A few days days ago, while moving to my second temporary housing in three months, the reality of my situation hit me suddenly, like horrible realisations tend to do. I’m a college graduate who’s finished nearly seven months without a permanent job. My roommate and I were carrying our stuff three blocks down the road, moving by ourselves since we’re too broke to hire a van or movers. I was dragging a suitcase by one hand and carrying a pillow, a purple stuffed elephant I call Dumbo, and, ironically enough, my graduation gown in the other.
I graduated in January as an international student in Singapore, and was naive enough to expect to get a job immediately. Now, seven months later, with a rejected work permit application for the job I did get and few signs of another job, I’m still living off my parents in a city with very high living expenses. I’m an unemployed college graduate, nearly broke, and living in an apartment with ten other people (and a dog whose existence my landlord refuses to admit to).
I could so easily panic.
Instead, walking down the road with my arms full of stuffed toys, pillows and graduation gowns, I found myself giggling at the ridiculousness of my situation. Singing sad songs to force myself into an appropriate melancholy didn’t work, so I gave up and planned this piece in my head instead.
Unemployment is hard. I wasn’t a bad student in college – I have decent grades, as many skills as a fresh graduate could be expected to have, and several (unpaid) internships on my résumé. My résumé doesn’t have any typos or grammar mistakes, my cover letters are all customised and enthusiastic, and I genuinely am enthusiastic about a lot of the jobs I apply for. Given the fact that a large part of the Class of 2012 of my university is also similarly unemployed, I can conclude that my lack of income is not entirely my fault for partying too much or skipping too many classes over the past four years. Yet, I spent most of my graduation ceremony feeling jealous of the students who talked about their upcoming promising careers and scoffing at the Dean when he mentioned a “close to 100% employment rate” in his oh-so-inspiring-but-actually-a-marketing-pitch speech.
So, since this period is hard for me and for everyone else going through a similar situation, I thought it was a good idea to compile a list of things I have found to be helpful. They help me to not panic and lose my mind, or feel so scared that I’m literally frozen and unable to do anything productive. I hope these “tips”, from one unemployed person to another, will help others in my situation. (Warning: these are not tips on how to get a job. I clearly don’t have the answer to that question yet.
1) Appreciate and celebrate the small wins. My roommate and I found housing on the last possible day – we were going to be homeless in another few hours. The room is cramped and has no windows, and we’re sharing a tiny bathroom with at least 5 other people, including two guys who don’t know how to aim. But still, it was a huge relief to have found a place to stay, and once we unpacked as much stuff as possible, put up our posters and bought a new bulb for my good-mood-lamp, the room is quite nice. So, though we’re both unemployed and interview-less, this small win helped us feel better. Appreciate the small wins, even when it feels like they have no real impact on your life in light of the big problems – the smallest wins help you be more positive.
2) Be positive. I know you must have heard this from a hundred different people in 27 different ways, but seriously, staying optimistic is the only way to keep at the bleak task of looking for and applying for jobs. I did a fairly good job of staying positive, even after the first company that made me a job offer called two days later to cancel said offer. But my sunshine-y outlook took a big hit the day my work visa application for my second (and nearly perfect) job got rejected. I sobbed on the phone to my mom for half an hour, bought a horrendously overpriced ticket home, and was on a flight that very evening. I spent three weeks at home as an absolute vegetable, doing nothing to help myself. I finally did snap out of it, but I lost a valuable month of job hunting and spent much more money than I could afford. Believing that something will work out if you keep trying will help you keep trying and hence make something work out eventually. Stay positive, even if the elusive “something” is taking longer to come along than you would like.
3) Do non-job-hunting things. I know it feels horribly guilty to enjoy a drink with some friends, especially when every beer at a bar can mean one less meal the next day. I know it feels worse to talk about non-job-hunting stuff, or to laugh and have fun (gasp!) when you don’t have a job. But you really, really need to take a break and enjoy other activities. My dad advocates going for a run – something about endorphins and adrenalin apparently make you feel better. As a criminally lazy person, I haven’t yet tested his theory, but it’s probably true. If running is your thing, go for it. Or go for a movie, or a drink, or a party (even better if it’s a house party with free alcohol!). Look for cheap/free options, such as a free movie night or a simple walk with a friend. Give yourself a break and do something that doesn’t require you to worry about your job.
4) Do something productive every day. It is so easy to spend hour after mindless hour watching an endless stream of Grey’s Anatomy episodes. They’re distracting, relaxing, and let you focus on some fictional character’s crappy life rather than yours. You start by promising yourself just a one hour respite, and before you know it, you’ve finished that season of Grey’s Anatomy and both seasons of Blue Bloods over three days.
Don’t get caught in this trap. Make sure you do something productive everyday – it’ll make you feel so much better at the end of the day. You have to, of course, spend several hours on the job hunt every day. If you reach the point where you simply cannot look at another job description, find something else to do. I spend several hours reading the news from different sources – makes me feel awesomely smart later! You could write something (rant about unemployment!). Or learn something – in the age of the internet, there really is no excuse for putting off that one thing you always meant to learn to do. In my experience, doing at least one good thing in a day significantly helps me not feel like a complete loser.
5) Find others. You are not alone in this. I know that talking to friends who have seemingly perfect lives is often a painful experience of jealousy, anger, and subsequent guilt, and can leave you feeling worse than before. Talk to them anyway. Blaming friends for having a better time in life is not acceptable. But at the same time, find people going through the same stuff. In my case, it helps that most of my friends are in the same workless situation. If yours are not, turn to the internet. There are countless blogs and websites where people have written about their unemployment, and it helps to know that you’re not the only one – someone else has felt everything you feel, and might be able to help through advice, tips or support.
But anyway, these are my top five tips, and I hope they help. If there is something crucially important that I am missing out on, please do let me know. Happy hunting!