On Thursday, the United States Department of Labor announced that over 1.3 million Americans filed initial unemployment claims last week. This report marks the 17th consecutive week of 1-million-plus unemployment claims. About 51 million people have filed for unemployment benefits since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. This doesn’t include the millions of others who’ve finished collecting benefits, given up looking for a job or have reluctantly taken a position far below their prior compensation level just to make ends meet.
Now, all we ever hear about is the data behind the jobs crisis. However, we hardly ever hear the personalized stories of the Americans behind the statistics. Here are some of the testimonies of the people who are gallantly trying to find a new job against all odds during this very unforgiving job market.
Donna Lauria doesn’t possess a college degree, but found her way into Prudential—one of the largest insurance and financial services firms in the world. She spent decades at the Newark, New Jersey-based organization, working her way up the corporate ladder and earned roughly $200k in salary, bonuses and benefits.
The company, like many others, suffered some downturns and offered voluntary separation packages rather than enacting large-scale layoffs. Concerned about remaining at the company and later possibly getting fired, Lauria accepted the package and fairly quickly found another role. It was a private equity-backed financial firm. In cost-cutting measures, Lauria—along with others—was downsized in December 2019. She knew from past experience that the search would be slow over the holidays, so she wasn’t too worried. The holiday season came and went. Then, the coronavirus swept through the United States and all of her job leads evaporated into thin air.
Lauria spent her days sending out résumés, contacting friends, former colleagues, recruiters and anyone who was in a position to help—without any luck. Her unemployment insurance doesn’t come close to what she was previously earning. She tried looking for jobs outside of her core competencies, but to no avail. Some recruiters and human resource professionals contacted her then disappeared. Lauria’s open to contract roles to get back into the work world. MORE FOR YOUNearly 50 Million Americans Have Filed For Unemployment—Here’s What’s Really HappeningCompanies In Their Cost Cutting Are Discriminating Against Older WorkersHow To Stay Positive During A Long And Exhausting Job Search
A big challenge she faces is dealing with fighting off the debilitating feelings of depression, anxiety and fear of what will happen in the future. This is a common theme among the dozens of people with whom I spoke with for this piece.
Sandra Remorenkowas told by her boss via a phone call that her services were no longer required. There was no empathy or compassion—just a curt “goodbye and good luck.”
Remorenko was an executive assistant to the head of a high-end wealth management firm located in an exclusive suburb of Atlanta. Prior to that role, Remorenko was an executive assistant to a prominent CPA firm founder and CEO. She had also worked at a top-tier private bank.
Despite her credentials and sending out “over 100 résumés and applications, cold calling companies and recruiters,” she didn’t get any responses. Remorenko said that she reached out to everyone she knew and even applied for entry-level positions. Her few interviews were cold and callous. One company demanded that she prepare something creative, like a “video or sing a song.” She was told in order to work at that hiring company, “You have to be a magician.” She complied with the outlandish request, but never heard back.
Feeling desperate, Remorenko wrote a handwritten letter to her former employer to ask if she could come back. The reason she left was because the CEO at the CPA firm had informed employees that he was considering closing down the business and retiring. Worried about her fate, especially as she’s a little older than the competition out there, Remorenko felt the need to pursue new opportunities. There wasn’t any animosity or ill will in her departure. She penned the letter stating to him, “I’m writing to you from my heart,” and that she would love to come back. Unfortunately, she never got a response back.
Remorenko is “greatly concerned” over her situation. Some days, she feels “totally overwhelmed” and finds it “hard to sleep well,” stating she “can’t turn off [her] brain.”
What has hurt her the most is the judgemental treatment by her family and friends. They blame her for her circumstances and believe that her standards are too high, often telling her to “just get a job”—as if it’s that easy. Her sister faulted her for not being religiously devout enough, which she believed was the root cause of her unemployment. Her son, an Ivy League college graduate, was equally critical of her lack of quickly procuring a new position.
Jody Bennettis a well-experienced human resources professional, so she thought she knew what to expect. However, Bennett didn’t realize that companies had moved “so far to the dark side”—meaning that she was ghosted and not offered any compassion, respect, courtesy or respect in the interview process. This has fortified Bennett’s desire to get back into human resources and make a difference by “putting the humanity back in human resources.”
Bennett’s husband, a graduate of the prestigious hospitality program at Cornell, also lost his job. They reside in a part of Florida that had a once-thriving service industry that has since been crushed by the effects of Covid-19.
Everyday, the couple gets up at 8:00 a.m. and treats their job search as a full-time job and then calls it a day at 7:00 p.m. Bennett says that she often feels “deflated.” After long days of sending out résumés, trying to get interviews, networking, searching for jobs, investigating if they’re real or not and scouting for possible contacts at the desired companies, she feels an “exhaustion that gets into [her] bones.”
Bennett feels disheartened that there’s a lack of compassion and empathy. She feels that companies seek younger, less costly people and don’t value her vast experience.
She notices a cognitive dissonance between what she’s been told to do and her new reality.
“We went to college, got degrees, worked hard then pushed out of the airplane.”
Bennet feels like she did everything she was supposed to do to lock in a solid career, but now lives in a “constant state of fear and worry for months at end.” It takes a toll. She’s not sleeping well and is forcing herself to exercise and stay involved.
