There was a period in my life that I was scarily, firmly unemployed. Not through any choice of my own, except that I had to comply with the wishes of my ex-boss to resign.
Unemployment isn’t something you can completely control.
Being asked to leave is the slap that hits you so hard, your world shakes and you wonder what you did wrong, because your performance appraisals went OK and you even received a few good marks for extra effort.
Business was tough. Even trying to raise our prices to NTUC FairPrice, the largest retailer which we supplied products to, took lots of justification, multiple meetings with the retailer over 6 months and compromising our price increase to half of what we proposed.
It didn’t help that a salesman, who was being groomed for leadership, decided to join a competitor and took away a few major customers. The government tightened the foreign workers quota, business costs increased, and customers started to delay payments. Creating new products for new markets didn’t really generate enough sales to cover the research, product design, channel and marketing costs, which went into the millions.
I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised that the company had to let people go. We previously had three general managers, all competent people with successful careers, who either quit or were asked to leave within the span of three years.
The day I was asked to leave, was on a Monday morning, just like any other Monday of the year. It was two weeks after I had completed using up my maternity leave and had returned to work (yes although I am a mum, I still think the child-free lifestyle is a legit decision).
Being unemployed hits working mothers harder than they realise.
Imagine earning no money, yet being saddled with a monthly mortgage eating into your CPF savings, childcare fees (which you cannot reduce because if you take your child out of school, you have to wait six months for a new place if you happen to finally get a job), daily expenses of running a household, and paying off your insurance premiums.
Then you worry, “what if I am chronically unemployed for more than a year?”
You’d lose your working mum childcare subsidies and tax reliefs, yet you can’t commit to temporary work because you’re spending the whole day looking for a permanent job, preparing for interviews, attending interviews and carrying out full time stay-at-home-mum duties because everyone thinks you’ve lots more time to do housework now that you’re not working, right?
I considered rejoining the private tuition industry, but hesitated because I wouldn’t be able to commit to a full school year, and dropping students halfway after getting a new job is irresponsible of a teacher, so scaling up my freelance tuition work was out of the question.
How did I survive?
I gave myself space and time to decide what my job-search plans would be, based on a timeline of how long I could eat into my savings without any income, and a backup plan of freelancing career possibilities in the event I couldn’t get a job after half a year.
I looked for jobs which had the promise of stability, yet I felt I could contribute well to. There was no point simply accepting any job which I just couldn’t do (like Engineering), because it’ll wasting both my time and the employer’s time. However I also didn’t reject jobs that had a small overlap with what I know I can do, because everyone has to start from scratch somewhere.
1,000 résumés, 1 job offer
I refused to give up even though I had sent out 10 résumés every day for more than 100 days (at least 30 of them to [email protected] which is a pretty useless portal because only one agency replied, after more than one month of silence, and it was a rejection email).
JobsDB, Jobstreet and JobsCentral were friends I visited every day, not to mention scouring through [email protected], monster.com, headhunt and STJobs. There weren’t any JobsBank or NTUC U PME Centre then or I’d have been even busier.
I spent at least 5 hours a day looking for jobs on these job portals and company websites, improving my résumé, going to networking sessions, looking through LinkedIn featured jobs, preparing for interviews, meeting headhunters and finding something to learn because it may just be related to my new job.
I cut costs, ate simply, looked for free or cheap ways to spend time with family, spent time reading books, exploring new skills like Wing Chun (just because), and accept myself for the woman of promise I could potentially be, instead of pitying myself for being an overqualified, unemployed misery.
Helping the unemployed cope with being unemployed.
I would actually have been quite happy if there was some form of unemployment insurance to help me cope with the cost of living (but it would be just another type of “left pocket, right pocket” because I’d probably have to pay for the premiums whilst I’m working).
My real interest was to land a good job which I could excel in and make my new organisation proud to hire me, with opportunities to learn, grow and make a social impact.
I’m grateful that my months of unemployment didn’t result in losing my working mum perks (this was also because I was able to prove I was actively looking for a job).
My unemployment didn’t last longer than half a year (thankfully!). The roller coaster of emotions and uncertainty wasn’t easy to bear, and sometimes I wondered why for all the achievements I attained, still no employer wanted to hire me!
There were dark days where I felt like the most undeserving person in the world, that I have all these achievements like a necklace of banana money which no one wants or cares about. So much for qualifications huh?
I realised that the hardest part of being unemployed was actually overcoming my extreme humiliation at being asked to leave my previous job, after I had completed my Masters on a scholarship. On days when I had really bad depressed moods, I used to wonder if I’m one of the few ‘scholars’ to be unemployed against my will, but that’s elitist thinking which I rejected to be more positive. Unemployment can hit anyone, anytime.
Support helps, really, not judgment nor contempt.
The family support really helped too: no one looked at me like I was a useless bum because I had really put in time and effort to find a new job.
You know, even if I didn’t get this new job of mine, I would find something to do, whether it’s tuition, driving an Uber car, teaching swimming or whatever freelance work I can get.
Life’s too short to be OCD over your career. I’m completely in a different field from the degree I studied because there were too many graduates and not enough Life Sciences jobs. One day my current job will be obsolete too, and I’ll have to find something else to be useful at.
Unemployment is a phase to overcome, but you really have to plan and act on it, because no jobs are simply going to drop into your lap unless you are blessed enough with the right connections who have the right job openings at the right time.
Life is tough, but it’s through the struggles to prove ourselves that we really grow and learn, and live.