Thursday, October 14, 2010

SWG2L: Unemployment - The First Two Weeks

Well! Here's a topic I had hoped I wouldn't really experience -- but since I'm currently in the midst of said experience, it would be selfish of me to keep this new knowledge to myself. Some of this is my own -- some of it comes from people wiser than me who have been through it already. All of it is worth repeating.

So here we go.


It happened. Your workplace is having difficulty recovering from this lovely recession and you find yourself amongst the crowd unceremoniously let go. Just like that, you're on the curb, wondering what the heck happened and what's going to happen next. Maybe you're panicking a little -- your income is zero. As a single woman, you don't have a husband there to lean on while you find a new job. Maybe you're angry. Maybe you're relieved.

None of it changes your scenario. You are now unemployed.

Before I go any more into this, I'd like to lay out a few things. I'm assuming this was at least moderately unexpected -- you weren't fired because of a crappy performance review, and you didn't voluntarily quit. Some things about unemployment are universal, but there are some things unique to a layoff or reduction in force. The emotions are different and odds are good you're starting from a considerably lower level, preparation-wise.

In any case, here you are.

You've left the building. First of all, for crying out loud, react. If you managed to keep your cool while sitting in the HR manager's office, odds are good you've got something inside just dying to get out. Before you drive anywhere or get on the bus/train/etc., let the tears or the yelling or whatever come to the surface. Don't start driving until you're at least moderately calm. Don't call anyone until you've had a chance to regain your voice. Do what you can to not direct your anger and frustration at someone else (at least not yet). Let some of it out first.

After you've let some of it out, talk to someone. Not someone at work -- they're not having a good day, either, and odds are good you're about to say something that won't be conducive to your future job hunt. Call (or stop by and see) someone elsewhere that can take whatever abuse you shell out. The first person I called was my mother -- she was actually waiting for it because I had told her people were getting called in and I had a sneaking suspicion I was on The List. She was also the safest person for me to talk to right then; I could say whatever I wanted and it would be okay.

Get yourself home. Safely, please. If you have to pull over to calm down again, do it.

The first reaction phase takes time, and it'll be different for everybody depending on how much warning you had. My sister got laid off earlier this year, but they gave them a full four weeks' warning. I had about, oh, twenty minutes. She had the advantage of continuing to work -- I had the advantage of getting out of there while I was still angry about it and didn't want to deal with people. I also got to react in full right away, whereas she had to paste on an "Everything's fine" look and get through the day first. Your situation might not be like mine and you may have to get through the day first -- just make sure you give yourself the chance to let some of that emotion out before you turn around and make any life-altering decisions. I mean it.

Once you've had some time to react (not all the time you need -- odds are good you won't be done with even this first phase for a few days), do something to distract yourself. Watch a movie or take a nap -- try to avoid throwing things (hey, you might want that lamp in a couple weeks) or drinking too heavily. Don't get me wrong: both of those might make you feel better. Unfortunately neither will feel particularly good the next day. If you can help it, give yourself 24 hours to calm down before doing much of anything.

Get organized. This can wait a day or two, but as soon as you're functional again, start pulling details together. Find out whatever you can about what's available to you, either through your former employer or the government, and try to get all of that information in one place. Read through every bit of the material you were given in that HR person's office now that you can retain the information. If you have any questions about what you've been asked to sign (because odds are good they asked you to sign something, likely lots of somethings), make sure you ask the appropriate person. And take copious notes. You're much more likely to remember it if you write it down -- plus when you do forget something, you'll have a reminder waiting.

Cut back NOW. This is one of the most crucial pieces of advice I was given. You've been financially independent for however long and, since you're single (and presumably child-less), you probably haven't had to pay too much attention to your finances. Start paying attention. You don't know when your next paycheck will be and you're going to want food in a month. You know all those bad habits you've been meaning to break, whether it's smoking or how much soda/coffee/beer you drink? Now's your chance. Even a $4 a day savings in one of those beverages amounts to almost $1500 a year. There's nothing insignificant about it.

- Things that can be put on hold immediately: eating out, barhopping, gym memberships you never use, shopping sprees, "special item" groceries, junk food, large house projects (assuming you don't already have all the materials sitting in the garage waiting), expensive cable television packages, and various other per-month luxuries. I'm not necessarily talking about forever changes -- you can always pick up these things when you have income again -- although you may find that there are some things you just don't miss that badly.
- Things that you should hold on to for as long as possible: your cell phone (especially if it's your only phone line), your internet connection (although you may be able to downgrade). Don't completely ignore your friends, either -- you'll want an escape when you're tired of your own company.

Re-work your budget. Odds are good you've got at least one more paycheck coming. You might have severance pay or something similar, and you probably qualify for unemployment. Avoid figuring in your 401(k) -- you're going to want that later -- and any highly specific savings accounts you're going to want in five years. Leave any "rainy day" savings for when you run out of other funds.

You can be pretty stingy with some things, but be realistic. You may still have car or loan payments to make, insurance premiums, and so forth. You  may need to make a handful of purchases for your job search, if it's been awhile. And you still need to eat.

