What I have to realize over the many years I’ve been employed in the field of Social Services, is that unemployed people on social assistance often present with multiple barriers to employment.
This is perhaps one of, if not the key differing element when comparing a social assistance recipient looking for work with say, someone who is recently unemployed but not on some form of social assistance. While both are looking for work, the person who recently lost work has less barriers to employment because they have recent work history and references, more confidence and drive etc.
This week wraps up a two-week intensive job search program I’m running for a group of up to twelve people on social assistance. To be admitted to my group, my criteria is that all must: have basic computer skills, be self-motivated, know the kind of work they want, come dressed all ten days as if they were having an interview (because they might), and have demonstrated to myself or one of my colleagues in another workshop that they are employment-ready. In other words, they want it bad.
So, while they present as a fairly motivated group, I have ceased to be surprised that they still present with multiple employment barriers. Is it fair then to strive to help them get a job in two weeks or less when some of them present with issues like criminal convictions, anxiety, mental health disorders, unstable housing, relationship problems, childcare requirements, clothing needs or dental problems?
Over the past seven work days to date, with three left to go, I’ve found no less than four women in the group at some point meltdown and literally cry on my shoulder and need a physical hug to just let out the pressure. All of them then said some version of, “Sorry about that, I don’t usually breakdown.”
You see what’s really going on inside each of them is something like this: when they got an invitation to attend my job search group, Hope was re-kindled. As looking for a job can be frustrating, and downright depressing filled with moments of rejection, here was an opportunity to have someone help them out and maybe determine where their going about things wrong. And from their view, they must be doing something wrong or they’d be employed.
When these ladies had their meltdown, each had successfully just been granted a job interview so why the tears? The reason is that each placed so much importance on now getting the interview perfect. It has been awhile since they’ve had interviews for employment, and as such, they are feeling anxiety about ‘performing’ well enough to be offered a job.
You see a job for people who have been out of work for some time means instant recognition of ones skills, talents and experience. “Somebody wants me.” With a job offer, self-esteem grows, a light at the end of a very long and dark tunnel switches on, financial independence looms ahead, credibility amongst our peer groups becomes a possibility again, and their children and extended families can once again be proud of their mom, sister, daughter etc.
A job also means creditors can be paid back, lines of credit ceased to be used, credit ratings slowly improved. Most critical of all however is that the person starts to gain a new identity. Instead of wearing the unemployed label, now that person has a job title, and a company to go with it. We all know that one of the very early things we ask each other in life when we meet is some version of, “So what do you do?” The unemployed never have a solid answer that employed people believe, but when we say, “I’m in Office Administration with Bradley and Myers”, our status from both the job title and the name of the employer announces us.
If it has taken some time to land this job interview, there is pressure to get it right, because who knows how long it will take until the next interview comes if we blow it! OH MY GOODNESS! However, what I try to temper that new and sudden anxiety with is a dose of reality. It is a competitive job market, there are many applicants, and you might be perfect for the job, but so are others and maybe it goes your way and maybe it doesn’t.
This might seem odd but it really isn’t. I know that each of them has a better resume, a better cover letter, better interview skills, physically presents better with their grooming, posture, smiles, handshakes, etc. And so I know that even though this is the first job interview they’ve had in some time, what they fail to really believe is that they will be getting multiple offers for job interviews in the coming days.
So a job offer means you’ve been validated externally. Somebody wants you and thinks you can add value to an organization! Those meltdowns are a release of stress, anxiety and exasperation, pent-up frustrations and all of that, was just looming under the surface of a calm, “I’ve got it all together” exterior.
And that is why too it is so gratifying to know that what I’m really doing is being in a place not to share job search skills so much, but to offer Hope and help people re-build some fragile self-images.