By Kaitlin Louie
About Mary Pender Greene, LCSW-R, CGP: Ms. Pender Greene is a psychotherapist, career coach, and relationship expert with over 20 years of experience guiding clients through professional and personal challenges. She specializes in relationship management, career development, and corporate leadership strategies. Ms. Pender Greene hosts numerous workshops that focus on such topics as achieving one’s full professional potential, changing careers, building new skills after being fired or downsized, maintaining effective relationships, and developing leadership skills both in and outside of the office. She is also the author of Creative Mentorship and Career Building Strategies: How to Build your Virtual Personal Board of Directors.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] What are the primary causes of long-term unemployment? What are the primary barriers that prevent long-term unemployed individuals from finding jobs? Is it a matter of skill deterioration, or a lack of confidence? How does the emotional impact of unemployment (ex. depression, discouragement, anxiety) affect a person’s ability to find a job?
[Mary Pender Greene] What I’ve found in my practice are several major causes of long-term unemployment at the individual level. Number one is that usually people need to improve their application materials. They might have a resume or a bio that is not professionally done, and it doesn’t represent transferable skills. The second thing that prevents people from presenting their best self is feeling drained and discouraged during their interviews. Unemployment, and especially long-term unemployment, can affect people’s spirit and sense of self, and as a result during interviews they may be weary, depressed, and frustrated, and it comes across. They might feel desperate at times, and it shows in the interview. Long-term unemployment is a depleting, spirit-robbing process. As time passes, long-term unemployed job seekers may need to refresh their materials and presentation style in order to put their best foot forward.
Another thing is that long-term unemployed individuals tend to be isolated. Oftentimes they are depressed, frustrated, living on limited income, and often times they’re embarrassed. All of these things combined often mean that the person is on their own. So they might spend a good part of their day just sort of vegging out, feeling hopeless, depressed, watching mindless TV, doing what people do when they’re feeling disheartened and frustrated. So in essence, a part of what can get people unstuck is connections with people, doing exactly what it feels hard to do. Even with limited income, people can go online to interact with other people, attend workshops, seminars, etc. Many of these events are free. Also volunteer opportunities can be a good way to meet people. Things that will keep you connected to the kind of work that you want to do. And also making sure to stay in touch with people you have interactions with. So when I’m coaching someone who is struggling with long-term unemployment, we have strategies and homework and things that they need to do on a regular basis to avoid being further stuck and to get unstuck in the process.
There are ways to avoid displaying any gaps on your professional resume. For example, if someone loses his or her job, he or she could do fee for service or work as a consultant. That way, during your interviews you can explain that you had your own consulting business or worked as an independent contractor. And it’s a way of not having gaps on your resume. The idea is it keeps your skills fresh and it also keeps your resume active. Your presentation and your materials and your self, all need to be constantly worked on.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] How can social workers, psychologists, and career counselors help the long-term unemployed make concrete steps towards achieving their career goals?
[Mary Pender Greene] The most important thing is to help their clients recognize that unemployment can happen to anyone, and to address their sense of failure and embarrassment. How you feel about yourself impacts your attractiveness as an applicant. The other thing too is to have clients think about whom they can talk to, where they can go, and what they can do outside of their coaching sessions, because a part of the big issue with people who are unemployed is the isolation.
One of the first things a social worker can do is to help their long term unemployed clients locate a place to get their resume reviewed. Their resume as well as their cover letters. It’s so important that your materials reflect the skills that you have. There are places that one can go to get free or very low-cost resume writing help in most cities. Community colleges, some high schools, some continuing education programs, and certain community centers offer these services.
Second thing is having a person talk through their feelings and fears about being unemployed, because often clients will hide. When they meet somebody for the first time, the first thing people ask after their name is, “What do you do?” And so people often avoid networking for fear that someone is going to ask them this question.
I encourage my clients to make appointments with other folks besides me, and to talk to them about their professional interests and goals. That includes old bosses, old colleagues, new friends and connections that you have, or that you met online, the people who belong to your association, your relatives, whoever it is. It is beneficial to have interactions with a wide array of contacts beyond your social worker or career coach. Another thing I suggest is Toastmasters. Toastmasters is an international, free organization where there are a lot of people looking to enhance their speaking and networking abilities.
Another thing that social workers might consider doing to help their unemployed clients is to guide them through a holistic plan of self-care. Find out how the person is doing psychologically, physically, and spiritually. Sometimes when people are unemployed for a long period, they become inactive, because they don’t have enough money to socialize, and they tend to gain weight and not spend time taking care of themselves. As a result, I help them to come up with a strategy for how they’re going to spend their day, so that they are investing in themselves during the time that they are unemployed. They have an exercise plan, a food plan, and a schedule in terms of how they’re going to manage their day too. If you feel good, you’re going to project that.
In addition to professional networking events and groups, I encourage long-term unemployed clients to join groups that can help them work through any of the issues they’ve been using to cope with unemployment. For example, if clients are struggling with smoking or drinking too much alcohol, I might suggest they attend a smoking cessation group or Alcoholics Anonymous, where they can meet people who are facing the same issue. These support groups are generally free. So in essence what you’re doing is working on yourself for free, with the help of others. The better you feel the more likely you are to get a job.
