Educated and Unemployed

This is a post that we needed to have on AOW. It’s about a subject that is not talked about often, and that even as strong, confident women, can still induce shame. It’s crazy really, but we wrap so much of our self-worth up in our careers, our jobs, that when we don’t have one, we seem to lose a part of ourselves. And then, to make it worse, we often transfer our feelings of failure onto other people, and believe that other people see us in this light too. Perhaps they do? Perhaps we’re all a little bit guilty of judging people by their answer to the question of ‘And what do you do?’. Perhaps it’s time for us to stop and rethink how we perceive people purely based on the job they’re doing (or not doing) right now. Alison has been really brave and honest here, and I think she deserves our thanks, for reminding us that we are interesting people, with valid opinions, regardless of our employment status.

I meet you. It doesn’t really matter where I meet you, perhaps you are a friend of a friend or a new doctor or a family member whom I haven’t seen for a while. Whoever you are, the situation is always the same when you hear about what has happened – is happening – to me. Your eyes become blank, your interest in me dulls and you no longer see me as worthy of your attention.

Most of the time I meet you in the mirror. Accusing eyes staring back at me, blaming me, listing the reasons why this is my fault. Failure, you shout, failure! Worthless, not contributing anything, useless. I try not to hear you and sometimes I succeed. Yet often, especially when I am alone, your voice becomes overwhelming and it is all I can hear.

I never thought this would happen to me. I am young, intelligent, well educated, hard working. Surely unemployment happens to other people? Last year I was injured in a hit and run accident and was later made redundant whilst on sick leave. The circumstances of my redundancy were dubious but my job had been making me miserable for a long time so I decided to take the redundancy pay and leave without a fight. I thought that I would make the best out of a bad situation. I took a little time off to carry on with my recovery and then seriously started looking for work from September last year. I tried not to be naive, I knew it wouldn’t be easy but I didn’t expect it to be this hard.

I used to dread going into work and would count down the minutes from Monday morning to Friday evening. Now I am starting to dread the days again because I know each day is an endless round of job hunting, applications, rejections, no responses, interviews, rejections. And so on. I am trying to break into a different sector, one which would make me feel fulfilled and I know I could be a success at. Of the three interviews I have been to, the feedback has all been the same – no negatives, very impressed, down to the last two, went with the candidate with direct experience. I need someone to give me a chance to get experience but it seems that I need the experience to get a chance – circular reasoning of the most unfair kind. I feel as though I am falling into a dark pit of despair from which I have no chance of escape.

I know I need to persevere. I have no choice but to persevere when all I want to do is curl up in a ball and hope for a miracle. I don’t want to meet new people, I dread being asked the ‘and what do you do?’ question. Or, upon discovering my situation, have people ask me what I do all day. Nothing, their underlying implication seems to be, probably lazing around watching daytime television. Liar, I want to shout at the implication, you are being unfair! But no matter what I am doing, it seems that because I am not working then my days are worthless and my activities are of no value.

Whilst I believe that work can be valuable, I don’t believe that work is intrinsically valuable in itself. The view that we live to work is one that seems to have become increasingly pervasive. I don’t want to get a job in order to make my existence feel meaningful. I wish to work so that I can contribute to the household, so that my husband doesn’t shoulder all of our financial burdens alone. So that we can one day buy a house and so that we don’t have to dip into our savings. I want to not panic at how much our food shopping costs and to not worry about paying our bills. I would love to stop the panic that is creeping up on me, the sadness and the anger. Perhaps most of all, I desperately want my husband to be able to treat himself again and not to see every penny of his earnings disappear in order to keep us afloat. As well as financially, he keeps me afloat emotionally and buoys me up when I am feeling down. He is my emotional anchor, my calm in the storm and my teammate in a world which sometimes feels cruel.

Looking in the mirror, in those dark moments when I am alone, I feel a deep sense of despair and failure that I cannot seem to achieve what should be so simple. I take a deep breath, shrug my shoulders and try to shake it off before it overcomes me. Looking at my wonderful husband, feeling the warmth of the roof over my head, using my once again fit body to train for a half marathon – I take stock of what I do have and I feel lucky. I see the value in my life and I remember that many people have far less than I do. When the darkness tries to envelop me, I keep my eyes as wide open as possible and embrace the light.


Categories: Life Experience, Money and Career
57 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Posted March 26, 2013 at 7:25 am | Permalink

    I could have written every word of this, every single word, and all I can say is thank you for writing it. Hang onto the good things, remember how amazing you are, and never give up. Something will come, eventually. When your belief in yourself falters, lean on the belief that your friends and family have in you.

    K x

    • Alison
      Posted March 26, 2013 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      Thanks for your comment – I was a little nervous about this being posted! Your words are so kind, as you obviously know this is a tough time but I am trying my best to be positive. I am usually a glass half full kind of person…I just wish the glass would hurry up and fill right the way to the top!

      • Posted March 26, 2013 at 10:58 am | Permalink

        I completely understand, part of why I hate this being unemployed is that I feel it’s slowly stealing away the person that I am. I’m usually an optimist, and a fighter, and I feel like this is dragging me down, and changing the way I see things. But I think you have entirely the right idea, hold onto the things you do have, revel in the feeling of training your body. You’re doing brilliantly!

        K x

        • Alison
          Posted March 26, 2013 at 11:53 am | Permalink

          I know exactly where you are coming from and I am trying my hardest not to get swallowed up in feeling miserable about this situation. That is a fight in itself and then there is a fight to get a job on top of that! Exercise really helps and has made a huge difference to my self esteem – it makes me feel like I have accomplished something on even the worst days. And so many people do have it far worse off than me, I am lucky in so many ways and I try to remember that when I feel down. I wish you all the best in your search too!

  2. Posted March 26, 2013 at 7:36 am | Permalink

    Isn’t it talked about often? I think it’s dangerous to perpetuate that myth, and I’m not sure it is so hidden anymore anyway – at least not in my admittedly narrow experience. Unemployment stands at about 2.5 million at the moment, and that doesn’t go halfway to cover the people who are struggling with work at (or below) minimum wage – a tick in the box for government stats maybe, but a hugely upsetting and challenging situation for many. So many of our peers are in these sorts of situations, redundancy, unemployment, re-training, low wage, compromising on the dreams we were told we could fulfill. Where is the shame? Is it in the heads of idiots, and in the voices of our own inner-critics? Mainly, yes. This is a social disease. The bigger it gets and the longer this economic f**k-rut goes on the more we’ll get used to “people like us”, our friends, our family, ourselves being put in this situation, the more I hope we’ll start to wipe away that horrible stigma.

