Yesterday's happy-happy-joy-joy post comprised of a rant about my current struggles with unemployed life. I let you know that I'm experiencing a few more bad days than I care to, and that I'm looking to flip this situation for the better. Involuntary unemployment is always going to be a tricky situation; as I explained, there can be really bleak days, but I also know there are things you can do to make the situation more positive. The aim of this post is to reflect on my positive days, lessons learned from the past six months, and to form an action plan for myself and for anyone else who may face a similar situation. My aim is to crowd out the bad days by amplifying the good, and to basically win at unemployment.
This post is not a guide for finding a new job. There are plenty of resources out there for finding vacancies, preparing job applications and so forth. This is not a post about dealing with unemployment by GETTING A JOB. It's about dealing with the situation as a whole.
I'm speaking from the position of having been without full-time work for six months (and still in this position at the time of writing). I have had bad days, but the days where I feel most positive are the days where I am organised, exercised, healthy, in control and proactive. Some of these tips are things I do already on my good days; others are things that I need to introduce or make routine, for my own wellbeing. So here we go.
1. Attend to Your Job Application Strategy Early
At the beginning of my job search my CV was not in top shape and my cover letters were not amazing, either. I had thought they were acceptable, until I attended a workshop that highlighted a few things I could improve. Since then I have received double the response to my applications. I regularly re-evaluate the material I am submitting (sometimes when you look at something too much, you're unable to see it objectively) and still have more work to do to improve my applications. My advice would be to seek professional advice at the beginning of your search - you want to be 100% prepared if an advertisement for your ideal job pops up.
2. Establish Your Goals
My strategy for finding work has been somewhat complex due to my relocation from the city to the south, and for months I lacked a defined strategy. Establish your strategy - what you're looking for and where, and stick it to the wall. This will help maintain a focus and keep you from applying for that farmhand job 3 hours inland when you're feeling desperate (having said that, I'm all for crazy changes if they fit in with your other plans!).
3. Have a Designated Work Station
I'm lucky to have a spare room with a desk, so I do all my job seeking in an officy setting. I find that it helps to have an organised desk space, with a folder for filing all of my applications. When I sit down at my desk I know that it's time to focus, and I have a sense of control - it pretty much feels like a day at work (without the pay, people to talk to, or a vending machine). I have some inspirational quotes stuck in front of my desk and an essential oil burner - little things to keep the environment positive. I have also found that it makes the application process less time consuming to have a folder on my desktop with subfolders for 'Resumes', 'Cover Letters' and 'Extras' (Certificates, References etc) then subdivided again for different categories of work (e.g. Hospitality, Marketing, Admin, etc.). It took a few hours to set this up, but now that it's there, it definitely helps make the whole task less brutal.
4. Work Casually
I've been doing a bit of casual work (waitressing, babysitting) and I also have a small business on the side, but even so, if I had to do over this time I would try to find a part-time or casual job with steady hours, from the outset, even though my goal was to find full-time work. There is just no way of telling how long you will be out of work for. For that reason I have recently begun applying for casual jobs as well. I allowed my conscience to talk me out of this for a while as I didn't want to stuff around a potential employer. I now realise that you have to leave those things at the door and do what you gotta do. A casual job may not be your ideal scenario but it's a means for social contact and more importantly, funds! That brings me to my next point...
5. Benefits or No Benefits?
Centrelink. It's a dirty word. For good reason. I shouldn't say that - the fact that we have access to government benefits is pretty amazing, but I would not push the idea of a Newstart allowance (payment for job seekers) on anyone unless you feel you really need it. I was receiving payments for a few months, now elect not to, and I prefer this scenario. The program requires you to apply for a certain amount of jobs every fortnight so I suppose that provides the motivation that some need. For me, in hindsight, I would have been better to just find more casual work instead. The number of jobs I was required to apply for while receiving payments was more than were available, so I was forced to send faux applications to reach the quota, and to sometimes apply for jobs that weren't suitable or were very far away. It's a bit of a flawed system because you end up taking jobs that you don't want. I won't even go into the nightmare that is dealing with the "administration" of Centrelink. Anyway, for me, it is better to have full control over the jobs I apply for, putting more energy into fewer applications - jobs I actually want. My advice would be to find casual work to tide you over, that will still allow you the flexibility to attend interviews. I am trying to avoid jumping into full-time work that I don't want, because firstly, it makes it very hard to then apply for jobs your actually want, and secondly, you might end up just settling.
6. Establish a Routine
Besides having a quality CV, establishing a productive routine would be the most important thing on this list. This is something I need to work on re-establishing. I think the most important thing for the day is to set an intention to be productive and to get stuck in early. My most effective days involve getting up early (7.30am), having breakfast, attending a gym class, showering, attending to chores, then sitting down to job applications. Procrastination can be a real kicker with applications, but it helps to remember that the hardest part is getting started. So just start - then you're doing it, then it's done. In the afternoon you might have time for some extra curricular activities (for me: sewing, reading, blogging) then preparation for dinner. When I follow this formula, it works for me because I'm reaping the therapeutic benefits of exercise, keeping the house clean and organised, and making sure that I attend to job seeking every day. I feel like I've achieved and that's healthy for my overall happiness. My plan is to re-establish this routine and I am going to aid this along by writing out the routine and sticking it to the wall. I also need to work on keeping monotony at bay by including some highlights throughout the week - that might be as simple as going out to do the grocery shopping, a swim at the beach, getting a cheap massage or meeting a friend for lunch. It's important not to fall into the trap of punishing yourself for your situation by not allowing yourself these little bits of fun. You may as well make the best of a bad situation.