Have an exit strategy. If you don't own your home, moving might be your best option. It stinks, but if you're in an apartment with a particularly high rent, it may be time to downsize there or take on a roommate. In my case, I live in a town where I'm not likely to find a job and I have no immediate family -- I intend to move back home. For me, the cost of moving is considerably less than a single month of rent and it improves my job prospects considerably. Again, it stinks -- but it's my best option. (Plus my parents are pretty cool, but that's a different topic.)

Evaluate what you want to do next. A job? Back to school? Spend a year teaching in Cambodia? Hey, now's your chance! Lay out in detail what you're looking for, including each job you're considering. As with everything else, make sure you know what your options are and again, get that information into one place. (Research, research, research!)

Polish your resume. And then polish it some more. Then have someone else take a look at it and polish it at least one more time. If you're lucky, your former employer may have a contract with a career counseling service and they will likely help you with this all-important editing process; if not, you can find one that will likely help for no fee for a time. By all means, make use of it.

Abuse the Internet. There's an incredible amount of information out there -- use it! Monster, LinkedIn, Dice (if you happen to be in a technology field), and so many more sites are devoted to helping you make connections and find a job. You can also find clarification on unemployment benefits, education assistance, and basically anything else you want to know. Plus there are game sites and Facebook when you're just plain tired of thinking about finding a job.


Now, all of that advice you've already heard. If you've read my blog before, you know I can't limit myself to "normal" advice, and that's probably what you came here to read anyway.

So what about everything else? Sure, there's the job hunt and all the re-evaluation, but your world just effectively ended.

1. In the immortal words of Douglas Adams, don't panic. You need to focus now, not freak out. It'll be okay.

2. Similarly, you can relax. All of the stresses of your job are gone. You are effectively caught up. This is one piece of advice I got that was infinitely more valuable than I initially realized, but it's true -- not everything about sudden unemployment is a negative. As for me, I no longer have to deal with salesmen that anger me, cook ahead for lunch tomorrow, or wear business casual. Definite advantages.

3. You can sleep in. It's probably not a good idea to sleep till noon every day (after all, there will be hell to pay when you have to get back into a routine), but you can indulge a little bit.

4. You're still awesome. No, really. I tell myself that every morning. ("Ashley, you still rock.") Layoffs are not a reflection on you -- they're a reflection of a company's bottom line. It's not going to be easy but you're still the same confident, generally awesome chick you were before. You're going to have down days but when it's all over that fact won't have changed.

5. People are going to want to help. You and your pride might not be ready for it, but people are going to offer all sorts of it. Be gracious, be humble, and realize that nothing will make this easier or less unpleasant than accepting some of it. Not necessarily all of it -- but perhaps more than you normally would. You don't have to go it alone.

6. It will take more time to recover than you think. And I'm not just talking about the job hunt. Even in the current kind-of-crappy job climate, the blow to the ego is almost harder.

7. You have more time to do things you've been wanting to do. Get some exercise, volunteer somewhere, brush up on your Latin phrases, finish some craft projects -- whatever. If you spend your newly freed eight hours a day searching for a job you'll lose your mind inside a week. Work in some me-time as well.

8. Count your blessings. You don't have a husband or kids depending on you, which means, among other things, your time really is your own and you are free to make the decisions you need to without infringing on other people.

9. Don't rush things. There is no instant fix and odds are good things won't happen as fast as you'd like. That doesn't mean things aren't going well -- it mostly means you need to have patience.

10. Leave the house at least once a day. Even if it's just for a walk. Trust me on this one.

11. After you've recovered a bit, find a new routine you can stick with. Mine involves a set amount of time each day spent packing and cleaning, some GRE prep, some time spent looking for a job, and evenings carrying on as normally as possible. I'm getting more exercise and eating as normally as I can (although that one took more time than anything else to return to "normal"). In short, I'm doing what I can to keep myself on track so that it's not too hard to adjust when I'm once again employed.

12. Remember -- the best really is yet to come.


That's only the beginning ... but it's a decent start. It's only been two weeks and I have a lot -- lot -- more to figure out (although to be perfectly honest I hope I don't have too much time to do so).

As always, if you've got anything to add, please comment!


Lee Ryan said...

yeah; I guess the good news is that you get to start over: the sky is the limit, there are so many crazy and exciting things you could give a try at.

I suppose that's also the bad news: but let's just forget about that for a while.

Ashley said...

I know I'm being obnoxiously upbeat right now -- but for the moment I really don't miss my job. After a year of getting fidgety (I really don't hold still very well) I'm finally moving toward something I've been wanting to do for a long time.

So I am forgetting the bad news for now. At least, when I'm blogging I am. :)

Laura said...

Always enjoy your posts...but this one is truly insightful. On a side writing a possibility? Maybe not a full time, but a definite sideline. Your voice in words is colorful.
Besides, you have YEARS of blogs to draw from. When you make a decision about a master's or job hunt, let me know. Have connections in the Houston engineering area you know! Blessings to you....Don't forget Halloween is close and that means bring on the Phantom of the Opera. Bri would love to watch with you again.
Bri's Mom

Hollywood Megastore said...

Great. Good advice provided. The unemployment condition can make you feel quite stressful and frustrated. You have to keep patience in these situation.