To compound the frustration, Florida’s unemployment system seems broken. She hasn’t received the federal government’s enhanced $600 per week and only receives $275 in unemployment benefits weekly. The $2,000 monthly COBRA insurance costs eat into their savings. Although it feels like a dire situation, Bennett and her husband possess savings and feel they will ultimately find jobs.
She wonders what will happen to those people who don’t have any emergency funds, live paycheck to paycheck with children that rely upon school lunches and when this will ever end.
Rick Waxmanis an optimist. The marketing director from a Philadelphia suburb tries to be positive. His go-to strategy is to aggressively advertise himself on LinkedIn. His mantra is to build his brand and create awareness through consistently posting quality content on Linkedin. He also focuses on the highs and successes rather than the setbacks. Waxman writes about his job search in an “authentic” manner. Waxman says, “Because of that, people notice and tend to share jobs with me.” According to him, this approach has helped bring the “hidden job market” to his attention.
“My job is to find a job,” said Waxman. He wakes up at the same time every morning and sets a schedule for the day. He applies for jobs and researches target companies that may need an experienced marketing professional. Waxman sets up Google alerts for companies he’s interested in to see if there is any news that could aid his search. He then reaches out to people who may have job leads inviting them to a “virtual online coffee” conversation. Waxman takes online courses to update his skills. His online networking efforts have afforded him the opportunity to meet new people and form friendships and camaraderie with folks in the same boat.
“Eventually I’ll get a job. Something will hit,” Waxman says, as he has come to terms with this new uncharted territory. He pushes himself to work hard and be proactive and persistent.
Robert Williams had worked on Wall Street for decades. The New York Long Islander has been out of work for five months and has taken out over $30,000 from his 401(k) plan. Every morning, he’s up at 7:30 a.m. and gets his coffee and bagel. Williams spends his days networking, sending out résumés and taking online powerpoint, excel and other courses to expand his skills.
Williams hardly ever hears back from his résumé submittals. From time to time, a recruiter or internal corporate representative will contact him, but then they never get back.
He goes fishing and does the yardwork for relatives to destress. Williams is gregarious and has a great sense of humor that makes people feel comfortable around him. His big concern is that he may be viewed as too old. A person over 60 years of age—and earning a certain level of compensation—is at risk of being replaced by a much younger and less costly person, especially if they’re based in lower cost U.S. cities or countries.
After months of unemployment, Williams is looking to pivot into other areas. He’s very interested in cybersecurity and has discussed with his wife if it makes sense to spend over $20,000 of their savings on a certification program. She’s a nurse, so they have some income coming into the household, but they worry about their future financial situation.
Jacqueline Hair, a senior-executive-level legal and regulatory professional living in the Dallas/Fort Worth area, received a rejection letter from a company’s application tracking system before her scheduled interview took place.
On another occasion, she had three rounds of productive interviews, then was met with complete radio silence. Hair sent emails to the internal recruiter reinforcing her interest in the role, but never received a response. After doing some research, she found someone she knows at the company. When asked about the status of the job, Hair was told by her contact that “all the jobs were placed on hold.” Frustrated, she rhetorically asked, “Why wasn’t an email sent out informing people?” Similar issues with applicant tracking systems happened to her husband and her son, a recent college graduate.
Hair has come to the conclusion that many of the jobs posted aren’t real. She believes that the companies have already found an internal candidate and posted the advertisements to just check boxes to show that they are looking at a diverse slate of candidates.
“There’s no care to wasting the time of job seekers,” said Hair. When browsing job boards, she sees the same job listings showing up, as companies aren’t taking the time to remove them. These actions reflect the prevailing attitude that there’s no respect for job seekers’ time and efforts. She often wonders why there’s no accountability.
Hair said, “The use of technology gives human resources and internal corporate recruiters the excuse to ignore the human touch.” She adds, “[This] runs counter to their claims of holding core values of being considerate of people.”
“Some days, I wake and I’m too frustrated to work,” she admits. “I check out job boards. Apply, but they never tell that you aren’t being considered. You get burned out from knocking your head against the wall.”
Joanne Bartley Hilmanwas a fast-track management consultant with E&Y. Now in between roles, Hilman hired a career coach and is aggressively attacking her job search with gusto. She religiously posts positive affirmational content on LinkedIn. She says that her postings have made her friends and connections, but so far hasn’t yielded a new job.
Hilman maintains a target list of companies. She seeks out people at the companies who could potentially put in a good word for her. After four months, she’s had a couple of “maybes” and interviews with recruiters who really didn’t understand what she did and just shared irrelevant job listings with her.
She’s become accustomed to excited recruiters that quickly drop off. “It’s very frustrating that they don’t get back and ghost me,” said Hilman. Trying to always look at the bright side, she uses her interactions with recruiters as practice for her elevator pitch. Her mindset is that this is temporary and something will eventually come from all of her hard work and efforts. She often wonders when this will happen and hopes it will be sooner rather than later. It’s very easy to slip into sadness, but Hilman perseveres and tries to help others who are in the same situation.
She notices that companies tend to have “unrealistic expectations” and don’t give people the opportunity nor do they offer the “courtesy of letting her know that she’s out of the running.”
Her thought process is “positivity and persistence is the key” to finding a new job. Turning negatives into positives, Hilman believes, “Every ‘no’ gets you closer to a ‘yes.’”
SOURCE: Jack Kelly