    Alison, it sounds like you’re managing really well. You’re taking control of your situation and moving into something new, which is not only brave but sensible. I hope it’s giving you some sense of driving your own destiny again, in spite of it being such a tough and thankless task at the moment. I’m not going to patronise you by saying don’t be disheartened, and I won’t say never give up because I know you feel that isn’t an option. It’s a treadmill you’re on and you’ve no idea when you’re going to be lifted off it, and that might be one of the hardest things you ever have to do. I wish you all the luck and strength in the world. Just go for it, and remember why you’re you. Don’t lose yourself. Take joy in the people around you and the person you are. Your life is not on hold, you are living it now, and you are doing brilliantly.


    • Posted March 26, 2013 at 9:24 am | Permalink

      I totally agree with Penny. On all of it. And I have a rant about how women being unemployed and it being hidden numbers because of thier husbands/partners is part of our low unemployment figures and part of the further reduction in womens status in society but it needs ironing out and feels like it would not help you.

      But this is such a common thing for me to see. I know people taking really junior jobs because at least it is a job. I know so many people who just keep being made redundant through no fault of thier own and I know how not feeling like you can contribute can feel like it is soul destroying.

      But like Penny says “Don’t lose yourself”. And like Anna says below please, if you feel you can, can you share what sector it is that you want to get into? Maybe one of us can help?

      Good luck x

    • Alison
      Posted March 26, 2013 at 10:02 am | Permalink

      Thanks both of you – having been unemployed for a while now, I feel a little naive as it really isn’t something that I expected to happen to me and certainly not for this long. I don’t have friends or family who are unemployed (unless through choice) and, now that I am, I can see/feel the stigma that is attached despite the numbers involved. I can barely even read the news anymore because nothing I read makes me feel more positive.

      I used to work in financial executive search and research – a job that paid decently but was very stressful (I could never clock off – used to get up at 2am to work sometimes!) and made me miserable. Now I would like to do something that makes a positive impact on other people so I’m trying to break into charity fundraising (corporate/major donor/research) – without prior experience, which makes this difficult unfortunately. I think it would be a great fit and something I could be a real success at but how to get work without direct experience? Any help/advice much appreciated. Thank you!

      • ClaireH
        Posted March 26, 2013 at 10:09 am | Permalink

        Alison, I have a friend who does charity fundraising. Not sure if it’s corporate/major donor – possibly more trusts and grants, but if you want to email me then I can put you in touch with her and hopefully she might have some helpful advice. My email is


      • Gwen
        Posted March 26, 2013 at 10:48 am | Permalink

        Ah, the charity sector. I also did that – worked in recruitment and HR and finally moved sideways, but it took a lot of short term crappy jobs, and volunteering.
        I would definately suggest volunteering. If your volunteer centre doesn’t have fundraising assistant positions, then perhaps contact charities directly. I’d probably suggest contacting smaller organisations, as they tend to be able to offer broader experience.
        Have you thought about trying to move into an admin role in a charity, as an admin or finance assistant, or as a HR assistant? Charities are not great paid, especially lower down the salary scales, but I found that admin was a really helpful way of gaining knowledge, and moving sideways and upwards. I think a lot of charities will understand if you say that the corporate world is not for you!

        • Posted March 26, 2013 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

          Not for profits were one of the most frustrating niches of my job search. My dream job has been working with a not for profit and contributing somehow to fundraising initiatives, something I did part time in university and I’ve been pretty involved in a lot of volunteer initiatives. It’s where I focused my job search for months after graduation but it was the hardest place to even get an interview, let alone a position.

    • Posted March 26, 2013 at 10:56 am | Permalink

      On the one hand I think you’re right P, that it is more and more prevalent, and that more and more people we know are struggling. That said, I still think there is a stigma attached and it is very hard to talk about it. Personally I find it incredibly hard to tell people how difficult I am finding things at the moment, how some days I simply can’t get out of bed, how I just weep for hours, how worthless and hopeless I feel. I feel like there’s social pressure to handle unemployment stoically and cheerfully, because I feel that a lot of people I know don’t understand how hard this is, and I don’t blame them because 6 months ago I didn’t understand either. That’s why posts like this are so amazing, and why you’re so right, we need to stop it being a stigma because it’s not going away overnight.

      K x

      • Posted March 26, 2013 at 11:19 am | Permalink

        There absolutely is still stigma attached, my point was that it’s making less sense for this stigma to exist as unemployment is everywhere and affecting so many people. I believe that a huge part of the problem is in our own minds (an issue in itself) and, sadly, the narrow/ignorant minds of people who don’t matter.

        It’s increasingly less taboo to talk about being unemployed these days, to be made redundant or unable to find work after studies, what IS taboo, as you quite rightly say, is the psychological impact and – really -the mental health issues arising from dealing with this day in day out. That’s a separate issue, and an enormous one. Where is the support? Who do you talk to who understands what you are going through? Unemployment is a horrifically isolating experience whether you experience it for five months or five years. And, quite right, people who haven’t been there don’t understand fully, it’s hard to get that support even from your loved ones at times. What’s the solution? I had two nasty bouts of depression during three years of un or underemployment, I volunteered for a mental health charity where I saw the effects of unemployment on the minds of others, I definitely don’t have answers, only more and more and more questions. What I can say, categorically, is that it isn’t fair, and you do deserve better, and that you will get there because that is who you are – even if you can’t see it now because this situation is draining you – that is who you are. It’s who you were yesterday, it’s who you are today, it’s who you will be tomorrow, times ten. And I have absolute faith in that.


  3. Posted March 26, 2013 at 7:39 am | Permalink

    Alison, this is a brilliant post. Thank you so much for writing it. We are all guilty of making assumptions about people based on the work they do or not do, but what I find really interesting here is the desire you have to contribute, to earn, to help pay your way. I think people get so wrapped up in a job, are you doing what you love, are you making the most of yourself, that they forget that sometimes that feeling of contributing is the most valuable of all.

