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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?

Signs it might be time to look for a new job

Over the last six years since graduating from college, I’ve quit, been laid off, gotten fired, and had contracts end. I’ve had horrible bosses, evil co-workers, and I’ve also left jobs that I loved. Still, even when I’ve hated my job, hated my co-workers, hated the company environment – I still had a hard time with the idea of leaving.

It can be difficult to know when the perfect time is to leave a job. Sometimes certain factors outside of work can force you to make that decision (like moving to a different city), and sometimes it’s what happens during office hours that pushes you to make that life changing decision (layoffs, ending contract, incompatible co-workers).

But as a new graduate without much work experience, how do you know when to make the move?

Here are some signs it might be time to look for a new job:

Less hours or reduced duties

It can really put a strain on your finances, and it will be hard to stay satisfied at work if your hours are being reduced, or if your duties are being scaled back. A lot of employees depend on extra hours to supplement their regular pay cheque.

If your fellow co-workers are maintaining their hours and daily tasks, while yours have dropped off noticeably, it might be a sign that your job is at stake. If you think this is a situation that can be worked on, try talking with your boss about your performance.

About eight years ago, I worked in a call centre because I knew I could count on at least two or three extra hours of overtime every day. That extra money each month was crucial for someone like me – who was living pay cheque to pay cheque. When the overtime opportunities suddenly dried up for people in my work group (while other groups maintained overtime hours), I was left scrambling to find a new job to supplement my income.

The temporary solution

For 20-somethings fresh out of school, the job market can be tough. A lot of new graduates end up taking jobs in retail or customer service just to make ends meet while they look for a career job. But if the job hunt takes longer than expected, it might be tempting just to forget about your career and start living life with the temporary job.

I once took a job knowing that I only wanted to spend a year there, gain some experience, make some money, and move on. But when the work was easy and the pay was good, it became too easy to get comfortable. I left that job having stayed there almost a year longer than I had anticipated. While it was a job in my career field, I felt like I had missed opportunities elsewhere that could have been more valuable to advancing my career. And while I’m glad I recognized what I was doing as soon as I did, I can see how I could have let myself stay there for years – it was just that comfortable.

Loss of enthusiasm

While there is no requirement that says you have to be passionate about your job, you do have to like it enough to want to do it every day. If you wake up every morning and absolutely dread the idea of going to work, or you spend most of your day in the office surfing the internet, you might want to start searching for a new job. When you are bored at your job, chances are you will start to get careless and make mistakes – which isn’t good for your career, and isn’t fair to your employer.

You’re pigeonholed

If there are a few tasks that you do very well, or if you have a unique skill set that nobody else has in the office, you might get stuck with those tasks – even if you don’t want them.

Being a “specialist” can be good or bad, depending on the way you want to shape your career. If there is a high demand for your skill, becoming a “specialist” will work to your advantage. However, if you are looking to develop new skills and become a more well-rounded employee, being pigeonholed into a “specialist” role can be a huge detriment to your career.

I had to make that decision early on in my career. I had the option of specializing as a graphic designer, or positioning myself as an all-around marketing professional. Even though I loved the idea of designing, being creative, and working with my favourite software as a graphic designer, I knew there would be more opportunities to grow in marketing.

You’ve outgrown the position

Going to a job every day that doesn’t provide you with engaging and challenging work can be extremely discouraging if your goal is to learn and constantly improve your skills. The best thing to do is voice your concerns to your boss. Ask if there are opportunities to attend conferences or take courses in order to build your skill set and keep on growing as an employee. If there aren’t any, it might be time to update your resume and start networking.

You might get let go

If the company is going through a restructuring process, or is in the middle of being sold or merged, you might want to dust off your resume. Even if you don’t think your job is in jeopardy, it might not be a bad idea to throw a few resumes out there just in case. When a company goes through any sort of massive change, there is always the possibility of cutbacks and layoffs – no matter how secure you think your job is.

For me personally, even if I’m happy at my job, I’m always interested in new opportunities. While I might not be actively applying for positions, I do make sure to occasionally sweep through the list of employment links I have saved, and I’m always networking … because you just never know what might come up.

