The economic downturn caused by COVID-19 has already triggered massive retrenchments in the aviation, hospitality and retail sectors. As government stimuli tapers and companies begin to experience the effect of the weakened economy, lay-offs will inevitably increase. With new positions in short supply, many are worried at the prospect of facing prolonged unemployment.
If you find yourself in this situation, I hope this article helps you approach unemployment from a different perspective.
What should I do?
Most people faced with unemployment jump into job search activities straightaway. They go all-in to update their resume, apply for jobs and network extensively. After all, doing things that lead to a job offer can’t be wrong. Yet, there are people who have no job offers despite doing all these things.
Maybe you’ve decided not to rush into the next job and explore something else instead. There are lots of articles out there offering excellent advice on what to do when you’re unemployed. I don’t think I would be adding value to you by repackaging the ideas from these writers into another article. If you’re just looking for suggestions, here are some from popular sites:
Instead, I’d like to take a deeper look at this obsession with being busy, even when you’re unemployed. As human beings we’re wired to need purpose. We want to be useful and valued by society and our loved ones. Since working is the best way to do this, being unemployed causes us discomfort and shame. This is why we find it difficult to tell others, especially our loved ones, about job loss.
Although our jobs take up a huge part of our waking hours, it is not who we are. Beyond our work, we fulfill other important roles as child, spouse, parent and so on. Losing our job doesn’t mean that we lose these other roles too! Be careful not to rush into job search or other activities just to numb your feelings or distract yourself.
Career Road Trip
Again, don’t get me wrong. Both job search and side activities are helpful and eventually necessary. However, they are most effective when you have a clear idea of who you are and your career direction. Let me illustrate with the example of a road trip. When you make a self-driving holiday, there are typically a few key steps:
- Select your destination and plan your route
- Check and service your car, top up the fuel
- Make the drive, adjust along the way
These steps usually occur to us naturally. Yet, when it comes to career and job search, many people (including yours truly) jump straight to step 3! Its no wonder we often end up going nowhere. If you’re unemployed, take the time to take care of step 1 and 2 before going to step 3.
Selecting your destination
How does destination relate to your career? During this time of unemployment, take time to re-examine your career goals. Just as a road trip is affected by natural disasters and road closures, so is your career. Ask yourself a few key questions to clarify where you’re headed:
- What’s my eventual career goal? Where am I relative to the goal?
- Has the industry/job I was in changed irreversibly? Can I go back to what I was doing and be certain I will still have a job 5 years later?
- If the industry/job has changed for the worse, what other careers or jobs am I open to? How do they fit my Values, Personality, Skills?
The answers to some of these questions might not be immediately obvious. It may be necessary to speak with industry contacts in addition to doing some research.
Getting your car ready
Next, you need to check your own readiness. I’m not talking about career fit, but your mental state. Losing your job is stressful and demoralising, and can affect anyone’s clarity and confidence. Some say this comes before selecting your destination, and I won’t disagree. It would be pointless to plan a trip if your car isn’t even working.
Your mental state will show up on your resume and at the interview. Going back to the analogy, no one can see how impressive your car is if it cannot move. Before you dismiss this as something that won’t happen to you, try this simple exercise. Get a close friend or family member to roleplay as an interviewer, and answer some common interview questions:
- Describe your last role and key achievements.
- Why did you leave your last role?
- How are your skills and experiences a good fit for this role?
- Why should I hire you?
Ask them to provide feedback on your performance, and tell you honestly whether they would hire you. If you did well, great! Be confident and persevere as you search for a job and don’t give up. However, if they are not convinced, then its likely your interviewer will not be either.
For those who didn’t do so well, what can you do? First of all, make sure to get rid of any negativity. This is like servicing your car regularly. Take some time to process your emotions and reactions. If you’re an introvert record your experience in a journal, otherwise talk about it with family and friends. Some questions to get you started:
- Is there a memory related to losing your job that keeps replaying in your mind? or
Which interview question above did you find difficult to answer?
- What do you feel when you recall the memory/hear the question?
- Has your behaviour or attitude changed because of this event? Is it positive or negative?
As you talk/think these things through, you should find yourself becoming clearer and more settled. At the same time, fill up your tank with motivation and positivity. Some might find meditation and mindfulness helpful. If you’re religious, prayer may be your solution. Others find it therapeutic to hang around with positive, optimistic people. I’ve attached some motivational videos below that might help you along the way:
When you feel ready, run the interview test I mentioned earlier again. Hopefully, the time you spent servicing and refuelling prepares you to shine brighter through the challenges ahead!
At this point, I’d like to put up a short warning to all. The suggestions I’ve mentioned above do not substitute career counselling. If you still find yourself struggling after trying these out, it may be necessary to consider professional help. Remember, there’s no shame in reaching out.