What advice would you for a guy who hasn't been able to find a job for the past year?

When I first read the article, I had all kinds of ideas for this guy:

  1. Go back to school. IT isn’t working out for you. You need another bag of tricks.
  2. Get a part-time job somewhere. If pride is holding you back, get a job with a low visibility.
  3. Stop being so prideful. If your friends are that judgmental that they look down on you for doing what you have to do, then they aren’t good friends.

But is this really good advice? It sounds like it, but it also sounds like something he’s probably already considered a million times over.

Are you in a similar situation? How do you cope with the social stigma that he talks about, and what advice have you followed that hasn’t worked out?

He’s certainly right about one thing - looking for a job is the worst job on earth.


Take anything you can get. I took a temporary part time holiday job three years ago. I’m still there.

I was in a similar situation. I did, after seven years, finally mange to get full time steady work at a permanent job in sane/safe circumstances.

Along the way, in addition to on-again off-again work, extended duration unemployment, and the like I also endured an employer who suddenly stopped paying wages and had to be dragged into court to cough up the money and an attempted physical attack by a hammer-wielding co-worker. Life on the bottom of the socio-economic ladder can suck, you know?

A couple of comments about your suggestions:

  1. Going back to school: while there is merit in the idea, if you’ve already earned a bachelor’s in something there will be almost no help for you funding more education outside of private student loans, and increasing debt while unemployed may not be the best strategy. Also, there’s the problem of what to study - literally millions of people “went back to school” when the Great Recession hit, leading to a glut in certain professions and continuing unemployment for many of them. Only now they have debt on top of it, too. Going back to school can be a viable move, but it can also leave a person worse off.

  2. Getting a part time job is what worked for me. One problem, though, was that I had to go through a lot of part time jobs before I eventually found stable, full time employment again. Sub-problems:

  • ageism really does exist. Past 40 a LOT of places won’t hire you even if such discrimination is illegal. I’m lucky - I can pass for 10 years younger than I actually am. Not everyone can do that.
  • if you’re on any sort of government benefits (which eventually happen if you’re unemployed long enough to have trouble with housing/food/whatever) it will become almost impossible to quit a job no matter how horrible or even illegal the conditions. Your employer’s paychecks are bouncing? Can’t quit - you’ll lose your foodstamps and then how will you eat? Your co-worker tried to physically assault you? Did you file a police report? The owner says it didn’t happen. You can’t prove anything. If you quit you lose your benefits and can’t reapply for X months. I used to wonder why poor folks put up with such crap but now I have a better understanding of how this shit happens and continues to happen.
  1. I’ve found that often friends won’t look down a person, but the fear of the social stigma that comes with being either unemployed and/or poor leads people to keep the situation a secret.

Some advice that didn’t work out for me:

  • Any job is better than no job. Not true - a job where you are at high risk of physical harm is NOT better than being unemployed and looking for work full-time. The problem, of course, is that by quitting you’re seen as even more of a loser. Apparently poor people are supposed to disregard physical safety in pursuit of a buck but then, it’s quite clear that many view the life of a poor person as worth less than that of someone better off financially.
  • Relocate for work: I had some offers (even a couple from Dopers) but when I added in the cost of getting to the work, even if I lived out of my car or pickup, the cost of transportation would exceed any profit from the job in question. In other words, it would have been a net loss. I got crap for “refusing” to accept “good work” but while a wealthy person is praised for not entering into ventures that would lose money the poor are condemned for showing such good sense.
  • Go back to school/retraining - did you know that a lot of retraining/apprenticeship programs won’t take anyone over a certain age? Such ages ranging from 35 to 45. Also, the above mentioned problems of little financial aid, problems with job prospects, and increased debt-load.
  • Keep applying to what you know best/have most experience in - my old job has been eliminated by advancing technology and the internet, sort of a late 20th Century buggy whip maker.
  • Keep your resume complete and up-to-date - um… not exactly. I didn’t get hired as an entry-level worker in a new field until AFTER I stopped mentioning I had a bachelor’s and 30 year’s work experience. And I sure as hell didn’t mention the employer I sued for wage theft - having a blank for that time period was better than saying “yeah, I sued the bitch”. I didn’t lie, but by omitting certain things and getting fuzzy on time lines suddenly I got hired because it was no longer obvious I was over 40 and no longer looked overqualified (I am overqualified for my current job, but I’m willing to do it for the steady income I get from it).

Social stigma? Well - I can “pass” for middle-class still. That helps a lot. But I still get treated like shit from time to time for being poor. I bitch on the internet a lot to vent off the frustration and try to persevere. It does help that my friends are NOT judgmental, even the ones that are extremely well off themselves. Once we got past the “OMG! We have to hide that we’re poor!” our friends and family have been essential to our survival and pending economic revival. But it’s hard to overcome those internal voices that tell you to keep your situation secret.

One thing I did do over the years which has paid off enormously is keep in shape. I was able to do manual labor despite being in my late 40’s/early 50’s and that helped immensely. My current job does still require some physical effort. Being able to work physically gave me a lot more options. If someone is long-term unemployed I strongly suggest either keeping in shape or getting in shape if at all possible.

