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How I clawed my way back from unemployment

Unemployment doesn't happen just to unskilled, out-of-school twentysomethings. It happens to almost-50 professional women too.

I had gone back to school to re-enter the work force after staying home with my children. In June, after 10 years of steady employment, I found myself faced with the daunting task of looking for work. The company that had employed me for more than two years went into receivership. One day, I went from being a professional making $75,000 a year to holding a pamphlet from the human resources department describing how to deal with job loss.

I cleaned out my desk and said goodbye to dazed colleagues. I trudged home, poured myself a glass of wine and spent the rest of the day commiserating with a close friend.

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I filed for employment insurance. When I looked at how much I would be receiving, I wondered how I would survive. I couldn't remain unemployed without having to dip into my retirement fund. At 49, that was not a wise option. I was divorced and financially responsible for myself.

I updated my résumé and posted it to job sites. I reconnected with other professionals in the industry. I began the long and humiliating process of selling myself to companies. I compared it to online dating – posting a profile that results in an endless string of coffee dates with people who don't quite meet each other's expectations.

I became discouraged after the second week. I read job posting after job posting that required multiple technical skills that I didn't possess and felt I couldn't possibly learn.

I filled my day with non-work-related activities. I went to the gym. As I ran on the treadmill, I looked around at the midday patrons. I saw young mothers, retirees and students. I wondered if anyone else was "between jobs."

I spent time at the beach. I tanned and read novel after novel. I tried to keep my mind off my dwindling bank-account balance.

I didn't go to Starbucks for afternoon lattes. I didn't go shopping for needless cosmetics and hair products. I didn't meet friends for drinks several times a week. I realized that my previous spending habits had been thoughtless. I had credit-card debt that I hadn't made the effort to reduce. It was an eye-opener about my financial practices and values.

Eventually, calls began to trickle in from recruiters. Recruiters have a mission. They are hired by companies to find people that fit their needs. When they do, they typically receive a commission. This can be their driving force, not finding the right fit for the company.

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I went to every interview that I was asked to perform. I learned public-transit routes that I didn't know existed. I wore a dress that became my uniform.

I was given various reasons for being rejected: "We're looking for someone with more technical experience." "The company decided to go another route." "Your skill level is too senior. You would be bored with this position."

I followed up, but rarely received the courtesy of returned calls or e-mails. I was left wondering what exactly I had done wrong in the interviews. Two months went by. My self-confidence was beginning to decrease along with my money.

One day, a recruiter called. She had found my résumé on one of the job sites and we arranged to meet. When I arrived, the waiting area was small and cramped. I had to ring a bell on the counter to get noticed. She took me to a small area and started asking me questions that didn't make sense. I interrupted her and asked for a job description. She couldn't give me one. Finally, the interview ended and I left, writing it off as another failed job-hunting experience.

A few days later, she called. She had set up an interview to be conducted in a house. I was told the company was expanding at such a rapid rate that it had run out of office space. It would be moving soon to a newer location. I agreed to go.

The two men who spoke with me were quiet and had minimal questions about my job experience. As the short conversation ended, I was left with the impression that this position wasn't going to materialize into anything concrete.

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The recruiter called a week later. I had an offer. I was surprised, but I took it. I needed the job.

On the first day, it was apparent that a move to a new location wasn't going to happen any time soon. It was a start-up company operating out of the house where I had been interviewed. I was working in a room with two other people. My position was not what had been described. I was going to be working in a technical environment that I was not familiar with. By the third day, I felt trapped and wondered what I had got myself into. I felt that I had made a horrible mistake.

As I left the house, I received a call from a well-established company in the technology field. I had interviewed with them six weeks before and had not received any feedback. They wanted to hire me on a contract basis. I was faced with a dilemma. I wasn't happy with the current job, but it was full-time with benefits. The other job was on a contract, but it was a better fit for my skills and experience. I took the leap and quit, accepting the new offer.

In the future, I will not take my job for granted. I will not assume that being unemployed doesn't happen to professional people with marketable skills. I will not spend frivolously just because I have the money. I will plan for that rainy day.

Dawn Jardine lives in Toronto.

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