What You Don't Know About the Job Search: Responses From the Jobless

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The Atlantic is asking readers to share with us the one thing people don't understand or appreciate about looking for work. We have published the first batch of responses: The Unemployed Speak, Advice from Employers. Here are more responses from the jobless.

If you have something to add, you should leave your response in the comment section below or send a note to our private email account aboutmyjob1@gmail.com. Thank you all for sharing your stories. And keep reading and sharing.

"Job searching is not dissimilar to living Bill Murray's life in Groundhog Day."
Job searching in this economy is not dissimilar to living Bill Murray's life in Groundhog Day. The only real difference is the weather is different, the seasons change, but you feel like shit. Also, normal life events happen. Marriages, graduations, births, deaths, all happen while you're stuck in the same space and time. You try to avoid this new knowledge but inevitably you get filled in while networking with these people through social networking, hoping upon hope that they may know of a job lead.  All the while, you're stuck filling out the same forms. Getting the same auto-reply.

That's the life of being unemployed.

"You want to hear the voice of the unemployed? I can give it to you in one word: FUCK!"

I am in my mid-20s. I have a university education. I started working when I was 14. I have chemical burns and scars over my hands from dealing with caustic cleaning chemicals. I did not want that to be my life like my uncles. I had to get out. I worked very hard in high school and volunteered and was the member of clubs and all of that great stuff. I got into a good university and worked hard. I took a language course, took things that I loved. I worked through my degree. I was even a janitor in a building that I lived in, because I needed the cut in rent. I did that for no pay.

After these months of unemployment I have fallen into a pretty major depression. I live at home, I do chores, I look for work. As much as I want to get my life together, I have some great mental health issues to deal with -- but have neither the money to purchase medication that may help me, nor the ability to pay for psychological or psychiatric help.

You want to hear the voice of the unemployed? I can give it to you in one word that ought to be printed but never is: 'FUCK!'

"You begin living outside of society, outside of its rhythms, outside of its collective wisdom."

Probably one of the most disastrous side-effects for the long-term unemployed is the attendant anomie. By and large you begin living outside of society, outside of its rhythms, outside of its collective wisdom. Your futile job hunt begins to highlight the capriciousness with which punishments and rewards are doled out. Progressives pay lip service to the way marginal distinctions can grow into yawning inequalities, but I think in the end its something you can only comprehend fully through lived experience. Each job you are not hired for creates an ever growing gap on your resume and makes it all the more likely that you won't be hired after your next interview. As these anxieties grow, you become more ambivalent about looking for work because you know that what you should be focused on isn't searching for a job tomorrow, but erasing the job hunt from yesterday.

Realizing that the 'invisible hand of the market' isn't a deity but just an aggregate of decisions made by everyone with an asshole isn't something you're supposed to figured out until you're 45. Stumbling onto it twenty years early as you enter the job market is like having your first sexual experience be a rape. It makes it really difficult to just get out there and give it your all. Understanding that the world can be irrational and violent may gird you with the realization that being innocent doesn't make you safe. But this sort of cynical 'wisdom' can't really solve your problem. You know this because you've watched your behavior change since you began thinking these things. You've felt the distance between yourself and others grow. It is clear that the only way to move forward and find an employer is to forget what you know. In their absence, you've realized what a difference confidence and optimism make (if only because they're culturally prescribed and efficient). Will you be able to suspend your disbelief long enough to gain a meaningful foothold in the American economy? Or will your doubts trail you and become just another marginal handicap, hobbling your potential even if you were to somehow find a job?

Worst of all though, you've realized that you have begun to find all those gaps on your resume just as worrisome as any potential employer would. You know the unemployment has changed you, and you can't help but understand employer's reticence to take chances in a sluggish economy. All that time spent strategizing and trying to understand potential employers' thought processes has left you your own harshest critic. You can understand it isn't your fault and still suffer all the terrible side effects of prolonged unemployed. Like I said before, being innocent doesn't make you safe.

"Even when willing to work at a fast food restaurant, I am told I am overqualified."

I think the worst part is that even when willing to work at a fast food restaurant I am told I am overqualified. Multiple restaurants have told me they know I'll leave if offered a "real job" somewhere else. Unfortunately I don't have the qualifications for a "real job" and am stuck between a rock, and a very hard place. I'd love to have the janitor position with the PhD in Denver. Perhaps I'll move West!

"Vietnam vets understood how it can feel to return home [from Peace Corps] to a mostly apathetic nation."

