Tough Love for the Long-Term Unemployed: Have You Let Yourself Become Lazy?

If you have been unemployed for more than 6 months and have no prospects on the horizon, I'm afraid it is time we had a little talk. First, know that I offer this advice with love. You are clearly not alone. There are millions of others in the U.S. that find themselves in a similar situation.

If you happen to be one of the over 1.7 million that have already felt the financial impact from the expiration of federal Emergency Unemployment Compensation, (EUC) at the end of 2013, you are probably getting a little nervous. Maybe even depressed.  The Democrats in the U.S. senate will make another attempt to pass ..., but frankly, it does not look promising to me. If you are still reading, perhaps you are interested in my opinion on why some of the most  capable, even talented people I know stay unemployed too long simply because they fall victim to laziness.

I know hearing this will sting. I know that you've probably worked hard your whole life until this point and hearing the word lazy is frustrating. I could sugar coat it by saying “inactive” or “indifferent”, but they would mean the same thing: you have given up. You think you have done everything you can to get a job and now you spend more time trying to forget you are unemployed than you do looking for a job.

Do you spend too much time on Facebook, Twitter, the X-Box, or Netflix? These can all be critically damaging to your career search. If you are spending more than an hour on any of these things during the time you would typically spend at work, you have become complacent in your job search. There is a cool app called Strict Workflow that can help you manage your time online. I use it myself. It helps re-direct me and limit the time I spend on social media. It essentially blocks the sites I should refrain from using during my predetermined work time with a pop up that says, "Back to work!" I highly recommend it for anyone that spends a lot of time online looking for job opportunities.

It is time to be very strict with yourself when it comes to "escape" activities. Trust me on this. It is so easy to say you're going to check Career Builder "after while". Remember, we procrastinate about the things we would rather avoid. Hit that job fair when it opens, before the booths are busy. Make phone calls on those job leads before noon. The internet is an awesome resource for your job search because you can use it any time of the day, but trust me, the people that are reviewing your resume work between 8 AM and 5 PM. If you find your resumes are getting no response, try applying to the job and then calling the company you applied to at the same time to follow up. If you catch me by phone as I'm opening up your resume, I might just take the time for a brief phone screen right then if your resume looks good. If you have made a small investment in a site like ResumeSpider, you will want to be watching for the alert that your resume has been viewed and contact the recruiter.

Look, I'm not saying you cannot have entertainment while in a job search. Being unemployed can be tough on your mental well-being and these things can all provide a positive way to escape, too. I'd much rather see someone engross themselves in Mortal Kombat than blow more of their savings on a drink at the bar. What I am saying is that when you are looking for a job, looking needs to be your job. During 8 AM and 5 PM or at the very least the hours you would typically work, all of your efforts should be spent in towards something that will help you find a job.

Everything you do during your work day should be focused on: improving your resume, educating yourself, volunteering in the community, networking with career contacts, or applying to jobs. You will stay much more motivated if you get up and get dressed as if you were going to work. This means 8 hours minimum, 5 days per week. Check out some of the awesome opportunities for low-cost or no-cost learning online. Some of the best learning institutions in the world now offer amazing courses that would be attention grabbing on any resume. I recently discovered EdX and you will find free opportunities from Havard, MIT, Berkley and more on this site.

So there it is. My dose of tough love. What will you do with it? Will you step up and get back to work? Will admit that you might have let yourself become lazy? Stop sitting around telling people how bad the job market is right now and make it your mission to prove that it doesn't matter because you refuse to let it beat you. I know you can do it. I believe in you.

Amy McDonald is the President and CEO supporting several online employment sites. She has worked in the human resources and recruiting industry for over 20 years. Amy has worked with thousands of career seekers recruitment professionals throughout her career, training best practices in finding a job, workplace relations, sourcing talent and refining the recruitment process. In her spare time, Amy participates as a thought leader and contributor for recruitment information with BIZCATALYST360.

Views: 1544

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on February 6, 2014 at 3:46pm

Thanks, Amy.  On another blog site today, I read what I feel is a very appropriate comment:

"A pet peeve of mine these days is the conflation of "Too lazy to work" with "Won't submit to slave labor conditions" and "Can't find a job at all." Those are three very different things."



