reading his own department’s stats on redundancies and companies’ spending cuts.

Every time I go to the JobCentre, my adviser looks up “publisher” and “journalist” on her computer for any relevant jobs in the area. Due to some inexplicable coding error on their system, this is what comes up:

Can Mr Duncan Smith honestly claim that if I am still out of work after four months and two weeks of intense search, it is because I was too picky about going for store cleaning manager jobs when my training and experience are in the media industry?

Former security guard Dave, in Tuesday’s Fairy Jobmother, had the best answer for that:

“My arse!”

Guilt
Taylor throws at her benefit claimants the sobering figure of £87 billion, which the UK government allegedly spends in welfare annually. Welfare is a broad term. It cannot mean the entire sum is being used on jobseekers’ benefits. With 2.46 million people currently unemployed, according to the Office for National Statistics, even if all of them were older than 25 on £67.50 per week, the math doesn’t add up.

I doubt guilt-tripping the unemployed for money being spent on them is effective either. Not all unemployed people are professional loungers, who would rather be supported by the government than actively look for work.  Many have a genuine reason for being in the situation they are in.

Taylor says lack of self-belief is one of the most common characteristics she sees in those who have been unemployed long term. I empathise – the most confident types can easily start to doubt themselves after one too many rejections on the job front.

What one does for a living should not but does ultimately define one’s sense of self-worth. 

I recently attended an event for journalists in London. In the registration form, I was reluctant to write down my occupation as “unemployed”, so I called myself “freelance journalist”. The problem with that euphemistic expression is that new people I meet at such events invariably look at my badge and ask:

“So what type of freelance journalism do you do?”

My answer, “Well, I’m actually unemployed at the moment,” is a guaranteed conversation killer.

It helps if the other person has a sense of humour and can react with a “Oh? That type of freelance!” accompanied by a suitable giggle or a wink. But, in this case, I was talking, for the first time, to a rather well-known investigative journalist I greatly admire, and I noticed her eyes glazing over after that..erm…revelation. My heart broke.

Should I have said, “I write for the Guardian…actually,” with a posh accent just to keep her interest? And why is it I felt so humiliated having to admit that I didn’t work, was desperately trying to work but couldn’t work because no one wanted me.  The guilt again.

I could have told her I was a successful international sales manager with a long career in publishing, who speaks several languages, had jet-setted round the world, achieved amazing targets, esteemed and respected by customers and colleagues, etc. I could have told her I had a career break and trained as a journalist and passed all my NCTJ exams first time round with excellent grades, when I am not even an English native speaker. That I have a portfolio full of cuttings and have been praised for my writing by various other journalists. That I am proud to call myself a journalist, even if I don’t work for the Guardian.

But no. None of the past achievements seem to matter. Because I am unemployed. And that makes me into a nothing. And I must be doing something wrong because Mr Duncan Smith says so. Because I am not going for the cleaning jobs the JobCentre found for me. Because unemployment makes me feel guilty and s**t about myself all the time.

Guilt does not help a jobseeker move forward, as it is a self-defeating sentiment. Self-awareness perhaps, but never guilt.

Picky?
Throughout the past few months ALL recruitment agents I have talked to have been saying one thing in common:

“Companies are being very specific about the type of experience they are looking for in a candidate. They want someone who has done exactly A, B and C; nothing deviating from that. They are very risk averse at the moment.”

That means that unless your past experience is a photocopy of what it says on the tin of their job description, you are unlikely to get the job. No employer wants to take chances gambling on your “transferable skills”.

Is it not fair to say then it is the employers who are being ‘selective’?

Taylor says motherhood gives you time management and prioritisation skills that can be applied to many jobs. In the fairy world she comes from maybe.

Fairy Jobmother has been in employment too long. Caring and lovable as she may be, she is, sadly, out of touch with  jobseekers’ reality.

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What to do when jobseeker fatigue sets in

Photo by Arndt Nollau

I have noticed one of the most frequent search terms for people who end up at this blog is “what to write in the JobCentre book”.