    What is the sector you are trying to break into? Perhaps one of our readers can help.

    I wish you all the luck in the world. You clearly interview strongly and have the perseverance needed for any work. You’ll be incredible at the next job you find and any employer will be lucky to have you.

    • Alison
      Posted March 26, 2013 at 10:11 am | Permalink

      Thanks Anna – and thank you for posting it, I was a little nervous sending it in! I hope that in the past I have never judged anyone based on what they do but it certainly gives me pause for thought, as I am sure on some level we all do that. Now, due my own experiences, I know that who a person is on paper is not indicative of who they are as a person. Amongst other things, at least unemployment is teaching me more about compassion than I ever learnt in my old city job.

      I have been trying to move into a sector (charity fundraising) which I feel passionately about but I am so longing to contribute again that I am beginning to wonder when enough is enough – how long do I keep going? The answer is that I have to keep going in one direction or another and it’s tough to keep positive all the time. The comments here have buoyed me up this morning and brought a smile to my face so thank you!

  4. Posted March 26, 2013 at 7:40 am | Permalink

    “I knew it wouldn’t be easy but I didn’t expect it to be this hard.”. It’s funny how a while ago I wrote about this exact same topic and named the post the same: ‘I never thought it would be easy…but I didn’t expect it to be this hard.’

    I am right there with you. I have to scientific degrees that took lots of work and time. I have been busy with internships. In these 3 years and a half I have not stopped applying. Just last week I heard I did not get a PhD position that was a perfect fit both with my studies and my experience (working with cows, in reproduction, both subjects that fascinate me), and I was told I was among the best 3. It’s not the first time I get that feedback

    How are we supposed to get experience if no ones gives us a chance, takes a risk on us?

    In the meantime I had ben working (in the tourism industry) until last September, and I thought I *could* maybe use this as an opportunity to finally work in my field.

    A few weeks ago, in desperation, I went to several placement agencies, to look for anything, maybe customer service (I am after all, fluent in 4 languages), and I understand quite well another 2.

    I just don’t get it (but speaking with a Professor at a lab I used to intern… even for research technician positions they get applicants with PhDs !!!).

    And all the jobs at environmental NGO’s are aimed at people who studied communication and have management experience (I know I am perfectly capable of doing all those things, but they want to see it on paper).

    Anyhow like Katielase says, never give up and count on your family and friends. We will make it. It’s not us, it’s them. (That has helped me a lot, understanding that I am not a failure, that it’s this circumstances that are out of our control).

    And enjoy and discover yourself… maybe explore other sides of you that you did not even know were there or that you never dared to take seriously. We’re rooting / cheering for you.

    • Alison
      Posted March 26, 2013 at 10:23 am | Permalink

      Hi Amanda – I am off to read your post in a minute, thank you for adding the link! That’s part of the reason that I sent this post in – despite the huge numbers of unemployment in the UK, it is not something I have had exposure to personally and certainly didn’t expect to be in this position for a prolonged time myself. It makes me feel desperately isolated at times, especially being on my own during the day, so I thought that there must be others feeling the same way.

      It is hard to know how long to persevere with the field I have been applying in – when does the need for a job, any job, become such that I have to give up on my dream? And all the time that I am applying, I worry about the gap on my CV becoming longer. I am now 27 and I want the next move on my CV to make sense so that I start heading towards a long term career. I am trying to think long term but our short term needs are becoming more pressing every day. It is hard to know what the right move is. As you say, I need someone to take a chance on me – how can I get an opportunity if no one will give me an opportunity?

      I wish you all luck in the world as well – I very much hope you get the opportunity you want soon. Rooting for you too!

  5. Jess F
    Posted March 26, 2013 at 8:28 am | Permalink

    Alison, this post almost made me cry. You write so fluently and powerfully about the feelings of self-worth, self-esteem and motivation that we derive from our own ideas/values and of other people’s perception of us and our work situations. I hate the idea that people’s interest in you dulls and eyes blank you when they discover you are not working. I hate that this ‘voice’ carries over for you even when you are alone. And yet! and yet! How brave and positive you sound. How fiercely committed you are to find the life you want, to ‘stop the panic’ and how you have overcome your (horrible, horrible hit and run- that would be a post in itself I feel- physical accident to move forward and train for a half-marathon. Keep going, keep going- I am another one joining in to say we are rooting for you. Thank you for sharing with us.

    • Alison
      Posted March 26, 2013 at 10:36 am | Permalink

      Thank you, I have been in tears more than once myself during this period of unemployment. The ironic thing is that I never thought that I was a person whose identity was tied up in my job, probably because I didn’t identify with my last job on a personal level at all, but now that I am not working I can feel my self esteem being chipped away everyday. Sometimes it is a struggle to hold my head up high but I try to be positive – luckily my disposition usually is on the sunny side!

      The hit and run was awful, I was hit by a motorbike whilst crossing the road – the driver stopped for two seconds (presumably to check I wasn’t dead) and then drove off. The police couldn’t identify enough details to catch him. And it was five/six weeks before my wedding last year! The doctor advised me to cancel/postpone, which I wasn’t doing (we were getting married in Italy and everything was booked), but luckily I had a wonderful physio who really helped me so everything could go ahead as planned. I was on crutches until the day we flew so, all things considered, I was very lucky! Or unlucky for the whole thing depending on how you look at it… I used to run a lot before the accident and had to take five months off before I could get back into it. As an aside, running has been wonderful thoughout my unemployment, not only does it help me destress but it really makes me feel like I have achieved something during my day. If I run for 10 miles, I feel I can take on the world!

  6. Posted March 26, 2013 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Powerful stuff, especially on the “well, it was down to the last two so….” phenomenon. Advice in this situation must make you want to scream, so I won’t proffer any, just thanks for talking about it. This will be me in a few months time, most likely.

    PhD, MA, fluent in two foreign languages, extensive volunteering experience- will I be able to find employment? Probably not. The last position I applied for, over 400 others also sent in applications- presumably among them people with two or three post-docs behind them. @Amanda- it doesn’t get much better with a PhD, from looking at the situations of friends. The inflation of applicant standards caused by lack of positions goes all the way up the chain- a supposedly entry-level job is still a precious post for those with more letters after their name, but still no employment.

