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The 5 Stages of Long-term Unemployment (LTU)

This is a written form of a speech I presented at a May 2015 Institute for Career Transitions' conference.

I was asked to talk to you about emotions---What one feels, and what one deals with, while looking for a job. So, the first thing I want to do is find out---how do you feel right now?

[A few a attendees muttered something] HOW DO YOU FEEL RIGHT NOW? Go ahead---yell! Let everyone here know!

[Many attendees responded – mostly expressing anger]

You see. You’re not alone. I know how you feel. I was laid off in 1994, 2010, 2013, and 2013 again. In February 2014 I finally landed a job only to realize I was in Hell, so I quit after just three weeks.

In June 2014 I got a contracting job, and the company let me go after just three months. What a roller coaster ride. I wanted off. I felt all the emotional states of the Five Stages of Death, except one.

Do you remember the five stages? Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression, and finally Acceptance.

The company lets you go and initially, you’re in denial. You can’t believe this has happened to you. In 2013 when I was let go for the second time in eight months, I felt like screaming “Oh, come on! Not again.”

Then you get angry. How could they do this to me after all I did for them? The long hours, the multiple projects, the extra work.

We start bargaining. Part-time position? Not a problem. Contracting? Sure, I’ll consider that. Less pay? Please, just give me an opportunity.

And then after sending out hundreds of resumes and not hearing anything, the depression hits. In my case, just as anyone grows weary of losing at lotteries, sporting events, or even at love, I grew weary of the grind of job-hunting. I grew tired of the rejection, the lack of feedback, and the uncertainty.

Then you find a job posting, apply, and get the phone call. Can you do a phone interview? Yes! Yes! You pump yourself up. You study the company, the position, the culture, and you practice practice practice. And they call you in for the onsite interview! It goes well and they call you back! One company interviewed me six times. You feel the love. “This is it”, you say to yourself. You tell your family how it went great. You’re just waiting for the call.

The call. Well, sometimes you’re lucky enough to actually hear back. “Sorry, but we don’t think you’re a fit.” “The manager needs someone with more experience with [insert obscure hi-tech tool here].”

But, usually you don’t hear anything. The company that interviewed me six times dropped me like a hot potato. All attempts to contact them failed.

After multiple experiences like this I found myself bouncing back and forth among the 4 stages. I call them the 4 Stages of LTU: Denial; Anger; Bargaining, and Depression.

I experienced them all, just as you do now. Did you notice? Acceptance isn’t part of the package. At various times I was in denial, felt angry, or sunk into depression. Yes, I even bargained---but I never accepted this situation.

I resolved to persevere because---as Calvin Coolidge said: “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.”

Remember how I was let go by a contracting agency? The day I got the phone call saying ‘We aren’t renewing your contract”, I immediately started networking and applying for jobs. One job had a 5pm deadline that day for applying. It was 3pm when I saw the posting. I almost didn’t apply. I was tired and had been working for hours. But I figured I’d do one more.

Two weeks later I gave the presentation of my life. I actually got the offer phone call while on the commuter train going home from the interview.

My five minutes are up. So to end, I’ll say there’s nothing wrong with you. It’s normal to experience the 4 stages. It’s OK to be angry. But, don’t accept your situation.

Be persistent. So long as you persevere nothing will stop you.

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