You’re unemployed and frustrated? Good for you


Have you ever applied for jobs so much, that you uncovered fraudulent activity pertaining to a major corporation you were applying to?

I have.

It was the summer of 2015.

I had just graduated from university with an Engineering degree, but despite the great projections for people with STEM-related qualifications in the job market, I was crazy anxious about  job prospects in my field of study.

You see, I am very Type A in my approach to handling major life milestones and tend to do things the ‘right way’ or at least what I and popular opinion around a given situation deem to be the ‘proper’ way of doing things.

So in typical Type A fashion, I had gone through the proper but strenuous process of applying for graduate jobs more than a year before I was supposed to graduate and all through my final year at university.

By the time I graduated, I had over a years’ work experience in industry (in the UK and abroad) and nearly a year’s experience as a research associate at a university abroad.

That’s basically 2 years of experience before graduating. On paper, who wouldn’t want to hire me?

Or so I thought.

In the summer of 2015, after over a year of Job-hunting, all I had to show for it were zero interviews from any Engineering companies and one interview from an audit firm.

I applied for jobs like my life depended on it that summer.

Searching for a job became a job in itself. It was my 9-5. When I wasn’t writing job applications, I was on the phone to job agencies.

My CV was on (and probably still is) every job search platform online and I was signed up to numerous job agencies, which did a great job of providing me with the most useless job listings.

I looked for a job anywhere one was to be found and when I look back to that time, I like to say that I prostituted my CV online. I still get job seeker emails till this day.

I eventually got a job offer from an oil and gas company after some telephone interviews and an unusually long and complex application process.

Success at last, but guess what?

The job offer turned out to be a scam.

In going through the whole process, I had uncovered a scam unknown to a major corporation and was able to provide them with useful information on people impersonating representatives of the company.

I think this was possibly one of the lowest points in my job search chronicles, as I remember putting a lot of work and hours into that particular application process.

This story ends well though.

I eventually got an entry level job that summer that has provided me with opportunities I couldn’t have imagined at the time.

So why did I tell you this story?

  1. I like to tell stories.
  2. To entertain you.
  3. To let you know that I understand the job seeker’s frustration, despite the seemingly outrageous title of this post.
  4. To illustrate clearly how much I wasted an opportunity that summer and why.

Wait. What wasted opportunity? You got a job in the end so it worked out, no?

Glad you asked.

The wasted opportunity was time. I wasted A LOT of time.

Nearly 3 years on; a job and 2.5 personal side projects later, I realise I was sitting on gold and didn’t know it.

What I am about to say is nothing new but humans are emotional and we can’t always easily override our emotional settings so I want to present this idea in a different way – in the most logical way I can.

I’ll treat it like a math problem. I’ll present all the variables and then work through the problem.

When I started working on personal projects alongside my day job, I realised that there were two resources I needed the most to progress them – Time and Money.

Employment and Unemployment is the difference between getting more of one or the other. When you’re unemployed, you have more time but less money and when you’re employed you have more money but less time.

I also found that the projects I worked on weirdly modeled the same pattern, which for simplicity sake, I will split into two phases and refer to them as the ‘Definition’ and ‘Implementation and Building’ phases.

The Definition phase involved a lot of researching, strategising, brainstorming, planning, doubting myself – quitting the project as a result of my doubts – encouraging myself –  resuming the project based on self-encouragement. The Definition phase is  for defining and establishing a scope and important attributes of a project. I needed a lot of time in the definition phase, but very little money in comparison.

Then I’d get into the implementation and building phase, where I’d translate everything scoped out in the Establishment phase, into a working model or significantly develop a rough model I’d created in the definition phase. I still needed a lot of time in the implementation and building phase, but the difference was my efficiency significantly increased.

I was able to achieve more in a shorter period of time, than I would have in the definition phase because I now had a significant part of my project established, and I knew exactly what I wanted. Hence, the resource that became even more limiting in the implementation and building phase was money. I needed money to clear that gap between establishing something and actually building it.

So given all the variables, let’s do the math.

But first, we’ll make some assumptions.

Anyone who studied maths all through school will know that at some point math problems become complex and sometimes require some assumptions to be calculated.

It’s no different here.

Assumption 1 – You have an idea or personal project you’ve been meaning to get started on, but haven’t had the opportunity to get round to in the past.

Assumption 2 – You have no dependents and have relatively low financial responsibility.