    The thing I have been thinking is… are we (people with passion for a particular job we’ve worked hard to qualify for) being naive in holding on for employment in that area? I think our generation were genuinely told “You can be anything you want to be” and we believed the teachers and parents who told us- we thought if you worked hard academically and acquired enough transferable skills the jobs we dreamed of would be ours. As you observe, Alison, a lot of the shame of failure is linked to this idea of “live to work not work to live”- so much self worth is attached to jobs- but what happens when it all falls down?

    • Posted March 26, 2013 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      “Are we being naive for holding on for employment in our area?” is also a question I have asked myself a lot…

      like I wrote… already 1 year and a half ago:
      ” I always thought we should fight for what we want. I was taught that if you do what you love, if you do your best, the opportunities will come, that it was possible to love your job, to do what you like, that you should not limit your dreams. Maybe I am living in fantasyland. Maybe it is stupid to keep hoping to work in my field of study. When do I fix a deadline? Until when should I wait? When do I go on and take some office job, unrelated to anything I ever dreamt or wanted?. I wish I had a magic ball, I wish I could see the future, I wish someone would tell me when or how this will end. I wish I could know that if I wait long enough I will get there. Or that no matter how long I wait, it won’t happen. I do not mind working a “different” job, though there is a part of me that feels it would kill my soul, and I feel like I am dying a bit already. What also scares me of taking an unrelated job, is that that would mean less experience in my field. It feels like if I do that I would be doomed for my whole (professional) life. But this is real life. This is growing up right?”

      And I am very much aware that adding titles / over education can sometimes be regarded as a drawback (employers are afraid you will leave out of boredom.) This is the situation of some of our close friends, too. The “you’re overqualified” excuse has also been used on me. So when it’s not the lack of experience / publications, I know too much.

      In the meantime though. I have been discovering / paying serious attention to other passions I always had but I never took seriously because I was going with all my might, energy and time into my field of study.

      So there are silver linings, but, like Allison, I want to be able to: “contribute to the household, so that my husband doesn’t shoulder all of our financial burdens alone….”. And yes, I know we contribute in many other ways, but I have had to fight myself on feeling like a “social parasite”. Like what we do (even if it does not bring money to our account) is valuable.

      • Alison
        Posted March 26, 2013 at 10:47 am | Permalink

        You are right Lucy, the last two phenomenon does make me want to scream! Of the interviews I have had, I have no negative feedback whatsoever which, whilst good in some ways, doesn’t leave me with any sense of where I can improve. As I mentioned to Amanda above, it is difficult to know how long I should persevere with this. Sometimes I think I should just settle but I can’t quite bring myself to do that yet – I am well educated, intelligent, good transferable skills etc so surely I must be an asset to some employer? Perhaps I am still being naive? I don’t want to be unduly optimistic but even the realist in me says not to give up just yet.

        Wishing you all the best as well Lucy – I really hope you get a job in your chosen field.

  7. anon
    Posted March 26, 2013 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    I agree with Penny that so many people are unemployed or in fragile and low paid employment now and that it is a growing trend. Its why lots of people who hate thier jobs feel they should just be grateful to have one when so many of thier peers don’t.

    Since 2008 all my career choices have been made not through choice (so not career choices really) but to avoid being unemployed. As the bigger earner in my household if I lose my job we’re both screwed financially. I’ve jumped before I could be made redundant three times. In all three cases that job no longer exists, in one the department no longer exists, in another the organisation no longer exists.

    In 2008 I was so lucky to be doing a job I loved but after the last five years I’m taking doing a job I hate a lot of the time because it is permanent and, for the time being at least, unique and key to my organisation functioning. Though I reckon my particular post has maybe 2 – 5 years maximum of existing if we keep being in this recession.

    My husband was unemployed for a bit because he wasn’t lucky like me to graduate just before the recession hit, and therefore he found it so hard to get started and he’s so scared of being unemployed too.

    The getting experience problem keeps growing. To get back into what I love, I’d be up against people with my level of seniority in my old field who have lost thier jobs. I’d be taking a £10,000 pay cut, so would they but in most cases they just need the work. In this environment, seeing so many smart, talented, amazing people struggle to find work, we keep our jobs and try not to complain when we hate them, or when they bit by bit destroy our confidence because at least we have them. Being unemployed, not being able to do my part of being the larger earner, putting all that weight on my husband’s shoulders is my worst nightmare so I stick it out.

    I really hope you find work soon, and I really hope it is something you love. And, if you can say the sector then do, because as Anna K says up there someone in this community could be able to help you out. If I can I will, you are living in the situation I have been trying to avoid for five years and if it feels as bad as I fear it does then if I can help let me know.

    • Alison
      Posted March 26, 2013 at 11:02 am | Permalink

      Thanks anon – I wish you all the best as well. I was miserable in the job that I eventually got made redundant in but never dared quit as I was scared of the exact same situation I am in now. I used to dread going in and could never clock off as I was expected to be on call all the time. I do believe that my redundancy was under questionnable circumstances but I decided to see it as a positive and try to make the best of it. It is a difficult path I am on now, I have no idea where it will end and where I will end up. However, I do thank my lucky stars every day that I am no longer working in that job – this is my cloud’s very silver lining! I too was the larger earner but my husband hated seeing me so stressed from my job so he is supporting me on my journey to find a new, hopefully better, one. It is not easy though, I hate how now he has all the financial burdens and worries, I hate how I’m not contributing anything, I hate how he can’t treat himself at all so we can stay afloat. I hope you do manage to avoid this situation but I also hope you do end up in a job you love and enjoy doing.

  8. ClaireH
    Posted March 26, 2013 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Oh Alison – as Katie said, just a big heartfelt yes to every word you’ve written above, thank you so much.

    Like you, I didn’t really enjoy my last job but I didn’t realise how different unemployment would make me feel after my redundancy. I also began to hate each day of endless searching and applying and as you said, I dreaded telling others about being unemployed so would try and find ways around explaining it to try and prevent the judgments that I assumed they would have. I was so afraid of what my parents and Chris’ parents would think of me. I found motivation and willpower a real struggle – time seemed strangely elastic and although I knew I had been applying for jobs/doing chores all day, rather than watching TV, I felt as if I hadn’t achieved things.

