My Unemployed Life: Overqualified and Discouraged

unemploymentMy name is Michelle. I am a 43-year-old administrative and operations management professional with over 20 years of experience. I was laid off in March 2009, as director of operations for a real-estate services company, and since that time I have been on a challenging and seemingly unending job search; one that has changed me as a person.

The last full-time job I held was at OptHome, an online based residential real estate start-up in Southborough, Mass., where I signed on as their director of operations in 2007. After serving as the director of administration for RE/MAX's New England corporate headquarters for seven years and as a business manager for a law firm for 12 years, I felt as though my career was taking a definite -- albeit risky -- upturn in growth potential, title and salary.

Joining the 'club'

Unfortunately, the market didn't feel the same way and in March 2009, OptHome was forced to lay off its remaining work force of eight employees (after having laid off two people six months prior). The CIO is still unemployed, as well as I andthe customer-support manager. I've been told by recruiters across the board that middle-management positions have been hit the hardest. Could this small example of marketing positions being available while technology and administrative support jobs are not represent a shift in where companies are putting their money and focus?

As someone who's been working since the age where I could drive (and volunteering even younger than that), I strongly identified with my job as a large part of my persona. Consequently, this job loss was a huge hit for me not only financially, but also emotionally. I cried at the bank while depositing my severance check, despite being grateful for having gotten it.

I slowly eased into the groove of job searching and facing the fear and embarrassment of being unemployed. As time went on, I realized that many others were in the same boat. This didn't make the situation any easier, but at least we were able to bounce ideas off of each other, buddy up for networking events and lend each other support. I had friends who were out of work along with me, got new jobs and then got laid off again.

I even worked with a recruiter that got laid off! Another friend who was unemployed for a year finally accepted a job with a huge pay cut after doing a month of interviews, just to get back in the door with a decent company. He was clearly overqualified and the company knew it, but his choices were becoming limited. Hearing these stories makes me wonder how much companies are taking advantage of the unemployed and overqualified.

As time has passed, my job search has changed in nature. Though I still search through online networks like LinkedIn, I have learned that recruiters are more skilled at weeding through job search sites for me and so I rely on them for that. I have been more focused lately on networking and reaching out for that next opportunity through broader and more personal means.

Dealing with the frustration

I have also widened my search from positions of business manager or director of operations to office manager and even personal/executive assistant. Through these interviews, I have consistently heard "we're going to lay off hiring for this position for a bit as we internally restructure" or "you're clearly overqualified; we can't hire you." Typically this feedback comes after a long interview process.

Initially, it seemed as though my skill set had to be extremely broad to fulfill the majority of current company needs -- all for less pay, of course. But even when many companies discovered that I had experience in administrative management, systems development, customer support, contracts, training, all aspects of human resources, accounting, billing and reporting, vendor relations and site management, but wasn't also a deep financial person, I was out.

One company asked me to work for them for two days, after which it was decided that I was too qualified. Another company stated upfront that before they interviewed me for a position that I was clearly overqualified for, they needed to tell me that if I was hired, they would expect a 16- to 18-month commitment in which I would be expected to "fully engage" in the position (i.e., not continue a job search).

Finally, another company I interviewed with said although they couldn't hire me because I was clearly overqualified, they wanted to refer me to someone that could help. The interviewer then conference-called his dad, a longtime recruiter and founder of, into our meeting, and he agreed to work as my pro bono job transition coach. It was a lucky break in a line of seamlessly unfruitful interviews.

Thinking outside the box

In the meantime, I have striven to take advantage of different opportunities to network, keep my skills sharp and stay involved: I have attended local job-related events such as Boston College Alumni Group and Diva Toolbox Conference for Women in Business; volunteered with organizations such as the Ellie Fund and Mommies Who Shop; and helped out a few "mompreneur" ventures such as Joluka and Yummy Mummy Brownies.

I've also kept my real-estate license up to date by completing required continuing education courses and I also "shadow" a real-estate agent friend to learn the ins and outs of real-estate fieldwork. I also keep a lot of "Dummy" books on hand! Continuing to be a business operations consultant -- though not compensated -- has allowed me the opportunity to review business plans and research solutions.

I have even racked my brain for additional ideas and opportunities - to try to invent something, write a book or possibly change my career entirely.

Keeping my spirits up

I am most certainly a changed person since March 2009. I have seen the end of two relationships, experienced family struggles and illness, condo troubles and car breakdowns. Because of financial constraints, I have learned how to live leaner and discovered that I can survive without a garbage disposal and a clothes dryer. I have become familiar with yard sales, consignment shops, selling my gold and other valuables on eBay. I will continue to deal with my job loss and search for the next career opportunity. I have learned that no matter how much I identified with my job, it does not (nor will it ever) wholly define me.

As a perpetual giver, I have had to humble myself to ask for and accept help, although I have been surprised at some of the negative or distant reactions of some people. On the upside, I have been overwhelmed with the generous and continuous offerings of others. I am confident that this experience will make me a stronger candidate for the next job that my career path will ultimately bring to me. Tomorrow is another day, a new beginning, and I'm not giving up!

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