When working with my clients, I do mock interviews with them and have them do things to interact with other folks during the course of the week, and basically I talk to them about how they’re feeling. I help them figure out how they felt—for example, when doing the mock interview I ask them questions that an interviewer might ask, and if they are sounding hopeless and frustrated I talk to them about that. I ask them about gaps on their resume and help them to explore strategies for addressing them. I talk to them about what they’re doing for fun, I talk to them about what they’re eating. What are they doing to relax and soothe themselves?
I ask them questions so I can understand why they have been unemployed for such long time. It usually has something to do with getting depressed, stuck and giving up. They have interviews and they get passed over and often without explanation, they get their hopes up, they get let down, they get angry, and basically give up. People don’t usually say I’m giving up, they just act that way. So I help people see how they’re behaving.
Oftentimes when people are stuck in that way, it’s so devastating and debilitating in so many ways, and affects their relationship with their mate, their children, parents, siblings, and friends. People often shut down in their romantic relationships, hide from relatives, and lose friends in the process. So I ask them about their relationships as well.
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] During your work as a licensed clinical social worker, therapist, and career counselor, what is some of the most important advice you have given individuals who have been unemployed for extended periods of time?
[Mary Pender Greene] One of the key ideas I introduce my clients to, and which is actually the topic of my book, is the idea of Creative Mentorship. When you think of mentorship in the conventional sense, you think of somebody mentoring you, and you are sort of a passive recipient of mentorship. Creative Mentorship is based on the idea of aggressively seeking people to support you, beyond your current job. And so part of the work that I have my clients do is to create a virtual personal board of directors, which means basically finding and maintaining connections with people who are interested in and supportive of you and your career. It takes consistent work, and using various strategies to make sure that your career is being nurtured on a regular basis.
Another important concept that I share with my clients is the importance of not having just one source of income. Having varied sources of income, and varied connections so that you’re never only connected to one institution, or one place to get your income or to have your professional needs met. In essence if you follow this model, you will never be unemployed because you will have a variety of different options. When I’m working with my clients, I’m always helping them to look at, what else can you do that will allow you an additional income stream and expand the different types of work you’re able to do? With almost any profession there are ways to expand your income stream. That is such an important piece. And you can do it from the very beginning of your career.
The other thing that is important to do on a regular basis is to meet new people. Being solo in your role or job limits your career options. You cannot become your best self without others. It is important that you belong to your professional organization, go to conferences, be on websites where others who are doing what you are doing or what you want to do are. You are constantly networking with other people, so that in essence the more connections you have the more options there are. When I’m coaching people, I’m always asking them about expanding their knowledge about the profession that they’re in. For example, people early in their career may not know what they want to specialize in and that’s perfectly fine. Go to workshops, go to conferences, look at things that might be even somewhat appealing to you. Ask to meet with people who are doing the things that you think you might be interested in. And even if you find out that that field isn’t what you want, it puts you closer to getting what you want. Because sometimes you have to eliminate things before you’re clear on what you want professionally.
These tips aren’t just for people in the beginning of their career—they apply to people who are underemployed, transitioning to a different role, or struggling with long-term unemployment. This advice is also applicable to people in the middle of their careers, who want to achieve their professional potential and protect themselves against unemployment. Creative mentorship is for the life of your career. You cannot be your best alone, because if you lose your job, that means that you have no place to go. Keep in touch with the people you knew at the different places you worked. Meet new people to find out, what are the trends that are going on in the career you’ve chosen? Where do the people who are doing the things that you want to do meet?
Most people are happy to meet with you if you reach out to them, not to ask them for a job, but to ask them about their professional experiences. The idea is to assess where you are now and what you’d like your next steps to be, with the help of others, because you can’t do it by yourself. If you could do it by yourself, nobody would ever be unemployed over the long haul. It requires other people to get unstuck and move forward again. And you’re thinking about transferable skills all the time. You are never giving up, and always asking yourself, “What else is there that I might be able to do?”
[OnlineMSWPrograms.com] When working specifically with unemployed individuals, how does the role and responsibilities of the social worker differ from that of a career counselor?
[Mary Pender Greene] Social workers are uniquely qualified to be able to do both career and mental health counseling. Sometimes when people are just career coaches they may not understand the mental health and emotional issues that are connected to it. When I’m coaching someone and I see that there is a mental health issue—they’re depressed, they’re angry, they’re frustrated—those are things that a social worker or a clinician is trained to see, and can help to address. When people are professional career coaches but don’t have that aspect of their training, they might see it but may not know how to address it. And so when I’m doing coaching, I’m never just doing coaching without my social work hat on too.
It is not at all uncommon for me to say to somebody who initially comes to me for career coaching, “You know you are really depressed, and you might want address these issues either with me or with another therapist.” When someone comes to me for career coaching, they are not necessarily coming to me saying, “I want mental health services,” but I say to them, “You’re really depressed, and a part of why it’s hard for you to get employment is that how you are feeling shows.” And being that I’m a therapist, I know how to go about dealing with those things. I can ask them about their emotions and how their feelings tie into their behaviors during and outside of their job search. Whereas a career coach without social work or clinical training could, and hopefully would, say, “It seems as thought there are some other things going on. Maybe going to a therapist may be helpful for you.”
Thank you Ms. Pender Greene for your time and insight into long-term unemployment and helping the long-term unemployed. To learn more about Mary Pender Greene’s work and workshops, visit her website.