Tips For The Suddenly Unemployed (From the Recently Suddenly Unemployed)

Two weeks ago I woke up, got dressed, put on shoes, found coffee and went to work for approximately three hours before receiving an email and being herded into a conference room with a group of my peers. I received a white envelope containing a check, some paperwork and a well-intentioned pamphlet from our HR department on how to deal with unexpected job loss.

I had a beer at noon, and then walked to the subway, convinced that people passing me on the street knew that I no longer had a job. I was free of responsibility, with nothing but the yawning openness of an infinite amount of free time stretched before me.

I made phone calls to my parents, shutting down the worry in their voices with a tone that said “Please don’t talk to me about this, I am very close to tears, please know that I am fine.” I got many drinks with friends who still had jobs and friends who just lost them, then ate a meal of cheap dumplings in hungry gulps standing in my kitchen, legs wobbly from too many beers and not enough food. My roommates treaded lightly around me, looks of concerns etched across their faces.

The first few days were a wash. Every night, I ended up out with friends, and every night I ended up sitting at a bar clutching the cool neck of a beer someone else paid for, frantically making budgets in my head and dabbing at tears with a cocktail napkin. During daylight, I flopped around my apartment in stretch pants, drifting towards my laptop looking for work, emailing everyone I knew for leads and ignoring phone calls from my parents. This was my struggle and no one else’s. This was something I’d have to get through. And I have. Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

1. Get your money right, as soon as you can. Stop buying extra moves in Candy Crush. Purchase only necessities at Duane Reade, which does not mean nail polish, three magazines and an eyeliner to replace the one you think you left at the bar the other night. If you got a severance check, deposit it right away. Sign up for unemployment immediately. Turn a critical and unwavering eye on your bank account and make some hard and fast decisions on how to push some paper towards rent, towards your bills, towards whatever expenses you might have. Take stock of what’s left, and make a budget. This is the part where most people freak out. Do not freak out.

2. Your friends are there for you, and they want to be supportive, so do not look that gift horse in the mouth. They will understand if you snap and put up a wall and cringe under their sympathetic gaze. If someone wants to buy you a beer, put your wallet away and take that beer with a smile. If people give you strident advice that rankles because you are a grownup and don’t want to hear what anyone else has to say, grit your teeth and listen. No back-talk. Say thank you. They mean well.

3. Find a comfortable and cheap place to do your work work. Looking for jobs uses the same kinds of muscles that being at your actual job used. Opening and closing all the tabs. Refreshing Twitter. Typing words into a box, hitting “send” and going to get a coffee. All that’s changed is the intent. If you have a desk or a table at your disposal, congratulations, you’re a step ahead of the game. All of the work you will be doing can be done from the quiet still of your apartment. If you go to a cafe, make sure it’s quiet, full of outlets and has a strong, fast Wi-Fi connection.

4. If you are confined to your home, set some ground rules. Wear pants—real pants, with a button and a zipper—at least three times a week. Leave your house once a day, get some fresh air on your face, and practice the fading art of speaking out loud to other people, even if it is an extended conversation about the price of packaged cheese slices with the cashier at the grocery store. Shower with some regularity. If you want to walk down the street and get a bagel and an iced coffee instead of eating the sad Chobani that stares balefully at you when you open the fridge, do it. If it makes you feel saner to do something that’s like the way you used to do things, so be it.

5. Remember to eat food. I hear you scoff, thinking to yourself, how on earth could I ever forget to eat food, I am constantly, always starving, but trust me, you forget. There’s something about an office environment that finds you monstrously hungry at 11:30 a.m., wrist deep in a bag of Cheez-its. When you’re home and deep in a job hunt, and the tiny abacus that lives in your head is clacking furiously to divide up the same finite amount of money in as many different ways as it can, that din drowns out a grumbling stomach. Look at the clock. If it’s in the same time you would’ve eaten food at your job while you sitting at your desk talking trash into a chat box, get up and make a sandwich.

