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Depression Is Making Unemployment Longer

Depression and anxiety create a destructive cycle for job seekers, making it harder to find a job.

By Debra Donston-Miller
FILED UNDER: Work Life Balance.
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Soroush Ghaderi was a confident young engineer. He worked at Sun Microsystems, one of the giants of Silicon Valley, where he had been on staff for 10 years, almost his entire career since college.

As Sun’s fortunes faded, the QA engineer survived 13 or 14 rounds of layoffs before luck caught up with him and he was laid off with thousands of other employees in April 2009. He called it a blow to his attitude, but he knew it was coming and maintained faith in his abilities and the prospects for a short job search. In fact, he considered unemployment an opportunity. He had 60 days left on staff at Sun and severance coming after that: plenty of time to find a new, better job.

Fast-forward to April 2010, Ghaderi had sent out hundreds of resumes, been on dozens of interviews and received zero job offers. Ghaderi, once cocksure and positive in his demeanor, was blowing it on job interviews. "The answers to technical questions weren't as easy for me, and I was told by a couple of companies that they didn't think my programming knowledge was strong enough," he said. "In an interview, you have maybe five or 10 minutes to answer a question. They ask you to write some code on the board. If you're not doing it day in and day out, it's going to take you a little longer to get the exact syntax. That's what was getting difficult."

His confidence wasted and depression raging, "it got to a point where I knew I wasn't going to get an offer before I even went to the interview," he said. "Looking back now, I realize that my depression and negativity was probably a factor in some of my interviews."

Ghaderi was trapped in a destructive cycle common among the unemployed — depression and negativity were making it harder for him to get a job, which compounded his depression and negativity, and so on.

Depression, anxiety and malaise aren’t just a case of the blues to "snap out of," said Deb Brown, a cognitive behavioral psychologist. The condition will sap your confidence and impact your ability to think and act, making it difficult to sell yourself as the best and brightest candidate for a job.

Time and Routine

For most, the length of time it takes to find a job and unmet expectations make matters worse. "The duration of time that people are dealing with is probably going to be much longer than they thought when they first lost their jobs."

Brown, who has experience coaching job seekers to climb out of depression and improve their presentation skills, said it’s critical for people who have been unemployed for long periods of time to continually check their attitudes. This, of course, is far easier said than done, which is why a close network of friends, family and colleagues is key. The time people tend to want to withdraw is exactly the time they need people around them to provide support, perspective and more than a little cheerleading.

"It is very common for people when they start feeling down to withdraw, and that unfortunately is the very last thing that someone out of work should be doing," Brown said. "Stay out there, stay networking, [even though] that's hard when you're starting to feel down and hopeless."

Job seekers should also work to maintain a routine based in part on business best practices. "It is extremely important for those who have been out of work for an extended period of time to create mission statements and modified business plans in order to breathe new life into their situation," said Jeffrey Sumber, a licensed psychotherapist and career development coach. "I encourage people to spend at least three hours a day, each day, doing things toward getting hired. Three hours is a huge amount of time that needs to be factored into one's schedule, ideally in the morning."

Publicist Jeremy Belitsos, who faced his own yearlong stint of unemployment, agreed that routine and taking care of yourself are critical. Belitsos recommends working out, getting up early ("Getting up late seriously makes for a lazy day") and finding some kind of work within your field. "Constantly interning and getting experience within your field, even if it’s weekend contract work you find over the Internet, has obviously good implications for keeping your work samples and references fresh," said Belitsos.

Confidence Boost

After feeling out of practice and a few steps behind the pack, Ghaderi decided in mid-2010 to sharpen his programming skills — in Perl, specifically. But what he found in class was not only new information but also confidence. "I am a fairly good programmer, and being in class where I was able to compare myself to 30 other students gave me some confidence."

With a brighter personal outlook, new skills and a slightly improving job market, Ghaderi received not one but two job offers in the fall of 2010, just a few weeks before his unemployment benefits were set to expire.

Of the two jobs he was offered, Ghaderi decided to take the one that paid less but was full time as opposed to the contract-to-permanent opportunity offered by another company. The firm he is now working at is smaller than he is used to, but offers a lot of opportunity.

Still, Ghaderi is not letting his guard down: "I still look at job sites," he said, "checking out the skill sets they're looking for, making sure that I don't slack off on any of those things — in case something goes wrong again."

Debra Donston-Miller covers work-life issues and difficult job-search situations for TheLadders.

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