There is no job worse than looking for a job. Day after day, you spend hours staring at your computer screen, feeding keyword combinations into Indeed’s search box like a pensioner at a penny slot machine, hoping for three cherries announcing your jackpot, your dream job, your salvation. Hour after hour, you retype your résumé into buggy websites, twisting every sentence of your work experience into a salesman’s grinning facade. Every morning, dozens of alerts fill your inbox, the day’s Glengarry leads a torrent of possibility, curdled into cynicism by sunset.
There are no lazy weekend afternoons. There are no carefree impromptu road trips. Every moment you aren’t trolling your LinkedIn connections is a moment some other desperate job seeker is taking your spot.
Looking for a job is even harder if you’re a parent. Your own frustration and disappointment is compounded by a creeping feeling of inadequacy. You aren’t living up to your career goals. Bonus: you’re failing to provide for your offspring.
My own job search came to a conclusion about three months ago. Unlike a battle with cancer, this conclusion didn’t end with my death. It ended with a new job! My kids don’t see me as much as they used to, but these days I no longer stink of desperation. It’s a win-win.
During my year-long search, here’s what I learned about how to look for a job while your kids watch.
Plot A Timeline
At the start of your search, decide how long it can last. Once you figure out when your monthly expenses will deplete your savings or max out your credit cards, you can create smaller sections: resume writing; skills updating; interview rehearsing; uncontrolled weeping.
Giving yourself a deadline and working backward orders your thinking and allows you to achieve mini-goals. After you spend a couple weeks in the misery of uploading blind hope into the virtual void, trust me — you’ll welcome achievables.
This approach will also help your kids understand what you’ve done today and what you plan to do next month. As the weeks and months go by, they’ll see your progress and understand the job search is not really an endless morass (even if it feels that way to you). The future is important to kids. Mine are always thinking ahead to their birthdays or Halloween or Christmas. Don’t worry about being super specific, but let them know that by Thanksgiving, Daddy won’t spend the day sitting around the house in his underwear anymore. With any luck, he’ll be strutting around in a tie and fancy shoes like those folks in the Phoenix University commercials.
Spread the Word
They say it’s not what you know, but who you know. And you know a lot of people. People who like you. Why wouldn’t they? You’re a funny guy, and you make a great martini. Why, you’re just the type of fella this strategic development firm could use on its new public-private partnership outreach team. You’d be great at that! Not me, though. I don’t know what the hell that sentence means, and I’m the one who wrote it.
Point is, when you start your job search, don’t keep it a secret. Take to social media, chat with the neighbors, call up your friends. Maybe your sister’s neighbor’s daughter’s professor has a brother who’s looking for a guy down at the Medical Instruments Museum. And your mom thought your thesis on iron lungs was a waste of time!
Friends will also be there to commiserate with you. During my year of looking for employment, I lost count of how many emails or texts or dejected sighs I exchanged with fellow travelers. You need that validation. Knowing that others have walked the same path before you — and found success — helps you find the courage to keep going.
Most importantly, you’re teaching your kids that asking for help from people you trust isn’t shameful. It’s the evidence of humanity. No man is an island, and no man lands a new job without at least a little help from someone else.
Be Honest, Up To a Point
In the first chapter of the book Ramona and Her Father, Mr. Quimby is laid off from his office job. Ramona thinks it’ll be fun to get a chance to play with her dad after school, but it turns out he spends his afternoons vacuuming or “filling out job applications or sitting on the couch, smoking and staring into space.” I feel you, Mr. Quimby. On the job hunt, things get bleak.
I didn’t tell my kids about the day, eight months into my job search, that tears of frustration sprang from my eyes when Google maps began suggesting locations for me. (“Try work,” said Google maps. “I am trying, you heartless algorithm,” I replied.) But without inputs, kids create their own view of reality. In the book, Ramona decides to earn money for the family by getting cast in a commercial, and she pours a lot of heartache and anxiety into that pipe dream.
Fill in the blanks. Be open about the types of jobs you’re looking for, and what you make of your prospects. If your job search includes other cities — and the chance of a family move — lay that on the table. If you’re considering going to night school or taking a few online courses, explain why. If spending the day reading rejection emails leaves you feeling grouchy, then say so.
And when you fail, talk about it in a positive way. I had many phone interviews and several video interviews. All but the last few resulted in failure. Each time, I had to carry on. When my kids asked what happened, I talked to them about it in ways they could understand. Sometimes, I made a mistake: I wasn’t prepared to answer the questions the search team asked. Other times, I was well prepared, but another candidate was a better fit.
Tone is everything here. You want scant bitterness and boucous perseverance. You’re demonstrating stick-to-it-iveness, a short-term memory for mistakes, a quick 40-yard dash time, and all the other positive attributes that hotshot rookie QB shows on Sundays.
Remember That You Aren’t What You Do
Kids think of a dad’s job as a part of him, like hairy ears or a squishy belly. He doesn’t just do a job. He is that job. So when dad is looking for a new job, it’s like dad is looking for a new him. This can be a little scary, especially if it seems like dad might become someone entirely unexpected.
When I was job searching, my daughter was thinking about what she wanted to be when she grows up. She was hearing, “You can be whatever you want” at the same time I was telling her that I might paint houses if my timeline ran out before I found a position in my career field. It was a helluva cognitive dissonance. She demanded to know why I wasn’t going to be a writer, no matter what. The simple answer is, I have kids to raise and she doesn’t. Kids ain’t cheap.
Work is not life, and you are more than the job you do. Remember that, if the job search stalls and it becomes necessary to pick up any old j-o-b you can find. Save as much money as you can while you spend your free time sharpening the skills of your true vocation. If you’re painting houses, you’re not giving up on your dreams. You’re putting them on layaway. They’ll be around later, waiting for you. And when the time is right, get back to the no-good dirty work of landing your dream job.