The Employment Gap Survival Guide (Part 1)

This may be the land of opportunity, but looking for one is not as fun as it sounds; Sabbatical. Time Off. Soul Searching. Freedom.

Call it what you want. If you are in the club, you are essentially job searching, full time. And until you are in it, I think it’s hard to understand why it’s actually a very trying experience. As hard as it is to look for a job when you have a job, I think it’s fair to say it’s even harder when you DON’T have one.

Nobody likes hearing the word “NO”, the feeling of rejection, the sense that you are not good enough. Is this not why there aren’t more actors in the world? People don’t like the odds and the lack of positive reinforcement. I would say this is reason #1 why the GAP is not always a happy place.

For those of you currently in the chasm between your old job and your new, or for those searching for new opportunities while in an existing job, read on for the unabridged and yet incomplete survival guide.

GET COMFORTABLE WITH THE LANGUAGE

Whether you are in a job or not, it’s really freaking hard to articulate your situation. It feels weird because no one in this country is supposed to EVER be without a job. Because I mean, something has to be wrong with you if you don’t have one. I mean come on, Australian teenagers travel for a year after high school. Our kids get kicked out of the house if they aren’t contributing financially. Well, maybe not in this day and age, but you catch my drift, right?

I think what makes this whole situation even more uncomfortable is that in this country, our jobs and companies are so wrapped up in our identity. When you meet someone new the conversation goes something like; “What do you do? Where do you live?” and usually in that order. Early on I would get a little wiggly and my eyes would dart across the room not sure exactly how to answer that. I also felt uncomfortable because in New York it’s such a luxury to be able to rely on someone else from a financial perspective.

The reality is that whatever your story is, it has to be authentic to you and once you find your voice, putting it out there won’t sound so awkward and uncomfortable. Know that the more people you talk to, the more comfortable you will get. And this will help you uncover what that true story is for you, with an ability to tailor it a bit based on who you are talking to.

For fun, here are a few of my lines you can try on for size:

  • I’m a free agent
  • I pushed the re-set button on my career
  • It’s the first time I’ve taken time off since I was 17
  • I’m looking for my dream job (said with a sideways smile)
  • I’m trying to avoid a major mid-life crisis, so I’m taking time off now and am looking for a nice red sports car. (kidding)

YOU ARE NOT ALONE

There are so many people out there who have been in your shoes. It’s amazing how many people tell me stories about when they took time off. 8 months here, 10 months there. It happens! Bar none, most of them say it was the best thing they ever did.

It’s comforting to hear these stories, and know that you are not alone on an island. So get out there, talk to people and stay connected with those who can empathize and relate to you. It’s helpful to know that other people are going through a similar process as you. We all need sanity checks from time to time…and I caution you not to listen to any Celine Dion during this time, especially “All by myself”… 

BELIEVE IN THE KINDNESS OF OTHERS

For most people (myself included) the thought of “cold calling” – which these days is really cold “LinkedIn-ing” – is quite intimidating. I can understand how one would try to avoid this strategy at all costs. Between messaging overload, email explosions, countless demands, who wants another “spam” in their inbox? But Au Contraire. If nothing at all, the GAP has reminded me to never underestimate the kindness of others. I have been astounded at how many strangers have accepted my request to have a call, or answer a question. It is a path that can be fruitful. And not everyone will respond, but when it does happen, it will surprise and delight you, and it will only make you want to pay it forward.

I should say that there are certainly some tips on how to improve your chances of getting responses, and there are plenty of articles on this.

But simply put, here are my suggestions on “cold” emails / messages:

  • Connect on a personal level. If you can make a link to your experiences or values, go right ahead!
  • Add value, or offer to add value in your message. That could be anything from sharing an article to offering to make introductions to your contact list.
  • Keep the email short
  • Use a short but descriptive subject line

GET THOSE ENDORPHINS GOING

Boy are you gonna need those little puppies (yes, I see endorphins as being little rambunctious puppies running through your veins). Being in the GAP means you need mental toughness. You need some positive energy flowing through your veins, and you may need to get out some frustrations and aggression on a regular basis (not to scare you). So, whatever it is you like to do to get your blood going, make it happen.