Assumption 3 – You’ve recently come into unemployment, whether it’s because you’ve just graduated from university, are in-between jobs or for whatever reason.

If Assumption 1 is true for you – You might not have a lot of money at your disposal and you will require a large amount of time to establish that project or pursue that idea.

If Assumption 2 is true for you – You can properly manage whatever feelings of inadequacy, uselessness or unhappiness that are attached to being unemployed, because in reality, there is no better time to be unemployed than now.

If Assumption 3 is true for you – You have time. A LOT of time.

It’s simple economics; Time is in demand and time is in ample supply – or maybe that’s not how it works, it just sounded cool to write.

Assumption 4 – You’re smart and you use this time to your advantage and progress your project, idea or interest.

If Assumption 4 is true for you – You will eventually get that job and have less time on your hands; but that’s okay because you’ll be way more productive with time since you’ve already laid out a lot of ground work during your time of unemployment and you’re a lot more confident about what your project needs. Besides, you now have more disposable income to really take your project to the next level.

Congratulations. You’ve solved the problem.

You’ve managed to take the best parts of Unemployment and Employment and made them work for your pursuits. You completely sidelined or at least reduced the impact of trying to balance time between a job and establishment of your personal pursuits.

You’ve seamlessly transitioned from a time-rich period to a money-rich period, whilst aligning the offerings of both ‘periods’ to the requirements of your pursuit.

So if I could go back to the summer of 2015, here’s what I’d do. As a recent graduate with no dependents and immediate financial obligations, I would work smart and totally productivity hack my unemployment situation, by working a retail job part time, whilst using the remaining time to look for employment in my degree and perhaps work on one of the 2.5 projects I’m working on now, or anything that called to me at the time.

This is easy to deduce in hindsight, but difficult to do for two reasons : Time and Mindset.

The job search process can often feel like a time critical activity for infrastructural reasons like  recruitment cycles or personal reasons such as feeling you should be at a certain place in your career at a certain time/age or watching your peers progress in their professional lives.

Consequently, some  people worry about diverting some of their available time to other things other than the job search itself.  But here’s a truth I learnt from over a year of job hunting – Unless you are the crème de la crème, (and given all the nuances of the recruitment and job search process), chances are you won’t have multiple job offers and will only have a maximum of two at any given time during your search (At least this is a truer statement for a recent graduate) . Yes, what I’m saying is after your 1005 applications, on average; you will probably end up with two offers on the table at a given time.

So here’s a strategy;

Dedicate job search time to organisations you actually want to work for and use the time you would have spent applying to organisations you aren’t very keen on, (I am guilty of this – we make job applications to some organisations just to feel better about our unemployment situation and  job hunt efforts as well as increase our chances of getting something – anything!) to pursue something that calls to you. Chances are, these companies will probably be one of the 1003 offers you don’t get since you most likely put less effort into these applications.

Balance is key in this situation (as it is all through life) and if executed properly, could potentially provide greater returns from a period of unemployment,  than just ‘securing a job‘.

Perhaps an even bigger barrier to achieving this balance is mindset. Job hunting can be really frustrating with everything from failed interviews, getting scammed to participating in the wackiest recruitment processes that leave you thinking wtf? – no seriously, I had an assessment centre once, where the company hired professional actors to act as unruly professionals and assessed us (applicants) based on how we interacted with these actors as clients. Who does that? I mean you can prepare for situational judgement questions, but how do you prepare for THAT?

Sometimes, the frustration could lead to unhappiness and we tend to do one of two things when we are unhappy about things that are in our control; we either wallow in self-pity under a false sense of doom or lend ourselves to obsessive behaviour aimed at removing the source of unhappiness (as I did in the summer of 2015). Either response limits the view of opportunities available as a result of that ‘unhappy’ situation and even when we are made aware of the opportunities and silver linings, we are unable to  truly pursue them.

I have no strategy for this as it’s something I struggle with personally,  but being in this ‘frustrated or unhappy’ state in itself, possesses a silver lining in the form of an opportunity to develop and hone the essential life skill of not just surviving tough situations but thriving through them.

And when all else fails and you are overwrought with emotion and the daily stresses of unemployment and the job seeker’s plight, I implore you to break down the situation like a math problem – Think objectively, understand all the factors at play – see them for what they truly are , know what they imply,  recognise the silver linings and majorly capitalise on them.

Words: Jennifer
PhotoTim Gouw on Unsplash

5 Replies to “You’re unemployed and frustrated? Good for you

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