Surviving unemployment

I’m out of work.

But this isn’t to say that my life is over, in fact, quite the opposite. I see it as an opportunity to reinvent myself and to take the steps to create a more fulfilling and rewarding life for myself, just as I did when I was forced to deal with divorce.

Following is a few things that I’ve learned being on the unemployment queues. Unemployment can be a debilitating situation if you’re not careful – your self-esteem can go way down and, if you’ve been out of work for a while you can begin to wonder if you’ll ever get a job again.

But it needn’t be an unpleasant experience. In fact, if you go about your situation methodically and stay in control of your life you can find the situation manageable and even rewarding. Here are a few tricks for staying on top on the unemployment queue.

  1. Remember, you are not on vacation. You have a new job now, and your job is to find a job which, in itself, can be a full-time occupation. It’s common to take a few days off to re-adjust to your situation and a few days of mourning is forgivable and even appropriate. So, when you know that unemployment is imminent (you may have been let go, your company may be downsizing and you’ve been laid off or, like I often experience as a contractor, your contact may have been terminated or completed) designate a few days to unwind and contemplate your options. Make sure you write these down – mark the days in your calendar that you’re going to take as vacation time (no more than a week and, ideally only a couple of days) and then, go back to work!
  2. Come up with a plan for what you’re going to do next. This may be a good time for a career change or, perhaps (particularly in my occupation) to learn about the next generation of innovations in your particular field. Try to study something that will keep you ahead of the curve and will ensure some job security in your next position, perhaps a branch of your field that will make you a specialist. Research what is in demand and try to target those. Write these down so that you have something to measure your progress against and review it with every move you make. Not only will this help you keep track of your progress but it will also give you a sense of satisfaction. One of the biggest mistakes the unemployed make is to wade through life on a day to day basis, wallowing in regret and self-pity. Take control of your life and the experience can not only be tolerable but even rewarding.
  3. Make sure you keep an active social life. 90% of jobs that are filled are never advertised. Join a club (or several clubs) – I recommend Toastmasters International as it is a professional organization that can offer many opportunities. Attend job fairs and never hesitate to go out with the boys or the girls for a night out. Just make sure you watch your pennies. A good friend will recognize your situation and will not make undue financial demands on you and your friends may even be able to network on your behalf. Just make sure that you thank them for their support and are willing to support them should they ever be in the same situation. That’s one of the many things that make friends friends – they support each other.
  4. Watch your pennies! If you haven’t already done so list your income (probably from unemployment), your expendable assets, and your financial commitments (rent, electricity etc.). Make sure that you can live within your means until such time as you’re back on the job. Document your every expense – if something is going to drive you into abject poverty, don’t do it unless it’s completely unavoidable.
  5. Make your bed. Literally. Again, you’re not on vacation so set your alarm clock like you would if you were still working, take a shower, get dressed (dress for the job you want – iron a shirt if that’s what you used to do) and make a daily schedule for yourself. It should involve trolling the want ads and applying for positions, a certain amount of time for study and, yes, cleaning your house. Make your bed, make sure the dishes don’t pile up in the sink and keep your living space tidy. This will not only give you a sense of accomplishment but will also remind you that you’re not on vacation and will help to prevent you from falling into despair – your job is to find a job. Write the schedule down and check it off as you complete each task.
  6. Take a lunch break. Set your hours – eight of them per day. It is vital that you consider yourself still employed and adopting a standard work schedule is the most important part. If your occupation requires an eight-to-five schedule with an hour for lunch then continue to do that. Set lunch for a certain time and make sure that you clean up after yourself.
  7. Keep the TV off and the phone on. If you’re using a computer to find work (and you should – job sites and email are essential tools for finding employment) then keep the games in the toybox. Again, and I can’t stress this highly enough, you are not on vacation so “vacationy” type things are off-limits during work hours. Answer every phone call – even collections calls and you will probably get plenty of those. Work leads can come from the most unlikely sources and avoiding the phone is avoiding an opportunity. Collection calls can be demeaning but don’t take it personally. The person on the other end is simply doing their job and if you calmly and rationally explain that you’re out of work then most collection agencies will understand and may even be able to offer suggestions to get you back on your feet. If they don’t and are pushy (as many are) then, at the very least, you have not shunned a potential opportunity.
  8. Take weekends and standard work holidays off (Christmas, Memorial Day, Labor Day, 4th of July etc. – or whatever holidays apply to your country) If you follow the rules as mentioned then you will deserve them just like any other working stiff and you will be able to enjoy them more knowing that you’ve done your best to get work.

But most of all, stay optimistic. When opportunity knocks most people are out the back taking out the trash but, when one door closes another one opens and, if not, open one yourself.

These few simple tricks help keep me sane while out of work and, like I said, as a contractor I face this situation often. It works for me and I hope that it will work for you 🙂