Give Me Back My Five Bucks

How to survive unemployment

Losing your job can be a huge blow to your self-confidence. It can kill your spirit, send you spiralling into depression, and drain your bank account. Unemployment can be a devastating experience, but the key to surviving the weeks and potentially months between jobs is to remain calm, stay positive, and create a plan.

It’s no secret that I’ve been fired not once, but twice before. The first time, I was let go the day my 3-month probationary period was supposed to end. My position was being eliminated, and since the company was restructuring, my skillset didn’t fit what they needed. Plus, they hated my writing style. It took me 11 weeks to find a new job. The second time I was fired, I was completely caught off guard. You all know the story by now, so I won’t say anything else. I spent 6 weeks unemployed before I found a new job.

Both times, I went through a whirlwind of emotion: shock, anger, frustration, and finally – acceptance. Once I had accepted the reality of what had happened, I worked hard every day to prove to myself, my former employer, and my future employer that I was a skilled and valuable asset to any team.

Here are 8 things I learned that have helped me get through unemployment and onto my  next job:

Understand why you lost your job

If you were fired, make sure all of your questions are answered by your boss. This can be a really hard time, but try to keep your emotions in check while you are still at the office. Understanding the reasoning behind what happened will help you move forward and become a better employee. At first, I was so embarrassed that I had lost a job because of my writing skills. But after I stepped away from the situation and spoke to a former co-worker, she made me realize that I had come from a background of technical writing and government work, and that’s just not what they were looking for.

If you feel your termination was unjust, document the reasons why, and contact a wrongful dismissal lawyer for a consultation. I’ve had to do this before, and while a consultation might be expensive (I got quotes anywhere from $200-350), it’s important if you don’t think you were treated fairly.

Apply for unemployment benefits

If you qualify for Employment Insurance (EI), for gosh sakes take advantage of it! Don’t let a sense of pride get in the way of receiving financial assistance when you need it the most. Even if you think you have the financial resources to get you through until your next job (savings in the bank, a spouse with a steady job, or parents who are willing to help you out), you  never know when your next job might be. Applying for unemployment benefits assures you will have at least some income assistance while you search for a new job. Plus, you will likely contribute to EI for your entire career – it’s there for you when you need it because you’ve paid for it.

Keep your spirits up

The worst part about losing your job – besides the lack of income – is the constant questioning from friends and family about what happened and how the job search is going. It’s the absolute worst, and was a major frustration point for me. Your loved ones don’t mean anything by it, they just want to be there for you and try to help you. Even though it might be hard, try to think positively. Think about all the great opportunities just waiting for you out there, and make sure to focus on the future, not the past.

Create a schedule

It will help you get through each day by creating schedule blocks fo time for job searching, otherwise you might feel overwhelmed. For example, you could decide to spend from 9am to 10am each day searching the internet for jobs, from 1pm to 2pm brain storming new ideas and contacting potential leads, and then from 2pm until 4pm writing resumes and applying for those jobs. Having a set schedule keeps you moving forward and looking towards the next thing you need to do.

Keeping to a schedule will also give you the feeling of purpose you lose when you don’t have a job to go to. So feel free to take the first few days to sleep in, get angry, eat ice cream, and maybe drink a beer (or two, or three), but after that? Get back to normal. You will feel more professional, confident, and willing to apply for jobs you deserve if you’re in the mindset to work.

Be selective with your resume

It may seem counterintuitive, but don’t spend your valuable time randomly applying for every job posting you see. I made that mistake once after finishing up a job contract. I was freaking out about not having a job, and I was so focused on finding employment as quickly as possible that I basically applied for every single job posting I found that was remotely related to my skill set. I ended up interviewing for positions well below my qualification level, in cities I would never dream of moving to, and for companies and industries I wasn’t even interested in.

Think of it as a way to reinvent yourself. Now’s your chance to try to break into a new industry, utilize those skills you weren’t able to use at your old job, or find an employer who has the work culture you’ve been craving.

Conserve your money

This is a no-brainer, but now is the time to be as frugal as possible and watch every penny. Making extra payments towards your debt is usually a good idea, but when you’re unemployed, you should only be paying the minimum on your debts in order to free up cash for other essentials. Do your research to see if you qualify for deferments on any loans, and contact your credit card companies to negotiate a lower interest rate if possible.

Start networking

Contact old colleagues by e-mail or through professional networking sites like LinkedIn. Try to get recommendation letters as soon as possible before you lose touch. Make a list of all your personal contacts, let friends and family know that you’re looking for a new career opportunity, and start making your rounds. Even if no potential job leads come from it, strengthening your connections with people in your industry is always a good thing, and might come in handy later in life.

Looking back, I can see now that being let go from my job was one of the best things that could have ever happened to me. I know it’s easy to say that now, but make sure to keep that in mind when you’re looking for work. There’s a great job out there just waiting for you. Sure, you’ll lose some income and a bit of self-confidence, but what you will gain is the ability to refocus your career. You now have the time to decide what is most important to you in a job, what you liked and disliked in an employer, and the knowledge that eventually you will find a job that is more in tune with your lifestyle and your goals.

 What tips do you have for getting through unemployment?

Author: Krystal Yee

I’m a personal finance blogger and marketing professional based in Vancouver. I’m a former Toronto Star (Moneyville) columnist, author of The Beginner’s Guide to Saving and Investing, and co-founder of the Canadian Personal Finance Conference. When I’m not working, you can usually find me running, climbing, playing field hockey, or plotting my next adventure.


  1. eemusings says:

    I don’t think your first job loss was necessarily a firing. Being let go after a probation period is … being let go.

