BUSINESS

Down, Not Out: Laid-Off Journalist Tries The Back-To-School Strategy

08/06/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Jennifer West lost her job as an editor over a year ago. She couldn't find a new gig. Now she's in school to get a master's degree in childhood special education. The Huffington Post called her up to find out what's happening.

I don't have any income except for unemployment. This is my third extension, so I've been very lucky. It runs out in September. My health insurance runs out in November. The prices for private insurance are astronomical. I'm covered with COBRA till November. It's roughly $450 a month.

How'd you lose your job?

I never saw it coming. I was the night news editor for FT.com. Then I was called into the conference room by my managing editor. I'd just been talking to a colleague of mine about how I'd lost my dog, and so I was getting all weepy. So I said, "You'll have to excuse me. My dog just passed away." And she said, "Well, I've got some more bad news for you."

All I heard was the word recession, recession, recession. I'm sure there were words and sentences, but that's all I heard.

Did you get a buyout?

Because it is a European company they're generous in terms of the buyout package. They were amazing, so for an entire year I didn't have to worry about money. The only income I've had is unemployment, which is $430 a week.

So how's it been?

It's been a hideous, hideous horrible year emotionally, because my self-esteem plummeted. I took it personally even though I know they got rid of my position. For a year I spent some days just in the fetal position in bed. I got a new dog in March. If not for my dog I had to walk I wouldn't have gone outside.

How was the job search?

I was getting interviews. I just wasn't getting the job. I'd never been in a position like that ever. I thought very highly of myself. When I first got laid off I took the summer off. I thought, "I'm Jennifer West!" When I came back, the joke was on me. That's when the market completely sank to the bottom.

How did you decide to go to school?

Right around my one-year anniversary of unemployment, three people I really respect kept talking about going into teaching. My mom was a schoolteacher. There was one day it just clicked and it made sense to me, and I had to hustle and registered for class two days before class started. In May, toward the end of the month, I did the whole application process. I was very lucky.

I went from horrendous to back to myself again and that's just because I have hope. When I graduate my debt is going to be like $50,000. But I will graduate with an MA in education.

What are you going to do for money?

It's a really good question. I might do a work study. I'd rather focus purely on my education. I don't know what I'm going to do for money. I'm going to have to do something.

What about freelancing?

I refuse to work in journalism ever again. It's turned its back on me.

But I called you.

But you're not going to hire me.

That's true.

I'm 41. Trying to get back into journalism -- I was booted out and I'm looking in and I'm seeing 26-year-olds and 25-year-olds interviewing for the jobs I want. They ask everywhere for one to three years experience. What happened to 20? Nobody wants that. I'd look around when I interviewed. A lot of people were really young. The imprint that it made on me. The age thing. I'm very happy with my career change.

HuffPost readers: Are you switching careers in an effort to escape long-term unemployment? Tell us about it -- email arthur@huffingtonpost.com.

Suggest a correction