There are a few things you have to do when unemployed. Yes, you have to take every call and email from former coworkers, friends, and family and explain what happened. Yes, you have to tell the story over and over again ad nauseum. Yes, you have to sound upbeat and chipper as if this is no big deal and sure, the last time you were unemployed Taco Bell had a 59 cent menu and now the cheapest thing is 89 cents! And yes, by the sixteenth communication, you have to start embellishing the story a little just to mix it up a bit and keep it interesting otherwise you will fall asleep and start snoring and maybe even drool a little mid-conversation. And yes, even people whom you warned, letting them know ahead of time that yes, this is coming! I am joining the ranks of the unemployed! still freak out on the actual day you become unemployed and ask “WHAT HAPPENED!?!?!” as if you had not explained it eleven times before.
But I digress.
While preparing for joining the ranks of the unemployed, I learned a few things in my recent communications these past few weeks. Some were good, some were great (meaning helpful) and some were just plain ridiculous. I decided to capture the top ten great lessons learned share them in case anyone recently unemployed happens on this site. Or, you know, just in case I ever find myself in this state of un-work again. And by this state of un-work I mean laid off, fired, or simply screaming Finis! while walking out the door, with my head whirling about as I choke on the realization that by quitting I will not receive unemployment! Oh me, oh my.
Lesson Learned Number 1: No one will believe your story of what actually happened. Anyone who ever had a qualm with you or did not like you (except maybe your former coworkers and family -and maybe even them too) will decide you were fired and spin tales of woe and anguish and how you weren’t qualified anyway and “didn’t you all see this coming?!??”. Sadly, they will never tell you first hand what they are saying about you simply because they don’t like you. And hate stories are just not as good told second hand. They lose their panache and pizazz.
Lesson Learned Number Two, Part A: Always, always tell your mother the news when she is at work or otherwise occupied. It keeps the screaming and the “and what are you going to do now, young lady!ing” and the hand wringing to a minimum. Lesson Learned Number Two, Part B: Don’t pick back up the phone for at least 24 hours if your mom calls you back. She is not only going to worry about your state of unemployment but is also going to fuss at you for dropping the U-bomb while she was too occupied to handle it (read, scream!) appropriately. Not that my mother did any of this…
Lesson Learned Number Three: Let your mom spread the word about your unemployment. First, it is her job to tell who she wants, when she wants and in the manner she wants. If you take that from her, you’re in big trouble. Second, you’re already in trouble over the timing of when you told her your news… don’t add to that! Or she could be like my mom and tell no one, knowing you’re going to post it out there on your blog for the entire world to see anyway, so why waste a perfectly good Thursday night calling people when it will be out there soon enough anyway. Right, Mom?
Lesson Learned Number Four: File for unemployment benefits. Even if you have no plan to collect your benefits, file! Your state will determine if they will grant you benefits given your circumstances. So don’t assume they won’t given your current situation. The economy is bad right now and our President has enacted and will enact all sorts of lovely new laws to manage the current crisis. Even if you’ve spent the last six months reading the Post and watching C-SPAN incessantly, don’t assume you know it all. File for those benefits!
Lesson Learned Number Five: Do not lie on your unemployment benefits request form. Many thanks to an old pal for Lesson Learned Number Five. Said pal, who shall remain nameless because he threatened to pluck my cat bald if I posted his name, fudged a wee bit on the truth after being told by his former girlfriend that filing for unemployment is like filing taxes… you can throw in a few white lies and no one will know the difference. You cannot (on your tax filings or unemployment)!! And no, she is not his former girlfriend because she is currently in jail. Yes, I asked… So play nice, talk to your Human Resources representative at your company, get the necessary information needed (and they should know) and fill out your unemployment benefits request form thoroughly and accurately. Mmk?
Lesson Learned Number 6: Read every page of the unemployment benefits handbook. There are rules for filing and rules for qualifying and rules for keeping those benefits coming once you receive them. So read the handbook. Otherwise you may find yourself qualifying and losing your benefits in the matter of a few weeks. (Thank you to another friend who learned that lesson the hard way!) And, as a perk for all you insomniacs, this handbook may guarantee you the first good night’s sleep ever!
