Dear Thelma: I've had no job for 2 years, despite applying for over 800 jobs

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Dear Thelma,

I have an undergraduate degree in Biotechnology since 2018, and I am also unemployed for two years now. Obviously, I did not choose to be unemployed.

I have tried through all the job-search portals available, and even walked to nearby companies to give out my resume.

From the very start, I was aware of the mistake that graduates make, so I had minimum expectation for my first job. But very soon, I decided to set my expectation even lower and opened for any pay and any conditions. Slowly, I started to be available for any jobs, including the ones outside my field of interest.

I get irritated whenever my friends ask,"Have you got any job yet?"

Checking my email every morning, they don't know how I feel about the rejection emails that I receive every single day. I don't tell them about it because I feel it is not important.

Every day, my mother nags at me for sitting at home, staring at the laptop or reading books. She suggested that I do a course in the meantime. So I enrolled for an undergraduate online course in the field of arts. Watching all my money in the bank draining for the online course and PTPTN is stressful. Is it too much for me to ask for a break and be unproductive for a short while?

I have applied for over 800 jobs and attended five interviews so far and did not manage to get through any of it. I was called "overqualified" for one, and I was insulted in another.

I felt my self-respect was deeply attacked and regretted keeping my ego under control. Is it a norm that a fresh grad should not have self-respect, Thelma?

Anxiously, I called a famous bookstore in town for job opportunities and ended up listening to an educational discourse given by the manager. He told me to pursue my education and not look for jobs outside my field of study. I cannot imagine myself not getting a job if I study further when I cannot even find one now. I was very much broken and cried that whole evening, feeling lost.

My mother always forwards me WhatsApp messages about government job alerts, and I am tired of explaining that I have applied for them through the official portal.

I am very much pissed with a never-understanding mother, unhelpful elder sister, an uncaring father and emotionally distant friends. It is a very depressing phase of my life.

Last year, my mother set up a retail shop and told me to tend it although she knows that I am not that interested. I often felt bored sitting there, waiting for customers. I took a short break in my online course at the time, but have now resumed the course. And now my mother tells me not to pursue the course.

Should I continue looking for jobs that are related to my studies or look after my mother's shop?

I feel like I have tolerated and compromised everything for everyone, and been left stranded without a life. Should I listen to my mother, again?

26-year-old Tormented Soul

Dear 26-year-old Tormented Soul,

I'm so sorry, this experience must be utterly draining. Let me start by suggesting that your job search needs some thought.

In good economic times, some people find jobs by applying blindly. However, many of us get our first jobs through personal connections. That becomes more common when the economy is bad.

I don't mean you need a powerful family. What I mean is that when faced with dozens of people with similar qualifications, employers will prefer to employ candidates they know over strangers.

The connection need not be strong, either. It can be as simple as graduating from the same class as an employee they already have and like, or having a relative go to the same temple. It's called networking.

In your search, did you make a list of all your relatives and friends, and ask them if they have heard of a suitable position? If not, you can try that now. However, two years have gone by and some employers feel (unjustly!) that a gap makes candidates less desirable.

Therefore, I think a different approach would be more useful.

If I were you, I'd take the opportunity your mother has given you with both hands. Throw yourself into the retail business. Read books on sales techniques, window dressing, accounting, networking, advertising, and social media marketing – become the best of the best in the trade.

If you work super hard for two years and build up your skills, you can rewrite your CV. At that point you will be a science graduate with extremely useful and practical sales and management skills. People like that are extremely employable.

Perhaps by then you'll be so settled that you'll be employing staff and building an empire. But should you decide you want a change, having solid skills and experience will make job-hunting a different experience.

If you work at it, you'll have a network who will tell you about all the work out there that's never advertised. And very maybe, someone will create a position for you, just because they want your skills.

As for your present support network. Friends ask questions because they care and they often don't think before they speak. And if you don't share your emotions, it's not like they can read your mind. So start opening up and that will help you reconnect.

Regarding your family, your mother bought a shop to give you a chance. That is a huge deal. I suspect your father, elder sister, and other family and friends are equally loving and concerned about you, but you're not feeling it because you've become depressed.

Get yourself a mental health check-up, either with your doctor, local hospital or with one of the NGOs like All Womens Action Malaysia (AWAM) or Women's Aid Organisation that offer free or cheap professional counselling.

In addition to helping you with your low mood, they should be able to help you work through your emotions as you start working again. It will be a roller-coaster because we're in a tough economy, so marshal all the support you can. Expect a steep learning curve and stay on track by keeping your eye on your future.

Are you suffering from mental health issues or contemplating suicide? Contact the Befrienders service nearest to you. For a full list of numbers and operating hours, go to

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Dear Thelma , unemployed


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