I am an affiliate partner for some products mentioned in this post. All expressed opinions are my own. However, I may receive commission for the sale of some products or services.
My Experience with Unemployment
Two years ago, I was curled up in a ball on my couch crying. I was hurt, confused, and feeling all of the emotions.
Rewind to an hour earlier when I first realized something was wrong. As I walked into the department director’s office for our scheduled supervision, I was told the executive director would be joining us. The mood was unusually heavy as we all sat down. I remember wondering what the mix-up could have been because I knew I hadn’t done anything wrong. In fact, to this day, I’ve never even received a verbal warning for anything at work. I’m professional, hard-working, and ethical, so this situation felt very unfamiliar to me.
As it turns out, I didn’t do anything wrong. The department simply wasn’t receiving enough referrals to maintain two small teams with two supervisors and their salaries. It made more sense financially to form one larger, consolidated team under the leadership of the more senior supervisor—who was not me.
I was laid off from my job with less than two weeks’ notice. The fiscal year was closing at the end of the month, and there was no room for my position in the new budget. Several departments were either downsizing or restructuring, and my position was being eliminated. I distinctly remember that word on the letter I was advised to reference as I filed for Unemployment Compensation (UC) and COBRA benefits. I ultimately understood the reasoning, and I recognized the importance of financial stability for a non-profit organization. You can probably guess that logic didn’t make me feel any better about the situation.
Although I was uncomfortable that day, I did not envy the responsibility of my boss and her boss to share the unfortunate news with me and the other employees who received the same news. I have had to terminate staff members, and I know it’s the least appealing part of any leader’s job. My sense of empathy, among other things, did help me to feel better about the situation. Allow me to share six lessons I learned during six months of unemployment.
What I Learned
You probably have more support than you know.
Are you one of the tens of millions of Americans who are currently experiencing unemployment as a result of the novel coronavirus pandemic? Needless to say, you’re not alone, but that doesn’t mean you won’t feel alone at times. Being disconnected from your work family can feel isolating, so make it a priority to stay in contact. Give out your personal number, email address, LinkedIn profile, or whatever you prefer to use to stay connected. Strict workplace boundaries no longer apply when you’re not an employee.
Pro tip: Remain professional. Your previous cubicle neighbor could be the one to tell you about an opening at a company where her sister-in-law is the hiring manager, but she’ll be hesitant to refer you for the position if your last communication was a drunk text or a tag in a post that bad-mouths the boss to whom she still reports.
I quickly learned that my colleagues, friends, and extended family cared about me more than I knew. They checked in with my regularly, forwarded me job listings, and wrote reference letters. I did not expect all of the support I received, and I am still grateful years later.
Your feelings are valid, and your coping skills are necessary.
I have a history of depression and anxiety. I had both conditions very much under control for years before I was laid off. I was proud of how hard I had worked to understand and respect my limits while celebrating my strengths. I placed a great deal of importance on developing and practicing healthy coping mechanisms regularly. All of these statements are true today, but I had trouble believing they were true for a short period of time.
Being laid off was a huge trigger for my anxiety. The same week I was laid off, both of my parents and my sister experienced major health setbacks. I took all of it very hard, and I am sure it would have been much more difficult to manage if I had not developed strong coping skills. I already had gym time on my calendar every few days, a weekly reminder on my phone to call my parents, a healthy meal planning routine, craft supplies waiting to be used, a subscription to Real Simple magazine to spark inspiration, and Teem Mom OG on the DVR ready to binge watch.
Pro tip: Don’t wait to invest in self care until you’re too overwhelmed to function. At that time, you may only have enough energy to go through the motions, and you will thank yourself for having established a self-care routine that is second nature.
Take advantage of your resources, even if it seems like the system is working against you.
Social safety nets exist for situations like unexpected job loss. I was not embarrassed to apply for Unemployment Compensation benefits, and I would not have hesitated to apply for SNAP or Medical Assistance (MA) if I had qualified. Having worked with low-income individuals throughout my career has instilled a strong belief that there is a need for these programs. The sooner you accept help, the better off you’ll be.
I had the pleasure of learning first-hand was how slow and frustrating the benefits application system can be. I understand the current state of the system in June 2020 is much worse than when I applied, and for that I extend my sympathy. My best advice as a former case manager and applicant is to go directly to the source when there is a problem. Don’t bother with the third-party websites and services that offer to be the middle-man. Even if it’s not a scam, it’s never the quickest way to resolve an issue. If the problem is your UC benefits, call UC; if the problem is SNAP or MA, call DHS. Be patient and don’t give up!
