In June, we asked you for your stories spelling out what it's like to be out of work for an extended period. The thousands of anecdotes you sent us offer a heart-rending glimpse of how Americans are coping with long-term joblessness during the Great Recession and its aftermath. The responses The Lookout has collected from Yahoo readers offer a portrait of out-of-work people who are smart, articulate, motivated, and resilient--a useful corrective to some of the negative stereotypes that too often shape perceptions of this huge group of Americans.
I was jobless for two years, from December 2008 to December 2010. I knew my number was up because in my job I was assigned 2 accounts (customers) and both of them went away. My company had been on a several year run of RIFs [reductions in force] and we all knew there was another one imminent. It was not a good time to lose customers, with managers walking the halls looking for people to lay off. I suppose there was karma at work--while in management positions within this same company I had to lay off half-a-dozen people myself.
For me the hardest part of the layoff was the loss of self-esteem. Most of us define ourselves (mistakenly!) by what we do. You go to a party and meet someone, and what's the first thing they ask? "So, what do you do for a living?" Saying I'm an unemployed IT manager sure sucks the life out of a conversation!!
As you lose self-esteem you lose your ambition. Like others have reported, over time I experienced the change in sleep habits. Imagine lying in bed in the morning and saying to yourself, "What's the point of getting up today? I won't be any more successful with my job search today than yesterday." It was very hard to not be discouraged to the point of giving up, and I felt that way a lot. But I kept at it. People who are close to me comment on my perseverance and persistence, and were especially impressed with my resilience in the face of so much rejection.
I kept abreast of all the current thinking on resumes and job searches, and edited my resume to take out all hints of age (I was 54-56 during my job search). Though my resume talked about a lot of varied experience, it had no dates other than my last 10 years of employment. That created a funny situation--I'm in the lobby of a major cell phone manufacturer, waiting for the hiring manager to come retrieve me for an interview. She came out, I was the only one in the lobby. I have a bit (okay, a lot) of gray hair. I look my age. She expected someone in his 30's, I guess. She tentatively called out my name and when I stood up, she was literally dumbfounded and speechless. To her credit she did at least continue on with the interview, and the rejection came via email weeks later. And that was when I started coloring my hair.