    I don’t know if either of the following are an option for you or if you’ve already tried them, so apologies if I’m telling you anything you already know. Firstly, I eventually started going to a local job club, which wasn’t anything to do with the job centre and met on a Monday morning. Although most people were about 10-15 years older than me, it really helped me to feel less alone and gave me that connection with people that I realised I really missed. Despite being so scared the first time I went, it was a really supportive environment and everyone was happy to share ideas,celebrate good things and support each other through bad. There’s a list of job clubs here so there might be one near you (

    Secondly, like you, I was also lacking in direct experience in the field I was trying to move into (managing social housing) so I was trying to find voluntary work in anything related – homeless shelters/charities, local Citizen’s Advice Bureau or YMCAs. To be honest, I found this harder than I thought – there wasn’t much out there that was relevant and they could be very slow to get back to you, even if just to say they had no space at the moment. I’m not sure if there’s anything relevant to what you want to do but you can search volunteering opportunities near your postcode on the Do It website ( I was also considering writing directly to individuals at organisations I was interested in to ask for a meeting to learn more about what they did/how to break into the sector and then try and see if they would take me on for work experience for a couple of weeks or could think of anyone who might, just to try and build connections in a sector where I knew no-one. However, I never worked up the courage to do this, so can’t tell you how well (or otherwise) it went.

    I can’t really add much to what you and others have written about above re staying strong and how our value definitely doesn’t lie only in what we are employed to do. You are doing so well, even though I know there are times when it really won’t feel like that – as Katie said, in the tough times we have to lean on others and accept their help. Not really sure how to end this comment, but know that I am sending you lots of supportive thoughts and a hug.


    • Posted March 26, 2013 at 10:04 am | Permalink

      Claire, you should definitely do that.
      Any volunteering is good. I think doing Brownies helped me get my job in energy/environment stuff even though it is completely unrelated. :)

      • Posted March 26, 2013 at 10:28 am | Permalink

        I was going to suggest volunteering as well but not even necessarily for job-related experience. When I was unemployed I volunteered in a charity shop and a tea room. Neither gave me anything that helped getting a job but they got me out of the house and feeling valued. Having that boost to think that you’re actually helping someone and they appreciate what you are doing makes all the difference when you’re feeling rejected and depressed about jobs. Best of luck, I hope things improve xx

        • ClaireH
          Posted March 26, 2013 at 10:38 am | Permalink

          True, there’s definitely a case for just getting out of the house/flat and interacting with others! x

          • Alison
            Posted March 26, 2013 at 11:15 am | Permalink

            Thanks all for the advice – Claire, I will pop you an email this afternoon as I would very much appreciate being put in touch with your friend. Describing time as elastic is very fitting, the days seem both very short and very long, all melding into one. I am starting to feel like Cousin Violet on Downton Abbey – ‘What’s a weekend?!’

            I am looking at volunteering as I would like to get out of the house and do something positive. I have been trying to find something relevant to the field that I want to get into but these all seem to be long term commitments/interships of 3/6+ months. Besides not wanting to overpromise myself to a charity (whom I realise rely heavy on the commitment of volunteers), I can’t afford to take 3+ months out of job hunting nor can I afford to not be working in six months. Something part time would be great though, so I am keeping my eyes open.

            I hope you managed to find something you enjoy doing now? Thanks for the support, all these kind words have really made me feel better about the whole situation!

  9. Posted March 26, 2013 at 10:00 am | Permalink

    I’m a recent graduate and I think this is beginning to hit a lot of my peers.

    There’s a real split between those who got ‘the’ graduate job (and aren’t they wonderful… ha), those doing free work experience or unpaid internships just to get something on the CV, those temping or doing anything to earn them a bit of money (Saturday jobs, anyone?) and those holding out for the joy.

    We’re constantly told in this environment that it’s tough. And it is. You can hold out or you can just do something. And if you hold out you might get something eventually.

    Companies are growing, things are coming back in. You may be lucky. I got an internship in my dream position, and it’s paid. So for the next few months I’m doing OK. After that it’s back to applications and hoping that we don’t have to live off that ‘future house deposit’ bank account!

    I can add nothing else. Just know you are by no means alone, you are strong and perseverance WILL be enough eventually. Or, you know, to some people earning from part-time in Boots is enough to give them that feeling of contributing and financial help enough that getting the other job, the dream job, is easier. It’s an option.


    • Alison
      Posted March 26, 2013 at 11:22 am | Permalink

      We’re in the same situation of not wanting to touch our house deposit savings – we live in London and, like everyone living here, buying a house sometimes seems like an unattainable dream so we were saving hard for that. I really really really don’t want to touch our house deposit – I want to be moving forwards not backwards.

      Good luck in your internship, I hope it goes really successfully for you!

  10. Cat B
    Posted March 26, 2013 at 10:18 am | Permalink

    Alison – I’m head of major fundraising at CLIC Sargent (children’s cancer charity). I’m currently on maternity leave but have worked in the sector for the last 10 years and have lots of contacts. My head of major donors is currently recruiting for a major donor researcher. Do you want to get in touch and I’ll offer advice where I can? My email is and if you’re London based I’d be happy to meet for a coffee(baby in tow!!) and see if I can help in any way. Xx

    • Alison
      Posted March 26, 2013 at 11:25 am | Permalink

      Thanks, that would be great! I’m London based (live in SW London) so a coffee would be fantastic. I will pop you an email this afternoon with my details and to arrange.

      • Cat B
        Posted March 26, 2013 at 12:40 pm | Permalink

        Great – I look forward to being in touch. :)

        • Posted March 26, 2013 at 2:56 pm | Permalink

          I so hope this works out, and at the very least gives you some great contacts Alison – thanks Cat B. I bloody love this community! Xx

          • Rowan
            Posted March 26, 2013 at 4:21 pm | Permalink

            I agree – this is brilliant. Well done team AOW for bringing such generous likeminded people together!