After I got out of the Peace Corps, I spent years looking for a job in my hometown.  At one interview, the employer blanched when I said, "Yes, __________ is a Muslim country," as if being around Muslim people was a bad thing.  I applied for essentially a lesser version of the same job I held in the Peace Corps, but the group selected someone who met far fewer of the job requirements than I did.

I would never take back my service, but I feel bad that parts of our society and certain industries don't respect service. The bright side was the time I spent in coffee shops with some Vietnam vets. They were actually interested in the Peace Corps, had lots of good questions, and understood how it can feel to return home to a (mostly) apathetic nation.  My experience certainly wasn't war or as difficult as theirs, yet it was nice to connect with them across worldviews and generations.

"Unavoidable costs continue and the people collecting these debts have no sympathy for the unemployed."

I live in Louisiana, where the heat index is currently over one hundred degrees, constantly.  While living in Baton Rouge, I worked as a QA Tester for EA Games, but being paid only $7.50 an hour, I found myself having to make cuts. My first cut was car insurance, which I dropped from full coverage to liability only. A few months later, due to project downsizing, EA terminated my employment.  The same week, someone did a hit-and-run on my car, which was estimated to cost $2,700 at the cheapest to repair.  Having no money and no job, I continued looking all over Baton Rouge for employment, filling out, with no exaggeration, hundreds of online applications and paper applications, as well as handing my resume to around twice that many businesses. I received no calls, and the employers responded negatively to any actions I took to further the employment process, such as calling them, trying to schedule interviews, etc.  While driving to these businesses, I was often ticketedby police for my expired inspection sticker, which I could not renew due to the damage done in the hit-and-run.  Walking a mere block in the humidity and heat leaves one drenched with sweat, but the police officers expected me to get hired doing just that.  I would ask the officer, "How am I supposed to pay this ticket without a job?" his response was that I should "Get a job", and that my problems were not his concern. I recently attained employment after a very generous friend loaned me three thousand dollars to fix my car, and started at a base rate of $7.25 an hour, with $7,500 in student loan debt (currently in collections, which can repossess my car on a whim) from a degree which does not help me, $750 in traffic tickets simply from driving my car to businesses in search of employment (for which they can imprison youif you do not pay on time), and a three thousand dollar debt to a good friend, who I promised I'd pay back first.

I know this is kind of long, but the point is that regardless of your state of employment, unexpected and unavoidable costs still continue to compound, and the people collecting these debts have no sympathy for the unemployed. If the student loan collectors decide to repossess my car before I can make a payment, my only recently attained deliver job will be gone. If I get arrested for not paying tickets, the job will be gone. If I do not pay my friend back, I am breaking a promise and compromising my integrity.  This is the devil's choice that the unemployed in this country have been given: choose your economic stability or your integrity, sacrifice the other.

"People who yell at bums to get a job need to understand that we'd LOVE to get one."

I live in one of the most economically depressed cities in America. Las Vegas, Nevada. When I moved here in 2007, it was the promised land. Unemployment was very near the natural rate, new construction projects were popping up right and left, and all you needed to get a job was indicate you wanted one. I started in a sales job in August of that year and stayed there for 2 years. In 2009, I decided I was ready for a new chapter in my life and decided to leave my job. It was one of the worst decisions of my life. I have spent the last 2 years looking for anything, but thus far I haven't found anything that comes even remotely close to what I was making before. I've even tried applying to jobs I was certain all you needed was a heartbeat to qualify for. I didn't get them. Now, I put on a brave front as I leave my apartment (which I'm close to losing) and set out to find any job at all. And I always come home empty handed. People who yell at bums to get a job need to understand that we'd LOVE to get one. But in this economy, unless you were summa cum laude at your school, or have a specific set of skills that no one will hire us. At this point any full time job at all would make me happy. But it's unlikely I'll get one soon.

"My fellow long-term unemployed, the 99ers, are a sleeping giant that will be a formidable opponent come election day."

Job hunting?  What job?  Real employment has mostly disappeared.  Or so it seems.  This has been going on for a very long time, my friends.  The economy, and the middle class I grew up in, have turned upside down.  My last "real job" with benefits was back in '94 (and there I was expected to put in 60 hours a week, boss was pissy that I worked a mere 40 -- I had a second job in my "off" hours).  In any case, I was laid off in a regime change and there were no new jobs to be had, after I volunteered and tried everything.  Since then I have freelanced, been an "entrepreneur," "self-employed," worked temp jobs, survived. Seventeen years later, I struggle every month to appear professional and work enough billable hours.  Thank heavens I now do most of my work online, where my excellent talents count and most of my clients don't see that I look just a tad tatty in thrift store clothes, no haircut.