At what point would you start looking for a new job?

Freelancing isn’t for everyone

I think that most of us – at some point in our lives – have thought about quitting our day jobs to try and start our own business, or to become a freelancer. But as I embark on month four of fulltime freelancing, I have to say, it’s a lot harder than I thought it would be. And even though I feel grateful that I’ve had success so far, there’s nothing wrong with staying in a corporate job, and I’m beginning to realize that for a lot of people (maybe myself included), freelancing will never be the right career move.

If you’re thinking of making the move to freelancing, here are a few things you should think over:

You need experience

If you’ve just recently graduated from school, chances are you won’t have the experience, the portfolio, or the network you need to become a successful freelancer. Sure, some people can make it happen immediately, but it’s extremely difficult to prove your value and show clients that you’re capable of taking on their projects if you have nothing to show them but the work that you’ve done in school.

I would suggest starting a freelancing career in your spare time, and woking a full-time job in order to gain experience. That way, you will start to build a freelance client base, and still keep money flowing in to pay the bills and help fund your business. It might be more difficult this way, but it provides much more security, and you are more likely to succeed at freelancing once you do decide to go for it full-time.

It is not easier than a corporate job

Did you hear me?! :) A lot of people look at freelancing as a way to make more money with less effort. After all, you get to keep all of the money you bring in, and you don’t need to share it with the employer. But becoming a successful freelancer takes time, and it’s not for anyone who is looking to make fast money.

When most freelancers start out, they can’t be picky about the work they receive. So if you think freelancing is a way to get out of the tedious and boring assignments your boss at your day job gives you, think again. You will definitely get your chances to be creative and unique, but ultimately, if your client wants to go in a completely different direction than what you’ve proposed, you have to suck it up and do what they want – even if you don’t like it. Not only that, but all of a sudden, you will have to do everything that comes with running a business.  You will speak with the clients, create the marketing campaigns, pay the invoices, and do all of the administration work – including filing, answering phone calls, and replying to an endless sea of e-mails.

Time management skills are essential

This is one of the most important aspects of freelancing, but it’s also the hardest. When you work for yourself, you can forget about working a regular 9-5 schedule at the beginning. You will most likely end up working long hours for the first few years until you get more established. It’s also likely that you will end up wasting a lot of time in the first year, as you set up processes and ways to keep track of everything that works for you.

When I quit my full-time job, I thought I’d open up so much more time to write. But I think I average about 40% of my time on administration duties. It’s insane! But the administrative side of the business is extremely important, and if you don’t keep on top of it all, you will miss out on a lot of opportunities, and probably piss people off in the process. And I realized that a “regular” schedule just isn’t going to work for me – especially being on the other side of the world and fighting the time difference.

The competitive edge

You likely won’t be be the first in your line of work, and you certainly won’t be the last either. So in order to succeed, you will need to market and promote yourself harder than anyone else who is already doing it, and better than those who are coming up behind you. So if competition scares you, then freelancing is not the right career move for you.

Check out your competition and see how you can stand out from everyone else. Think about ways you can show prospective clients why you are the best option, and if you can tap into a niche market, or find some sort of hook, try to see where it will take you.

It can get lonely

Being by myself all day, every day was a really, really hard adjustment for me, and I know a lot of people end up back in the corporate world just because they can’t handle the loneliness and isolation. While social interaction does happen as a freelancer, you probably won’t have co-workers around to joke with, or anyone to bounce ideas off of. Some people just work better and are more creative when they have people around them.

I expect that when I move back to Vancouver, I will have more interaction with people during the day, but the thought of going back to a full-time job has crossed my mind more than once. Because while part of my hesitation with continuing as a freelancer is the lack of interaction with people, it’s also the income (or rather, the savings) that I miss. I consider myself to be one of the lucky bloggers who has been able to make a living from blogging and writing, but the opportunity to work long hours won’t be around forever (children will eventually come, and I won’t have the energy to work 12+ hour days). So if I can stretch myself, work more, and save more towards the future, I should do it while I can. At least, that’s my thought right now. We’ll see what happens in four months when I get back home.

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