6. Above all, this is an opportunity for yourself. The constraints of a regular job make it hard to see what the future could hold. If you’re unhappy with your career path, steady money and the silent buzzing of fluorescent lights make you complacent. People will tell you that this is the kick in the teeth you needed to make a change for the positive, and for that you should be grateful. It’s hard to see at first, because the open maw of the unknown sometimes makes it hard to breathe. As humans, we struggle every day to wrest control form the grips of the universe and put it into our own hands. This is a chance to do just that. You’re in charge.

 

Megan Reynolds lives in New York.

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16 Comments / Post A Comment

SterlingCooper05 (#2,529)

Excellent post! I was so depressed when I was laid off from my first job that I didn’t know what to do. I could have used this advice 8 years ago. Wear real pants, lol!

triplea (#1,234)

My one year anniversary of getting laid off is this Monday! It was terrifying. I came home on Veteran’s Day and ate lunch with my friends who had the day off work and I thought I was going to throw up the entire time. I was very lucky to get 12 weeks of severance in addition to unemployment. I made it my goal to have a new job before I received my last severance check. I almost made it — I got a month-long temporary position that helped me get through February and some of March. I went into my savings for the first time in March, and then got a contract position that started in April.

It was miserable, made worse by the fact I was unemployed during the holidays and stuck inside my apt in the middle of winter. I kept my purchases to the essentials. I also kept myself on a schedule: I needed to be awake before 8am and on my computer with a cup of coffee. I knew if I let go of that schedule, I’d lose all normalcy. Getting exercise is definitely important (the outdoors thing is hard when it’s 15 degrees out) and keeping regular meals is also key. I think I only wore real pants on the weekends, though.

Happy to say I started a new full-time position 2 weeks ago so I now have stability after a very uneasy and stressful year.

Allison (#4,509)

Eat food is really valid advice. When I was furloughed I completely forgot how to feed myself/go to bed at a reasonable hour. It was pathetic how quickly those basic life skills atrophied.

andnowlights (#2,902)

This is awesomely written. I live in constant fear of randomly losing my job, especially since I’m the bread winner.

EA_Mann (#5,000)

“If you’re unhappy with your career path, steady money and the silent buzzing of fluorescent lights make you complacent” – great line, this is so true!

novembertea (#2,203)

This is an EXCELLENT post. Clear, useful, and sympathetic advice. When stuff like this happens, the way I react is letting all of my present needs, worries about the future, and my conflicting feelings all hit me at once and then I freak out and can’t do anything productive. This article seems tailored to helping you do the opposite.

To anyone recently unemployed… I promise you’ll be ok!

ceereelyo (#3,552)

Great post! The last point is so important. I got let go from my first job out of college. It had been a great, exciting, entrepreneurial position that had lots of perks and was pretty laid back – this was all great until a couple of years in and I soon became disenchanted with the instability, the infighting, etc. After I was let go I felt so horrible and was physically ill for a couple of days. It was a rough two years of semi-employment, scrimping by, moving back in with my parents with my boyfriend (now husband! he really stuck with me and I am so lucky to have him), etc etc. But now I am in a job, that is definitely what I would’ve NOT pictured myself in but I like that everyday is challenging, I’m always learning and it is complex and full of decision making and I like my coworkers and the company (for the most part!). but yeah, I am moving into a career path that I know will pay off and has helped me grow and regain the confidence I lost while being semi/unemployed.

I would also advise along with 2. above – if you need help, ask. seriously, you will be surprised what your friends and fam will do. I regret that I didn’t ask for more help when I did, it might have saved me from making some bad financial decisions (aka not paying bills because I was broke and basically letting my credit plummet and clearing out any sort of emergency savings). I also was super out of it emotionally during those years on and off (not saying every day was bad) and I just felt so worthless and had no confidence, that maybe if I just talked it out with someone, I would’ve felt better about myself and see the situation as being better than worse (aka it brought me to the position I’m in now).

Also – public library! your best friend. I read so much when I was semi/unemployed, it’s probably the one thing I miss about it.

WayDownSouth (#3,431)

Yes, this post contains very good advice. I’ve been made redundant twice so far (first job and job before this one) and it changed my financial perspective quite a bit.