    Back when I was still a student I definitely applied to any and all part-time jobs, but now if I was job-hunting I would definitely be reasonably selective. After all, I could make more at a call centre than I could at some bottom rung editorial jobs, and possibly enjoy it more…

    Maintaining those professional relationships is definitely something I need to work on – networking is best done when you DON’T need a favour yet.

  2. Lisha says:

    I’m still a student, but I need a part-time job to pay for rent, food and bills. Losing a part-time job means I need to rely on what little savings I have, luckily for me, my parents help me out if I’m really stuck.

    During unemployment periods, when I’m desperately searching for work, I try and use the time I would be working to build my resume; volunteering, free community college classes, workshops, etc.

    Once, in an interview, I was questioned to what I did during an unemployment period. Explaining that I completed volunteering hours, and a free course at community college seemed to really impress them.

  3. Jeffrey says:

    I think one important step is to give your self a week or two rest, if you can afford to. As long as you won’t get kicked out of your home, take a little break and reassess where you’re at instead of just jumping at the next job that comes your way. It may seem like a desperate time, but you need to make sure you’re making a good decision.

  4. Eddie says:

    I agree with Jeffery.
    You need to forget about it, and do anything but work for 1-2 weeks after the loss. Also, networking needs to be done way before this even happens. This way you’re prepared for an event like this, and you’ve already go your seeds planted.

    • Krystal Yee says:

      I definitely agree to take some time for yourself … but only if you can afford it. If you have debt to pay, or a small emergency fund, that 1-2 weeks you take to relax and figure out your next step might put you behind on your rent, force you to skip paying your cell phone bill, or force you to borrow money just to get by. I personally took 2 or 3 days to get myself straightened out, then I started the job search.

  5. I have no advice, but it was really great to read this. My partner is still job searching and this list is great for helping me figure out ways I can support him without being a nag. Thanks!

  6. Jaclyn says:

    Last year was a real struggle for me and my husband. He was out of job for 10 months. It was a real struggle especially with a very high mortgage that we had. I manage our finances so I was a real stickler with everything. I worked 4 jobs which include bartending, day job, night job, and freelance work. I worked 80 hours a week sometimes and managed to keep us afloat and still paying for cc debt. He got an awesome job eventual. I helped him as much as I could but he would really get down on himself sometimes. He appreciates all I’ve done and I’m a true believe in all you need is love. He says I was the MVP of 2011. lol

    Thinks have gotten better are mortgage is lower, a few less bills, and less medical insurance payments. I’d say the only thing that we’d change was to make sure the taxes were being taken out of the unemployment checks. We didn’t get much back in taxes cause of this but at least we got something back.

  7. holoholoblog says:

    I was laid off for 2 years, got hired back by an old employer and got laid off again after 3 months. Was unemployed for another year and took a job at 75% less annual pay. Unfortunately the office moved across town and gas and daycare price (which double during the summer) ate up more than half of my paycheck each week. I ended up quitting my job to freelance from home. You just need to keep plugging along and don’t get depressed. A positive attitude makes the biggest difference in the world. If I can keep my head above water, so can you!

  8. AverageJoe says:

    I’m with you about getting fired being a good thing in the end. When I was fired it was the best thing that could have happened to me at the time. I became a much better employee (thought I was awesome…realized my perception was totally off).

  9. maria pater says:

    I really liked the advice in this post. Will keep it in mind as I look for contract work

  10. Alycia says:

    Thank you so much for this post – I’ve just become unemployed and your comments are really helpful and appreciated!

  11. This article makes a good point to always have a backup plan. I like to keep an emergency fund in my TFSA account.

    I have never been “fired” before but contracts end all the time.

    This was great advice!

  12. Sam says:

    Krystak, do you plan to try and get a new job after your trips?

    • Krystal Yee says:

      I’m not sure. Right now I’m making a comfortable living with just freelancing. And once I get home, I can use all the $$ I’m spending on travel, and add it to my retirement savings and bump up my mortgage payments.

      But, I’m also aware that I’m still young enough that I can work a FT job and freelance on the side. It’ll mean long, long hours … but I can probably do it for at least a few years and increase my income significantly.

      I think it’ll be something I have to think about once I get back home, and I’m grateful that I have the income to support me while I make my decision.

  13. Marie Lewis says:

    Thanks a lot for this piece of writing. It was much needed for me as recently I let go off my job and depending upon freelancing now a days. At the same time I am frantically in search for a new job as soon as possible. Your tips are surely going to help me out all the way.

  14. Karen says:

    I can definitely relate to this post. Although I have never been fired from a job. I quit a steady income job for various reasons and had nothing lined up. It was almost two years of anger, frustration, depression, stress, jumping from one temporary job to the other(to help pay for a new car I had purchased in the same year I quit)before I landed my current job, one I can actually see a promising career with.

    The job search was exhausting. I felt that job searching was a full time job. I was jealous of my friends who had scored full time jobs right away and had never had to deal with being unemployed. I’m not a naturally positive person, so it was quite difficult for me to stay positive throughout the process.

    Having friends and family who were supportive helped out a lot, although there were times I felt they didn’t understand what I was going through, but the fact that they were there for me helped.

  15. David says:

    I too can relate to this post, i’ve been through it all many times now and it never gets easier. My only advice is to really think about what you have lost your job and use that as motivation to find a better job and be the best that you can be. Staying positive is the hardest part but once you have overcome that I can guarantee you will find yourself in a better position.

  16. Becky says:

    All of this advise is good. There are a few things I can think of from my own experience. Don’t get your days and nights mixed up by staying up too late because you don’t have to be anywhere the next day and don’t allow yourself to get physically out of shape. You will wake up one day and not be able to get into that suit for the interview!

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