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I Just Lost My Job. Here’s How I’m Surviving Unemployment
Editor’s note: This post was originally published March 8, 2016, and has been updated.
After 41 years of steady work, I was laid off from my position in the employment screening industry Jan. 6, 2016.
The staff returned from the holiday break, only to hear the words, “Thanks for your years of service. It’s over.”
There was no early warning from our company’s owner — and for many, no time to prepare for those words.
But I saw the signs six months earlier. Staff layoffs had started, and the once-steady flow of inbound work had slowed to a sluggish rate. So when the boss beckoned me into his office and began his speech (“You’ve been a good employee all these years…”), I wasn’t surprised at its end.
On the other hand, my now ex-office manager was wailing, wondering what she’d do to maintain her lifestyle.
While I was pondering my next career move, I had a plan in place for my finances — and it didn’t involve a GoFundMe page, begging from relatives or sofa-cushion-diving for spare change.
My plan involved a combination of common sense and creative side hustles to keep me in the money until I found a new job.
Here’s what to do if you sense you’ll soon be out of a job:
What to Do Before You Get Laid Off
You might not know when the axe will fall, but preparing early is a smart move.
1. Watch for the Signs
If other people in your department/office/section are being laid off, watch for the changes in staffing.
For example, if offices “suddenly” become empty, or the work of two or three other people starts landing on your desk, it’s likely something’s up.
It’s scary to ask management directly, but it’s usually better to know ahead of time, so you can get your resume out there.
2. Start Hoarding Cash
…And move it out of sight, so you’re not tempted to spend it.
Have money deducted from your paycheck and deposited into an online bank account, which can act as your emergency fund.
3. Take Advantage of Free Money
Many banks will actually pay you to open a new account. Get that free money — and use it to help your new account grow.
4. Get Direct Deposit
Lessen the number of trips you make to the bank, and disperse your paycheck into different accounts (checking, savings, funds for major purchases/payments, health savings account, taxes, etc).
This helps you earmark your money for different purposes in your budget.
5. Make a Budget
Speaking of your budget, you need to know your essential expenditures.
These are the things you need to survive — like food, shelter and medical coverage — as well as necessary expenses like transportation and utilities.
Then, sort through the rest of your costs and decide what you could do without.
6. Clean Up Your Resume
It should be ready to go the moment you need it.
Make sure your employment dates are correct and job descriptions are short, but vivid.
Don’t lie, but don’t be afraid to talk up your accomplishments and describe the impact you had on people and projects.
7. Prep Your Pantry
Shop now for these nonperishable food staples.
Don’t forget health and beauty items like shampoo, soap, toothpaste, toilet paper and paper towels.
What to Do When You’re Laid Off
In the moment, you’re likely to feel a lot of things: frustrated, upset, sad, confused. Having a to-do list can help you keep moving forward.
8. Get a Letter of Recommendation
Don’t leave your old job without a letter of recommendation or explanation as to why you’re leaving.
You may not get a second chance to get this, so it’s smart to ask your boss or HR manager while you’re still in the room.
9. Be Proactive
Yes, it stinks to lose your job. And it’s super tempting to sit on the couch, drink cheap beer and cry.
Make it less miserable: Get engaged in finding a new job right away.
10. Establish and Stick to a Schedule
Make it as close as possible to your old one, or try this science-supported routine.
When your day has a pattern, it’ll be easier to resume your “normal” life.
11. Dress for Success Every Day
When you shower and shave or do your hair, you’ll feel more human, even though you’re not working or interviewing that day.
12. Budget Cash for What You Need
Prioritize what you need right now, and figure it out weekly.
This isn’t the time to say “Charge it!” and figure you’ll pay it off when that new job begins.
You may be looking for a new job for weeks — or even months — so stick to your budget.
13. …But Try to Have Some Fun
A tight budget can still allow for a little fun.
It could be as little as one ice-cream cone a week or one new app a month. The job-hunt process is painful enough without inflicting complete deprivation.
14. Interview for Jobs You Don’t Want
Practice your answers to those tough questions! This is especially important if you haven’t interviewed in a while.
Your skills need a workout, and these are perfect, no-pressure opportunities.
15. Talk to Anyone Who Can Help
Speak with anyone who may be able to help you in your job search.
And thank everyone who does, even if the conversation doesn’t lead to employment.
16. Stay Positive!
Everyone says you’ll get through this, and another job will turn up before you know it. They can say that because they’re either employed or don’t need to be.
But you’ll find a new job.
It may not be in your chosen field, with the hours you want and your desired salary. The reality of the job-hunt is harsh and sometimes rude.
But it’s true: You will find work again.
Your Turn: Have you ever been laid off? If you saw it coming, what did you do to prepare? If not, what did you do while you were unemployed?
Nancy Munro was born in Brooklyn, New York and raised in the city’s suburbs. She attended Penn State and graduated with a degree in criminal justice. She currently lives in South Florida, doing what she loves to do (freelance writing) while pondering what she should do in life. Her home is also occupied by her husband David and two cats.