Saturday, December 15, 2012

Being Unemployed Part II: How to Stop Mansplaining to Job Searchers

In general I write here about North Africa, the Arab world, and women’s rights issues. I a recent post, I wrote about fatshaming, an issue of great interest to me. In this post, the second in a possibly 3-part series, I am going to write about being unemployed.

There are certain experiences in life, such as attempting to diet/lose weight, pregnancy, or unemployment, where EVERYONE has advice. Let me repeat: EVERYONE has advice. Everyone seems to have a plan or know someone whose plan was successful. And every person wants to share it. Unsolicited, usually. Almost always. This phenomenon is known as “mansplaining,” explaining without regard to the fact that the explainee knows more than the explainer, often done by a man to a woman.

Being unemployed has been the third worst experience of my life.** I’ve tried at various times to rationalize it as “time to get stuff I’ve always wanted to do done,” or “time to get enough sleep and be rested” before facing the rejection/feelings of being invisibility that accompany the job search. The effectiveness of these rationalizations varies in terms of how much they can assuage my sadness/feelings of inadequacy/worthlessness. The unsolicited advice in general does not provide any solace.

A gracious, patient person might explain away these advice givers simply as compassionate individuals with the best intentions. That explanation is no longer enough for me to keep my rage at bay. I have currently been unemployed or underemployed since February 2012. Everyone, as I mentioned above, has advice.


Before I get to the nut meat, I want to qualify the above by affirming that I do value advice—the kind that is solicited and originates from an informed, reasoned source with actual knowledge and/or experience of the subject at hand.

But in terms of topics like weight loss, pregnancy, or unemployment—these topics that are somehow fair game for everyone to advise—I am much less receptive to the often inane, irrelevant, uninformed counsel of the public. It is insulting, annoying, and frustrating.

And now: 3 questions to ask BEFORE offering unsolicited advice to a job searcher

1. What are your educational/professional credentials?

This question sets the stage by providing the giver-of-unsolicited-advice a background upon which to base his/her otherwise uninformed, probably-too-general-and-not-relevant-anyway advice.

But STOP there. Don’t begin advising yet. Take in the answer you received for question one and then PROCEED TO QUESTION 2 WITHOUT ADVISING.

2. What is your industry/what type of work are you looking for?

This question, in conjunction with the first question, provides the giver-of-unsolicited-advice with a more precise idea of the unwilling advisee’s career ambitions.

But STOP there. Don’t begin advising yet. Continue to mull the responses and then CONTINUE ON TO QUESTION 3 WITHOUT ADVISING.

3. What have you tried?

This question is intended to provide the giver-of-unsolicited-advice with an idea of what websites, networks, methods, processes, etc. one has already tried or is already familiar with. This question and its response are designed to eliminate redundant suggestions about who is hiring (For example: I heard NATO is hiring. Oh really? Because I just got laid off from NATO), what kinds of websites are available (Have you heard of USAJobs? Have you considered the State Department? No, as a person with a Ph.D. in international relations-ey stuff and the recipient of multiple grants from the US Dept. of State, including one with a federal government service requirement, I'VE SOMEHOW NEVER HEARD OF THESE THINGS OR CONSIDERED THEM).

Ah ha!

In conclusion, dear giver-of-unsolicited-advice, now that you are equipped with this information, please heed it. I am confident that you will find that a good portion of your suggestions are redundant, not relevant, and/or superfluous.

However, because you were not self-aware enough to consider the above on your own, it is perhaps wishful thinking to believe that a giver-of-unsolicited-advice would even recognize him/herself as an offender.

** The worst experience of my life was my parents' divorce. The second worst was bed bugs.

TL;DR Take time to ask a few questions before launching immediately into advice-giving to a job searcher.

Being Unemployed Part I: Why Collecting Unemployment Isn't Demeaning

In general I write here about North Africa, the Arab world, and women’s rights issues. I a recent post, I wrote about fatshaming, an issue of great interest to me. In this post, I am going to write about being unemployed.

My experience reflects the state of affairs in Virginia. I’ve read a couple of other experiences, and the outcomes differ depending on the state. Different states require different things and provide different things.

I am among the fortunate who have been able to collect unemployment benefits. In another post, I am going to talk about where exactly unemployment benefits come from, because it’s a remarkable program. But for now, I will spare a few words to explain why I, in the eyes of some, demeaned myself and accepted checks from the government when I could have been working somewhere. I will be clear: I do not consider claiming benefits in any form demeaning.

In the state of Virginia, the maximum weekly benefit is about $378. This benefit is taxed. One may collect weekly checks in that amount for 25 weeks. Under a special emergency program, I was able to collect for an additional 19 weeks. I will discuss these programs, and the origins of unemployment funding, in another post. I will claim the final unemployment benefit check for which I am eligible on 29 December 2012.

So let me return to my current point: why did I demean myself and accept checks from the government when I could have been working somewhere? The answer may be explained by a cost/benefit analysis. My last day of full time work was 1 February 2012. Let’s assume I could have obtained work in retail at the VA minimum wage of $7.25 and begin working by 15 February 2012. Although it is extremely unlikely (see McMillan’s, The American Way of Eating, Part II Selling) let’s assume I was able to get a full time appointment. Full time employment in most cases would have made me eligible for health and other benefits. These benefits, should I have elected to claim them, would have required premiums. My gross pay for 40 hours per week would have been $290. That is pre-tax, doesn’t include any premiums for benefits, and doesn’t account for the cost of transportation to the workplace, and incidental expenses such as meals (purchasing onsite or bringing one) and uniforms/shoes.

$378 is more than $290. Even at an hourly rate of $10/hr, with the expenses I mentioned earlier, I would likely take home less per week as a worker than as a person collecting unemployment. And let’s not forget the most valuable (and paradoxically most threatening) benefit of collecting unemployment: time. Time allows me to look for work in my field, prepare high quality applications, participate in networking events, and attend interviews without needing to juggle a work schedule.

Anyway, I would have thought that this previous paragraph was obvious information. And perhaps I am taking things people say to me way too personally. But in case I am not being too sensitive or over analyzing the stuff people say on the subject of working versus collecting unemployment, I hereby offer this post.


In my next post, I am going to write about the scourge of unsolicited advice-giving to job searchers.

TL;DR Collecting unemployment isn’t demeaning, and it gives me time to try to find work in my field.