Tomorrow I begin a new role at a new company, ending over eight months of being unemployed. This post has been a long time coming. I probably could have published it sooner, but it really didn’t feel right to share these “secrets of successful unemployment” until I’d actually come through on the other side! It’s also not a post typical of what this blog focuses on since it really has nothing to do with disability awareness or embracing diversity. But as a theme, adversity is woven into everything I write about here. And I have not only survived being unemployed this long, but actually thrived in it. If that’s not a story about overcoming adversity thrust upon you, I don’t know what is.
Now, I fully acknowledge that my situation (financially and otherwise) is not the same as the millions of others who found themselves laid off during the pandemic or any other economic downturn or period of corporate struggle. I’ve always had a strong sense of saving which is deep in my core. I do not have a family relying on me. I’m fortunate enough to have had the income pre-layoff to be able to save an emergency fund. I also benefitted from unemployment compensation, as well as the extensions and enhancements from the American Rescue Plan to get just a little bit extra to take the edge off my expenses (the CARES Act had already been extinguished by the time I needed it). I was more fortunate than many, and I know this. But the financial impact of unemployment, while significant, is just one part of the whole experience and this post is to share my experience, insights, and advice for some of the other parts.
Have a Coach
This is important in many aspects of life if we’re being honest, but especially so during this particularly dramatic change in one’s life. It is truly a roller coaster of mental and emotional swings, even without the financial concerns. But the point here is to find someone who’s been through it and can relate to what you’re experiencing. I didn’t even think about needing a coach during this time, but mine thankfully took the initiative to put herself in the role. Admittedly, much of what I am sharing here has come from her. So thank you, Lisa, for continuing that mentor role and being around for guidance, listening to oddball thoughts and theories, and being a sounding board as often as you were there just to bring a sense of normalcy to a decidedly not normal situation.
Now… the coach isn’t there only to discuss and help your progress in finding a job (which is now your new job). She’s also there to just chat about nothing in particular. She’s there to talk about things going on in her own job to keep you fresh and insightful in workplace happenings. She’s there to be a trusted advisor when you start interviewing and weighing prospects and opportunities. But there will be more on all that later…
Stay in Touch
Your preferences might vary wildly here, but for me it was very helpful to stay in touch with my former coworkers. Granted, I have personal friendships with many of them, but we didn’t just flip the switch and suddenly only talk about matters outside of work. That was very helpful for me personally, to not just be completely cut off from a company which I gave five and a half years of my life to.
Stay in touch with your (now former) coworkers, if it’s comfortable for you. It may be difficult to keep hearing the stories, gripes, and even the fun times that still might be going on at your former workplace, and that’s fine. I was invested in my colleagues as well as my clients. I wanted the projects to succeed even if I wasn’t there to help them along, and hearing updates did help me.
I also kept in touch with some of those who were laid off at or around the same time as me, as well as others who were looking for new roles. I was able to continue my passion in coaching and advocating for folks. We’d bounce ideas off each other. We’d critique and improve each other’s résumés and cover letters. We challenged each other to be better. I think I ended up directly helping a half dozen others get new jobs during my own period of unemployment!
But this is also a time to stay in touch with family and friends. I think many of us can relate to being busy at work and taking care of things at home to the point that we don’t keep up with long lost friends and family members. This is a good time to reconnect!
Make Unemployment Your Job
By this, I mean to manage your unemployment. Have a schedule; keep a routine. There will almost certainly be the urge to immediately start sleeping late or playing video games all day, or whatever your thing is. On the other hand, you might find yourself in shock for the first week or two. Even more likely is some combination of these or other life-changing feelings. But having the schedule helps with the sanity; at least it did for me.
Now I don’t mean to keep getting up at 5:30am … I’m not a monster, here! If you truly don’t enjoy rising with (or before) the sun, don’t do it. But the goal here is to set yourself a reasonable “start” time to begin your Monday through Friday. Set an alarm, and get yourself out of bed to accomplish a goal or two rather than sleeping late every day.
And as a part of this schedule, set daily and weekly goals and stick to them. I’m not saying you need to recreate a 40 hour work week, either. Mine averaged around 30 hours of “work” during this time. Obviously schedules can change if another priority presents itself, but be sure to reschedule what was missed. What are the things to be scheduled, you ask? The most obvious would be getting on that job search! If your résumé needs some updating, that will be the first thing to work on. Once you get a version drafted, look at those jobs you’re going to go after. You’ll definitely be making edits to this document as the weeks progress… I actually completely rewrote my résumé in the second half of my unemployment after some good professional feedback; and I continued to revise and enhance it until I had offers in hand!
But then carve out parts of your week (typically several days each week) to look for those jobs. I ended up doing this four days each week, divided into different types of jobs I was looking for. I also kept track of the dozens of jobs I ended up applying for so when I would hear back, I knew exactly what the role was and when I took each step of the process.