This guy’s problem is that he never really had a career plan, so to speak. He majored in the humanities, and then fell into what sounds was some kind of support or mid-level IT position that’s very dependent on system-specific knowledge and experience, not fundamental IT concepts.

What this means is that he basically never had a very firm foundation for his career. Rather than building on what he learned in college, and getting that base, he basically took a 90 degree turn and jumped into IT without any background.

So when he got laid off 3 years later, he basically had 3 years of experience at a relatively low level job, and was laid off basically as part of the big 2002 tech bust, when a lot of other people like him also took it in the neck.

What he didn’t realize was that when companies started hiring again, he wouldn’t look so attractive to employers with no tech degree and little experience to separate him from the thousands of other “warm bodies” who filled a lot of IT positions from the mid-90s through the early 2000s. From my experience in IT, there was a bloodbath among this sort of IT worker in the 2002 bust; most truly technical people eventually got rehired, but the inexperienced undereducated types really didn’t.

In other words, why hire this guy with 3 years of experience, when they could hire a kid out of college with a tech degree for less, or hire a guy with similar experience AND a tech degree for the same money? So this guy never realized this and never took stock of where his career was going- just believing that eventually he’d find a full-time gig and be happy.

And the older he gets, and the less relevant his experience is, the worse it’ll get. And he’s in a particularly terrible part of the country for that kind of thing- Silicon Valley is not a good place to try and work in IT if you don’t have the chops for it.

If I was in his position, I’d seriously consider moving and/or going back to get retrained in something else. Perhaps teaching? School districts are always looking for teachers, and with a degree in the humanities and IT experience, he’s got a few more options than others as far as what he could teach.

bump’s post is excellent. This guy thinks he has or had a career in IT. He never did. He was the equivalent of seasonal help at a retail store, and he didn’t know or learn enough about the industry that was using him to understand that. He needs to move away and/or totally change his career direction. He really has nothing to offer a company that is trying to fill an IT position.

with what money?

Well, of course if he has to borrow the money he must do that, and he’ll be able to pay it off with his new, successful career, right? And if he picks wrong, well, it’s his own fault/he’s stupid for making a bad choice/etc. [/sarcasm]

Is he possibly another person left behind by creeping automation?

As an outsider, it seems to me that there used to be a lot more full-time mid-level IT jobs. Every office needed someone to run a few email and file servers, and administer all the PCs. Now, an awful lot of that is taken care of by automated tools and “the cloud”. Which would leave only low-level helpdesk and cable-monkey jobs, and high-level jobs for the people that run the IT for entire divisions or companies.

Are there hard stats about the ratio of IT workers per user over time?

In my own university department, in the last few years the dedicated full-time IT support person was cut to part time, and just recently laid off. (And to be frank, the cloud services we moved to just work, and are much more reliable than an assortment of bespoke servers.)

IOW, this guy was a technician only qualified to operate obsolete equipment, not much different from a machine operator at an auto plant in the 70s.

A new career direction wouldn’t cost any more than what he’s doing now, would it? He’s pursuing jobs in IT for which he has no qualifications, and IT jobs require qualifications. If he has to borrow money to acquire some useful skills, that’s no different than what current college students are doing with student loans. It seems to me that he needs to be seeking an entry-level position in an industry where he can gradually build a valuable skill set. I don’t think that IT is going to be a likely place to do that, particularly where he lives.

What was missing from the article was any discussion about what he’d like to do outside of IT.

He does reference his humanities degree quite a bit. Surely while was obtaining it he had some kind of dream.

It does seem like too much pride is what is holding him back. I can understand not going back to school due to lack of money. Or picking up and moving somewhere else, because that’s risky and disruptive to the family. But seems to me that once you’ve reached the six month mark of unemployment, you need to reassess some things. Impressing your friends and the soccer parents isn’t as important as looking out for your yourself and your family.

Perhaps friends and family need to do a better job of esteeming all kinds of employment and stop sending out the message that only losers wear uniforms? It’s easy to tell someone to tune out the social stigma, but I suppose it’s not bad advice. However, simultaneously we can also work on being less snobbish so that friends/family don’t feel the need to keep their struggles secret. I have two siblings that work blue-collar jobs. Whenever I hear people bad-mouth those jobs either directly or indirectly, I try to chime in with positivity.

Agreeing with others, the author didn’t have an IT career, he was just bouncing between tech jobs during the boom. IT, as with many other science and tech fields, requires that you stay current on the trends in the industry and constantly adapt your skillset, since the required skillsets change rapidly.

Now he’s in a tough spot, since he’s basically back to “looking for his first job” mode (internships, night school/online education, part-time work) to get his foot back in the door in some kind of career, he’s competing with 21 years olds in the same basic position, and he has a family to help care for on top of it all.

Normally, I would recommend to leverage what you have; bone up on the latest IT skills and take internships/part-time jobs that leverage those skill sets. Eventually, use those internships/part-time jobs as resume fodder to get a full-time position. But a lot depends on the individual; if the person just doesn’t have it in them to work a job, come home and take care of the kids, and then spend the last few evening hours studying tech and tinkering, then IT is not the right career path, and he needs to choose a field where the skillset requirement changes less rapidly and try to break into that industry instead.

there’s a chance it was a “piece of paper” he needed to fulfill inflated requirements.

