Working Through the Challenges of Unemployment
Being unemployed can be one of the most challenging experiences an individual faces in their lifetime. Put simply, unemployment is stressful (Anderson et al., 2001). Added to that stress are the hardships in seeking employment such as the ever increasing web of minimum qualifications that even entry-level positions require (Mulvey & Schramm, 2013). It is no wonder people experience anxiety and depression when unemployed (American Psychological Association, 2014). How can one not in this current job-seeking environment?
When even entry-level jobs and internships are difficult to obtain, new graduates often end up asking themselves: I have the degree, but how can I even get the job when employers require years of work experience that I don’t have? I’m losing hope.
To address this issue, we will first discuss the stress-related impact of unemployment and then move on to the topic of successful job search and employment.
Stress-related impact of unemployment? What is that?
We don’t have to read textbooks or analyze research to understand how emotionally and financially stressful unemployment can be—all we need is to experience it. What is important to understand is what the consistent research findings are on this topic. By doing this we can gain an appreciation of how many people experience stress from unemployment and realize we are not alone in our experience. Overall, the research available suggests that, across different countries, unemployment is associated with higher levels of depression and stress-related symptoms such as stomach aches and headaches (Anderson et al., 2001). Additionally, emotional and financial stressors associated with unemployment can lead to increased family conflict and suicide (Anderson et al., 2001).
I have encountered numerous people from all walks of life experiencing similar symptoms from unemployment. It did not matter where they were in their career; most experienced varying symptoms of anxiety and depression. In addition to anxiety and depression, some even experienced family conflict and marital discord. The message here is simple: unemployment affects everyone involved, from the person who is unemployed to their family, therefore it is important to get help as soon as possible. Fortunately, those who are unemployed are not alone and there is plenty of help available from medical doctors to treat physical symptoms of anxiety and depression to family, group, and individual therapists to treat psychological symptoms.
Ok, so how can I successfully look for a job and become employed?
Having the tools necessary to successfully obtain a job is an important step in getting employed. Coping strategies such as working on ways to save money and thinking about skills and qualifications can help to reduce the adverse effects of unemployment (Anderson et al., 2001). For example, if someone focuses on their skills and qualifications and makes a list of them, they can start to realize that there is a lot they can offer to potential employers and can become more confident about their marketable skills. A list of skills and qualifications can also enable job seekers to identify what skills they need to acquire or develop in order to stand out from the competition.
Another key factor in increasing your chances of successfully obtaining a job is spending more effort searching for jobs (Anderson et al., 2001). One study on university graduates found that active search behavior such as sending out résumés and having job interviews predicted their employment status after they graduated (Saks & Ashforth, 1999). Another study found that a 10 hour increase per week in job search intensity increased the re-employment probability of their sample by 20% (Barron and Mellow, 1981).
Networking is another important job search strategy (Anderson et al., 2001). A significant amount of unemployed job-seekers find employment through friends, family, and previous coworkers (Anderson et al., 2001). Networking can also serve to address the negative effects of unemployment by enabling the unemployed job-seeker to develop a social support network.
One can develop their social support network using several strategies such as joining social networking sites, volunteering, and searching for internships. For example, when I was living in northern California, I joined a volunteer group. A young man also joined the group and during one of our volunteer drives, he stated to the group that he was really financially stressed and was looking for a job. The young man was a compassionate person and a hard worker. One of the other group members stated that his father was looking for someone like him to be a cashier at his business and the young man was hired the following week.
When looking for a job, it is important not to lose hope and believe in your abilities. It is also important to work on developing new abilities and social networks to increase your chances to obtain a new job. By working together with your community, developing your job skillset, developing your social network, and keeping a positive attitude, you can help develop a positive social and professional identity for yourself. With hard work and persistence, you can achieve your goal of finding not just a job, but the right job for you.
American Psychological Association (2014). Psychological effects of unemployment and underemployment. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/about/gr/issues/socioeconomic/unemployment.aspx
Anderson N., Ones D. S., Sinangil H.K., Viswesvaran C. (2001). Handbook of Industrial, Work & Organizational Psychology – Volume 2: Organizational Psychology. 10.4135/9781848608368
Barron J. M., Mellow W. (1981). Changes in the labor force status among the unemployed. Journal of Human Resources vol. 16 (1981) p. 427–441
Mulvey T., Schramm J. (2013). Educational qualifications in tomorrow’s job market. http://www.clomedia.com/articles/educational-qualifications-in-tomorrow-s-job-market
Saks A. M., Ashforth B. E. (1999). Effects of individual differences and job search behaviors on the employment status of recent university graduates. Journal of Vocational Behavior vol. 54 (1999) p. 335–34