Surviving Unemployment: 6 Things to Do When You Lose Your Job

Losing your job is pretty scary. Surviving unemployment can be tough, even for an optimist. I know from experience.

When I found myself out of work the country was right smack-dab in the middle of the so-called Great Recession. At the time, I had no idea just how tough it was going to be to find a new job.

I left my position in local TV news and started working for a company that was producing syndicated radio programming.

I can remember talking to my new co-workers about how all the economic fear was mostly media hype, that it was nothing more than fuel for the fire of mudslinging political campaigns.

Boy was I wrong! My new employer closed up shop just a few months later, and my career path took an unexpected, unpleasant turn.

Things are better now. However the fact is – it was nine months before I found a part-time job and more than a year before I was employed full-time again.

If you’re looking for a job right now, hopefully, your wait is much shorter. My experiences taught me a few things about how to handle searching for a job when you don’t have one.

Heed these words and you’ll be able to survive the unemployment wilderness.

1. Don’t Take Your Unemployment Personal

Finding yourself without a job is a huge downer no matter how it happens. Give yourself a couple of days to wallow in self-pity – but that’s it!

This won’t be easy – especially as the weeks drag on. Some say unemployed people go through the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and finally acceptance.

A month after my employer shut its doors, my wife told me she was pregnant. Great timing, right?

It was actually very good news – but because of the situation – my self-esteem definitely took a hit. Over the next several months, my pregnant wife went off to work each day after puking her guts out from morning sickness. I stood there in my boxer shorts with a cup of coffee wondering what to do next.

It made me feel terrible – like I was a lazy bum who couldn’t help support his family. But the only thing I could do was keep on trying.

Dealing with the emotional pain and mental stress of unemployment is important, but you can’t let it keep you down forever. Allow yourself to vent some of those frustrations every now and then.

If you keep it all bottled up you’re just going to curl up in a little ball and wither away – or worse yet you’ll self implode.

It might help to remember that you’re not alone. As of this writing, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says there are still more than 13-million people who are in the same boat as you are.

2. Don’t Waste Time

While you’ve got plenty of company, the high unemployment rate also means there is a ton of competition for new jobs!

That’s why two days of watching soap operas and reading Sarah Silverman’s Twitter updates is enough. After that, it’s time to get on the ball.

The Internet provides us with all sorts of time-wasting garbage. I was dumb enough to start playing Mafia Wars and I watched more than my share of stuff on Hulu. But I soon realized that I needed to treat searching for a job like it was my new full-time job.

The sooner you get that resume updated the better! Join networking sites like LinkedIn and start connecting with people who could provide opportunities and get your name out there.

If you qualify, one of the first things you should do is sign up for unemployment insurance benefits. I’ve heard people say that potential employers frown on that. But how would they even know? Are you planning to add that to your resume?

My opinion is that if you can leave your savings and your emergency fund intact – all the better.

In these tough economic times, it’s not unusual for job-seekers to be without a current job. However, the people interviewing you will be impressed if they see you’ve been keeping busy.

Look for volunteering opportunities, freelance work, and don’t be too proud to accept part-time jobs for pay that’s less than desirable.

In most cases, you can still collect partial unemployment benefits while working part-time.

3. Examine Your Financial Situation

Falling pretty deep into debt was the biggest mistake I made during my year on unemployment. This was before I started getting serious about personal finances. Being unemployed and in debt is one nasty double-whammy!

The list of my idiotic financial decisions includes:

  • Having a puny emergency fund
  • Not having any other sort of savings
  • Using credit cards for things like groceries because I was unsure what was in our bank account
  • Assuming I’d have a new job next month and everything would magically get better

Before I lost my job – we were just barely living within our means. We were spending and not saving because we thought our careers were only going up from there. The take-away…don’t plan for the best, plan for the worst.

My wife and I ended up having to cash in 401k investments, take the penalty and start over so that we could dig out of credit card debt. (Note: While that made sense for us at the time, I’m not necessarily suggesting that’s something you should do)

Hopefully you’ve been nowhere near as stupid as I was before unemployment struck. Take it as a warning!

Another top priority for the unemployed is reworking your household budget. At the very best, your unemployment checks will be 2/3 of your old salary. It’s important to take a good look at where you stand.

