Unemployment is a full-time job

Posted: October 11, 2010

By Emily C. Reynolds

For most of the day I wrote this, I was on the computer hunting for a job.

At the age of 51, I have worked in higher education, public relations, and nonprofit special-events planning. I have a master's degree and a certificate in communications. I've had a diverse, enjoyable career that has employed me full time since college.

But I suddenly find myself among America's unemployed masses. Worse, I'm among those who are over the age of 50 and therefore competing with younger, more technologically proficient prospects.

In a recent New York Times article about people like me, one statement in particular resonated with me: "A job is more than a job. ... It's where you fit in society."

How true. A job gives you a sense of belonging, productivity, and a social network. I like to work, and I would trade a full-time job for my current job search any day.

It's natural to ask people what they do when you meet them. These days, my answer is that my full-time job is finding a job.

Being unemployed is in no way relaxing. A cloud constantly hangs over my head. I feel guilty if I'm not on the computer job-hunting. I even feel guilty for spending any time writing this.

I spend countless hours applying for jobs through company websites. Often, a system bounces me out because I didn't fill out a field correctly, and I have to start all over. When that happens, I throw my hands in the air and go pet my cats for a while.

Everyone has advice on the resumé. Some say you should remove any positions older than 15 years. Others suggest you downplay your experience and education lest you appear overqualified for certain jobs.

If you're lucky enough to get an interview, you must do your homework. You must become a fount of knowledge about the company, which immediately becomes useless knowledge if you don't get the job.

No matter how many interviews you have in your life, each one is unnerving and hard to gauge. When people ask me how an interview went, I typically respond that I have no idea.

Then there's the networking. You reach out to your contacts from previous jobs and ask if they know anyone at ABC Company. You feel bad about bothering people during their busy days.

At one point during this period, I attempted to volunteer at a nonprofit I had been interested in for some time. I submitted a lengthy application on the agency's website - only to receive an automated response saying it was accepting no further applicants. Sigh.

To be unemployed is to be accompanied by an elephant wherever you go. Friends and family are not quite sure how to talk to you about it. I understand. It must be uncomfortable, because people feel sorry for the unemployed.

Some people ask me every time they see me, "Any news on the job front?" Of course, I want my situation to be acknowledged, and I need to know that people care. But I'm not sure if I prefer that question to no questions at all.

Still, when you're unemployed, you miss social interaction. The other day, I took a break and went to the pharmacy for my first flu shot. I found that I was happy to be interacting with the pharmacist. Woo-hoo!

My reward at the end of a day of job-hunting is to dive into a novel for an hour. Another small indulgence is the Ellen DeGeneres Show, which I turn on at 3 p.m. to listen to the host's monologue and watch her dance. It makes me smile, and then I turn it off 10 minutes later. Never a fan of daytime television, I'm not tempted to spend time watching anything else.

Speaking of which, I've spent enough time on this. I'd better get back to the job hunt.

Emily C. Reynolds lives in Marlton. She can be reached at emreyn@verizon.net.

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