Readers tell Great Recession stories of triumphing over long-term unemployment.

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July 18 2011 10:15 AM

You're Hired!

Readers tell Great Recession stories of triumphing over long-term unemployment.

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People are finding work despite the economy

The latest government jobs report is bleak, weak, and dismal. But somehow, some of you are still managing to get hired. Last month I asked readers who had been out of work for a year or more to tell how they overcame the dreadful economy, the psychological battering, and the stigma of long-term unemployment to land a job. Dozens of you wrote back, from recent graduates to sixtysomethings, from those looking for entry-level work to people with decades of experience and advanced degrees.

Emily Yoffe Emily Yoffe

Emily Yoffe is a regular Slate contributor. She writes the Dear Prudence column. 

You wrote about your efforts to fight despair and about the daunting hurdles the jobless face, including a pernicious new trend: job advertisements stating the unemployed need not apply. You told of the combination of perseverance, wiliness, and sometimes flat-out serendipity that resulted in returning to the workforce. And you acknowledged that in this job market, sometimes the "happy ending" comes with a massive pay cut. Here are your stories of pluck and luck—and your tips.

Will Work for Free

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One woman wrote about how she and her laid-off mother both started volunteering almost full-time, which helped keep them sane, and also made them more marketable. After months of looking for work, the daughter, a lawyer who'd been let go from a small law firm, started offering legal services for free: "I volunteered for a small-business assistance organization, helping people start up their own businesses, and did a bunch of pro bono work for the local legal aid society. Being around other working people again on a daily basis, doing a new type of law I'd never done before, and not sitting around wallowing in self-pity really gave me an emotional boost." After a year of unemployment, she landed a new job. Her mother, a former human resources manager, was out of work for two years. "My mother volunteered a lot of her time with my young daughter's youth group. Eventually one of the other parents, who owns his own business, was impressed by her dedication and offered her a job." It's clerical work, and it doesn't pay anywhere near what she used to make, but she was in danger of losing her house, and now she has some financial security.

Another lawyer, Kim Bender, wrote that she was unemployed or underemployed from the time she graduated from law school in 2006 until this spring. Eventually she started interviewing people she knew in hopes of identifying a more promising career path, and came to the conclusion that historic preservation was her true interest. While she reviewed legal documents to pay the bills, she started volunteering at a museum that's on the National Register of Historic Places, working long hours, and taking on unglamorous assignments. She also started her own historic preservation blog, which led to several writing and research assignments. After six months of working for free at the museum, she became its business manager and lawyer. "My dream job," she wrote.

I'm the Boss of Me

If no one will give you that full-time job, make your own. After graduating from college four years ago, Anne Clarke, 26, tried teaching for a year. She realized it wasn't for her, and assumed finding another interesting job would be easy. Then the economy collapsed. So she started tutoring a few of her former students while she continued looking. At one point one of the mothers said to her, "So, did you ever end up finding a job, or are you just tutoring this year?" Instead of thinking of tutoring as something she did until she found a job, she decided to make tutoring her job—which required relearning calculus. She's busy, able to pay her bills, and says the experience has been incalculable: "As a high-achieving, gold-star loving type of person, I've learned a lot about not relying on institutions/teachers/bosses for validation."

Making the Cut Means Taking a Cut

One woman wrote in that her 50-year-old husband ("ancient in the advertising biz") was laid off from his job on the creative side of the ad industry three years ago. He freelanced and began improving his abilities in digital media. "Every time he did something new such as directing his first commercial, he posted it on his website and emailed friends and colleagues about the work he was doing." That led to a six-month freelance job with an agency, and finally a full-time job. It pays only 60 percent of his last salary, but he and his wife are ecstatic about the steady income and the opportunity to get health insurance.

A real-estate marketing manager, laid off from a well-paying job in New York two years ago, eventually moved to the South. A few months ago he replied to an ad for a small company looking for a marketing professional, and he got the job—at 25 percent of his previous salary. He agonized: "How was I going to support a family on this?" But he has since gotten two raises, learned a lot, and reconnected with his profession. He also acknowledges that having a job means that if he decides to find another one, he won't have to deal with the unfair but real taint of looking while unemployed.

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