Less than three months after I was hired to man a cubicle for the first time in my life, I heard people throughout the office weeping openly. I’m in my mid 40s, so the fact that this was my first grunt job is a bit strange. The truth is, I have been self employed most of my life, and I was ill prepared for the “The Office.” Not the kind like those funny guys on TV, but the usual, cubicle-laden type office.
The weeping I was hearing was coming from one of the vice presidents, one of the first people I connected with in the business. He, along with about 40 others had been laid off without warning. The feeling throughout the office was sickening, like a death pall. Two people from each department were let go. It was part of a “merger” we were told.
The scene was repeated less than a year later as more than one-third of the company was laid off. I was among the group. The look I saw on so many people’s faces during that first lay off, was there again on the faces those who were still employed. They very seriously had survivor’s guilt. Those of us let go that day were numb by comparison, operating on autopilot.
To be truthful I had half-heartedly started looking for jobs even before the lay off. So, at the very least, I didn’t have to worry about updating my resume and coming up with a stellar cover letter at a time when I needed to mope for a day or so.
Even if you see it coming, it’s never a good thing, and it does rip at your ego a bit. Here are some ways to take the sting out of the process:
First Things First
Economics will be the first thought, so get those things in order.
–Apply for unemployment immediately.
–Read and re-read your severance agreement. I was asked to sign this 10+ page document as I was told I was being let go. I didn’t sign it. I wasn’t thinking clearly, and I can’t imagine the person who would be thinking clearly at that moment. If there are parts you don’t understand, get a lawyer to look it over. In my case, as about a third of the employees were laid off, I didn’t believe age had anything to do with the lay off. I’ve known of two cases where it absolutely came into play, and the employees renegotiated the severance package or received a lump sum payment. If in doubt, get another opinion.
–Figure out your health benefits. Your benefits may be extended under your severance agreement. Find out the COBRA laws and get the proper documentation to get that process started. Check out other health plans as well.
–If you have a retirement plan, you have a set period of time to “turn over” the account if you have less than a certain amount vested in the company. This information should be in your severance package. If not, you will need to contact the human resources director of your firm.
Get a Handle on Your Spending
–What are you spending? You should have a budget anyway, but when both people in a household are working, and family pressures take over, the numbers sometimes don’t get updated. Make a budget based on what you are currently spending.
–Then, evaluate the needs and benefits of each outlay. Look specifically at your cable, home telephone and cell phone bills. This may be the time to look at cheaper options.
Start the Ball Rolling
–If you haven’t kept your resume up to date, now is the time to redo it. Do your research. Take a look at examples of other resumes and decide which style works best for you.
–Register on the job banks. The Internet is full of free services: Careerbuilder.com, JobBankUSA.com and JournalismJobs.com, among others. Just do a search, and you’re sure to get the list. Perhaps sign up for a good overall job bank that charges a yearly fee such as Worktree.com. For $70 a year, you’ll get all of the search engines listed above, as well as links to Fortune 1000 companies and your local newspaper’s employment section. You’ll have to decide if it’s worth the cost. I have a dual educational and employment background, so I didn’t want to post only one resume online. Although I use the composite, fee-based job-bank to get linked to the various newspapers in my area, I have posted different resumes on some of the free sites, depending on the types of jobs that seem to appear. For example, with JournalismJobs.com, I’d post a resume to highlight my editorial skills. At CareerBuilder, I’ve listed two resumes—one geared toward communications, and one geared toward business, which I can then tailor to the individual jobs I find on the board.
Take Advantage of the Resources
–I was asked to attend classes with my county employment agency. At first I was annoyed, thinking as a writer who has helped others write resumes and cover letters, this was surely a waste of my time. What I found was that since most jobs go unadvertised, this resource center was a good site to get the first word on jobs before they were listed publicly. Moreover, I was put through a mock interview which helped calm my nerves about the process.
–Networking Groups. Most of us know people who are in the loop in one way or another. Let that person know what you are looking for, and give him or her a copy of your resume and cover letter. Make sure you follow up.
–Don’t forget friends and relatives. It sounds crazy, but again, as most jobs are filled before they are publicly listed, if you can get a friend to let you in on openings in his company, you are ahead of the game. Most companies hire from within first, then ask employees for referrals.
Day to Day Behavior
–Here’s where it gets tricky. When you are unemployed, your JOB is getting a job. Treat it as such. Set a schedule for yourself. You may have the urge to sleep in, dress in sweats and even hibernate as the process seems to drag on, but it’s an urge you’ll have to fight. Get up, have breakfast, take your shower, and set about to work…whatever that may be for the day.
–Although Sunday, Monday and Tuesday are the heaviest days for putting out resumes as new listings come out, the remainder of the week should be used for setting up appointments and following through. Plan some job-related thing each day even if you have exhausted the week’s worth of applications. Explore two new corporate Web sites each day, for example. All have “career” sections. Again, post your resume, and check back to see if anything has been added that fits your qualifications.
–It is natural to hibernate and to think that every minute of every day must be devoted to securing a job. That’s not realistic. Break the day up, just as you would a regular work day. There must be an end time, and there must be a time for family and friends.
–Stay in contact with others in the same situation. Odds are that you have different skill sets, so if a job doesn’t suit you, it may suit a friend, and vice versa. You get twice the mileage.
–Get out of the house. Walk around the block or go to the mall each day to see human beings. As most people pick up their newspapers and mail either coming or going to work, make it a point to walk to get it each day. Don’t rely on getting it when you are going out for errands. This is one of the few times you don’t want to group your errands. The idea is to keep you moving.
–Exercise. It doesn’t seem like much, but that trek from the photocopier to the printer to a co-worker’s office is exercise. Don’t become a piece of furniture in your home. Move about. I’ve always read that a person should strive for 10,000 steps in a day. I actually counted the steps to and from the various pieces of equipment in my office, and I often took the long way around to get some sort of exercise going even in the office setting. Set aside a half an hour a day for stretching, yoga, aerobics or the like. Make it a sort of contest whereby for every three resumes you submit, you do “x” amount of sit ups or leg lifts.
–Enlist the help of others. If you find yourself settling into a routine that may be self defeating, let people know. Friends will get you to come out for lunch or to go for a walk. Sometimes the half an hour change of scenery is all you need to charge you up for your quest for the perfect job.