You didn’t think this would happen to you, but you got the dreaded call from HR and found yourself cleaning out your desk with a couple dozen of your coworkers due to “reorganization” or “downsizing” or some euphemism that means you’re not getting any more paychecks. I have been through this more times than I care to admit due to my employment in ye olde internet salt mines, so have some advice to offer on what you should be doing next, if this has never happened to you before.
- File for unemployment RIGHT NOW.
Don’t wait a day. Don’t wait an hour. You can do it online now in most states. Depending on the state, your eligibility can start from the day you lose your job so the timing really does matter. The first time I got laid off I was mortified; the Crabby Lady’s family does not ask for charity! – and then I stopped being dumb and went down to the unemployment office (yes, in my covered wagon) and the clerk said to me, “Why did you wait? You just lost a week of unemployment because you waited three days.” SO DON’T WAIT. I don’t know what your particular state’s rules are going to be, but DON’T WAIT.
Remember: if you worked, you are entitled to claim unemployment benefits. Remember: even if you get fired, you can still be eligible for unemployment. Nothing will happen to you if you file and they determine that you aren’t eligible; they’ll just determine you aren’t eligible. If your company paid you severance or you still have owed vacation pay, you still need to file as soon as it happens; you’ll be asked about this and you just answer the best you can. Don’t worry, they will follow up with you.
Even if you are sure you will get a job tomorrow, that’s great! The Department of Labor will only be too glad to close your case.
- Your budget.
What are your monthly expenses? Can you go home and push a button in Mint and know this? That’s great. Do it. If you can’t do that, open up Google Sheets and get to work right now.
The idea is that you need to know what your burn rate is. That way when you get your unemployment benefit certification, you’ll know how much of a hole you will be in. Maybe you are some kind of organized savant that can rattle that number off in your head. But most of us are not, or are very wrong when we do. So sit down and do the numbers, or update the numbers if this is a thing you do with any kind of regularity, so you can be 100% sure about it.
- Put recurring expenses on hold.
Netflix, premium cable, Birchbox, publications, extra exercise classes, anything that takes money out of your bank account on a regular basis, this is the time to call them or email them or go talk to them, and ask what your options are. I know we all hate talking to people but this is a situation where a voice actually can work to your advantage.
If they try to convince you to not do it (like the cable company undoubtedly will), ask to talk to someone else. “I just lost my job and I need to control expenses” is pretty much all you need to say. I know, you don’t want to tell people, but you would be amazed how many people have been in your shoes and will be sympathetic and want to help. If they can put a hold because you’re going on vacation, they can put a hold on because you’re out of work. And if they won’t, then cancel them. (That’s one sure way to find out how flexible they’re willing to be with putting it on hold.)
The exceptions to this rule are: your gym membership, your cellphone, and your internet service. If you have any way to minimize those expenses, then by all means do so, but don’t say, “I’m going to cancel my internet and tether off my phone” unless you can actually do that. If your gym is expensive or inconvenient to get to, consider signing up at a cheaper gym, or finding a more affordable option (there are amazing YouTube exercise videos these days).
- What is the worst-case scenario?
Envision the worst case scenario, whatever that is, and attach it to a timeline. I’m talking about something like, “If I don’t have a job by the end of November, I would need to give my roommate one month’s notice and move back to Wisconsin at the end of December.” or “If I don’t have any promising leads by the end of next week, I need to find a retail or food service job as a stop gap and start looking for someone who needs a roommate while I keep looking for a job.” But you need to put an actual definition around what the worst case scenario is, so when it arrives, you know what to do, instead of envisioning everything short of getting a job by next Wednesday as utter failure. Maybe you have three weeks’ worth of breathing room.
- COBRA is still awful but right now we have the ACA, sign up for it.
COBRA (the law that requires that your employer extend you the right to continue your health insurance by paying for it yourself) is a ridiculous amount of money. Anyone who says to you, “Oh, but there’s COBRA!” has never ever needed it and had to pay for it. But the Affordable Care Act is available to you and as someone who just lost their job, you are eligible, so call them RIGHT NOW. Google [your state] + ACA and you will get the correct links.
You have 60 days after you lose your job to opt in for the ACA. (And maybe through some miracle, COBRA is a better deal for you, but you won’t know if you don’t call and talk to them.) I suggest that you call instead of trying to use the website because the counselors know the drill and know what questions to ask, whereas you are new to this all and if you try to do it yourself online, might actually do yourself a disservice.
My one piece of advice for choosing a plan would be to find one that still allows you to keep your current PCP doctor (or specialist if you have any particular special conditions).
- Unsubscribe from anything that might tempt you to spend money.
Hit the unsub link for all shopping related emails, store sales emails, newsletters, anything like that. Years ago, when I was working on paying off my debt, I noticed there was a direct correlation between getting these emails and spending money on things I did not really need. Really, you can live without that notice about the Gap’s 40% off sale (and there’s one every week). That includes Groupon, Gilt, Lifebooker and any “discount’ type services. It’s not just that you won’t be tempted, it’s also that you won’t be contributing to making yourself feel worse that you have no money to spend.
- Update your resume
This is a lousy time to be updating your resume, because you’re not in the greatest frame of mind. That said, you have to do it. Try to find a friend that can look at it when you’re done and make sure you’re listing everything you can. Ideally, call in a favor with someone you used to work with who can look at it and say, “You totally forgot how you rocked The New Unicorn Acquisition Project! Put that sucker on here!”
Remember you can keep updating your resume, and you can have different resumes customized to different jobs. But that’s for later, when you can think more strategically. Right now you just need one in fighting shape.
8) Tell everyone that you are looking for a job.
Make sure your LinkedIn profile is updated, and then, hit everything. Group emails, Twitter, Facebook. “Hey, just got laid off at the Unicorn Corporation, where I was Chief Barn Supervisor. Here is a link to my LinkedIn profile, if you know anyone in the fantasy animals industry, please feel free to pass it along. Thank you!”
Don’t be afraid to remind people of this once a week. I did it every day for a week at different times and there were still good friends who had missed it the first couple of days.
You can also add “Seeking new opportunities” to your LinkedIn profile. “People” say “oh don’t do that” but I think that’s dumb, why not make it as obvious as possible? It’s not like you’re trying to hide it.
9) Have a routine.
This is going to sound dumb, but there have been times I just didn’t eat to try to save money, and felt guilty taking a shower and getting dressed like a human being, instead of paging through another 10 pages of job ads.
Now I know that I should get up, go to the gym, take a shower, eat breakfast, and then spend time going through the job sites and networking. The days I would get up and start applying to jobs in my pajamas did not result in more job offers, but it did result in me feeling like garbage around 2 p.m., and feeling like garbage absolutely does not help you get a job.
Also! Get good sleep. This is not the time to stay up all night binging on Netflix, even if you are using your aunt’s password. Nor is it the time to stare at the ceiling, beating yourself up because you didn’t see this coming.
10) Look for work every day.
My dad used to say that you needed to treat looking for a job like it was a job, to the extent of getting up and putting on a suit and tie every day. But that was also back when you had to physically call or visit or send an actual letter to a company to find a job. (They were also probably working in caves and chiseling letters into stone tablets.)
That said, job hunting is a numbers game, and there is something to the momentum of having a daily job hunting routine that you just sit down and do on auto-pilot every day. It will make you feel more in control of the situation, and that will help your state of mind. Some states will require you to perform a certain amount of job-hunting activities each week (and keep a log of it) in order to claim unemployment.
Next week: Job hunting systems, dealing with friends and family, and other related advice.
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[Post image via Shutterstock]