*Update – I no longer have the dream job, but toward the end that job got pretty old anyway. This republish still has a great message :).
If you’re a person of working age and you haven’t been fired, laid off, or quit suddenly because you can’t stand your toxic work environment a moment longer – trust me, it’s coming.
In my early 20’s I was unemployed as often as I worked. Why? Two reasons: attitude problem and hatred of working. My entry level jobs ranged from UPS box handler to Barista and similar customer service gigs.
I had zero ability to deal with other people or submit to authority. At one job I told my supervisor “f— you” directly to her face and stormed out.
Reflecting on that day amuses me now; it’s a vivid contrast to the person I’ve become. Around the age of 30 I entered the HR field. These days I’m a Recruiter.
I must say (with some combination of embarrassment and pride) that HR is the best thing that happened in my life, in terms of forcing me to develop work-life maturity and the career stability connected to gaining that maturity.
However, there’s a catch. Life is full of uncertainties for all of us.
Once you’ve gained the maturity required to hone your skills in the workplace and develop a career, you will likely still face unemployment at some point.
If you don’t want to work at Burger King because you have a career now (and who can blame you?), you could be looking at 6 months to a year unemployed.
Since entering HR, I’ve been unemployed 3 times. Only one of these unemployed periods was by choice. The other two? I was fired, then I was laid off.
This is my story, and it’s my chicken soup to the unemployed people out there.
Getting Laid Off – Here Comes the Freight Train
The second period of unemployment in my HR career was 2016. This was the layoff.
The layoff is the most important event of the two, because I liked that job and I didn’t see it coming. The shock hit me like a freight train.
I was laid off from a tiny non-profit; a job I never should have taken to begin with. This is one of those important lessons you can only learn by experience.
How did I come to work at this tiny non-profit? I left my cozy, stable job in the HR department of a bank in the city. I liked all my co-workers and my boss. They all liked me. I didn’t mind the work.
So, why did I leave? Why do people leave when they’re comfortable?
I wanted more money and responsibility. I was a glorified HR Assistant masquerading under an “HR Compensation Specialist” title.
My days consisted of processing employee pay raises, auditing payroll, and reading performance reviews to ensure supervisors weren’t saying anything illegal.
I wanted to be more like an HR Generalist at a small company, which was my last role when I left Alaska. I also wanted to stop commuting an hour to the city.
Boom – that kind of job became available in a small town. I interviewed, and I was hired. More pay, more responsibility, a shorter commute!
Here’s a good lesson:
If the employer wants to pay you the same amount of money you’re making in your current role even though you’re about to take on way more responsibility, and if you have to negotiate the minimum standard 15% increase in pay that should accompany more responsibility, don’t take the job.
Sure, they’ll pay you what you want… just to get you on board.
They’ll let you fix a bunch of shit. After you’ve fixed everything, they’ll lay your ass off because they can’t afford you. Surprise! You were a temporary contract worker, and you didn’t even know it!
I was crushed. They didn’t have an HR department. I set one up for them. I wrote all their job descriptions. I researched employment law, fixed things, stayed up to date on everything and did a stellar job in general, as I always aim to do.
I was told by my supervisor I did a good job, but it wasn’t her decision to cut my position.
I’m not providing this example just to walk down memory lane and navel gaze here, but because this kind of thing happens to good workers all the time.
I was a few years younger than I am now. I was in my mid-30’s. I had come a long way since the days of telling supervisors to get stuffed. But, I was still a little naïve.
Despite my increasing knowledge of HR and my budding understanding of organizational psychology, I was naïve in a way and didn’t realize it. We all have a different journey in our learning.
“One Door Closes, Another One Opens.”
When we find ourselves unemployed, there’s a tremendous amount of fear and insecurity we later realize was unnecessary after we finally land a good job.
The day I was dismissed from that shitty non-profit, I remember standing in the grocery store all pissed off. Some guy passed by and noticed how visibly pissed off I was. He asked what was wrong. I told him.
“Cheer up”, he said, “One door closes, another one opens.”
I’ll never forget that moment because he turned out to be absolutely right.