Comment by Amy McDonald on February 6, 2014 at 4:28pm

@Keith. Ahh...a view I didn't consider. Let me say this, my point is that any of us could find ourselves becoming lazy in the search for the right job after it's been just too long.  Many get to a point where they are giving up and it translates in to the perceived notion that they don't want to work. I wasn't really trying to group the 3 together.. I probably should have made a better distinction in the title that I mean becoming lazy in their search.

A person that can't find a job at all and one that refuses to submit to slave labor conditions can still become quite lazy in the pursuit of the right position after 6 months. As recruiters, we know that new opportunities can pop up any day and you cannot allow yourself to slow down your commitment to the search if you really want to work. Those that are not willing to settle are the ones that a little tough love discussion will probably benefit most. Those that are just too lazy to go to work would probably not be reading my this!  Keep commenting! I love feedback. - Amy

Comment by Keith D. Halperin on February 6, 2014 at 4:56pm

Yes it's true Amy. I know eople need to re-condition themselves fro working when they've been down for awhile. I know I've had to...


and Keep Blogging,


Comment by Amy Ala Miller on February 7, 2014 at 8:25pm

...and then there are folks like my mom, laid off after 12 years in a small manufacturing company, technology in her field (accounting) has passed her by. She's 60 and working her ass off part time (plus as many extra hours as she can get) handing out samples at grocery stores. She's signed up with / checks in regularly with every staffing agency in town and has been on more interviews than I can count. Always positive feedback, but never an offer. Even her recruiter daughter is at a loss.

Comment by Kelly Blokdijk on February 7, 2014 at 9:25pm

I'm a bit conflicted about this one... I've regularly interacted with job seekers for many years - most currently employed, but lately quite a few under-/unemployed and unfortunately several long-term employed. Of those groups, I get the impression that the long-term unemployed are the ones putting in the MOST effort in their searches.

I think its a myth (or extremely rare) that people give up and stop looking. They may get discouraged, frustrated and temporarily do something to distract them from their sucky situation, but they are not entirely dropping out and slacking off all together from what I can tell.

At some point there is a diminishing return though. I'm actually more perplexed by those saying they apply for 50 job per week. There are only so many jobs available at any given time that a person could reasonably qualify for within their geographic area. That combined with the known bias against the unemployed and especially long-term unemployed, doesn't typically produce a promising picture.

Either way, I don't get the impression these people are sitting around playing video games, watching movies or goofing off on Facebook in lieu of job search related activities. Do some of them need a dose of tough love, sure. Especially, if they are doing things or not doing things that further their progress. 

Comment by Matt Charney on February 7, 2014 at 11:08pm

I've been intentionally holding back on this, but Amy, I encourage controversy, but you're dead wrong on this one. I went through a job search not all that long ago, and when I got a job, I was just relieved I had to stop working so damn hard. I want to try to put this in perspective; on your LinkedIn profile, you dropped out of the workforce to spend 3.5 years as a "homemaker." So what you're basically saying is that during your extended absence from the workforce, you weren't working hard enough to find a job and weren't really doing anything. I know for a fact that's not the case, but you know as well as I do that is the same sort of red flag for employers that probably preempted you from returning to exec positions at larger, more traditional recruiting firms to "President/CEO" of a handful of startup employment sites is a stronger indicator of having given up a job search than anything other possible factor. I'm not personally attacking you, I'm just giving you the same sort of "tough love" you seem to want to preach. I welcome edgy, and dissention, but at least don't be a hypocrite.