This is also a good time to consider trimming some of the fat from your life. Getting rid of bad habits like smoking as well as unnecessary expenses like dining out often or premium cable channels will definitely help.

There is actually a financial bright side to being unemployed. Most people will be spending a lot less on fuel (which ain’t cheap these days), and if you have kids, you could also cut out childcare costs.

4. Clean Up Your Act

Now that I’ve convinced you how important it is to be frugal – I’m going to suggest spending some money.

The depressing doldrums of unemployment can often lead to folks letting themselves go. In my case, I often went a couple weeks without shaving, and I wore the same sweatpants every day (still do that actually).

Looking good will help boost your self-confidence. So allow yourself to go out and buy a couple of nice shirts and ties or a new outfit for those job interviews that will soon be pouring in. You’ll feel better about yourself, and you’ll boost your chances of getting hired.

Just make sure not to go overboard! Certain positions require certain attire. You don’t want to show up for an interview in a pantsuit when your potential boss is wearing jeans or a uniform.

On top of your new job-searching duds – make some sort of exercise part of your daily routine. It will help keep the unemployment blues away and help you keep that fantastic figure.

Cleaning up your act online is also a smart idea. Stop dropping F-bombs on Twitter and get those drunken party photos from college off of Facebook (or at least untag them). You never know who could be watching!

5. Plan Your Attack

Of course, social media works both ways. You need to use everything you can to your advantage so start digging. Use it to find out who is hiring, join groups specific to your career path, read up on the news in your industry so you don’t lose touch.

Remember…GI-Joe reminds us that “knowing is half the battle.”

When you’ve got an upcoming interview – make sure to research your company as well as the person who will be conducting the interview. That goes for cover letters too. You should avoid always using a standard template and make each letter at least somewhat original.

A good salesperson or copywriter knows that his pitch should be all about the client or customer. Selling yourself to potential employers is exactly what you’re doing. Make sure you highlight how you could benefit the company – but don’t address weaknesses or lack of experience until you get to the interview and they actually ask you about those issues.

You could study popular interview questions until you’re blue in the face. But chances are – most of them won’t even come up in the interview.

My suggestion is to think of at least three stories from you work experience, education or even personal life that will work as real-life answers to a number of different questions.

For example…a story about how you worked extra hard to meet a deadline could show an interviewer how you overcame a failure, dealt with time management and how you showed leadership. You’ve got three bases covered with one story.

Having stories to tell is like having secret weapons you can whip out at a moment’s notice. You’ll avoid those awkward interview situations when you “um and uh” forever while trying to come up with something intelligent to say.

6. Create Your Own Opportunities

Many people will try to tell you the unfortunate turn of events that landed you on unemployment is a new and exciting opportunity. That may seem overly optimistic – but it could be true.

Depending on your situation, it may be smart to look into starting your own business.

Find people with skills that complement your own and team up. You can also learn a new skill that could help make you a more attractive job candidate. Obviously, you’ve got some extra time on your hands – so why not?

I know a handful of people who caught the attention of bigger companies after starting their own thing. For some of them – it actually leads to full-time gigs.

Just keep in mind that being in business for yourself is a lot of work –whether you’re freelancing alone or starting something bigger. But if you’re an entrepreneur at heart, it may be the best way to feel fulfilled through your job.

Economic experts agree that small businesses and startups will drive the recovery, spark innovation, and account for the majority of new jobs created in the United States. According to a report from The Kauffman Foundation, startups create an average of 3-million jobs per year!

If you’re not into being the boss – but still want some ways to bring in extra cash on your own. PT Money offers some great resources and suggestions. Check out the post, 52 Ways to Make Extra Money.

Final Thoughts

Following the advice in this article does not guarantee that you’ll be able to find your dream job in a shorter amount of time. But hopefully, the tips help make unemployment a little easier for you.

Almost exactly a year after I lost my job…my wife came home from work a little early with some bad news. She’d been laid off. But it only took her a few months to find a great new job! I like to think it was because she learned so much from watching me do almost everything wrong.

For some people finding a new job will be simple. For others, it will take time.

Don’t blame yourself for your situation. Keep your chin up and keep moving forward. Good luck!

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About Kasey Steinbrinck

Kasey Steinbrinck is a multimedia producer and online content marketer with experience working in television, radio and print. He consults for Automattic and led content efforts at CheckAdvantage.

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