Pro tip: Know your numbers. UC withholds a maximum of 10% income tax. If you expect to be in a higher tax bracket for the year, you should either make payments directly to the IRS or expect to owe the following April.
You need to update your job application materials from college…even if it was only a few years ago.
Obviously, you need to include any changes to your experience, education, and skills. What I didn’t realize before attending a PA CareerLink resumé workshop was that apparently no one uses “objectives” on their resumés anymore. Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know! I can write professionally, format like a pro, and use all the buzz words to get the attention of hiring managers and resumé analyzing software alike. Unfortunately, none of that matters if the first line on my resumé screams, “I learned to write a resumé in 2010!”
I learned a few tips and tricks from the weekly workshops at CareerLink. What I enjoyed the most, however, was being able to contribute to the discussion as a source of wisdom. I immediately became a leader in the group. Others came to me after the workshops seeking advice. It made me feel like a supervisor again, supporting a team and guiding them toward achieving their goals.
Pro tip: Transferrable skills are not just for the workplace. Apply your skills to a new setting—like a blog or community group—and expand your influence.
Have faith in yourself, but don’t assume you’ll find your new gig before the next mortgage payment is due.
The only regret I had during unemployment was not applying for entry-level, part-time jobs. My husband and I were financially stable with the help of his income, our shared savings, and my UC benefits. What was not helpful was my belief that those entry-level positions were for high school seniors and people who didn’t have the education and experience to apply for the position from which I had just been laid off. Get off your high horse and do what you have to do to pay the bills.
I also had a lot of faith in my abilities and qualifications, so I assumed that I would find a new position within a month or two. I had several interviews that went very well, which only solidified my belief that I did not need to “waste time” applying for jobs I would be leaving after a week. I was surprised to hear that I was the second-choice candidate more than a couple of times. I know I would have excelled in those positions, but there was nothing I could do to control my competition.
Pro tip: Don’t underestimate the power of being an internal candidate. I lost opportunities to quite a few of them through no fault of my own. A burnt bridge can’t help you cross the gap back into employment.
Your 9-to-5 job is not the only way you can contribute to society.
About four months into unemployment, I was really missing the feeling of contributing to society, sharing my knowledge, and building a community. I’ve always enjoyed writing, so I decided to start a blog (you’re reading it!) and Instagram account to share content. I had never blogged or created any type of social media account, so this was as much of a learning experience as it was an opportunity to share my knowledge. I am pretty certain that I never would have had the idea for D20 Theory if weren’t for these four months of involuntary introspection plus an additional two months to devote to launching the blog before starting my new full-time position.
If I had not been devoting so much time to learning about WordPress design, website hosting, social media trends, SEO, and affiliate marketing, I would have also considered volunteering. I enjoyed volunteering when I was a teenager, and there is always someone who has a greater need than we do.
Pro tip: Do what you love and love what you do. It’s easy to keep your head down and get lost in the daily grind until one day you lift your head up and realize you’ve been spending all your time and energy in a career that’s limiting you. Make sure you’re not only working hard at your goals, but that you will actually be happy when you achieve them.
Airtable is a desktop and mobile app database that is all about the relationship between data, which means you don’t have to constantly copy and paste or retype cell entries manually. In its most basic form, Airtable is a more user-friendly version of Excel spreadsheets.
Keep you job search activities organized. Track the date you applied and the link to the website. Link a PDF of the job description and your cover letter for easy access. Save the contact information of the hiring manager for effortless follow-up after the interview. Edit notes about your impression of the company to review the next time you want to apply for an opening.
Do you love color coding as much as I do? The bases, tables, records, and fields are visually appealing and endlessly customizable. If you are at all disheartened by your current spreadsheet app, consider giving Airtable a try.
Create the most beautiful resumés and media kits with Canva, a free drag-and-drop graphic design tool. Choose from hundreds of free templates and customize as much as you want. I would be surprised to meet someone who has used Canva and had a poor experience. Want to give the paid Pro version a try? Earn 1 free credit toward a Pro subscription just for signing up with my link!
Knack bags may look like just another backpack from afar, but they are so much more! Live a “One Bag Life” with this high-quality, expandable, go-anywhere, do-anything bag. From a cross-country flight to the daily commute, this bag is ready for anything. They are always refreshing their colors and materials, so you’re sure to find something that suits your personality.
Being laid off initially felt like a door being slammed in my face, but it eventually opened doors I would have otherwise walked right past.
If you’re ready to slay that next job interview, check out these interview tips and insider secrets from local hiring managers.
What one of the six lessons did you find the most useful? If you have also come out on the other end of unemployment, what lessons did you learn? Share in the comments!