We know their numbers. Roughly 25 million Americans, equal to the entire population of Texas, are unemployed, forced to work part-time, or have dropped out of the labor force entirely. But we don't all know their stories.
So the Atlantic asked our readers to share with us the one thing most people don't understand or appreciate about looking for work. Here are some of the most heart-breaking and illuminating of the scores of responses we received in the last 24 hours.
If you have something to add, you can leave your response in the comment section below or send a note to our private email account firstname.lastname@example.org.
"For those of us prone to depression, the job search can amount to a heroic effort"
The worst part will depend on your temperament and Myers-Briggs profile, but for an introvert (probably the majority of the unemployed), the worst part is the personal uncertainty: the virus of self-doubt triggered by job rejections, the effort to second-guess your personal dynamic with the hiring contact, the lack of a reality check as to why you didn't get even a rejection letter, the willingness to overlook any illegalities, the effort to convince yourself to get back out there and do better next time. The loneliness and social isolation, if your workplace even partly filled that need, if you have no family for moral support. For those of us prone to depression, the job search can amount to a heroic effort, even without dependent family members asking you the wrong questions.
"Your friends and family are going to wonder what is *wrong* with you."
As your job search drags on, even your friends and family are going to wonder what is "wrong" with you. Of course this is mostly motivated by sheer terror that they are going to be in the same position, despite their assurances that they are too smart or good at their job to be in your position. They may be right in some instances, but the upshot is that no one has real job security anymore, and it is devastating to many people to find out that they are totally disposable in a game they thought they could win. At least the currently unemployed know there is no winning anymore, just damage control.
"Don't use my name. I can't let Google search reveal I have an unlisted graduate degree."
Being long term unemployed, the most difficult and surprising problem is the uncertainty. Many routine decisions are complicated by the unknown. Contemplating relocation seems to rule out new romantic relationship possibilities. Can my car last five more years? Spend some money on home projects to get self productive and occupied OR save every dime? Take on acquiring a new professional skill even recognizing that payoff is relatively far off? Eliminate best credential from resume to remove "overqualified" from rejection reasons? All crucial questions with unclear answers. Don't use my name. I can't let Google search reveal I have an unlisted graduate degree.
"Yes, I've got a Masters, but I'll be a kick-ass assistant."
Maybe I'm overqualified, and yes, I understand that they're scared of hiring someone and training them and seeing them leave after six months; and that that process costs them money.
But particularly in this economy, do they not think that someone who's overqualified is applying for job because they NEED and WANT it? That they'll work that much harder because they're grateful for the job and the income, and that if they're overqualified, odds are they're smarter and harder working and more professional than the slackers you usually get applying to crappy jobs? Yes, I've got a Masters, but I'll be a kick-ass assistant. Because to get that Masters, I had to work my butt off and be organized and know how to manage time effectively.
"In one interview the questions were so few I found myself giving mini-monologues. In another, the interviewer could not stop talking."
Recently I had to deal with a couple of interviewers who asked none of the typical interview questions. In fact they didn't ask many questions at all. In one interview the questions were so few that I found myself giving mini-monologues to make sure she got a good picture of who I am. In another, the interviewer could not stop talking so I had to get in my story whenever she paused for more than 5 seconds. GAH! I couldn't wait to get out of there. She kept saying the same stuff over and over AND I swear to God at one point I thought I fell asleep.
I hate gimmicky interviews. Never been to one but I see them in the ads. I've seen ads asking you to come in and audition or they ask you to answer silly questions. They weren't even for creative positions. Recently saw one ad asking the applicant to answer why they are passionate about shipping and packing? Who the hell is passionate about shipping and packing.
Another thing that ticks me off are employers who demand you commit to them long term for 1 or 2 years yet they can fire you at anytime. No way.
"I want to work. I won't apply for a job I'm not serious about."
Employers never seemed to understand that if I was applying for a job, I wanted it. I can't tell you how many jobs I applied to where I was told, in my own follow-up from a non-response or rejection, "You were overqualified." "Or, we didn't think you were serious, given your education." I understand they don't want to lose me in three or six months, but I've got to eat and pay rent in the meantime. Not to mention I'm a darn good assistant and barista. Frankly, I probably would have stayed on in a part-time capacity in many "below-me" jobs if at all possible just for the extra help paying back student loans. I like to work. I want to work. And I won't apply for a job I'm not serious about.