If you’re worried about losing your job, my suggestions include:

1. Save. The money you don’t spend on magazines, video games and nail polish is available for rent and food later. Having a financial buffer decreases the worry factor and increases your confidence.

2. Volunteer, particularly with an organisation related to your career field. You’re going to get to know people and demonstrate your skills to them. You’re investing time and energy into job options. Plus you get to help people, so everyone benefits.

3. Stay positive at work (or at least appear to). When management select individuals to make redundant, how they evaluate your attitude counts quite a bit.

Preparation will help expand your options if you do get laid off. Getting laid off though can be quite unpleasant, so the suggestions in the original post are very good.

AnnieW (#2,913)

Lost my job on Wednesday, so this is a very useful thing. Still dealing with the gut punch of being told that I’m not great at the thing I have chosen for a career. Anyway, I’m lucky because I was in a weird job situation where I was working a few jobs..the one I lost was the best/most meaningful one, but I have back up things to get me through to something new.

annie (#534)

“Sign up for unemployment immediately”
Presumably this is aimed at US audiences, because this sentence makes no sense otherwise?

honey cowl (#1,510)

Excellent advice! This happened to me completely out of midair a few months ago, still scraping by and it’s hard! I can’t believe how much I’ve withdrawn from certain friends. Once my part-time position goes full-time, hopefully I can reconnect with them. They’re just the type of people who always want to do something that costs dolla billzz I don’t have to spare right now.

Eric18 (#4,486)

Good advice. I thought this was the best:

“If people give you strident advice that rankles because you are a grownup and don’t want to hear what anyone else has to say, grit your teeth and listen. No back-talk. Say thank you. They mean well.”

It is probably one of the hardest things to actually practice as taking unsolicited advice usually is, but friends/family usually mean well.

On a related note, a friend who had a recent bout of unemployment said how much she hated weekends and holidays. It meant that recruiters/HR were not working and therefore were not around to respond to job inquiries. Which meant another day of unemployment.

WayDownSouth (#3,431)

@Eric18 yes, I agree. People mean well, but it’s awkward. One of my friends who had cancer said that many of his friends backed away because they didn’t know how to discuss it with him. They didn’t want to say the wrong thing, so they didn’t say anything. He much preferred people who asked how the treatment was going, when his hair would grow back, etc. I assume that employed people don’t want to say the wrong thing to unemployed people as well.

Myrtle (#116)

My tip: sign up with a good temp agency. It’s a great boost to shredded self-esteem to have someone compliment your test scores. The ones I’ve used have offered online access to their software training, so I could learn newer versions of Excel and Word, from home. Get to know the staff and call in every morning, ready to go to work. This has gotten me out of jams more than once in my career and also showed me I could work successfully in fields I hadn’t considered.

potatopotato (#5,255)

As of last Friday I will be serving out my 2 weeks’ notice at one of my part time jobs, and then will be happily ensconsed in one full time position with one boss in one place for the first time since I was laid off a year and a half ago.

To this list, I would add: Find something, anything, to keep you on a regular schedule, so you know what day it is. That could be a knitting group Monday evenings, or running with a buddy at 5am every day, or going to the yoga class at the community center at lunch time on Fridays. Or, ideally, working part time until you can find something more stable.

Also, signing up for Unemployment in my state (Pennsylvania) is A ROYAL PAIN IN THE ASS. It took me 2 months to straighten out my account and receive a check. (What would I have done if I didn’t have enough savings to live on?) Ask around to find friends who have recently been through the system in your state, and ask what to expect. If you run into problems, your State Rep’s office may be able to help you.

A few things from my experience:

1. Ask your former colleagues about freelance work. Someone’s gotta do it right? And you were let go not because they didn’t like your work, but for financial reasons. If someone thinks they can’t hire you for freelance work for a period of time because you were laid off, encourage them to talk to HR. That’s not the case – unless your former company has some evil policy.

2. Ask everyone you worked with to write LinkedIn recommendations. You’d be surprised how even people who have a profile on the network completely fail to connect the dots that this is a really simple and helpful thing they can do for a colleague who lost a job through no fault of his/her own.

3. When people promise to do something for you, follow up with them. Several times.

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