Remaining Employable when Unemployed: How to Avoid Hysteresis?

I recently got to know a friend, Chris, who told me that he had never had to write a single resume or cover letter of all the years he has been working. The jobs were always offered to him by someone else. He has been in the food and farming industry and is currently writing a memoir on his experience!

He told me he pursues what interests him through attending events and speaking to people to find out directly from them about what they do. He is a polite, passionate, curious, and capable young man. And I understand how anyone who speaks to him can be keen to have him on board and part of their plans and team.

One of the undesired consequences of losing your job or being unemployed for an extended period is that you begin to lose your network of contacts who would usually facilitate your job search efforts. Chris, who naturally likes connecting with people, did not have such a problem, as he remained within his network even at times when he may be unemployed.

There is a phenomenon in the world of economics called ‘hysteresis.’ This word means to lag. It is used to describe how the unemployed continue to remain unemployed even when opportunities become available because of what happens to them during their initial unemployment.

Here’s what possibly may have happened: During this long break, the lack of opportunities to use one’s skills eventually lead to the erosion of these skills. Also, the lack of contact with former classmates and colleagues (and new friends) leads to a disconnect with the people who can open doors for one.

Should we eventually like to return to the workforce, how can we, the unemployed, remedy or prevent ‘hysteresis’ from personally happening to us?

You may have taken a career break, like what I did last year, be retrenched from your job, as many have during this pandemic, or be delayed in securing your first job fresh out of graduation. Whatever your situation, how can we keep ourselves meaningfully occupied to avoid ‘hysteresis’ from happening to us?

It is important to continue to use and upgrade your skills in one way or another. Whether it’s taking up a small part-time opportunity or starting to freelance or picking up new skills – do it even as you are not employed.

Even if you’re not paid, such as doing an internship or volunteering for a cause you care about, any opportunity at all that allows you to continue to use your skills or give you chances to learn, grow, and pick up new skills should be pursued.

Being meaningfully occupied not only helps you maintain the sharpness of your mind and skillfulness of your hands, but it also gives you the confidence that you are needed, wanted, and useful!

(We often neglect the importance of confidence in a job search. Confidence affects what opportunities you go after and how you present yourself to others.)

Moreover, these are things you can put on your CV. It would not look like you took a complete break from work. It will look like you changed from full-time to part-time or freelance. This would help you retain your competitiveness in the market and, more importantly, your confidence in your abilities.

I unintentionally did this during my career break because I was quite ambitious. I worked part-time to do occasional writing for the Molchanovs freediving education system, I wrote a book about academic writing, I took courses to pursue my interests – Thai massage and face massagefreediving instructing (I even taught two students!); even taking advantage of the Covid-19 situation to take a course offered by the government on the donning and doffing of the PPE.

So don’t discount anything that you do during your break.

To be honest, there were a lot of things I had wished to do and achieved during this break but did not manage to accomplish them. I had wanted to become a freelancer and even make a career change. It was too difficult for me to depend on my passions for a living and too short a time to discover what other kinds of work I might have more interest in.

Even though I was not able to achieve these things, I realized it’s not a big deal. It’s okay that I tried and found out what worked and what didn’t. Maybe in a few years, I will try again.

And then there’s the other part about remaining in a network. Stay in touch with your friends and former colleagues. Continue to update them about yourself and be curious about how they are doing in their respective paths and lives.

If your loss or lack of a job was unintended, you may feel bad about yourself and isolate yourself. But don’t do that. Don’t be ashamed. What you are experiencing now is not unique. Everyone experiences unemployment at one point or another, whether by choice or not.

There is no glory in holding on resolutely to a job for many many years. It does not always reflect your intelligence, capability, or passion, in uncertain days like ours. There is, however, glory in remaining hopeful under challenging circumstances.

Acknowledge how you feel, apply self-care, keep yourself meaningfully occupied, and share your situation with people and continue to reach out to others for support or help.

I am grateful that the current research job I found was recommended to me by two of my friends.

There is a flow in the universe. Don’t be afraid to follow it—that path of least resistance.

If you feel life leading you in a certain direction, go with it. Don’t be hard on yourself that you were re-directed another way and don’t insist on always going the most difficult route. And don’t beat yourself up over your situation.

Stay calm, take a deep breath, and may your eyes be open to the opportunities that await you in this new phase of your life.

It may well be a very new beginning!


Photo by Christian Joudrey on Unsplash


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