I made a mistake in taking the non-profit job – but I can’t regret that job because one thing leads to another in the chain of events. Just like that guy said.
If I hadn’t taken that job, I wouldn’t have taken the next job. If I hadn’t taken the next job after the non-profit, I wouldn’t have taken the the job I’m at now.
The job I have now is awesome.
Enjoy the Finer Aspects of Unemployment
So, the non-profit laid my ass off and I was unemployed for 5 months.
When the non-profit laid me off, it was June. I experienced a period of grief, as everyone does. But one day I woke up and said to myself, “Holy shit – it’s summer, and I don’t have a job!”
Let the festivities begin.
I slept late, hiked in the woods each day, generally did whatever the hell I wanted and reserved my job-hunting activities for night time.
So, I enjoyed the finer aspects of being unemployed. At first, anyway.
Nobody Will Hire Me, and Now I’m Freaking Out!
As the months rolled along and I wasn’t getting hired despite a stellar resume, I started spending 7 hours a day job hunting.
I failed 5 or 6 interviews. Autumn rolled by, early winter passed, and somewhere around the beginning of mid-winter I started freaking out.
I know that sense of panic. I do.
I know how tough it is to see the forest for the trees in that scenario. But you must try to remain calm. Something will come along. And that thing, even if it’s not your Ideal Thing, may lead to the Great Thing eventually.
If it happened to me, it can happen to you.
Your Awesome Resume and Stellar Experience Won’t Always Matter (At Least Not Right Away)
It’s worth mentioning that I did have a stellar resume. I was an HR person, and I knew my shit.
At the beginning of my unemployment, I didn’t just job hunt, I studied. You don’t stop studying just because you already know something. That’s the key to job hunting, and it’s the key to life.
I inhaled online articles about how to make your resume better – things like quantifying accomplishments into numbers even if you’re not in sales. I studied, reframed, and refined until my resume was perfect and my cover letters were tight.
My resume was perfect – but understand this – sometimes it doesn’t matter. At least not right away.
A stellar resume is not a lost cause just because you’re not getting the job you want right now. That great resume may bring you what you want… later down the road.
Job hunting, unfortunately, does involve an element of luck.
Sometimes you’re just not the right person for the role based on an employer’s current needs. I know this because I am now a Recruiter. Among other things, I do a great deal of screening and selecting resumes every day.
You can’t take this personally. If you don’t fit their needs, you don’t fit their needs.
Sometimes you’re the person they interview not because they think you’re wonderful, but because you’re the best out of the bunch, and nobody who applied is all that great for the role. It sucks, but that’s reality.
Maybe they interview you and find out that even though you’re the best of the bunch, you’re still not going to cut it. They’ll keep the ad up and do another round of interviews.
Sometimes you ARE the one, and you’ll know… because they’ll call you up exactly 15 minutes after you apply, and they will do whatever it takes to get you scheduled for an interview, like, asap.
Sometimes they need some element of experience you just don’t have. My advice is to look closely at that job ad. If you don’t meet 95% of the criteria under “qualifications”, don’t bother applying.
There is a reason for that qualifications section. Perhaps my readers know this and don’t apply for jobs they don’t qualify for, but I look at many applications each week where people apply for jobs they are in no way qualified for, so I thought it worth mentioning.
Side bar point:
Let’s clear up a common misconception. There is no “black hole” in applicant tracking (AT) systems or the employer side of job boards. If you are qualified for the job, recruiters and managers do see your resume.
Indeed.com and AT systems do have screening questions, but we control the question content and whether the qualification is “Required” or “Preferred”. If it’s a hard requirement and you don’t meet that requirement, your resume is moved into a folder where we can’t see it. But it’s there.
For example, on one of my ads for RN, the most important question will be, “Do you have an RN License (Registered Nurse)?” It’s a hard requirement. If no = reject. The system screens it out.
It doesn’t disappear into a black hole; it goes into another area of indeed.com that I can visit if I ever decide I want to look at people not qualified for the position.
Smart recruiters know how to serve their own interests and will NOT use the hard “Absolutely Required” option unless it’s absolutely a hard requirement.
