Being out of work is incredibly stressful at any time, when you have kids the stress multiplies tenfold. All your time is spent at home job searching like frantic, there’s the all important CV/resume and then countless different iterations of it to tailor it to the exact job description, that is if the job actually does exist in the first place. Chasing job agents who never respond to your e-mails and are constantly away from their desks. Trying to find time to do any of these is even more taxing when the kids are following you around and demanding attention. The kids, especially when they are still little may not understand your situation. If you are the main breadwinner and your partner is the caregiver, the caregiver may expect you to help out with the kids while he/she attends to household chores. He/she will understand and be sympathetic to your job search situation but how long is it before you (who is very stressed trying to find a job) and your partner start to get in each other’s way?
I spent much of 2012 out of work, I managed to get a few contracts dotted through the year, the longest being two months working on the London Olympics presentations (thank you IOC for choosing London), the shortest contract being one week (a cancelled film shoot). I took long distance work, going up to Glasgow on Monday mornings and coming back to London on Fridays. I took work overseas, travelling all the way to Montreal in beautiful Canada, where I wasn’t able to travel back. Even though I had several contracts that year, the whole year, including the time I was working was spent looking for work, using LinkedIn, various job sites and even turning to twitter.
Phoning agents who never even bothered to read the e-mail I sent them much less open the CV (do these job agents actually do anything?). All of this was stressful enough but when you have two kids running around the stress mounts up massively. I know many of you have or are suffering unemployment at the moment, nothing I can really say will help you, I can just offer you some of my experiences and strategies I used to help me cope during the time.
1. Break the day up
Start early before your kids are awake, applying for jobs, I aimed to apply for ten jobs a day before 8am (typically try to start at 6am). By which time I would help get the kids get ready for the day give them breakfast and aim to get them out of the house with their mother to go off to a playgroup. The playgroup would go from 9 to 11.30. That then gave me two and a half hours to follow up on the CVs I sent out earlier that morning. This means phoning agents. When you phone a job agent one of two things will happen,
- they won’t be at their desk, leave a message if it makes you feel any better, they won’t phone you back, you’ll have to keep trying or
- they’ll ask what time you sent you application in and then you sit there patiently as they trawl through their email to find yours.
You can probably guess I’m not a fan of job agents, it’s nothing personal but if any of us carried out our work tasks as neglectfully as they did we would never survive. The thing I learnt about job agents and how to deal with them is that they don’t know anything about the jobs, they just look for keyword, in high tech industries they may not even know what the terms mean, it’s just a buzz word they use to make themselves feel powerful – if you are a job agent please correct me, use the comments below to tell me that I just dealt with some poor agents last year. The point is job agents are still necessary for a while longer, fairly soon, if not already you can bypass them altogether as more companies are turning to LinkedIn to advertise directly. When you speak to a job agent ask them questions that put you in the driving seat, like when is the job due to start, when are they holding interviews, when are they meeting the client etc.
2. Spend a couple of hours during the day with your kids
What, this sounds crazy right? I’m without a job and you are saying to spend some time, a couple of hours even with the kids while I could be applying for jobs? Right 9am to 5pm is when the hiring managers are at their desks and ready for business, shouldn’t you spend every moment maximising your time applying for jobs during this time? Yes you should, which is why spending an hour or so at lunch time with your kids will help them to not badger you while you are applying for jobs. You can explain to them that now you are working, now you are taking a break then you will be working again. This way your kids will understand when you are on the phone not to come and scream into your ear – although this may still happen. The other benefit is that you can give your partner a break, remember that this is a stressful time for your partner especially if they have devoted themselves to be a full time care giver for a while when the children are little.
If you can, ask your partner to organise two activities/playdates a day, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The gap in between you take a break and look after your kids for an hour or so. This will give your partner a break too as he/she prepares and gears up for the afternoon activity. By you taking a break for a couple of hours and getting everyone off to their second activity will see you gain a valuable afternoon to search, follow up and rewrite your CV for to match new job searches.