            • Cat B
              Posted March 26, 2013 at 7:08 pm | Permalink

              We’re definitely going to meet and hopefully I can help in some way… I know how hard the voluntary sector can be to break in to and although it’s not right, so much recruitment is done through contacts and informal chats, ‘coffee’ etc. So much is also down to luck and so it’s great to be in a position, to hopefully, help others, as it’s a great sector to work in and could do with more people like Alison! This is also why I love AOW – it’s an amazing community. x

  11. Fran M
    Posted March 26, 2013 at 10:19 am | Permalink

    You’re remaining strong, rational and really positive, in an amazingly hard situation – please, don’t lose sight of that.

    I’ve only been in a similar situation for short periods of time (i.e. a month at the most), and that was tough, so respect to you for ploughing on and remaining sane. I know that feeling like you’re living in a different world to ‘everyone else’ (whether that be through unemployment or depression) is a dull, dark, confusing place to be.

    Your half marathon training sounds like a great project (the routine of running has kept me sane through some really tough times in my life). Hope this doesn’t sound patronising, but are there any other projects that you could do to boost your experience in your chosen field? It’s a cliche, but voluntary stuff can be a good CV boost. Also, I would highly recommend temp work as a way into professions – even a short term contract can open up more opportunities. Employers/agencies are often willing to overlook specific experience/qualifications to fill a role at short notice, which could help you to fill in any CV gaps.

    Again, I hope that wasn’t patronising – just a few things that have helped me in the past.

    Sending you positive vibes and luck.

    • Alison
      Posted March 26, 2013 at 11:32 am | Permalink

      Hi Fran, no not patronising at all – I appreciate the advice! I am generally a very positive person and I am trying to stay that way despite this tough situation. Running really helps that – I took it up six years ago (from doing no exercise at all!) and love it with a passion. The period last year where I couldn’t run after the hit and run was incredibly frustrating. Now I”m frustrated about my lack of employment but I can channel that into my running! I would recommend it to anyone, nature’s best mood booster.

      • Fran M
        Posted March 26, 2013 at 11:45 am | Permalink

        Definitely. Training for long distance runs really helped me get through busy finals at uni, feeling lost when I’ve been unhappy at work, breakups; you name it! I think it’s a combination of the endorphins and the sense of achievement of pushing yourself – maybe also the fact that you have to just keep on going? I always think that if you have the discipline to force yourself out for a run regularly, even when you don’t feel like it, then you can do anything.

        P.S. Please come and update us at some point, to let us know how you’re getting on. I may well be in your situation later this year as I’m taking a leap of faith and taking vol redundancy. This could go brilliantly right, or leave me in limbo for a while, trying to find something new. I would definitely benefit from some advice. x

        • Alison
          Posted March 26, 2013 at 11:59 am | Permalink

          I completely agree – for me, I never fail to marvel about what my body can do when I push it, especially from a base of nothing at all when I started (couldn’t even run 30 seconds!), and that makes me feel like if I can do this then I can do anything. I am even thinking that I might like to tackle a marathon but not yet ready to make the leap to committing to that!

          Good luck with the vol redundancy – I hope it is a positive time and that all goes well for you!

  12. Gwen
    Posted March 26, 2013 at 10:37 am | Permalink

    I too have been in the same situation – I’ve made redundant at a week’s notice, I’ve had contract jobs and spent 12 months worried that I’ll not get a renewal, and I’ve found myself signing on. In some ways, I was “lucky” as the longest I’ve been unemployed in the 6 years since I left university is 6 weeks, despite never having had a permanent position.

    I am inclined to agree with Penny and say that I’m not sure that this is an unspoken problem at all. I know of several friends who are in similar situations – lawyers, teachers, nurses, who have struggled to find jobs. Unemployment both in this country and globally is high – and as someone else pointed out, it’s higher amongst women as many don’t actually sign on. I strongly believe that they should, as it can open up access to national insurance credits (which can include free dentistry and eye care), training and tuition fee discounts for courses, and council tax and housing benefit support.

    There’s a couple of things that I would say to others who have found themselves unemployed, regardless of their education. It’s not necessarily what I’d say to Alison, but what I find myself saying to people I meet through my current job (I work for a charity that supports a lot of unemployed people into work).

    The first would be – what can you do with your time off to benefit you? Being unemployed is horrible, but it’s a strange one because it’s often the only time that we really get to try new things. I’ve found volunteering to be a hugely rewarding activity – both personally and professionally. Perhaps contact your local Volunteer Centre and see what they have. There’s so much out there. It’s not all charity shops, you could volunteer in marketing, fundraising (great for PR careers), policy, fitness assistants, receptionists – all sorts. It’s a great way of utilising skills and getting involved, of trying new things, and of – perhaps most importantly, making you feel like you count and are valued. It also looks great on your CV, and is a really valid way to say you have spent your time after being made redundant.

    The second I’d say would be not to discount part time hours or contract work. No, it’s not great financially. Yes, it can be stressful. But – if it is a foot in the door, it’s a start. It sounds obvious but so many people I have met say that they are desperate for a job, but refuse to apply for part time hours. I would also suggest that starting at the bottom is no bad thing. Never discount a job because it is “below” your level – sometimes it can be the only way that you can get the management experience to do the job you actually want. It could be a stepping stone.

    The third thing I’d say is that if a jobhunter is getting interviews, that is an incredibly positive thing. Depending on the specialism and statistics, there’s about 50 people applying for every job. I found that looking at it as a numbers game helped me personally. If each employer interviews 5 people per position, then that’s statistically 1 in 10 jobs that you apply for that you get an interview for. It’s also 5 interviews that you have to go for before you are statistically likely to be successful – or at least 50 jobs that you have to apply for before finding one. Horrible, but actually that makes having had interviews a really positive thing to hold on to.

    Finally – I know it’s easier said than done – but don’t be too hard on yourself. Like others have said, you are an incredibly eloquent lady. You will get through this and you will find something. Believe in yourself, because everyone else who has read this does!

    Good luck.

    • Posted March 26, 2013 at 11:24 am | Permalink

      This is quite brilliant advice.

      Re interviews- yes yes yes – at my last attempt I applied for well over 100 jobs before I got my first interview – which was for the job I’m in now. Most don’t even reject – it’s devastating. You are doing amazingly well Alison and are clearly a very strong candidate. I hope that the connections and ideas that potentially grow from today lead you on to something very special indeed.