Why would we want to miss out on the perfect candidate? This is a common myth perpetrated by HR writers who want to piss off candidates and keep them coming back to their articles so they can try to sell shit (looking at you, Liz Ryan).
Your resume is being seen if you qualify, it’s not disappearing into some mysterious “black hole”.
For some jobs, that hard requirement may be a certain degree level. So, if you don’t have the degree, don’t apply.
If you don’t have a required professional license, don’t apply.
To be fair, I did not know this before I became a recruiter. I do not have a BA degree – commonly required for HR jobs. I am certain that I applied to many jobs on indeed that I did not qualify for, and subsequently got screened out because BA degree was set as a hard requirement on the back end.
I’m sure I had that same mentality people have, like, “The qualifications section says required, but I’m special!” Equal parts hope and desperation.
I did not know.
But now you all know what I did not.
Does it suck that jobs require certain degree levels as a hard requirement when you know that you can do the job with your lesser degree… or with your no degree? Sure. It sucks.
But that’s beyond the scope of this article. You can avoid a lot of wasted time by accepting that fact, and by looking to see what degree is required under the “Qualifications” section of the ad.
If the ad says, “experience can be substituted on a year for year basis”, or something to that effect, you are in luck. That degree is not a hard requirement and you may apply without it being a total waste of time. That screener question is set to preferred on the back end. They will view your resume.
So back to my story:
I had a great resume, and I wasn’t getting any hits. But – finally – toward the end of my last unemployment check, luck prevailed. Boom! I got a job!
I got a job… located exactly one block away from the cozy bank job I used to work at – in the city – you know, the cozy job I left for the shitty non-profit job in another town.
So it goes! Karma is a bitch with a great sense of humor.
The next job after that? It’s the awesome job I have now.
But let’s talk about getting fired.
Getting Fired – If You’re A Bad Fit, It’s Not Necessarily Personal
Way before all this, I got fired from the first HR job I took when I landed in Washington State.
This was tough to deal with because I was 4.5 years into HR. At that point I thought I would never get fired from any job again. I was (relatively) mature. I was hardworking. I had learned how to get along with people and submit to authority.
However, I hadn’t yet learned how to hide it when I hate a job – or how to keep my mouth shut.
I got fired for being a “bad fit”. Point blank – that was the reason they gave me.
And you know what? It’s a simple fact. I was a bad fit.
I’m a great fit at my current job. I was a terrible fit at that other job.
If they tell you that you are a “bad fit”, it may feel personal. It’s not.
You’re just a bad fit. There’s no emotion about it on their part. There shouldn’t be any emotion on your side either. You probably don’t like this job. You might be a great fit somewhere else.
So, why was I a bad fit at this job?
I’m a person who needs some human interaction. I need to be on the phone with humans, I need to see people besides my co-workers in my office sometimes.
This state job I took involved doing data entry all day long and never interacting with outside people.
Furthermore, the data entry systems were terrible! They used DOS to do employee benefit enrollments!
Does anyone reading this even know what DOS is, or remember it? It was like one of the first software systems used in the 80’s. All keyboard, no mouse. Just terrible.
Their HR system was almost as bad. It took a million steps to execute one function.
I hated it. I couldn’t lie about how much I hated this job.
I didn’t say, “I hate this job” out loud – but my body language communicated that I hated this job. I was openly pissy a lot of the time. People noticed.
I also made the dumb mistake of mentioning to a co-worker that I was looking for work elsewhere within the state and would apply internally to something else the first chance I got.
Yeah, you can’t trust all your co-workers even if you think you can.
I’ve since learned to keep it zipped up about that kind of stuff.
Because this co-worker ran to my boss’s boss, told him what I said – and shortly after that I was canned.
It Was All Worth It
Years later I’m a Recruiter and this job is a great fit. Not that much data entry. Humans in my office some of the time. Phone contact. Great co-workers. A variety of tasks. Good HR software. I get to design things in Canva for social media. I have my own office. I come and go as I please. It’s fantastic, and they pay me well.
That guy in the grocery store that one day – he was like my angel of Fate.
Remember what he said.
One door closes, another one opens.
It’s that simple.