Comment by Amy McDonald on February 8, 2014 at 12:01am

I can see where you think you know my situation based on looking at my LinkedIn profile, Matt. You're good at what you do, and people count on your ability to read between the lines. This time, I'm afraid it is you that are dead wrong and I feel that I must defend myself against the accusation of being a hypocrite. You are correct that I took a few years off after working since age 9 and classify that period as a homemaker. What I would tell you in an interview is that I made the decision to leave the work force because I had a child with a number of serious medical issues and that if we were to decide to work together you should be aware that while his condition had greatly improved and I felt comfortable returning to the work force, I will always be a mother first and an executive second. I did not pursue the position I currently hold, I was recruited. In fact, I didn't even put a resume together.I had to spiff up my LinkedIn page after I took the job! I had been contacted by several recruiters during the time I was not working, including a great opportunity at a Fortune 100 company with some serious staffing issues at a plant about an hour from my home. Logistically, I could not consider despite the incredible salary it offered. However, it was not until I had an offer to lead some websites that I had consulted on through a previous role that my interest was sparked. The company was willing to present an ideal work situation for me as they promote remote offices and I just could not turn it down. My employer chose my title. I get a base salary plus a bonus just like most others in my situation. I don't own these companies, I just work for them.

Please let me mention that I do have had two situations in my career where I have been unemployed. One due to relocation and the other when my company closed its doors. Both times, I used the advice I offered in my article and found myself employed within a month. In both circumstances I started at a salary significantly lower than the one I had been in and grew my earnings by proving my worth within the first year. I'm not trying to brag here, but to get one of those positions, I literally dressed in a suit and walked in every store in the Greenwood Park Mall to ask if they were accepting applications. I got a position at Glamour Shots for $6.00/hour draw to draw customers in to the store saying "Pick a color, win a prize!". True story. Swear!

So now that I've told EVERYONE way more than they ever cared to know, let me say this: I think that perhaps you missed my point in this article, and I suspect you are not alone. I'll clarify here The point I am attempting to make is that when you are long-term unemployed and you find yourself getting lazy you have to snap out of it. In some cases you may have to decide whether you want to go on Welfare or work for what someone called slave wages. You must take a long hard look at what you are doing and say is there ANYTHING else I can do? What have I missed? Should I pound the pavement again? Should I invest a little in something that I never would have 6 months ago? You have to ask yourself if your motivation is holding you back from moving forward. That's my take. Keep commenting to me Matt. Do you still think I'm dead wrong. Would you really not agree that at 6months its time to take a look at what one can do differently in their search to re-engage?

Comment by Amy McDonald on February 8, 2014 at 12:16am

@Kelly. Thanks for your comment as well. Perhaps the trend is just in my particular network. I knew the use of the word lazy was going to get some push back, because I do believe there are those that can truthfully answer, "No, I'm not becoming lazy in my job search." For those that can, I salute you, because after 6 months I can absolutely see myself falling victim to things that would pull my focus from being serious about a job search. I've been fortunate to not experience that. 1.7 Million Americans aren't lazy. That is just silly. But it can happen, and for those, I hope they benefit from the post.

Comment by Amy McDonald on February 8, 2014 at 12:23am

@Amy A. I wanted to comment on yours separately because you provide a perfect example of what I am saying a person should do. They take something less ideal, maybe a part time position, and continue to search while they do so. The situation isn't great, but you can't give up. I have some serious thoughts on the waste of the talent over the age of 50 our country is experiencing right now, but that is for another blog. Thanks for commenting.

Comment by Matt Charney on February 8, 2014 at 12:48am

@Amy: First off, I completely expect a post from your experience at Glamour Shots, because that's just amazing. Beyond that, though, I wasn't at all suggesting that break wasn't in any way valid, but your comment reinforces the fact that this is a complex, highly personal and complex situation that it's doing everyone a disservice by speaking in sweeping generalizations. I'm snarky about recruiting and content, but I think that the fundamental basis for my disdain at the current state of the profession lies in this 'us' vs. 'them' mentality - we're all candidates at some point or another. Since 2009, the average time to fill for a position has increased 15 days to an average in the US of around 75 days from "we want to bring you in" until an offer extension (Bersin data) which means that 6 months is basically going through the process for only two jobs under optimal conditons - and the hoops you have to jump through to even get on that slate have become so complex that getting seen in the first place requires a work ethic that suggests that job search apathy and extended unemployment are rarely the candidates' fault at all - it's our stupid processes and terrible tech that's to blame. Nothing to do with candidate experience and everything to do with elan.  But I hope you know I'd never judge you by your LinkedIn profile - the problem is that too many of our colleagues happen to assess candidates by the same methodology you've clearly shown is inaccurate, ineffective and above all, highly biased.


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