Rules of Reentering the Workforce

Some tips and humorous insights for reentering the workforce after long-term unemployment

| May/June 2012

Iron your shirt the first day. Remember the iron? If you’ve forgotten how to use it, mimic the movements of the washerwomen in all those BBC dramas you’ve been watching for the last 12 months. You know, the seven-part first season of Downtown Abbey you put on instead of hanging yourself. The rest of the week: Iron only the collar and put on a sweater.

When you’re meeting new colleagues, smile. Practice now. No, not a grimace. Don’t show lower teeth. Look less like you just lost a baby in a shopping mall. Look less like the baby.

When they ask how you are, your sole options are “good,” “great,” “fine,” or “can’t complain.” Don’t tell them how carefully you walk on sidewalks because you’ve been without health insurance. If you’re lucky, in 90 days you can walk on the sidewalk however you goddamn please.

A few words about the free coffee machine: It gives you coffee. For free. People in the office will go to the good coffee place and buy lattes and offer to buy you lattes. But then you’d have to reciprocate. You’d have to buy lattes. And why would you buy lattes when this coffee is free? You come in to work every day thinking about that machine: When is it too early to get your first free coffee? What mixtures of caffeinated and decaffeinated would enable you to drink the maximum number of cups and still sleep that night?

Remember the lessons you learned while you were watching Little Dorrit, and Anne of Green Gables, and Bleak House, and all four Jane Eyres, and the good Sense and Sensibility, and the only Pride and Prejudice worth watching. Remember the lessons, but don’t bore your colleagues with them. BBC dramas are the syphilis sores of the recently unemployed. These marks will fade with time, if you let them. Try Breaking Bad. It’s up your alley, but people won’t feel a lead weight smack against their basal ganglia when you mention it. If possible, catch up on Community.

Networking is important at any new job. If you’re asked to lunch, cram that peanut butter sandwich made on government bread deep into your bag and go order soup and water with lemon. It will only cost an hour of your newly remunerable time. Your colleagues will buy meats and exquisite drinks. If you’re asked, say you are a dehydrated vegetarian.