Lesson Learned Number Seven: Figure out what you should do with your 401k. Determine as soon as you know that you are going to be unemployed – or in the case of being fired, immediately thereafter – what your cash situation is. Determine if you need the money from your 401k and what your immediate and future cost will be if you decide against rolling the money over into an IRA or a new 401k account. If you can possibly avoid cashing out your 401k, then do so. If you absolutely need that money as soon as possible to live on while awaiting notification of unemployment benefits, accept that 30% of that money is going to Uncle Sam and notify your HR representative to get the necessary paperwork. Then sleep on it for a day or two. If you really, really see no other way around it, then file the paperwork with your former company and kiss that retirement money goodbye.
Lesson Learned Number Eight: Call/email everyone you know and tell them you are looking for a job. Now is not the time to feel humiliated. Nor should you cling to your pride because once your enemies start spreading lies about you, you will have very little left anyway (read Lesson Learned Number One). I’m kidding! Look, everyone has been laid off, fired, or severed in some way from their employer at one time or another in their life. And if not, hopefully they believe in karma and recognize that at some point in their life, this too will happen to them and they will offer you assistance and good will and not a lecture. Even if you’re not sure – like me – what you want to do next, network anyway. Because someone, somewhere, may know of that perfect job that you’ve always wanted and never knew you wanted and offer it to someone else because they had no idea you were jobless. So eat your pride, and send out those emails and pick up that phone.
Lesson Learned Number Nine: Try to keep normal hours. As tempting as it is to party all night, sleep until noon and watch those Battlestar Galactica marathons on the Syfy channel, try to go to bed and get up at normal work day hours. Otherwise, you’re going to get that interview for that perfect job and it will be scheduled for 8 AM, and you’re going to have to remind yourself that yes, perfect jobs can and often do come after 8 AM interviews. And you don’t want the words floating in your brain to be “ohmigod is it really 4 in the morning”? If you do find yourself in this situation, let me give you some advice. At this point, no, watching another 2 hours of television or finishing that last Twilight book, hitting that interview and sleeping afterward is not the best plan ever. Yes, I know… you made it to early mass for years using that plan and it worked just fine. But please remember that you cannot mumble your way through the interview and no, you don’t get points for not snoring. So try to maintain some semblance of normality in your day to day, post-work schedule. It will keep you productive (hopefully) and will ensure you make it to those early morning interviews, able to converse intelligently, assuming you can already do that…
Lesson Learned Number Ten: Ice cream does really make it all seem better. But this is not just true for unemployment. This is true for everything! No wait, I’m sorry. I got that wrong. I mean it’s true but this is not my lesson learned number ten (remember, Jeri, we’re being helpful here, not talking about your passion for every flavor Ben and Jerry’s comes out with). Lesson Learned Number Ten: Make finding your new job, your current job. Yeah, I “hunh?!??”ed at that the first time I heard it, too. Basically, occupy your current 9 to 5 life figuring out what you want to do next and then making it happen. Your new job is finding a new way to bring in income because even if you get unemployment, it does not last forever. Or use the time to go back to school, learn new skills or whatever it is you need to do to find a way to continue being a productive member of society. Sure, take a few days to “veg out” on the couch watching hours of Syfy and Oprah if you need to do so. We all need a little R&R from time to time. But after a few days have passed by, make sure you’re out there networking, googling and emailing out your resume. Keep notes on who you’ve contacted and your status. Make finding your next step your new job. Because in this day and age, and given the number of unemployed, a new job is not going to fall out of the sky, into your lap. Or if it does, it may not be what you want or with the salary you want/need to maintain a current standard of living (even if it’s not your own).
And do something for yourself every single day, even if it is as little as walking up to Starbucks with your black lab and indulging in a short iced coffee, double pump raspberry, skim. And no you can’t have that one… it’s mine.