Tunnel Vision Can Keep You Unemployed

Filed in When Writing Is Hard by on May 23, 2011 • views: 587

I heard a disturbing news story a few days ago. It told about how people who have been without a job for six months to a year are coming up against a new kind of employee discrimination—against the unemployed. Employer thinking apparently goes something like this: “What? It’s been that long and you haven’t found work? Something must be wrong with you, so we don’t want you either.”

Dig a little deeper, however, and you’ll find the problem is a little more complicated. Turns out the people who are having this difficulty are making it far too easy for employers to pass them by. One, they’re leaving big gaps in their resumes where it looks like they’ve been doing nothing, and two, they’re producing puppy-dog eyes when a potential employer asks them how they’ve been spending their time.

“Uh, looking for a job.” Blink.

Neither of these two things looks good to a potential employer, but I think I have an idea why people are struggling. It’s classic tunnel vision. If I’m a teacher, I think that only a teaching job will do, and so I do nothing else until I find a teaching job. Or, I’m a teacher, so even though I’ve spent my off time volunteering for the Red Cross or cleaning houses, no employer will care about that, because it’s not related to teaching.

Poppycock! First of all, if you had to be organized, deal with people, arrive on schedule, pay attention to quality work, operate a computer, work with chemicals, or manage your time, you were using skills that apply to teaching, or any other job, for that matter. Second of all, just because your main profession has been teaching doesn’t mean that’s all you are, or all you can do. Somehow, we fall into that mode of thinking and thereby limit future opportunities for ourselves.

Over the years, I’ve been a kindergarten teacher, a band director, a private music teacher, a performer, a writer, a manager, a graphic designer, an activities director for Alzheimer’s patients, a babysitter, a housecleaner, a tutor, and much more, and I see that list continuing to expand as I grow older. Of course, writing is my thing and always will be, but that doesn’t mean it’s all I am.

I thought about this topic today when discussing employment options with a friend. She’s been working at the same place for over a decade, but when I asked her about trying to find something better, she shot back immediately with, “I don’t have the skills.” Why do we limit ourselves this way? This person is extraordinarily organized, dedicated, smart, computer savvy, a great customer service agent, and a former hairdresser with an artistic eye and a lot of creative talent. She has oodles of skills—I think maybe she’s just forgotten, or like so many of us, she’s selling herself short.

If you’re looking for a job and you’ve been unemployed for a while, listen to your inner voice. What are you good at? Sure, you have all the skills you gained from your education and your last job, but there are other things employers are looking for. They need someone responsible, consistent, reliable, loyal, hard working, and motivated. How can you demonstrate these qualities?

While you’re unemployed, get busy. Volunteer, take a job on the side, or just help out, and then notice which of your skills you’re using and write them down on your resume. Did you assist at your local nursing home (elderly care)? Sell some products or services on the side (salesmanship)? Help out in your child’s classroom (educational skills)? Coach a Little League team (motivational leader)? Help a neighbor replace a roof (skilled laborer)? There are numerous things you can get involved in where you can let your inner self shine through. Then all you have to do is communicate your enthusiasm and your accomplishments to your future boss. Think like an employer—what would you want to know? If you’re excited about what you’ve been doing with your time, your positive attitude alone may be all you need to get your foot in the door.

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Comments (2)

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  1. Yana says:

    It’s so true! If there were no unemployment benefits where would you go? Of course you would take any job available. But it’s so easy to rely on government that we don’t bother to look out of the box. Thank you for the great advice!

    • Colleen says:

      Thanks for writing in, Yana! You’re right—when there’s one alternative easily available you’re not forced to do what you can with what you have. But unemployment doesn’t last forever, and many people are eventually forced to rethink their options. We can do so much more than we think we can, and any job well done is honorable. Good luck. 🙂