I do empathise.

If you are “signed on” with the JobCentre, you will be familiar with the huge pressure that finding the fortnightly six entries to go into your jobseeker’s “book” can place you under.

With a raging recession out there, eating jobs away like a hungry monster, you are lucky if you  find two relevant vacancies to apply for every couple of weeks.

I have, in the past, applied for jobs I wasn’t really interested in, or knew I didn’t qualify for, just so I wouldn’t be penalised by the JobCentre. We all know it is not quantity but quality of applications that count; but JobCentres have quotas to meet, money to save, and they have been known to jump on the opportunity to stop jobseekers’ benefits as soon as there is a valid excuse, as reported here by the Guardian.

Sometimes a bit of creativity helps. Remember: not all six entries have to  be job applications. A call/visit/email to a friend/family member/recruitment agent asking about vacancies counts as one action, so use your imagination.

The problem is what to do when jobseeker fatigue sets in and the very thought of writing yet another application makes you feel violently ill.

There are only so many different ways in which you can re-word your skills and achievements on a piece of paper without inducing yourself into a mental coma. And how many of those letters are actually going to lead to an interview, let alone a job offer?

I am not a pessimist, but more often than not, it is pain without gain.

Job hunting IS a job in itself. You perform the same old going-through-the-motions day after day after day, as if you were an assembly line worker, except with no payment, often without any feedback, as many companies don’t even bother to acknowledge receipt of  applications.

Where does one find the motivation to keep going?

Below are some of the tactics I use to combat fatigue:

1. Give it a few days’ break and do anything but apply for jobs. If you have just spent days perfecting a particularly difficult application letter, chances are you are drained and need time to recover. It is difficult to be creative when you feel fed up.

2. Go to a library or bookshop,  or surf the Net, and look up tips for attractive CV layouts. Give your tired-looking CV a makeover: perhaps your current one is not making you stand out in the crowd. A new, eye-catching CV may make you feel more confident when the next job comes up.

3. In fact, while you are at it, refresh your cover letter as well (though this is best done when you are applying for a specific job, not during the rest period in-between). The nausea may not go away but it will make you feel a little less repulsed by the idea of sending out your 50th cover letter.

4. Learn something new and fun, maybe a skill you always wanted to learn but never had time for because you were working. This will give you a concrete target to work towards and targets keep people motivated. I have been teaching myself shorthand since I became unemployed and loving the challenge of eventually achieving the speed of 100wpm. Look for something that excites you, whatever that might be: card making, knitting, photography, painting, meditation…

5. Find and attend free or low-priced events and gatherings in your local area, where you’re likely to meet interesting people. One of these people may even lead you to a job, you never know. Make new friends and keep yourself intellectually stimulated. One of the worst aspects of unemployment, I find, is the social isolation and mental apathy you can easily fall into. Unless I have an event or meeting to look forward to, I can spend entire weeks with no motivation to step out of the house.

6. Stories about people finding work through Twitter are not uncommon. It can be an excellent place to cast your net wider and find unexpected work in a very sociable way. I have landed a handful of odd jobs through Twitter myself, and people I have never even personally met have been incredibly kind in pointing me towards any relevant work opportunities they hear about. Of course this is more effective if you have been using Twitter for a while and have some presence among your followers, but it is never too late to start.

Even after implementing some or all of the above, you may still be feeling like the bear in the photo above: no energy to even get out of bed. Sometimes no amount of positive thinking or positive actions can bring you relief and “sleeping it offis the only way to cope.

Finally, don’t feel bad about feeling bad. Accept that this is how you feel today but be aware it is only a temporary state of mind (‘I feel miserable’ instead of ‘I am miserable”). Tomorrow will always be a new day.

I will share with you a motivational video about an Australian man who was born without arms or legs (ignore the Korean subtitles), which never fails to remind me that, whatever problems you have in life, there is always something to be grateful for.

What worked for you when you couldn’t take any more?

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