It’s been busy. Between going back to work part-time, and having a huge cool freelance project, it feels like I’ve been juggling my time like old times for the past couple of weeks. But of course, it’s great. Friday, we had an awesome new business pitch, and we did a great job – rehearsing several times, hashing through our messaging points, constructive feedback and just a general coming-together …. let’s just say it was a nice way to do business and built camaraderie.
And through all of this, in the back of my head, I’ve been thinking about unemployment, and how it feels when you first become unemployed, and how it evolves, and things you need to do, and things other people should do when it happens to you. Because it sucks royally. So I’ve put together a quick list of the core learning points I got from my arguably brief stint on the unemployment lines. I realize my experience is my own, and my time on the sidelines WAS short, so by no means do I fancy myself the most sage and learned person on the topic. But there were some things I was told when it happened to me, and I recently passed some of those on to a friend of mine, and if it can help someone else, well, that’s awesome.
1. File for unemployment immediately. Do not pass go. Do not wait a couple weeks. Just get yourself into the system. If you received any severance, but you don’t know how much yet, well, just be honest and report everything you can. Your employer will report as well, but the process of starting your benefits will at least begin.
2. If you are receiving severance, get it in one lump sum. You may be getting paid for four weeks’ of time? But if you receive it all at once a week after you leave, you report the amount you were paid, and you’ll discover your eligibility kicks in sooner.
3. Get thee on the LinkedIn. Connect to everyone you’ve ever worked with. Change your status so people know you’re looking for work. There are different camps out there on this? But I can’t tell you how wonderful it was to hear from my client, concerned about my welfare and offering to help me network any way they could. Your soul will need these things. Network, network, network.
4.Get out of the house. I heard stories about some former colleagues who withdrew, just retreated and played video games all day. First off, I haven’t heard of anyone finding a job that way, and second, being isolated gives you WAY too much time in your head to get discouraged. The good/bad side of this vast amount of unemployment is that a lot of folks are in the same boat. Meet at a Panera (free refills!) and just talk. I made some new friends (or finally met my virtual ones) – pensive girl, a new knitting pal – and re-connected with SO many people. I had the time, after all! And it was heartening. To not feel alone.
5. If you know someone (or worked with someone) who’s been let go – reach out. Give them a call, drop them an email, just say “hi”. I had a couple people I shared a lot of time with in my job completely ignore me after I was gone – and even if I didn’t consider us great friends, per se, it would have been nice to at least have heard a “Hey, sorry to hear about this.” I get that there’s survivor’s guilt or you think your own job will be in jeopardy – but at the end of the day, we’re all people, we’re all human beings, and it’s nice to hear that you’re missed. It definitely changed my opinions of the ones who never said a word. (Of course, there are going to be folks you don’t miss for a moment! So there’s a silver thread in that bit of truth…)
6. Accept that there will be bad days. Don’t beat yourself up for them, it’s part of the experience, unfortunately. We are one of the most ‘working-est’ societies in the world, and if you have a career you enjoy, losing it will feel like part of your identity is gone. You will question your skills, your last environment, try to figure out what could have happened differently, but the important thing is to pick yourself up, and keep moving forward. Even if that means standing in place for a little bit.
7. Get a recommendation from your existing employer as soon as you can. I did not do this. If they tell you it’s got nothing to do with your performance (as they told me), then by all means, get a letter so you have that as a reference.
8. Speaking of recommendations, ask for as many as you can on LinkedIn – because these will give you positive input and help you through those days of gloom and paralysis.
9. Consider career coaching (LandaJobNow.com is a great resource here in KC, specific to advertising/marketing folks) to help you with your resume and identify new avenues. I have a longtime friend at LandaJob who gave me some invaluable advice on my resume. As in, suddenly I not only looked great on paper? I felt great. In real life. Unemployment can leave you feeling like your accomplishments have been devalued – but they haven’t. You’re vital and have something to offer the right place!
10. If you can freelance, do it. Just keep an eye on how much you’ll make vs. how much you’re getting in unemployment. If you make more than you’d get on unemployment, you won’t get UI benefits for that week. (You don’t get to have both.) If you make less than UI benefits, the state will calculate the difference and you’ll get a portion of your normal benefit. Your benefits are supposed to cover you (marginally, granted) while you spend all your weekday time looking for a job. If you cut into that, it affects how much you get.
11. Don’t listen to people who marginalize you for being unemployed. Frankly, with 10% unemployment rates, those people should shut their pie holes and be grateful they’re not in that pool. But I’ve heard stories of people being sneered at, asked why they don’t just go get any job, how do they like living off the government, living on the dole. Well? It ain’t welfare, folks. It’s not a huge amount of money, but in my situation, I couldn’t just go and get any old job at minimum wage, because that would have brought in LESS than unemployment, and I wouldn’t have had any time to look for a job in my field, let alone interview. Employers pay unemployment insurance, and this is all part and parcel of being a business owner in the US.
12. COBRA benefits. Right now there is legislation that allows you to maintain your health insurance benefits for the first 9 months at a greatly reduced rate. This is crucial and awesome. I believe you only have to pay a third of the regular COBRA rate. And this counts for DENTAL as well. My former employer didn’t even know that and we had a huge flurry of emails hammering it out because I received a notice from Delta Dental referencing the lower COBRA rate that I should have received. I had even done the math on whether or not to maintain the dental insurance, but seriously, just get it, as one cavity and your out-of-pocket goes way up and beyond the insurance costs, even at the open rate.
13. Common sense stuff – create a new budget right away. We shaved our monthly expenses down rapidly, and in the process, discovered just how much money we saved by simply not eating out. Not that we were dining out on the town with bottles of wine and four-course meals, but when you’re working all day, you’re tired, you come home and don’t feel like cooking – well, those $20-$40 takeout meals add up right quick. We dropped our subscription to the Star (which I confess I still miss, though I feel a little better about not amassing all that paper for recycling), went down to one movie instead of three from Netflix, I extended the time between haircuts, and scaled back on shopping and food choices. CostCo and Aldi’s were my new best friends, along with the sale flyer (online now!) from Price Chopper. I suddenly paused at the prices at coffeehouses, trading in my large lattes for a regular coffee, room for cream.
14. But don’t eliminate everything, if you can afford a little slush in your budget. One of the kind things my husband said to me very early on was that he understood and appreciated how hard I was looking for a job, but that in all of this, I should take a little time for myself, try to have a little fun. Another friend encouraged me to do the same thing. I went to a movie (matinees are cheaper!), and spent money on coffees and even went out to lunch with friends. (Oh, how many lunches I owe people, too. What a sweet, sweet gift it was, to be treated. At first I felt very blustery and insecure, absolutely nobody could pay my way, but I saw that it wasn’t the money I was rejecting, but kindness and generosity. So I accepted it, and look forward to repaying the gestures in fun and unexpected ways in the year ahead.)
If I think of anything additional, I’ll follow-up with a part 2. If one person reads this and finds some comfort and assistance, then it was worth it! Always start your day with breathing, and for that matter, end it on the same task. Hang in there.