I have no benefits, no health insurance (no health care!), no pension, no savings, no safety net of unemployment insurance or food stamps -- I don't qualify.  It's been a struggle to make my ends even wave hello to each other.  I have learned to cope.  I laughed at the person complaining that he had to scrape by on $350 a week -- that sounds great.  I often manage at half that.  I'm sure there are folks out there making do on even less.

I feel the worst for the kids.  I know plenty of 20-somethings who can't find work in their chosen field, or any field, are expected to give it away as "interns," can't make enough to live on.  When I was a kid, you could actually survive on minimum wage -- nothing fancy, but a simple apartment and food.  Not any longer.

For 20 years, you had a career you loved, which is uncommon in the US. In 2005, you got sick and lost your job, and have only found seasonal, part/time, short-term contract, or yardwork for your efforts.

You treat seeking a job as if it's a full-time job in itself. Of course, your hours got cut back in your "fake full-time job" because with so few jobs out there, it doesn't take long to get through them. You've sent so many resumes for jobs for which you're overqualified, and nothing. You've gotten out and "pounded the pavement" and "knocked on doors" and what do they say? Go to our website.

Even minimum wage, mall jobs won't hire you because you're 43, with no food service experience or waiting experience, and in this job market, there are so many people with experience in those jobs that employers don't even have to look at someone with no experience.

You've managed to get something short-term (less than a month) on average of every 3 or 4 months since 2008.

At this point, family and friends tend to think you're lazy. But when you work, no one works harder, longer and/or smarter than you do, because you love to work. Discouragement translates into lazy or given up to most people, it seems. They believe the bogus media stat of 9.1% unemployment (the incomplete U3 table) when the actual REAL unemployment rate is reflected in the U6 table, and it's closer to 17% which is higher than all but 2 or 3 years during the Great Depression.

And when you don't already have a job, it makes it so much tougher to get one, because you become stigmatized, a pariah, a jobless outcast of the underclass.

You're not a victim, because victims give up, and you haven't given up. You might try harder to find a job from one week to the next, but you've never given into despair...even with the threat of jail. If you get behind on your child support because of your lack of employment, the courts don't have much sympathy. And when you get behind by over two years, 24 mos, that's a six month jail term for each month missed. And the state, your ex, her family, and maybe even your kid, think you're a deadbeat because you can't find a job, much less a good one, like fully 20% of the workers in the USA (counting underemployed).

Five unemployed people for every 1 job opening. 1 out of 5 people able to work can't or are working at a low wage job they took to make ends meet, but doesn't come near covering their bills. And somewhere in that 1 of 5 also exists the guys who manage to find something short term every 3 or 4 months that pays minimum wage with no benefits.

But the wealthiest 1% don't have enough billions, so they want even larger tax breaks, they're not hiring anyone (job creators, your arse!) even though they've made record profits over the last 2 years, and this turns out to be some big power play to send you back to feudal times, where the poor and unemployed become serfs chained to the land. Or maybe the 1900s robber baron era, where you work dangerous jobs in unsafe conditions for little pay and no job security.

You chuckle when you consider you haven't been fired from a job since you were 16. But you've been laid off due to economic factors 8 times, or because you happened to go to work for another small business that didn't make it, and you showed up for work to a locked door and owed a check you never get. Or you chose the multi-national telecom corp that after you'd been there a year, had to lay off 90,000 in one day when the telecom bubble burst in '01. You thought you made good choices, but companies don't give you their financials when they hire you. Sometimes, they hire you just to get things in order before they shut down. You roll the dice on them as much as they do on you. Of course, when times get tough, they lay off workers before considering any other options. As the employee, you have no similar course to take when you hit hard times. Can't lay off your boss, can you?

No one ever said life was fair, but it isn't absurd to expect a break every now and then--an unexpected shot at something you know you can do but just haven't been given an opportunity to show your stuff. Just one chance, one shot, one foot in a door that isn't cracked or so heavy it crushes you.

To my fellow long-term unemployed, the 99ers: we are a sleeping giant that when awakened, will be a formidable opponent come election day. Don't vote Democrat. Don't vote Republican. They are both in on the fix. They are corporate owned entities doing the bidding of their ownership once elected. They don't care about us, so reward them come election day. Just stay away from the two dominant parties who put us in this mess with their greed and recklessness."
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Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

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