One day I would look at what I ended up calling the “sure thing” jobs. These were the roles I have done before, had moved beyond, but had a wealth of experience and could take one as a fallback, if needed. Then on two of the days, I would focus on more of the roles that I had been doing or would be the next logical step in my career path. On the final of four days, I’d look for the awesome, pie-in-the-sky, or long shot jobs. These were the ones in completely different industries that I found interesting (I applied to many wine-industry jobs as well as DEIB roles, of which I have plenty more personal experience than professional), but also trying the moonshot of applying to those jobs I was planning to be in five or ten years from now. I had experience doing the work, but typically in a support role or more responsibility than accountability doing some of the job duties.
Researching and applying to these roles allowed me to closely examine my own professional experience and identify which skills were transferrable and which needed more education or hands-on experience. It was a fantastic exercise, both enlightening and exciting! In doing these moonshot applications, it also gave me some insights about what I should be learning to advance my career even though it had been somewhat put on pause. So much so, that it leads to an entire suggestion in itself…
Obviously, a period of prolonged time away from the workplace will make some of your skills go unused and perhaps need some refreshing. (This is also why it’s good to keep in touch with former coworkers and others in your field, because you’ll naturally put yourself in those positions and mentally keep fresh.) In the technology field, which is my primary industry, is especially unforgiving here as tech can change course rapidly. So now’s a good time to invest in yourself and work on certifications in your field to enhance your résumé. It’s a great time to investigate some tangentially related courses, or those in soft skills that can be used in your career or your dream job. Sure, it’s hard to pull the trigger on paying for classes when your income has been decimated, but if you have the means try to make it work. An investment like this will pay for itself tenfold down the line. I decided on a combination of things, working on more DEIB credentials (that also helps with the passion you’re reading about right here as well as helping any workplace I eventually would join), but also more leadership training, and learning more about up and coming features being developed for products I tend to support in my career.
But it’s also a time to pursue your other interests! This “workday” that we’re creating and scheduling doesn’t need to be entirely in your field and in fact, I suggest that you shouldn’t do that. When are we going to have this much available time to pursue hobbies and passions beyond your career? Maybe it’s time to get that guitar out of your closet, or finish that book series you stalled in a few years ago. It could be that your garden needs some TLC to get back to its glory days, or maybe it’s time to finally figure out how to get exercise back into your daily routine. For me, I actually started back into formal wine education since it’s a passion I like to share with others. I even started a wine club with some friends to take advantage of case and shipping discounts! I also reclaimed most of the gardens that had been overrun with weeds over the years. I’ve also been doing more exercise, which tends to be a great way to destress the unemployment blues out of my being! But most of these are great transferrable skills as well. Learning detail and nuance of wine reminds me of my business analysis roots in finding the hidden nuance that will make or break a project. Running the wine club is good practice with my spreadsheet skills as well as budgeting and accounting.
This goes along with the next suggestion…
Take Time to Relax
It’s OK to take a day off. As humans, many of us need a change of pace from time to time. You might get a cold or overdo one of your exercise goals. You might have another family emergency come up. Or you might just need a break from this new normal that somehow became normal without you even realizing it. So take that vacation day! The work will be here for you again tomorrow.
While I suggested keeping a schedule and a routine, you also have a flexibility that you will miss when it’s gone. Embrace it. If someone wants to get together during your “workday” you can shift things around with impunity.
Sometimes our body and our mind have a way of telling us what they need. Over years of education and building one’s career, we tend to find many ways of ignoring those requests until the eventually become demands. During my period of unemployment, I also had the benefit of continuing my regular therapy sessions. I’ve become quite an advocate of therapy and recommend it to literally everyone. Having that experience prior to and during my unemployment set me up for success as well. It’s so often the life changing events that end up… changing our lives. Unemployment, for me, was a time to truly start to listen to my mind and my body. I was able to explore passions in a different perspective. I looked at my career and honestly reassessed. I examined the passions and considered a complete career shift! (That might be the best path for some people out there as well!) But ultimately I find it’s my passions outside of my job that bring true value to the work I do in my career. And it took being unemployed for me to connect those dots.
Losing my job was not a choice I made. It was thrust upon me and gave me a long period of uncertainty. But as another former colleague related to me about a friend of his who had been unemployed: in some cases, it can ultimately be a positive and enlightening experience. While it wasn’t the path that I chose, I am thankful for the insights I’ve gained. As I embark on this next phase of my career, I smile and feel content because a year ago, I realize now, I didn’t know my path. I had ideas of where I wanted to go and what type of role I wanted to do, but I also had the inertia (and satisfaction of not hating what I was doing) which turned into complacency. But tomorrow I begin a new role at a new company, ending over eight months of being unemployed. And it’s exactly where I want to be, and doing exactly what I want to be doing. If I hadn’t been laid off, I fully expect that my loyalty and the inertia would have kept me where I was rather than where I could be. Here’s to the next adventure!