Five Things I’ve Learned about being Unemployed

1. A lot of people are out of work: This isn’t exactly news. But until you’re one of the folks desperately trying to find a job, you don’t understand how bad it is. Unemployment is at 9.1% nationwide and at 6.9% in Kansas. Those statistics are meaningless. It’s impossible to put them in perspective.

Here’s a number that brought it home for me: 75. That’s the number of applications received at every single job I apply for. Sometimes that number is as high as 100, and one job I tried for had 150.

Every time I apply for a job, I have to beat out at least 74 people. There’s bound to be some overlap, but it can’t be the exact same 74 people every time. Just how many people in my field are there in the Greater Kansas City Area looking for work?

2. Looking for a job is a full-time job: I’d like to spend some of this extra free time I have writing for myself. I’d like to blog every day, work on my memoir, and spend time researching agents and shopping my novel.

I don’t have time.

I spend my days scouring job boards for positions I’m qualified for. When I find one, I go to the company’s web site and research them. Then I look at the description carefully and craft a cover letter designed to show how my skills and experience match what they’re looking for. Sometimes they want writing samples, so I spend extra time looking through my clips to see what will best match the job criteria. I tweak my resume as necessary. Then I apply.

On days when there aren’t any prospects, I spend my time writing follow-up emails or making calls, trying to turn an application into an interview. If I do get the interview, I spend more time researching the company, spend the time at the interview, and then get home and write a thank you letter.

By the end of the day, I’m as exhausted as I would be if I were at a paying gig.

3. Unemployment insurance is not a handout: Once a week I file my weekly claim. After the one-week, mandatory waiting period (which ended up being two weeks for me, because my last day fell on a Tuesday instead of a Friday), I finally started getting payments.

They are less than half my weekly salary prior to getting laid off. I was barely surviving before. Unemployment insurance is not a viable long-term plan, and anyone who thinks people are just soaking up government money so they don’t have to work, hasn’t been unemployed.

4. You can live on less than you think you can, but you need more money than you think you do: From the moment I got notice from former employer I would be laid off, I instituted austerity measures. The only thing I spend money on right now is gas and food. And I’ve discovered that I can survive (at least in the short term) on less money than I had been.

But austerity only works as long as nothing else goes wrong. When my truck broke down, I had no choice but to get it fixed. Most of the jobs I’ve applied for are in Kansas City — at least a 25-minute drive away, sometimes farther. I have to be able to get to an interview.

So I can budget all I want for not spending on anything but gas and food. But sometimes you just have to spend money on something else.

5. Sometimes you get a second chance: At the beginning of this month, I found a job that would be perfect for me and applied. After a week, I sent a follow-up email. The hiring manager wrote back, saying she liked what she saw but could I send a resume?

As it happened, I had attached a second copy of my cover letter to the email application instead of my resume. Fortunately, what I had sent was good enough for her to want to see more.

When I sent a second follow-up email, she called to offer me an interview. After the interview, I sent a thank you email and offered to send some writing samples with it. She wrote back saying she would like to see any samples I wanted to send.

I got a second chance to apply. I got a second chance to impress her. Here’s hoping those second chances lead to a second interview.

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