I dealt with the subject of exercise in a recent post, and although I sometimes find it hard to summon the motivation for the gym, the fact remains: "I really regret doing that workout", said no one ever. I must make time to incorporate exercise into my daily routine. On the days I do exercise, it gets me out of the house, interacting with others, and it pumps up the endorphin levels. I feel more energetic and ready to take on the day. Even if you're not yet kicking goals with finding work, it's nice to feel like you're kicking some kind of goal: why not fitness?
8. Include Hobbies and Make a To-Do List
Applying for jobs is time consuming, but shouldn't take up 8 hours a day. As I said before, you may as well make the best of a bad situation, and devote some of your time to your hobbies. That may even involve volunteer work. For me, I was able to make some progress in further developing my hobby business, and lately I have taken up a fun sewing project. It's good to do things that keep up your creativity and passion. I enjoy cooking, so I've also used this extra time as a chance to try out new recipes that I might not otherwise have time for.
9. Set Non-Work Goals
It can be draining when you are pouring all your efforts into the task of finding a job yet receiving no rewards - the reward is a job offer, and it might take a while to get. To keep your fighting spirit up, I think it's a good idea to set an achievable goal that is not related to employment. It could be something as simple as tackling the jobs you've been putting off for ages - something like cleaning out your cupboards or organising your digital photo collection, or setting some fitness goals. It brings a great sense of achievement when you can strike a task off your list that you might have been putting off for ages. I want too look back on this time and think: "I may not have been working, but I achieved X goal."
10. Eat Well
Good nutirition means a healthy brain, and a healthy brain means a happy you. It goes without saying that good nutrition is essential for mental and physical health. Unfortunately if you are in the habit of using food to desenstitise your emotions, then involuntary unemployment is likely to be a tricky time for you: it has been a challenge for me. Menu planning at the beginning of each week has helped me, as has buying ingredients to cook healthy and tasty lunches at home. Junk food binges will only make you feel worse and won't solve any problems, so do your best to avoid junk by distracting yourself with a walk or bath - something enjoyable. If you have a bad moment, nutrition-wise, leave the damage behind and start fresh. There are no limits to the number of fresh starts you're allowed to have.
11. Get Dressed and Do Your Hair
When there's a long day at home stretched ahead of you, the lure of your big baggy trackies is strong. I cannot lie, it's also pretty brilliant not having to put on a full makeup face everyday for work. But unemployment is not a good reason to become a sloth. You would be amazed how the way you dress, even when at home, can impact on your mood. I know for me, I feel much more positive on the days when I dress in nice clothes (comfy yet still acceptable for public appearances), semi-do my hair and slap on a bit of blush and mascara, rather than shuffling around in the sloppies with a ghost face. The aim is to still feel like a functioning member of the human race.
12. Have a Day Off - Just One
When you're in between work, looking for a new job IS your job, and it's a mentally and emotionally draining one. There is only ONE reward, employment, and you can't tell when you're going to get it. Sometimes you do need a break from the routine to recharge your batteries. I have found that there are significantly less jobs advertised on Mondays, so if you feel like you need a breather, Monday could be an option. Don't fall into the trap of missing more than one weekday in a row, though. It's important to keep the momentum of your routine, but also, some popular jobs are only advertised for a day, and you don't want to miss out.
I am lucky to be living with my gainfully employed boyfriend, so we usually head to bed around 10pm every night and I almost always get my 8 hours' sleep. I am so grateful for this; without someone telling me when to go to bed my bedtime seems to go out of control. Make sure you treat yourself to the restorative sleep that your mind and body needs; a sensible bedtime is also essential for making sure you can get stuck into the morning tasks early on.
14. Plan for Fun
Being without work can be a lonely time, applying for jobs is dry work, and the housework is not exactly exciting stuff. The money may only be trickling in but it's still important to plan for fun and exciting outings and adventures to keep yourself stimulated. Life doesn't have to stop just because you're not working, so if you have an empty weekend coming up, plan ahead so you have something to look forward to - places to go, people to see, and a good reason to get out of the house.
15. Put Yourself First
My last tip is about remembering to put yourself in pole position. This means staying true to yourself and focused on your goals. Some compromising might be required in order to get back into the workforce, but don't succumb to pressure and feel like you have to do things that aren't right for you. Keep focused on your own goals and steer clear of anyone whose company you know is not the best for you right now; it might be someone who harasses you for being out of work or gives you unsolicited advice and suggests different career options for you - rarely helpful, insulting to your intelligence, and you need to be around positive and supportive people. Above all, just as your work does not define your entire life when you are employed, being out of work does not define you, either. Make you own definition. Lastly, fake it til you make it - it's okay to have "woe is me" moments, but then consciously amp up your positivity, surround yourself with as much fun and laughter as possible, and remember that your situation is only temporary.