Why Aren’t You Working?

There are many reasons why people aren’t working; what’s yours? Some possibilities are:

  • Not looking for work
  • Physical or mental health restrictions
  • Poor interview skills
  • Weak resume
  • Unsure what to do
  • Attending school full-time
  • Raising pre-school age children and unable/unwilling to find childcare
  • Required as a primary caregiver for a family member
  • Not motivated

This isn’t an exhaustive list of course, just enough to stimulate some thought, give enough possibilities that some of my audience is captured and yes, perhaps enlighten those that think there’s only one reason anyone would be out of work – laziness.

The first and last reasons on my list – not looking and not motivated one could easily argue are so related they are really the same; ie. not motivated to look for work. For some people, this is absolutely true. Would you agree there are those who aren’t motivated enough to seek out a job? I mean, I know people who fit this category and I suspect you do as well. They have shelter and food provided by someone or some organization, their needs are modest, their motivation to work to earn enough money to support themselves just isn’t enough to get them going.

Perhaps it’s a phrase in that last sentence that is the real issue for many; the idea that money to support themselves is the motivation to work. Money does of course, provide the means to acquire housing and food, as well as the discretionary things in life which for many improves their quality of life. However, working to support oneself when you’re already being supported isn’t much motivation. In other words, if you’re not working but getting housed and fed, you might not be motivated to work 7 hours a day just to get housed and fed – something you already have.

Work therefore, or more importantly, the motivation to choose to work, has to come when there’s more to be gained than just money for basic support. For some it can be an issue of dignity vs. shame or embarrassment. Support yourself with your own source of income and you feel independence, a sense of being in control of what you do, where you live, what you do with your money, who knows your personal business and who doesn’t.

For some people, work provides social interaction. Be it with co-workers or customers, there’s some connection to other people, which stimulates our feelings of inclusiveness; we are part of something and not isolated. Feeling isolated, left behind, left out, missing out – these are common to people who don’t work in some cases. Of course, other unemployed people will tell you they get all the interaction with people they want; many of those they ‘hang with” themselves being unemployed.

Feeling a sense of purpose is one thing employed people often tout as the best part of their jobs. What they do is significant and important to some part of our population, and this feeling of purpose gives identity to the working person. The problem for some who struggle to find a job is in fact deciding on what job to do; in other words, they are focused so much on finding their purpose, they get paralyzed waiting for it to materialize.

The irony is that when you’re unsure what to do with your life, often the best way to discover it is to start working! It is through work that you learn where your skills are, which skills you wish to develop and improve on, what you like and don’t. You learn through success and failure what you’re good at, where you make a difference, where you’re appreciated for your service and what you do and don’t want to do in future jobs. The idea that at 20 years old you should have the next 43 years all laid out clearly before you is a myth. You’ll change jobs and careers in your lifetime – perhaps 7 or 8 times or more and this is normal.

For some – and you may not like this truth – it is a question of not trying hard enough. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not painting everyone with the same brush, and I’m not saying some people who are out of work don’t put in huge amounts of energy and time. However, if you’ve gone at your job search seriously with no success for a long time, its high time you partnered up with someone and get the guidance and support you obviously need to increase the odds of success. This is precisely the action many don’t want to take and that’s a puzzlement.

The crux of the thing is it’s essential that you’re honest with yourself when it comes to why you’re not working. What you tell others who ask may not be the real reason; what you know to be at the heart of why you aren’t working is the truth. So what is it?

Good questions might be:

  • Why aren’t I working?
  • Am I genuinely happy not working?
  • What’s stopping me? (Is it really me?)
  • Where could I get help and support to find work?
  • What would make me more employable?
  • Who might help me discover my strengths and interests?
  • How do I get help with childcare, transportation, the issue of my age?
  • Would volunteering somewhere be the best way to start?

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this issue; whether it’s you or someone you know out of work.


Have You Failed By Taking A Short-Term Anything Job?

Suppose you’re one of those people – and there’s a lot of them out there these days – who have some education beyond High School. You’ve planned all along on pursuing a job that makes use of that education. However, with a widening gap of unemployment on your résumé matching your growing frustration at not working, you’ve found yourself finding the idea of just taking a job – any job – more and more appealing; something you thought you never would. There’s this nagging notion that you’ve failed though that keeps you from actually applying for work outside your field of education. So have you?

The short answer is no, you haven’t. Exhale and breathe a sigh of relief. Do that a few times and read on.

There’s a lot of common sense involved in doing exactly what you’ve contemplated and like I pointed out in the beginning, you’re one of many who are well-educated and unemployed. It is not only understandable that you’d be looking at broadening your job search at some point – perhaps where you are at the moment – it’s also a very good idea.

So how come? I mean, Employment Coaches and Counsellors often say you should stick to your career plan and never give up on what you really want. Doing anything else is just settling isn’t it? What happened to finding your passion and not letting any setbacks get in your way of going after what’s going to make you truly happy? Flipping burgers, selling clothes, walking school kids across busy intersections: these aren’t the kind of jobs you thought you’d give more than a passing glance at. Could you ever imagine you’d actually be seriously thinking of going after one of these jobs at this point having finished College or University?

Hang on and settle down. We’re not talking forever here. No one is suggesting that you start your first day down at the fast food outlet and pump your first shouting, “Yes! I’ve arrived!”

The jobs we’re discussing here have been in the past called survival jobs. More and more they are also called transition jobs; work that bridges the gap of time and space between the present and a job in the future. These are typically short-term positions outside your field of training and education.

When you find yourself browsing these ads more and more and seriously thinking about actually applying, may I suggest you change your line of perception. Instead of thinking that you’ve failed; that your post-secondary education was a waste of both time and money, consider the positives of these transition jobs.

