The Desert Homestead Blog
Urban and rural sustainable homesteading in the desert southwest

Laid Off – Now What? Ten Tips to Get Through Your Job Loss

The call came last Thursday morning. I, along with two dozen of my colleagues, had just been laid off.

I’m not alone, of course. The US unemployment rate has been hovering around 10% for quite some time, and some states — like Nevada — are as high as 14%. Some claim the figures are even worse, as they don’t take into consideration those workers who have simply given up and are no longer looking.

With such grim statistics, it’s easy to throw up your hands in despair. But don’t panic yet — there’s plenty you can do to cope with the situation.

1. Take a deep breath and be grateful. Losing one’s job is disheartening, to be sure. Anger, anxiety, and shame are just some of the emotions you’ll feel. But it isn’t the end of the world; as cliche as it may sound right now, things could be worse. You had a job before, which means someone, somewhere felt you had the skills and personality that make you a desireable employee. What else do you have? Your family, your friends, your health, your brains … you haven’t lost any of these. Focus on what you do have, and then move forward.

2. On a practical level, the first step is to take a look at your finances. Make a bare-bones, worst-case budget. How long can you last without income? What non-critical expenses can you eliminate? Do it now — not tomorrow or “next month, if nothing’s come up.” Realistically, you don’t know how long you’ll be without work, and every penny you save today will help you go that much longer.

Look at your assets. If you received a severance package, good for you! But don’t blow it on maintaining your current lifestyle or on “feel-good” purchases to cheer yourself up. Ditto for any savings you may have. Make it last as long as you can. Look at what hard assets you may have that you could sell or cash out. This means everything from boats and televisions to IRAs or CDs. It may not be necessary to do so right now, but if it makes the difference between feeding yourself or going hungry, it’s nice to know you have the option.

Check out your state’s unemployment programs. Be warned that these are usually subsistence level and unlikely to be close to what you were making before. However, every little bit helps.

Finally, consider what bills could be delayed or deferred. Student loans often allow a hardship deferment, and while it may hurt your credit, some unsecured debts such as credit cards can remain temporarily unpaid if need be. A ding on your credit report is better than losing your house.

3. Take a day off, but no more. Often the first reaction to a job loss is “Well, I’ll take a week/month off, then start looking.” This is a mistake for a couple reasons. First is the time factor. You have to search for a job, apply, and get interviewed. Then the company needs to decide on the best candidate, give you a start date, then it’s two weeks or more before you see your first paycheck. You see the problem: best-case scenario, you’re looking at a month or more without income. Can you afford that?

The second reason to hit the ground immediately is purely psychological. It’s easy to be lulled into a routine of sleeping in, watching TV, and generally feeling sorry for yourself. As you watch the days go by and your bank account dwindle, you’ll feel increasingly hopeless and melancholy. Taking control of the situation by actively pursuing work combats your chances of slipping into this gloomy rut. Schedule a specific amount of time every day to work on your job-hunt, set goals, and do it.

4. Polish your resume, if you haven’t already. Update it with your most recent work experience. If you have multiple areas of expertise, consider making several resumes targeted to different fields or industries. Don’t limit yourself to the traditional chronological style; there are some fabulous templates available for Microsoft Word, for example, that focus on specific skill sets or highlight key accomplishments. If your local unemployment office offers resume assistance, take advantage of it. In fact…

5. Use every career-building program available. Unemployment offices can offer advice, career counseling, lists of available jobs, job fair information, and more. Local colleges often do as well, as do several non-profit agencies.

Don’t forget to go online to job-search. Visit:
* Monster.Com
* Dice.Com
* Jobs.Com
* Jobing.Com
* Craiglist employment section for your locality
* Jobs.Net

Again, don’t limit yourself in your search. Many skills, such as trouble-shooting or project management, can translate to entirely different fields or industries. And don’t reject low-paying jobs out of hand. If it’s offered by a company you’d like to work for, this could be an opportunity to prove yourself as a valuable asset, and move up fairly quickly.

By the same token, consider temp or contract work. One of my best jobs came as the result of a temp gig. I ended up being hired full-time by the contracting company after only a few months, stayed with them for over five years, and they signed on as my biggest client when I left to start my own company. Again, it’s an opportunity to prove yourself … or at least make a few bucks while waiting for a more suitable position.

6. Network, network, network. Most of the jobs I’ve had came as a result of word of mouth or because of references. Join Facebook and LinkedIn, and connect with friends and former colleagues, employers,and clients. Give copies of your resume to everyone you know. Don’t be embarrassed to ask for referrals or recommendations. People like to help others, and if they were satisfied with your work, they’ll feel good about helping a good employer get a good employee.

7. As an addendum to #6 above, don’t burn your bridges. You may feel that you were treated poorly by your former company; you may disagree with their decision to let you go. Even if you’re right and they were wrong, keep your mouth shut. First, it’s not going to change anything. Your old company is not going to hire you back because you told everyone how dumb they were, or because you returned your Blackberry after running over it with your car. But by remaining civil, you may be able to get a recommendation or even a referral from them. Most business circles are pretty small — getting a good reference from a former employer might be the nudge you need to get in the door of another company. And getting a bad reference might keep that door firmly closed.

But more importantly, disparaging your former company leaves a very poor impression on potential employers. After all, we all know “that guy”, the one who can’t keep a job but constantly moans about how it’s not his fault … in every case, they just “done him wrong.” No one wants to hire “that guy” — don’t give a prospective employer reason to think you might be him. Be professional and take the high road.

8. Keep busy. All of us have things we put off for lack of time. You don’t have that excuse anymore, so now’s the time to weed the yard, clean the baseboards, go to your kid’s recital, or take down the Christmas lights. In addition of getting the actual task taken care of, you’ll gain a sense of accomplishment and feel useful. This is critical for keeping your spirits up.

Also, consider that every obstacle can be an opportunity. Have you ever thought, “What I’d really love to do is _____?” Maybe this is your chance to do just that. Don’t lose focus on your job search (you do have bills to pay, after all), but spend a little time each day checking out your dream career. Want to be a forest ranger? Make custom cabinets? Start an interior design business? Learn programming? Do some research. Maybe you can’t do it immediately because you need more education or more experience. Maybe it’s in a completely different field from your own. In that case, consider becoming a volunteer or intern to gain that experience. Like it or not, you have the time — use it wisely.

9. Take care of yourself physically. Get enough sleep, but don’t spend entire days in bed. Exercise, even if it’s just a walk around the block. Don’t self-medicate with food or alcohol. Your physical condition has an enormous impact on your mood, so be careful to maintain good habits.

10. Have a support network. As time passes, you’ll inevitably have moments of despondency. Have someone you can talk to who will listen sympathetically, but won’t let you slide into complete discouragement. You don’t need either a Pollyanna who minimizes your fears, or a Debbie Downer who makes you feel even worse. Talk it over with them, and then let them talk you out of your funk.

An unexpected job loss is a frightening, stressful situation — in fact, it’s considered by many psychologists to be as emotionally catastrophic as the death of a loved one. Just remember that numerous others have been through it and lived to tell the tale. You can too.


One Response to “Laid Off – Now What? Ten Tips to Get Through Your Job Loss”

  1. […] bird in the hand … I’m still mulling my options in terms of employment. When my company let me go, they gave me the option of keeping it if I would relocate to … well, a midwestern industrial […]

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