On Being Unemployed, Six Months On

Having recently passed the six-months-on-unemployment mark, I’ve been thinking a lot about what this experience has meant for me. Overwhelmingly, my thoughts turned to whether or not I’m using my unintentional freedom to identify and further my career goals, improve my mental health, and expand my social network. Even though I still find myself without a job, I believe the answer to all three inquiries is yes.

After taking a rather circuitous route to becoming an accountant, I never identified the role I saw the degree playing in my career path. I assumed that at some point I would become a CPA, but beyond that, I had no plan. My intentions were always focused on the near future, on matters such as where I would live and how I would pay the bills. For some months after losing my job, my nearsightedness continued. I was content to travel, put off studying for the CPA exam, and tinker with WordPress.

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New Poll Quantifies Effects of Unemployment

A new study featured on the front page of yesterday’s New York Times attempts to quantify unemployment’s impact on jobless individuals. As one of those unlucky individuals (though I was not part of the study), I can’t say that many of the study’s finding surprised me. But, for those who still have jobs, it’s an interesting look at what the 15.4 million unemployed Americans are enduring.

The tables below summarizes the study’s findings, which polled 1,650 adults, 708 of whom were unemployed at the time.

The results are organized into seven categories:

  • Financial impact
  • Emotional impact
  • Children and household
  • Job market going forward
  • Job search
  • Concerns of the unemployed
  • Outlook on economy/stimulus

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Lessons from Unemployment: Don’t Mix Friends and Coworkers

One hard lesson unemployment imparted is the danger of counting coworkers among friends. While losing my job was difficult, severing the friendships I’d made at the office was harder to bare. After all, I’d spend many long days with a small group of people, and friendships tend to develop under such circumstances (ah, the life of an accountant during tax season). Knowing that I was let go while my friends were retained created an untenable situation that made continued friendship impossible.

A recent blog post discussing the “work-life” balance entirely misses this point, and speaking from experience, it is better not to develop such close relationships. When coworkers inevitably move on, be it voluntarily or not, the stress that arises from severing such friendships is likely not worth the relationships that develop. Instead, one should endeavor to build strong relationships outside of work, not only because these can endure layoffs and other workplace departures, but because such friendships also provide an escape from work and its related stress, an outlet for venting work-related frustrations, and, overall, a diversion from one’s job that helps maintain sanity.

Would you agree? If you’ve been laid off, did your experience force you to sever ties with former coworkers you considered friends?

Demotivation 101

A few months back, I was sent to an “Enhanced Reemployment Services” seminar put on by the CT Department of Labor. The seminar facilitator began the morning by informing the attendees that all were selected because we were employed in industries that aren’t currently hiring. My guess is that everyone in attendance was already aware of this fact, and that beginning a seminar by pointing this out only serves to discourage and distract the attendees.

Misdirection in the Job Search

After reading Phred Dvorak and Joann S. Lublin’s article, “Outplacement Firms Struggle to Do Job,” in today’s Wall Street Journal, I couldn’t believe how similar Ms. Service’s experience was to mine. While my employer did not refer me to outplacement, several recruiters contacted me after I posted my resume on an online job search site. After speaking with two different firms, I arranged to meet with a recruiter from what seemed to be the more reputable agency.

After two and a half hours talking with the recruiter, I was beginning to have mixed feelings. While he seemed to have many contacts in the accounting industry, he knew very little about the field, confusing the most basic of terms related to my work experience. As he planned to revise my resume, this began to worry me. Next he informed me that I could not have a copy of the new resume and that I should not send out any resumes without first clearing the recipients with him. Nonetheless, I left the initial meeting determined to let him start my job search for me. His firm has a decent reputation and, given the economy, I was looking for all the help I could get. As it happened, I was otherwise preoccupied for a few weeks and had little time to look for a job on my own.

My concern turned to worry after not hearing from the recruiter in response to messages I’d left regarding requests he made of me during our initial meeting. I left an additional message and two days later, the recruiter finally returned my call, nearly two weeks since we had last spoken. After politely telling me that the job market is slow right now (tell me something I don’t know), the recruiter asked that I refrain from calling him. Instead, he will contact me if a job prospect becomes available. Needless to say, I will not be working with a recruiter going forward.

In recounting my experience to a family friend in the job search industry, he confirmed for me an ugly truth. It seems that hoarding resumes into a proprietary database is a growing trend in the industry. As the Journal article noted, these template-driven resumes often contain blatant typos and reflect little of the individuals they should represent, doing the applicants more disservice than benefit. Not surprisingly, the family friend reached the same conclusion I did regarding the recruiter: ditch him. If, by some miracle, he does find a lead, great; otherwise, I have no intention of calling him or any other recruiter during my search.

On Being Unemployed

Last month (technically, June 26), I was laid off, completely unexpectedly.

When I tell people this, most respond with some sort of condolence, but I’m not saddened by this. In fact, I’m happier than I’ve been in years. To top it off, the lease on my apartment expired at the same time, so now I’m homeless, in a way. Still, I couldn’t be happier.

In all honesty, my mood has much to do with the situation in which our country finds itself. Normally, joblessness and homelessness would be conditions of much concern. But, with three million other Americans out of work, how can I really complain. After all, I received a severance and I live in a state with a high cost of living, so my earnings from unemployment won’t be that bad. Plus, without an apartment, I’m saving on all those overhead costs.

Further improving my mood, I hadn’t been happy at my job for a while. Frankly, I was bored. I wanted to travel, to do anything other than sit in a cubicle, roaming the internet for hours. I never thought I’d reach a point where the internet bored me, but I found it, about a month before I was laid off. Having recently taken a 4,300 mile road trip, I was ready for more travel, not more endless days spent at my desk without a project to complete. I’ve never seen the West Coast, and I want to drive Skyline Drive. Losing my job couldn’t have come at a better time.

With the economy in its current state, I don’t expect to find a job soon, even though I have a recruiter working diligently on my behalf. Normally, that should bother me, but, again, I’m among millions of other US residents who find themselves taking money from the state. As previously mentioned, I also find myself in the odd predicament of having no housing. My lease nearing expiration, I was in the process of finding a new apartment when I was laid off. Upon losing my job, the apartment hunt ceased, since no landlord will rent to someone without a steady income. At first, I was concerned, to say the least; then, I considered the opportunities these twin “tragedies” brought me.

To clarify, I’m an accountant but not a CPA. I’d planned on studying for the exam this summer, after finding a new apartment. In both losing my job and ceasing my search for new housing, an immense amount of free time has suddenly presented itself. Unlike the past two summers, I finally have time sufficient to study for the CPA exam. I can’t make excuses that work is too busy, that I’m too consumed with moving, or that as experience is concerned I’m insufficiently prepared for the exam. Suddenly, I have nothing to do but study for the exam. And travel.

The upside to an exam like the CPA certification is that scheduling is done months in advance and the test is standardized. As a result, I can plan months exam dates months in advance and spend endless time studying for a particular section of the test. Knowing when I have to be at a specific testing center allows me to plan the road trips I’ve only dreamed of.

I now find myself presented with the opportunity to travel the country while reviewing for the exam that will let me continue my career, all because I lost my job. In between sightseeing, I can study for the exam. I can even listen to review guides as audiobooks, all while visiting the vast parts of the United States I’m unfamiliar with. Given today’s technology, I can do most anything I need to from anywhere across our continent, and I intend to do so. Before I chain myself to a desk once again, I want to see the United States of America.