First and foremost, the income from a job – any entry-level job – will stem some financial bleeding. Admittedly while likely minimum wage, money is money and some is better than none. Perhaps more important than money however is the inclusion factor. Right now you’re outside the workforce; remember feeling that everyone has a job but you? That so many people you see from your window seem to have somewhere to go, something to do, while you sit and grow despondent, frustrated and perhaps depressed? Uh huh. Yep, getting up, showered, dressed and out the door with a purpose is always good. That routine you’ve been missing is more important than you might have thought.

Now if you’ve looked at that School Crossing Guard advertised on some Municipality’s website and scoffed at it, think again. First of all those hours; before school, at noon and late afternoon leave you two chunks of time – mid-morning and mid-afternoon – to continue your targeted job search. Of even more significance perhaps is that once you land a Crossing Guard job, even though you’re working outside, you’ve at the same time become an internal employee. Had you considered that? Yes, you’re now able to see and apply for the internal jobs with that Municipality; jobs that up until now you had no access to. Full-time jobs that pay much better and perhaps come with benefits too.

That Crossing Guard job might be one you have to take for 3 or 6 months before you’re eligible to apply for anther internal job. Okay so be it. Do the job at present and do it with a positive attitude. You’ve got this job so you might as well enjoy it and keep telling yourself you’re in transition from this to your next job – the one you really want.

Remember you don’t have to add a short-term job on your résumé, but consider doing so because it does bridge a gap. In your cover letter or at an interview you can certainly state with confidence that you took the short-term job where you are working to pay the bills but you’re highly motivated to seek work in your field as this is where your passion and strong interest are.

A failure? Far from it. You’re wise enough not to let pride get in the way and perhaps it even demonstrates your belief that no job, and certainly not the people doing them, should be looked down on. Perhaps it’s helped you learn humility and an appreciation for the hard work involved which you’d previously overlooked. Perhaps too you’re actually better for the experience and will be all the more grateful for the opportunity to work in the field of your choice doing what you love.

Suddenly, you might be more attractive to your employer of choice.


Sharing The Dark Truth With A Potential Employer

One of the activities a colleague of mine and I set out to complete with some job searchers yesterday was to have participants in our job seeking group make cold calls. The format was fairly straight forward in that we had a talk first about who they were calling, what they were attempting to achieve by making the call, and then we sat beside them and listened in while they phoned. After making a call, we’d debrief.

A teachable moment that I’d like to share happened with the first person to place such a call. The scenario was that our job hunter had compiled a list of companies that provided interior sprinkler installations and was attempting to see whom of the numerous companies was possibly hiring.

As I sat there listening in, I noticed first that the companies he was calling were small operations with some being no more than a single person, and all seemed to have less than 10 employees. The odds on getting through to people who actually do the hiring were pretty high therefore. Right off the bat I saw he’d been listening to advice given earlier and had his pen, paper, resume, calendar and references all at hand. This would allow him to refer to anything he’d need were he to say have a phone interview immediately; and that’s what happened.

First thing he asked for the name of the person he was speaking with and I observed him to write it down. That small thing is critical as more information would be shared back and forth and the name might get lost and forgotten as the call went on. As the conversation went back and forth, him asking if the company was hiring and explaining his credentials, I heard two things that you might also find interesting of note.

All of a sudden my job-seeker said, “41” which I took to be in answer to a question about his age. Now this is an illegal question here in Canada when considering someone for employment, but you can’t make someone not ask the question, and once asked, you have to be prepared to respond in some way. The callers reaction to, “41” was apparently to say he himself was 50 years old, so that wasn’t a problem. Whew! First hurdle passed.

But the real difficult thing came next. From the facial expression which all of a sudden became strained, and the body language which showed some discomfort, I could see from my end that this job-seeker was about to share something that he found uncomfortable. What could it be? Then I heard him say, “If it’s just the same I’d prefer to drive my own car for the first few months.” Pause noted while the person at the other end must have asked, “Why?” Then the bombshell hit as he replied, “Well I have a DUI (drinking under the influence) charge and I’ve got a breathing device hooked up to my car.”

For those of you not familiar with this device, what it does is force the driver to blow into it whenever entering the car. The car won’t start if the person’s breath has alcohol detected, and it digitally records all attempts. Each month, he has to at his own expense, pay for this service, have the machine examined, and in this way, he’s allowed behind the wheel. Don’t drink and you’ve got no problem and you’re still mobile.

Okay so he’s laid everything bare and exposed his darkest secret and is now at the mercy of the potential employer who up to this point has seemed interested enough in him to have this impromptu telephone interview. So what happened next? The guy at the other end replied, “That’s okay, I’ve had two DUI’s.” Then there was some commiserating and nervous laughter as this job-seeker realized his huge barrier to employment wasn’t a major issue for this employer.

As it turns out, he landed himself an in-person interview in the next few days. And when he goes to that interview, there are two things he doesn’t have to stress about: his age and his police record. In three months, the device will be no longer required assuming all goes well, and he’ll be able to drive the company vehicles like any other employee. Now he can concentrate on other aspects of the interview like his credentials and experience. For him, this is a major relief.

Now suppose it had gone badly and the employer had told him that this was a major problem and he couldn’t hire him. I really believe it’s better this information be determined now either way. After all, why get his hopes up, spend his time and gas money driving to an interview only to then find out the charge is a job killer? As things stand now, he’s got a fighting chance at a potential job, and it will come down to his experience, skills and attitude etc.

Not always therefore, but yes sometimes getting the one thing you most dread out early can play to your favour. He came across as honest, expressed regret at being in the situation and the pressure he was feeling about being judged and rejected for this mistake has been lifted.

If you have a major barrier to employment, consider this as an option to be used in your attempts to land employment. He could pack things in and not job search for three months, but he isn’t.