Go to the gym, start an exercise routine, get a gym buddy if you can, and perhaps most importantly, get outside and smell the roses. I loathe the gym like the next person, but I must say that I’ve gone to the gym more often than ever, and it’s not because I have the time. It’s because I think it’s been critical to maintaining my mental health and positive attitude. And it also has a WEE to do with the guilt I feel going to the refrigerator more often than is necessary, since it is oh so close.

Another quick suggestion is to join the trend and grab an Adult Coloring Book. I have found them to be calming and a good break from staring at job descriptions on the computer. What’s even better is that I can then send these to people I care about when I’m done. 🙂

Lastly, I have found that a key to staying positive and feeling a sense of worth is to lend a helping hand (I realize this sounds so Oprah-ish). So whether you are helping others in their process, volunteering at your favorite non-profit or babysitting for your sister-in-law, it can go a long way in putting your situation in perspective. I’m super excited (and a little nervous) to say I just got accepted to be a “Big” with Big Brothers, Big Sisters.

JOIN THE CLUB AND GET SOCIAL

Give it a try. Sign up for your industry clubs as a source of networking, or other groups that have common interests. Go be among your peers, or the peers that you WANT to be yours. It’s a learning curve to figure out what makes sense to attend and where you will find value, but it is definitely worthwhile. Part of this strategy involves setting realistic expectations about what success looks like. No, you will not walk away with 5 job leads or 10 great contacts.

If you can walk away from an event with one contact that you end up reaching out to and building a relationship with, that is a GREAT return on investment.

In addition to attending networking events, set up coffee and lunch dates with your network and recruiters. Then ask them for suggestions on other people to meet with. I can not overstate the importance of the HUMAN CONNECTION here. The home office can be a lonely, lonely place so get off your butt and meet someone!

GET OVER IT: YOU WON’T HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS

I don’t mean to sound negative here, but seriously there will be no magic bullet. You won’t wake up in the middle of the night and say to yourself “AH HA – THIS IS MY DESTINY!”.

No, the process will be more evolutionary not revolutionary. You will see a job or a company that excites you and you will apply, and feel hope again. That will come and go, and then you will find another job or company that looks really interesting, and your search will veer in a slightly new direction. You will meet people that you want to be around and venture to see how you can make that happen.

My point is that the process is a journey and the road is not a straight line so it’s important to not be too hard on yourself. Most the time you may not feel like you know where you’re going and that’s ok. Each day you will get closer to whatever the Universe has in store for you. For me, it’s been about pushing hard on that gas pedal and not letting up. I believe that luck is where opportunity meets preparedness. Just keep on trucking, step by step, what feels right and fruitful and it will pay off in ways you never expected.

HAVE YOUR VICES ON HAND AT ALL TIMES

Part of the process means you will be on an emotional roller coaster ride. Things will be just fine, the sun will be out one day, and you will bask in all its glory. The next day BAM, it’s like you got smacked in the face. Sudden anger, frustration, disappointment – whatever – will hit and you will need to grab that chocolate, or glass of wine, or whatever else is your go-to when times are tough. Of course, if you have healthier choices like grabbing tea with a friend, I mean by all means. You are a better person than I. 😉

ENJOY THE JOURNEY

Here is where I probably have to listen to my own advice a bit more, but seriously take the time to enjoy the journey.

Travel, see friends, visit family, eat amazing food, go eat dinner at trendy restaurants at 5:30pm without a line because you CAN.

Dig deep in yourself and understand what truly makes you happy, what excites you, where you add value and figure out how to be still.

Like I said earlier, this isn’t the complete guide, but hopefully it’s a start. This process IS hard. It IS trying. But it’s also rewarding, if you open your heart and let it be.

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1 Comment

  1. Shigei

    Tosca, thanks for sharing! I appreciate your honesty. It is quite the journey. It’s wonderful having a group or community of people to share experiences and advice.

    Reply

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