During one of my latest job interviews, the interviewer noticed the duration of time that had gone by since my last steady job. “One and a half years! I don’t think I could deal with six months, let alone a year and a half,” he said. “How do you deal with it? I think I’d go crazy.”
This was something I had noticed and given much thought about before the interview. I’d always wondered why I didn’t feel the emotional attachment to work as much as some of my peers. Whether in the United States Air Force, or as a contractor, I never really felt an emotional connection to my work. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I didn’t care about the work I did, nor was it a motivation problem. Eventually, I figured out an answer—at least one that worked for me: I just don’t let my work position or title define who I am. I define who I am. Because I don’t let the job define me, it’s pretty easy for me to change the jobs I work in.
Responding to the question of long-term unemployment
My response, then, was, “If I only identified with my job, you’re probably right, and I’d probably go crazy. But the key is, at least for me, I don’t let my job define who I am. The job isn’t me. I know who I am and what I can do, how I learn, and how I communicate. I have my own work ethic, which has proven to be useful to not just me, but others around me. My actions, decisions, and results define who I am, but never the job itself. Plus, I just keep myself busy with writing, yardwork, riding the motorcycle, looking for work, etc.”
Maybe I was a little less wordy in my real response, but the essence of the answer was the same. In many ways, I think my attitude of emotional job detachment has proven a blessing in dealing with long-term unemployment. But I occasionally also wonder if that’s what’s hurting me, at least a little bit, in trying to find work. The saying that it’s easier to look for a job while you’re still employed is certainly true. Could it also be said that the longer you remain unemployed, the harder it is to find companies willing to consider you?
In an interview, there’s a difficult balance – remaining upbeat about your skills and credentials while being realistic about the fact that you’ve been ‘off the job’ for an extended period. Time and again, I’ve heard the ironic statement that companies want loyal employees. But companies themselves use the “it’s just business” excuse to make job cuts and no one questions their loyalty. Loyalty must be earned on both sides. When companies and people treat me fairly, I can be fiercely loyal. But I’m also not going to pretend like my job is the most important thing in my life – my greatest loyalty or ambition.
Your approach to work – a critical part of your job search
In spite of the possible misconceptions from potential employers, I would find it very difficult to approach work any other way. It’s a flexible approach in a dynamic world. As for my answer being a “good” answer to the interviewer’s question, well, we will see. If he likes the answer, then that’s a good sign, I think.