Looking for a Job? Line Up a Gig First.
Do something small, so long as you're doing something.
We're finally getting away from the Texas-flood parking lot sinkhole that was job-hunting during the Great Recession. The ratio of job-seekers to job openings is at an eight-year low, and unemployment has come out of the nosebleed seats, under 6 percent overall but substantially higher for teenagers, black people, and Hispanics. If you're looking for a full-time thing, here's a tip from me to you: Don't start with a job-hunt. The first step is to gig-hunt.
Answer a “help needed” ad, even if it’s on a diner front window. Drive something for pay. Sell some shit, whether it’s yours or someone else’s. Work a seasonal shift. (Here are some online listings for this sort of thing.) It stands to reason that part-time or short-time jobs are lower-stakes propositions, making them immensely easier to land than full-time anything. The last time I was unemployed and looking, I reached out to an editor who, it turned out, needed someone for gig work. The time between the introductory email to having a desk and a phone was all of eight days. Starting from a standstill and running into the rigor of a full-time hire would’ve taken months. The gig was steady, it was solid, it kept beer on the table, and it gave me the latitude to concentrate on work while looking for whatever would be next.
Gigs are your friend, for these three basic reasons: money, sanity, and leverage.
The money part is simple enough. You work, you get paid. Even if you’re drawing unemployment from a previous job, you can almost certainly work a few hours a week without cutting into those benefits. Earning money makes you feel good, on a number of levels. Your bills get paid. You get to participate in the economy. Your standard of living will stay higher, so you won’t feel weird around your friends who continue to earn thousands of dollars while you wake up at 9 a.m. to cold-email resumes into oblivion and watch The Price is Right. That’s no way to be. Even if this is how you’re spending the balance of your afternoons waiting for emails:
Sanity is nebulous. Maybe you feel better working, maybe you don't. You may find that having no imposed structure, no boss, no arbitrary rules, no manufactured stress, is a nice way to chill out for a time. Play piano, go for a run, cook at home, smoke a bowl, find out what all's piling up on your DVR. That can be a great way to pass the days, especially if you know when you're going to draw your next proper checks. If you don't know, well, go ahead and find something to eat up a few hours on the regular, preferably something that'll force you to leave the house and change shirts at least a couple of times a week. Unemployment can wreck your health: anxiety, heart troubles, respiratory infections, bad sleep, more hospitalizations, suicide, all the big ones. Grabbing a part-time thing, even in a field that has nothing to do with your profession or craft, can keep you feeling like yourself.
Leverage is the big one. The prejudice against hiring people who have no jobs is ugly, it’s persistent, and it’s really harmful to eager would-be workers. Life is about inertia, and when you lose it in your career, your wages stagnate, your prospects dim, your skills dull, and the prophecy becomes self-fulfilling: you can’t get a job when you’ve got no work. Plus, hiring managers can smell desperation from the words “dear sir or madam.”Taking a gig, much like going back to school, regains control of that narrative. Most of what gets a person hired is a story. The resume tells that story; references tell that story; and the applicant tells that story. When an employer asks what you’ve been up to since your last job, you’d better have something better to say than “sending out resumes” or “catching up on my Tim and Eric.”
Those aren’t things an employer needs you to be good at. Instead, have anything else to say. He doesn’t need to know what you got paid tutoring kids on their SAT prep or taking masonry odd-jobs or rocking a Lyft shift. You just want to be able to say, “Staying really busy,” and then tell a story that involves something other than refreshing your inbox, napping after lunch, and kicking the hell out of Guitar Hero.