    • Alison
      Posted March 26, 2013 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      Thanks Gwen – I really appreciate the detailed advice! Using the same reasoning, I have applied for some part time and contract positions in the field I want to get in to – ironically, I have had no response for these and my interviews have all been for permanent, full time positions. Despite having had no negative feedback from the interview I have been to, I am trying to see each interview as a learning experience and as a positive thing. I think each interview has made me more prepared for the next one so I can only hope that something is around the corner. In the meantime, I am persevering!

      Penny, you are right about so many jobs not even rejecting – I believe that an automated email is easy enough to send to unsuccessful candidates and at least then it gives a sense of closure. If a candidate has spent time writing an application and applying, it seems polite to respond, even if only with a no thanks.

      • Gwen
        Posted March 26, 2013 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

        You’re welcome, I hope it helps you, or someone.
        It sounds like you have the right attitude about applications, interviews and using it all as preparation for the next one – such a good way to think about it. I agree about the rejection emails. So RUDE!
        Keep us updated :-)

  13. Rowan
    Posted March 26, 2013 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    This is a brilliant post and Alison I really really hope you find a position you like soon.

    I’ve been unemployed several times for periods of a few weeks to a few months and know all too well how confidence-sapping it is. I got to the stage where I was really struggling to leave the house some days, I was crying a lot and feeling horribly guilty if I spent any money or spent any time doing anything that wasn’t job-hunting. I hated that not only was my husband earning all our money, but he was also worrying about me all the time, trying to prop me up. By running so much you’re doing much better than I was at looking after yourself – something it took me a while to learn is really really important when you’re job-hunting.

    I try really hard to be a good friend when friends are going through similarly crappy times and try (I don’t always succeed) not to ask the dreaded ‘what do you do?’ question, knowing as I do how confidence destroying it is to have to answer it when you’re unemployed. I took to explaining myself as ‘freelancing without the lancing’ which at least made me smile rather than cower inside!

    It sounds like Cat B is far better qualified to give advice on your chosen field than I am but I work in the charities sector and have found getting in touch with charities when they’re not recruiting and asking for meetings, explaining what you could offer to them (it has to be tailored) etc is a really effective way of getting a foot in the door to part-time or full time voluntary work which, on two occasions now, has led directly on to permanent jobs in the organisation for me. As you’re getting interviews it sounds like a position might be just around the corner for you but investing time in getting directly relevant experience, even if it’s unpaid, is a really good way in to charities.

    Good luck – and try to be kind to yourself along the way.

    • Alison
      Posted March 26, 2013 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

      Thanks for the good luck and advice Rowan – much appreciated! I really hope you are doing something you enjoy these days. Being unemployed is much tougher than I ever envisaged, I know exactly what you mean about feeling guilty spending any money at all – I found myself in boots the other day debating the merits of a £3 cleanser! It is also a tough time for husband as well, as you say he is not only earning all our income but also buoying me up when I’m feeling down. The upside is that we do get to spend a lot more time together than when I was working 55/60+ weeks and I feel like I can be there for him in different ways than when I was working long hours. I just wish there was an expiration date on unemployment, it would be a lot more bearable if I were counting down the days!

      “And what do you do?” is the question I most dread hearing these days…followed by “What do you spend all day *doing*?” When I am once again employed, I shall certainly try my hardest never to ask these questions to somebody else!

  14. Amanda M
    Posted March 26, 2013 at 2:55 pm | Permalink

    This is clearly more common that we think when we’re in the situation. I graduated in the 90s recession and really struggled to get work – eventually worked in a shop and clawed my way slowly into marketing and PR on a circuitous route.

    Then I took redundancy about 10 years ago and was out of work for 6 months. It’s not that long but I really was very scared that I wasn’t going to find anything. I can completely empathise with the days which revolved around finding jobs to apply for, hoping for interviews and weeping over rejections. I remember how I felt ashamed to say that I was unemployed. I found a better job but I when my peers talk blithely about taking redundancy for the money and getting another job, I remember with a shiver how it was for me. And I will certainly never judge someone for not being able to find a job.

    I think if you’re getting down to the last two – keep going! You’re clearly doing really well and one day you’ll get that break. I wish I could help but it sounds like you’re getting some really good help on here already. Do let us know how you get on.

    • Alison
      Posted March 26, 2013 at 4:58 pm | Permalink

      Hi Amanda – thanks for the well wishes! I think that I was a little naive when I blithely accepted my redundancy but I didn’t want to fight for a job I didn’t enjoy and thought that I would use the situation as a springboard to somewhere more positive. It is much tougher than I ever expected, however, and I wish I knew the endpoint. I know all the stats about redundancy and unemployment etc but it always seemed (however wrongly) that someone like me would be ok. I don’t know anyone else in the same situation and it is easy to feel isolated. It’s inspiring to see people who have been in the same situation and made a success of it – hopefully I will too and then one day I can help somebody else who needs it. I hope after your earlier experiences that these days you are in a job you love!

  15. Posted March 26, 2013 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    There was an interesting piece on Radio 4 today about redundancy (I know, slightly off topic) but one of the things they covered was whether the response to redundancy was male and female. A man argued that he felt as ‘breadwinner’/ the bigger earner, he felt emasculated by being out of work. A woman pointed out that one of the effects of feminism and women in the work place is that women too can feel that sense of shame, like a fish out of water, as if their identity has been sapped. It’s simply a sign of how much we care about how hard we have worked, both academically and in terms of real experience, no? That’s certainly what I think comes across in your post, write so beautifully about something which clearly causes you a lot of heartache.

    I don’t know if we are reading too much into the ‘and what do you do?’ question at social gatherings. The assumption now is that whether you are male or female you will work so it is one of those questions people ask to get people into conversation. It would certainly be sad if people stopped asking others about their work. I think our response to that question, when we are out of work/ between jobs/ unemployed or however you prefer to put it, or even if you’re not in your ideal job at the moment, is more a reflection on how we feel as individuals about our role on society, in the workplace, in our relationship than the views of the person asking the question. And it’s natural to feel like a one word answer isn’t sufficient to say everything you want to say. And to feel awkward about a sudden outpouring of your exact feelings on the subject to a relative stranger. And to worry about what that person is thinking. It is also natural for the person asking the question to pick up on your emotional response to the question and to feel embarrassed or awkward about it.

