What Happens When You’re Unemployed For Too Long?

15-0531-Unemployed
Image from Wiz Bang Blog.

The last time I was unemployed and looking for a job was in January this year (2016). The project I was working on last year had closed down and the whole team designated for the project were forced to look for work elsewhere. It took me four months to get a decent job, and even that was a three-month contract at a startup company doing SEO writing. Three months later, I was back out in the unemployment market.

Of course, the good news is that a month after my short-term employment ended, another company was kind enough to offer me a job offer, this time a permanent one with growth potential and possibly a brighter future for me.

But what if I didn’t get the short-term contract? I’d have been out of a job for almost 6 months and that would have been a questionable scenario for employers during our interviews. There wouldn’t be an interview. It would have been a full-blown, crime-scene investigation and interrogation. I would come under scrutiny for not having found a job, or worse, accused of being fussy and picky during my job search.

So how long is too long before you finally get a job? 

Personally, I think 1-2 months is the maximum period that I wouldn’t mind being jobless. Anything more than that and you’d definitely come under scrutiny. It also depends on which quarter of the year that you were suddenly out of a job and have to look for a new one. In Malaysia, most companies have shorter work days during the long holiday periods, such as the Chinese New Year celebrations in February, the fasting period for Muslims and Hari Raya in July and August, and Christmas in December. I’ve had companies taking a long time responding to my job applications during those periods, and it gets on nerves to find that the person in charge is on leave and won’t be back until a certain date.

It also depends on the economy. If times are bad and there is a high unemployment rate, then it will be even more challenging to find a job unless a company is willing to take the risk and put aside a budget for you.

And then what’s going to happen when you don’t get to find a job?

Well, you start becoming sluggish. Your self-discipline wanes. Your sleeping and eating habits change drastically. You start sleeping later and later, waking up at ungodly hours closer to lunch time instead of in the morning and having a proper breakfast. You eat at ungodly hours too, not just when you’re hungry but at any given time of the day because you’re not doing anything to keep yourself busy. Unless you have children, then maybe you won’t feel so bored and lifeless.

You also start to lose your previous productive self. Once upon a time, you used to flit from one meeting room to another, solving problems, replying emails, closing deals, drawing up reports, or presenting a PowerPoint deck to a potential client. Now, you’ve become the ultimate couch potato, channel-surfing or binge-watching on telenovelas and Korean dramas. Which is bad. Bad for your health and bad for you, as a whole.

However, if you suddenly find yourself in this horrific situation and realise that the gap of your unemployment period is growing, here are some pointers from Paul McDonald, the executive director of Robert Half Management Resources in Joe Turner’s article, ‘Out of Work? How Long Before It Hurts Your Career?

  • Be Flexible: You may not be able to find a job that is an exact match for the one you lost. Thus, you should explore other ways to apply your skills and expertise in new areas and highlight your transferable skill-sets.
  • Consider Relocating: Open your mind and eyes to opportunities in other cities or states, especially if your skills are highly specialised or that only a few job openings exist locally.
  • Stay Positive: Finding another job can take longer than expected because there are either fewer positions available, or there are other candidates who are looking at the same position as you are. Don’t worry. There will definitely be something for you.

Don’t be discouraged, and don’t give up too easily. The period between your last job and the present may seem like its just growing and not going away, but you should realise that being unemployed is not a permanent condition. There are many factors that affect your employment status, and most of the factors are those that are out of your control. Other factors that you can control, though, are your attitude and the activities that you can do while you’re jobless. These can work in your favour, if you let them.

Just like J.T. and Dale said in their article, ‘How Long Can I Stay Unemployed?‘:

If you delay a job search, the risk is that you’ll be unemployed for a very long time. Here’s why: An employee is like a house for sale. If it sits on the market for too long, buyers assume that something is wrong. When you decide to take 6-9 months off, employers start to wonder the same thing about you.

So what do you do then? Well, if you have a blog but you haven’t touched it in awhile, you could use the available time to tidy it up. Give it a major overhaul and brainstorm for new topics. You can also sign up for short professional courses to increase your chances of being re-hired, or join some classes that would help with expanding your skills. Or you can be like me. Do some freelancing work and get paid for it. The money may not be as much but it definitely beats sitting at home and doing nothing.

I’m glad to finally have a job now. It took me a long time to find one, and at some point, I was a little depressed because I thought I was going to jobless forever and my savings wouldn’t last that long either. So if you’re anything like me, don’t worry. You will find something. Eventually.

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