Again when you are unemployed everything else seems secondary, you don’t really have time to go for a run or go to the gym for a couple of hours – indeed during normal office hours you don’t. But once it hits five pm, stop and take your next break. You can’t speak to anyone at the office now, they won’t be interested in reading your e-mails till the morning. So stop, spend more time with your kids, do the reading/writing time whatever you do with them and focus on getting them settled into bed.
Once they are in bed go and exercise, this unemployment thing is unpredictable.
Hopefully you will get a job today or tomorrow but none of us really know how long it will take. The point is you are sat down at your computer typing e-mails and making phone calls all day, you need to prepare yourself to go the long haul if necessary. Go take your frustrations out on the treadmill or weights machine, any kind of exercise will help. Getting out of the house and going to a new environment will help charge you up for the next day.
4. Go to bed early
Exercising will also help you get to bed early. You could spend your evening searching for jobs again, but these job boards are not being updated in the evening time, there may be some that have been added in the afternoon, but no one is going to be reading your e-mail at 10pm at night, better to get up early in the morning when you have more energy. If you fix a time where you turn of the internet then you won’t risk of the job search creeping into your night time. When everyone is asleep and you feel you have some time then you may feel that you should be applying for more jobs, the thing is that this could take up your whole night and then you won’t have enough energy for tomorrow’s fight. Get your energy up for a 6am start that will serve you better.
5. Stop on Friday afternoons – save it for Monday mornings
After many months of phoning around on Friday afternoons I realised that this is the least fruitful time of the week to be chasing people. A lot of the hiring staff are starting to focus on their weekends, sure they may forward your email but it’s unlikely it will get actioned till Monday anyway, people tend to be more reluctant to make decisions on a Friday, if they do then they have probably decided the day before and use Fridays to execute the decision. The same concept holds to conserve your energy like footballers do, they know the game lasts for ninety minutes, they don’t go haring around the field for the whole game, instead they save their energy for when it will have the most effect, they too take timed breaks while the ball is out of play. Knowing what is the least productive time in your industry will help you define when to take a timed break, it may be Friday afternoon or it may be Monday morning, the point is to know when it is and save your energy for the most productive times.
When you do find out what time of the week that is, spend the time with your kids and treat them to something fun. You may well be back in a job very soon, so use this time to go to the park or a play area with your kids and forget about the job hunt for the afternoon that no one will reply to your email.
6. When should I be spending money taking my kids out?
This is really tough as there may already be a host of bills going out from your bank account, now you have a feeling of guilt that you are neglecting your kids during the day while you job hunt. When you’re at work you are away from your kids so are not able to be physically there for them during those hours, but while you are at home you are physically there but mentally and emotionally you are miles away in turmoil. When you have to turn your kids away because your phone rings or you are thinking about which job board you haven’t yet scoured you will feel guilt, guilt which you feel you can make up to them on the weekends by taking them to a play zone or buying them lunch or a present, all of these things do cost and at the moment you don’t have any income.
There’s a delicate balancing act to pull off, but it can be done. First look though your bank statements and collate all your costs (yes I know another spreadsheet to compile – this one you’ll only have to do once), prioritise these costs in order, some of the costs you have no control over, i.e. you have to pay your bills, other costs you can see that you can cancel or downgrade (your ultra fast broadband can be downsized, your satellite TV package can be cut altogether) see how long you can survive for and then factor in how much and how often you can afford to treat your kids for the days out etc.
One thing to realise is that you have nothing to feel guilty about, you are not neglecting your kids at all, you are job searching and searching relentlessly hard. That is a good thing you should be proud of yourself that you are trying so hard to find a job and not giving up. You wouldn’t feel guilty that you had to work late or if you were working from home, so don’t let yourself feel guilty for job hunting – job hunting is in itself a full time job.
You are going though a storm right now, but every storm will pass, this too shall pass. Keep your head up, you’re doing great.
Feel free to add your comments below, tell me if this was helpful, what I got wrong, what you would add, remember we’re building a community that can help each other.
Thanks for reading.