    I don’t know what the answer is, but I suspect that if if we all worried that bit less about what others think them life would be easier on all of us. Maybe just give a short response like ‘I’m looking for work at the moment in the charitable sector’ then it could move conversation in a more positive and encouraging way. There’s no shame in your situation as others have said, plus you never know who you’re going to meet through these conversations, or where that might lead, so putting yourself out there in the guise of the employee you see yourself being might lead you somewhere exciting?

    • Alison
      Posted March 26, 2013 at 8:13 pm | Permalink

      Thanks Lucy, that sounds really interesting – I will certainly listen to it. Such a good but simple idea to rephrase the answer to the ‘what do you do’ question to a positive rather than a negative. I am definitely going to try that in future! It’s easy being the unemployed person to forget that a negative answer might also be difficult for the person doing the asking in terms of an awkward conversation.

  16. Posted March 26, 2013 at 5:32 pm | Permalink

    Ooh and the other great thing on that radio 4 piece was the point that in redundancy it is not YOU that is redundant, it is your job. But that most if not all people going through the process feel like its about them and not their role and that is the root of the problems with how people react following redundancy. Anyway, I’ve rambled enough, it’s well worth a listen on iplayer, I think it was on the ‘you and yours’ programme.

  17. Posted March 26, 2013 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    A brave post and I completely get all the feelings that everyone has mentioned – I’m in the same boat having made the decision to leave a firm on qualification rather than qualify into a department that I knew I wouldn’t be happy in long-term. I think while unemployment is talked about more now, it still feels like failure to admit that the constant reel of applications, CV updates and seemingly-resultless conversations with recruiters is pretty depressing, even though its only been a couple of months for me. It also feels isolating – I don’t know if it’s because people don’t want to know about that side of things or because I feel bad talking about it, but either way, there’s very few people who know how many applications and interviews I’ve done which haven’t come to anything and how I feel about that.

    It’s certainly important to have something else to focus alongside thinking about jobs – wedding planning, exercise, volunteering etc – so that not everything is anxious or negative.

    I can’t pretend I’m not nervous about the situation – in law you go up in experience per year so there’s the added pressure of time ticking – but it’s so hard to cross over to a new area of specialism, I just have to hope the right position is out there. Good luck to all those searching!

    • Alison
      Posted March 26, 2013 at 8:20 pm | Permalink

      Hi Frances, just wanted to extend the good luck wishes to you too – I really hope everything works out for you. And quickly! I also hardly talk (except to my husband) about how soul crushing the whole experience can be, I feel that if I start that it would be easy to get sucked down into a cycle of my own negativity. And yet, keeping it inside is probably unhealthy too. You are so right that having something positive to focus on is important, that’s partly why I signed up to the half marathon – I felt I needed something good to focus on and keep me going. Hopefully you have something that is keeping you going too! Best of luck with everything.

  18. Posted March 27, 2013 at 10:42 am | Permalink

    I know I am late to this but I wanted to add a few words to the excellent comments and discussion above.

    Having just been through so much of what people have described (feeling useless, unproductive, inadequate, embarrassed, depressed, hopeless etc.) I can only echo advice given above by suggesting volunteering (as Linsey said, even just for the positive benefit on your sense of wellbeing if there isn’t anything suitable and career relevant) but also using some of your time for other interests/pleasurable activities.

    I spent more time reading cookbooks – exploring new recipes (something which I really enjoy but have found too time-consuming in the past so would just stick to “the usual”) and tips for thrifty cooking. I also took a course which I believe was a huge part in gaining the job offer I currently hold. I arranged brunches and coffee dates with close friends who happened to be available during the day, something that I will really miss being able to do. Being able to talk to them honestly about how I was feeling really helped me stop feeling so alone and isolated as well.

    Something that helped me deal with everything emotionally was the advice that I should treat applying for work/Masters as my job. For you, this might mean creating a of “9-5 with set breaks” type daily schedule. For me, it was more about changing the way I viewed the process (“here’s yet another day where I have failed. Yet another day where I don’t have a job to go to so I have to fill in more applications instead” – not a very helpful internal monologue). It was also a reminder that I didn’t need to work ALL THE TIME. I think there is a tendency to feel like you’re not allowed a break, a weekend or free evenings….

    As others have said, your eloquence and strength in recovering from your accident is impressive. I wish you the very best. If you need to talk ever then feel free to send me an email. It’s larablueskies at gmail dot com xx

    • Alison
      Posted March 27, 2013 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      Hi Lara and thanks for the advice – I also love to cook and have been doing lots more since being unemployed, you are so right that it is important to try and see the advantages of being in this situation rather than just the drawbacks. I’m prone to feeling guilty when I take time out from job-hunting to do other things that I enjoy – it feels like I should be working on it all the time. This is definitely something I need to work on! Congratulations on your job offer, I really hope it works out for you. Good luck in the new job!

  19. Meredith
    Posted March 28, 2013 at 11:00 am | Permalink

    Alison, thank you so much for posting this. As someone in a similar situation, I battle these feelings everyday. I’m tired of people asking when I’m going to get a job and contribute. I’m also tired of conversing about my field of interest/education. The other day, in a simple and, up to the point of their heated responses, friendly pub conversation, I mentioned to someone that their comment about a topic had no scientific evidence to support the claim. I was told, ‘You’re wrong’ to which I replied ‘I have a degree in this’ (though, actually, it’s three!). The person then said ‘I don’t really care what you have. You’re not working’. Ouch. So now people don’t respect my qualifications and knowledge because I’m not working 9-5? That put me at a low point. Thankfully, I too have a very supportive husband who in no way puts these feeling of worthlessness upon me. It’s all me and I’m trying to change the way I value myself. Hang in there!

  20. Alison
    Posted March 28, 2013 at 5:28 pm | Permalink

    Hi Meredith – wishing you lots of luck with your search too, it is such a confidence sapping situation to be in and takes so much strength to keep going, especially at particularly low points. We seem to have become a culture that is defined by work and therefore by what we do for a living. I hope you have something positive to focus on whilst you are job-hunting and that things get brighter soon – try be kind to yourself, no matter what things people think they have the right to say to you because you are not working. I am working on that too – sometimes it is easier said than done! Good luck with everything. Hoping for the best for you!

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