When I was unemployed, directly out of college, I sent out 40 applications, resumes — often with cover letters and answering further application questions — to a myriad of places (grocery stores, restaurants, retail, non-profit organizations, ad agencies) in one month. That is a sliver of what I have seen other people do. I know someone who has done that in a week. Send out a batch a day, set aside an hour to rifle through a few websites, select which resume goes where, hope to hear at least something back. Usually you don’t. Maybe you might be informed through an automatic service that your application is received. That is, most often, the end of your communication.
I am teetering on the line of economic sustainability currently, it’s not a long look back to my time of unemployment. I was applying, receiving silence, feeling miserable. There is a strange sinking in your gut when you believe you are unemployable — which is actually a large leap from not being able to find work. It might have to do with a cultural focus on career and wealth as signifiers of importance or even, in bleaker moments, purpose. People like to work and feel like they are of use. Our self-worth is deeply entrenched in social and physical capital.
I can also easily look to my friends and see so many of them, underemployed or unemployed, working a job that barely pays rent; they are applying for more, beleaguered, similarly equating fulfillment with a particular type of employment. Some have accepted the fact that this economy won’t be turned around for a few years, will pick up jobs and trudge on. This leaves a bit more room for happiness.
I don’t think you can chalk this up to our generation, allegedly addicted to feedback and adoration. Yes, younger people do seem to crave instantaneous communication. We tend to want to know more about what people think about us, to know it now, but to give of yourself pages of information — your resume that you have multiple versions of for different types of employment, that highlights what and which skills suit what and which job, the crafted cover letters, the questions for an application that in some cases could even constitute a first interview — to receive nothing, that does something to you. To not even get a “no” leaves space for self-doubt, the last thing you need when you want someone to understand you are the best possible person for a role.
When faced with an ever-growing Sent email box and an empty Inbox (or even an empty folder of resumes and a growing list of shops that have you “on file”), you have to trudge on, maintain hope that you know the choices in where you are applying are right, that you are skilled enough to be employed and that the path you are on might need a slight turn but you have to keep going forward, even if it is without the guide of refusal.
When you don’t even have the solid floor of a rejection to bounce your future applications or searches off of, not even having something to catalyze your indignant “Oh yeah, I’ll show you,” futility seems like the easiest thing to hold on to.
Before writing this, I was talking to a friend who had gotten off the phone with their mother. The two had talked about the tradition of Ding Letters, or rejection letters, sent by employers after interviews. Though they used to be the bane of job seekers, in this era of no reply, no nothing, that minor courtesy of a rejection would be appreciated. Even if they inspired rage, at least they would inspire something.
This post was originally featured on In Our Words.