Saturday, September 24, 2011

First in a Series: Coping with Unemployment

(Ed. note: this is the first in a series of posts in an attempt to help others to get back into the workforce, one step at a time.  It's drawn from my personal experiences, from several months back, and has a happy ending, because that's how we do it in America.)

#1: Fallout.

It's a great day.  You've answered a few emails and calls, things are going smoothly and you know you've got a chance to wrap up some projects you had waiting for you while you were out the week before.

Then you get a call.  "Hey, could you come down here for a minute?".  Sounds innocuous.  It's someone from HR, calling from an office that's been empty since that person moved onto another part of the company.

You open the door once you get there, and your boss and the HR person are sitting there.  Your boss has his coffee, the HR person has some paperwork in front of her and they ask you to close the door.

You're being laid off.

Maybe you're given a severance, maybe not.  Either way, your job function just changed from what it was to "find some way to put food on the table".

You're led back to your desk, you gather your personal touches, your can opener, your food, your digital picture frame, whatever else you have that you own at your desk.  Security escorts you to the front door.

You're on your own.  You call your wife.  The house you were two weeks away from closing on is probably not yours now.  Health coverage is part of the severance, so for the moment your family is OK in that regard.

You're simultaneously enraged and close to tears.  The life you had was entirely wrapped up in this job.  Your performance was perfect, you were extremely proud of the work you did and you thought your boss was too.

What do you do now?  That's what I want to cover over a series of posts on this topic.

Fallout is hard to deal with.  You don't know what to do, you don't know what to say; you're stuck in neutral.  You want to shout your anger from the rooftops.  You want to retaliate and show your boss your anger.  You want to jump online and leave uncensored blog posts all over the place about how asinine your boss and your old company are, how they don't appreciate your hard work and how you're always picking up the mess from those jerks in Pod 6 (I HATE those guys!).

Let me make this perfectly clear.  THAT IS THE WORST THING YOU COULD POSSIBLY DO.  Especially in this age of Facebook, Twitter and blogging, word gets around.  As much as you may want to, DON'T.  Don't do it because it's the WRONG thing to do.  There's a thousand and one reasons I could come up with for why this is a bad idea.  You need them for references.  You need them to say good things.  You may need them further down the line for other things as well.  Oh, and it's basic human decency to be nice to begin with.  So yeah.  Aside from all that, there's the fact that we all tend to overstate our efforts or involvement in things - even if you were carrying the world on your shoulders, it doesn't serve anything to throw that around online.  Sure, you may feel immediately relieved and it's arguable (though I don't believe it myself) that maybe it's good to relieve stress like this, but any real adult could tell you that EVERY action has consequences.  EVERY.  SINGLE.  ONE.  Saying nothing is the best approach.  Just trust me on this one.

So what do you do?

Take that energy and put it towards more positive outcomes.

1) Put together a list of everyone you know and where they work, and a separate list of people you know from your most recent job who can give you a good reference.  Reach out to the people on the second list (independently - don't use a form letter and don't email all of them at once; it's just rude and shows that you don't really care about these people) and start checking with the companies on the first list looking for positions in your field.
2) Get your resume together.  If you don't have an up-to-date resume, get your information together and update it.  If you don't have ANY resume, talk to someone you know about getting one put together.   Be sure to have plenty of candy, cookies, beer, wine, etc. for them - they're doing you a damn big favor and you'd better be ready to show them some appreciation (keep it clean, for crying out loud).
3) Get yourself an account on LinkedIn.  Connect with everyone from your old job or previous positions that you can possibly remember.  LinkedIn has a meter that shows you what extra steps you can take to spruce up your profile, including reminders to ask for references from your former co-workers (typically it's a two-way process).
3a) Update your Facebook, and any other online accounts you may have, and remove your old company as your current company.  Facebook leaves a notification on your wall when you do this - personally, I removed this notification as soon as I saw it just so I wouldn't have thirty people commenting asking what happened.  It's up to you - I didn't want to sit there and explain things.  Any mentions I made on Facebook were pointing out that details could be had if people messaged me (which they did, though not in droves thankfully).
4) Look up details on unemployment benefits in your area.  If you work in one state and live in another (like I did), you'll likely need to file for unemployment in the state you worked in.

Once you've got all of that done, we'll proceed with Part 2: Picking Up The Pieces.

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