There is a lot that I could say in hindsight-- IT has been essentially a gig economy for decades and if you want to make it work, you really need to aggressively manage your career as well as plan for the inevitable periods of unemployment.

As for what he can do now, he’s right that ageism is a big thing in Silicon Valley. If I were him, I’d research fields where ageism is less likely to be an issue. He might have some luck with government, teaching as an adjunct professor or doing things like managing IT for a school district.

He could also look into some low-hanging fruit professional qualifications. A PMP (Project Management) is fairly easy to get and can open some doors. A larger, but still viable, risk would be getting a mid-career masters degree. Government student loans are available for grad students, and if he TAs he may get some tuition help. Being a student or recent grad also opens doors, if you are smart about it.

Finally, he needs to get over his pride. If he gets a job, it will most likely be through his friends. It’s not like laid-off IT folks are a rarity in the area. He needs to work his professional network, including his former coworkers. Talk to everyone you know, go to industry events, and become a well-known face at job fairs. And tear apart job listings with a fine-tooth comb. If there is a gap in your knowledge or experience, do whatever it takes to get it filled.

If I read this correctly, the author is 47 with a humanities degree and has worked mostly low-level tech jobs in Silicon Valley? The most competitive, youth-oriented tech market in the world?

Perhaps looking further afield or setting the bar lower might be a good idea?

Well, I don’t want to disparage anyone’s profession. But it’s a big psychological adjustment going from a lucrative, prestigious professional career to something more blue collar. Not only may there be a reduction in income, there is also the loss of prestige, losing personal and professional contacts and the sense of having failed in your chosen profession.

The problem is, that at 47 in IT, I would expect a candidate to have more than just a few skills they picked up through online webinars or whatever. I would expect that they would be fairly far along their chosen IT career path. Typically they should be a fairly senior architect, project manager, technical SME or IT executive.

Clearly the guy needs a career change, not just a tweaking of his “IT career.” His resume is more millstone than life raft at this point, and no amount of education is going to make him look better in that field at this point. At the very best, he’ll be switching his IT path and competing with guys in their early 20s, since he’ll be just as junior as they are.

But how to go about it? That’s really the question. Does he just aim to find a steady job of some kind, and be damned to the longer-term career prospects? Does he take a step back and start entry level in some other career? Some other option?

I don’t want to rag on the dude too much, because I’ve been unemployed for long stretches before and it sucks. Like, soul-crushing suck. I graduated summa cum laude with an electrical engineering degree and a year later considered putting in applications at Waffle House because apparently I was worthless and unhireable elsewhere.

But this guy took a customer service job in the '90s and expected that to be a career? And then, instead of improving himself or his skills, he just kept taking on other dead end customer service jobs? Even so, I know several people who took this path (serial dead-end service-sector gigs) in their teens and twenties, and they all managed to stay mostly employed, if poor.

I think the real issue here is this guy’s wife has a decent career and he never felt like he needed one, just the occasional job to get him out of the house and relieve the pressure on the bank account. Now he’s almost 50 and wondering what the hell he did with his life. And when you put it that way, it doesn’t sound like a terrible problem to have.

When a person has worked in a particular field for awhile they become sort of blind to the very existence of other fields of work. Honestly, I get the sense this might be more true of IT workers than some professions, and generic IT workers are, to be frank, a dime a dozen.

Learning to drive a truck isn’t glamorous but it’a a sure job, at least for a few years.

As to the pride issue… I have to admit, maybe I’m weird, but if I saw an acquaintance putting in the hours at Walmart or McDonald’s, I wouldn’t think less of them. ** I’d think more of them.** I’d think, “there’s a guy who’s busting his ass and doing whatever it takes.” What’s wrong with mopping floors or slinging burgers? Someone has to do it.

Yes, it’s soul-crushing to be unemployed. I’ve been there, it’s terrifying. I’ll say this though: the refusal to get work, ANY work, to accept menial work and day temp work, will just crush your soul worse. It’s corrosive and eats away at your work ethic and your vision. Doing a few shifts in a warehouse isn’t beneath anyone.

Maybe YOU don’t think less of them, but a lot of other people sure do.

One of the most soul-crushing things I endure in retail is being a cashier - hearing customers go on and on about the leeches and parasites that are on things like food stamps, about how terrible they are and they’re all criminals and frauds… and you yourself are on food stamps. Or hearing them tell their kid, who is standing in line with them, that anyone who works retail is an utter failure and they won’t allow THEIR child to work with trash like that. And so on.

Then there are the people who treat retail workers as verbal punching bags.

It can be pretty horrible.

The first time my husband (IT professional) was laid off a new pizza place opened down the street from us. They were looking for drivers. I encouraged him to apply, if only to “get out of the house” for a few hours.

He and the owner are now very good friends. My husband does the social media as a side gig in addition to his now FT IT job (and yes, it took him a few months). He’ll deliver on weekends if the owner’s shorthanded.

For somebody who had absolutely no food service experience, it’s been a godsend.