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Unemployment: Tips for Making it Through


When you’re out of work, it’s often a terrifying time.  I’ve been there.  (Mentally, I go into I-will-be-a-shopping-bag-lady-tomorrow mode.)  And I’ve helped others who’ve been there.

What I’ve seen are two types of people:  the ones who will do whatever it takes, and the ones who make excuses not to.

Whether you’ve been laid off, fired, or resigned to go try something new, there are so many ways you can deal with being unemployed, both in how you live and how you search for a job.

Yet when I talk to job-seekers, some refuse to make changes.  So I thought I’d share my perspective, both professionally and as someone who sacrificed a lot during my own challenging times of both un- and under- employment.

Professionally…

  1. Your resume needs a fresh set of eyes.   Ask a recruiter to look at your resume and listen to his or her advice.  Don’t use a resume writing service unless the writer has been a recruiter – they have to have experience looking at  resumes on a daily basis and know how multiple employers are looking for to have any kind of street cred.

  2. Sign up with several staffing agencies.   Be willing to do ANY kind of temp work - and keep your salary expectations very flexible. You only want to go on unemployment as a last option!  It’s amazing how many doors can be opened this way! You get to test drive companies, you get a paycheck, and if you do a good job, they will work hard to get you into new assignments.  Plus, any decent agency will offer health insurance benefits to their contractors.   (How do I know this?  I changed my career focus from HR to Recruiting because of a temp assignment! I paid the bills post-layoff because I was willing to temp for a slightly lower amount that led to a fantastic network at the end. And, after a particularly awful misstep of a career choice, I took a low paying 6 week gig that was extended to an 8 month, higher-paying assignment because I showed them what I was capable of immediately.  And? I was on the other side as well, spending a couple years working as an agency recruiter, AND hired temps from agencies, so I’ve seen it firsthand from all perspectives.)

  3. Work wherever you gotta work.   Employers want to know what your gaps in employment are – I’d much rather hire someone who had bucked up and started working retail or temp jobs to support themselves while they searched for a better role, over someone who said they spent 6 months “looking” for the perfect role and refusing to take lower level or temp jobs.  Work ethic is tremendously impressive to employers.

  4. Don’t forget about volunteering.   Get in and volunteer your time in the areas that you’d like to work – i.e., environmental nonprofits for green jobs, tutoring &/or schools for academia, professional associations for your chosen field.  It's amazing who you’ll meet!

Personally…


  1. Cut out the non-essentials.   Cable TV is not essential.  Netflix is not essential.  Starbucks is not essential. Uber is not essential. Gym memberships are not essential (note: most will allow you to suspend dues if you’re out of work).  Going out to eat is not essential – that includes fast food.  Lower your cell phone plan (tip – using your cell phone as a mobile hot spot is often much cheaper than adding traditional internet).  Use the library's WiFi.

  2. Change your transportation habits.   If you have a car payment, sell your car and use the funds to buy one in cash.  If you have two cars, sell one.  Learn to carpool.  For city folks, get a bus pass.  Dust off your bicycle and let go of your preconceived notions about what can and can’t be done on a bike.  Get good walking shoes.  Trade in your gas guzzler – none of us grew up with SUVs as kids, remember.  Your kids will survive, and fit, in a smaller car.  Trust me, I grew up with parents who drove a 2 door Buick and fit 3 kids and 2 dogs in the back. I'm still alive.

  3. Don’t use special occasions as an excuse to go broke.  Christmas and other holidays are only defined by gifts if you allow them to be.  Simplify.  Stop saying a holiday is not a holiday without traditional gifts.  Give love.  Tell stories.  Spend time with each other.  Make something.  Write them a letter and tell them what they mean to you.  Take a walk somewhere beautiful.

  4. Take on a tenant. Most people have an extra bedroom.  Renting one out in your home can help keep you afloat during those tough times.  Heck, even in good times it can help you save up for a vacation, home improvement project, or just put money in the bank.

  5. Sell things. Seriously, I can’t say enough about the wonders of Craigslist, Nextdoor, and other local sites to sell the kinds of things I thought no one would ever want.  During a particularly rough time, I sold my A/V setup (ironically I've never repurchased any of that stuff as I realized my iPod and a speaker were all I really needed), non-essential furniture, and a LOT of books.  I moved all my ancient CDs to my iPod and sold the CDs (ok that example was a while ago).  I had a yard sale.

  6. Look at food differently. Buy from the bulk aisles – grains, pastas, dried fruit, cereal, spices, soaps, oils. These are WAY cheaper than 'easy' processed foods. Spices for example run $8-10 a jar, right? In the bulk aisle if you bring your own jar, it can be a buck or two at most. Concentrate on procuring staples, fresh fruit and veggies, and minimizing your consumption of meat (my husband is a butcher, but if budget gets tight, we go vegetarian. I'll take that over going delinquent on a bill.  If you have a balcony or more, grow your own veggies.  Buy fruits and veggies from u-pick farms in bulk and preserve them. Join a community garden. Learn to bake. Barter with friends (my favorite recent example - trading our chickens' eggs for a neighbor's homemade crusty bread!).

  7. Reset your expectations.   Losing my job years ago changed my life for the better.  I changed habits, and it changed me.

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