A Simple Guide to Surviving Unemployment

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Fired: Scene of the Crime!You just lost your job; now what?

The instinctive path is to hit the newspapers and job boards, flooding resumes out to potential employers who might give you a chance. You might follow that activity by contacting recruiting firms to enlist them in your search. If this describes you here is some friendly advice—slow down!

We’re in a recession, a very nasty one by all accounts, and as much as you need a job, it’s important to recognize that you’ve joined a hunt that’s being undertaken by millions of others. This means competition, far more than we’ve seen in the past, and you’ll need to begin thinking long term. If you’ve been out of work for a while, you already know this.

Time Management

You’ll need to bring structure to a highly chaotic time in your life. You’ve just undergone a major change, which means many aspects of your life are affected. You no longer have a formal schedule to guide your life, so how you manage your time will be critical.

It will help if you can adopt a regular schedule which includes time for job searching, networking, physical activity, family and for learning a new skill or two. Be consistent, but don’t be rigid. Because of the internet, you don’t need to restrict your job search to a nine-to-five schedule. Also, the best time to make job contacts is often before 8:30 in the morning and after 5:00 in the afternoon, when the decision maker is still on the job, but his call screener (usually a secretary) isn’t.

Generating Cash Flow

Immediately file for unemployment benefits. For most people this will be little more than supplemental income so you will need to look for other sources of income.

It may be worth sacrificing some unemployment benefits for part time work. Unlike unemployment, it will not only bring in needed revenue, but it will also get you out and among people where you might develop some meaningful networking contacts. Also, it soaks up some idle time, something you don’t need to have too much of when you’re in a difficult situation.

Some part time jobs offer the prospect of benefits, which will become vital if you’re time without full time employment becomes extended to months or longer. Best Places to Get a Part-time Job (Smart Money, March 27, 2009) features a list of employers providing benefits (including health insurance). Cobra plans are expensive; this may provide a viable alternative.

Another source of revenue is in performing repair work. During recessions people keep what they have rather then buying new, increasing the demand for repair work of all kinds. If you can repair just about anything—houses, cars, computers—now is a stellar time to put out the word (and a bunch of flyers) and to start a new side business. Do well enough, and you’ll have solved your job problem.

Reorganize Your Finances

You will need an emergency fund, and if you don’t have one, compile a comprehensive list of all of your financial assets as well as physical assets. You may need to do some juggling to move them to liquid form–the more liquid you are the longer you’ll be able to last. This could include selling stocks, unused exercise or recreational equipment, furniture or a little used car, motorcycle or boat. Because of the tax consequences, liquidating a retirement account should be a last resort, and only if there are no other sources.

Don’t use your reserves to pay off debts—you may need the cash for living expenses, and just having it available can improve your attitude.

Finally, you should immediately cut down on your living expenses. Never assume that you’ll be re-employed quickly; even if you are, it may be at reduced pay. Reducing expenses will buy you more time. Get rid of any non-necessary expenses—particularly in regard to entertainment—and look to reduce controllable expenses like food and utilities.

Apply for Jobs, But Pace Yourself

Apply for as many jobs as possible but don’t spend all day mailing or emailing resumes to every employer in town. Budget the number of employers you apply to in any given week. If there are 100 employers in your area and you apply every one in the first week, what will you do in weeks three, four, and five? It’s better to pick a fixed number per week, say five or ten, and concentrate on being more creative in your approach.

Do your homework. Find out what they do and what their numbers are, who runs the company, what the company is doing, and what problems they face. Tailor your resume and cover letter to that employer. Highlight any skills you have that may be useful in dealing with their problem areas.

Network outside the company and contact anyone you know who might be inside the company; a single contact could open the door to an interview.

Manage Your Attitude

Guard against idle time. You will worry, especially in the dark hours of the night when you’re alone with your thoughts. The best antidote to this will be to pack your days with activity—physical and work related among them. Not only will this generate fatigue necessary for sound sleep, but the activity will satisfy you at bed time that you had a productive day, generated some leads and moved in a positive direction.

Kevin Mercadante is the host of, a website centered on careers, business ideas, money and more, as well as the author of Lighten Your Load: Living Well On Less, an e-book focused on reducing living expenses while still maintaining a comfortable lifestyle. The book is available on the website.

(Photo: snofla)

{ 12 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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12 Responses to “A Simple Guide to Surviving Unemployment”

  1. Cathy says:

    that was such a good article, very helpful to me, thank you for that.

  2. Thank you for your kind words Cathy.

  3. yohbee says:

    I think this article helps emphasize the importance of having an emergency fund available. It will allow you to take time to asses the situation and make smart decisions rather than just grabbing the first opportunity that appears. The last thing you want is to get stuck in a job you hate or commiting to one that will take away other potentially better opportunities.

  4. Cathy says:

    You know, I always admired the concept of an emergency fund…I just don’t know any. The thing is the idea of having a job is a good one, to start, then there’s that (false?) sense of security. My job enabled me to buy real estate, but my habits stayed the same! I read that most people, even double-income over 100 thou, just keep striving, spending and have the same problems with money. And lottery winners are the same (+ huge bitterness) as I have met one recently. So, what I’ve been reading on Financial IQ must be part of the solution. Ya think?

  5. Haven’t been on Financial IQ, what is it about?

    • Cathy says:

      Oh, that’s just a concept that Robert Kyosaki talks about: Financial IQ is what they don’t teach you in school. He wrote Rich Dad, Poor Dad about the teachings of his 2 fathers. I never read the book, but on uTube you can see a series of about 5 or 6 three minute videos that are so easy to learn. I watched it with my 21 year old that is still in university, and would like her to learn this and not fall into the usual trap. He talks about how $ changed in 1971, 1973. My friend was drilling it into me for years with huge piles of books. Told me about how high gold was going to go (when it was $300), but did I listen? Anyway, he backed it up with tons of evidence. And now we are living with the results, but Robert shows, clearly, the way out.

  6. OK, I read Rich Dad, Poor Dad and think it’s one of the great pf books of all time. It’s been a while though so I don’t remember all of the handles used.

  7. Cathy says:

    So famous…here, I found the link

    Maybe “Financial IQ” is his new repackaging…really I should get the book out. But, hey, the utube is so convenient 😉 He’s easy to listen to, seems like a friend and I don’t know him!

  8. Solid advice for those in a bad spot in these economic times.

  9. Rachel says:

    Great experience – the tendency in this situation is to jobhunt in a frenzy and this advice (along with a decent emergency fund) gets you to take a deep breath and go about things methodically and rationally.

    From experience I would like to add that when applying for jobs, it’s good to keep careful track of the exact version sent to each job opportunity, and a copy of each cover letter. When one of them calls back, you want to know which version of your CV they have on their desk.
    Even without tailored CVs, it sounds a lot more professional and you will be more confident if you can easily look up the company calling you and know when you sent your CV to them, where you saw their listing, even a line or two about the firm, etc. You don’t want to give the impression “I sent my CV out everywhere – I don’t even remember you”

  10. Rachel–Good point. I’ve made a habit in online applications of copying and pasting the ad beneath my cover letter, then saving it in a special file on my computer. Same with snail mail, a copy of the ad is stapled to the cover letter, that way when a prospective employer calls I’ll have details in front of me.

    Keeping a custom version of the CV is a good idea too. I’ll try to remember that in the future!

  11. Nathan says:

    Apparently, this article isn’t common sense for some.

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