Character · Coaching and Managing · Inspiration · Leadership · Living

Surviving Unemployment


The impact of losing a job can be severe.  I know from personal experience.  I found it equal measures of challenging and depressing.  Thoughts of how to keep paying the bills were on my mind constantly.  I tried to be excited about new opportunities and to do something different, and while it’s important to be upbeat, it’s also very difficult to do so.  Especially after the rejection emails stream in.  As I look at the latest unemployment numbers, I empathize and can feel the pain.

Throughout my career, I’ve always leaned back on my upbringing.  My personal motto is to work hard, and let your performance tell your story.  To uplift and to be honest and humble.  To add value to others.  My performance evaluations were always good, and I prided myself on our team’s customer service evaluations and our minimal turnover.  Out of the blue, our CIO radically reorganized the department.  Over seventeen years of progressive experience, rising through the ranks, I was left out.  My first, and hopefully last, foray into the unemployment process.

Perhaps 2020 is going to be different from other years.  So many people filed for unemployment in historical numbers, with most companies struggling to be able to on-board new staff with work-from-home or quarantine situations.  Things are different from what we knew as normal, but take time to work in the meantime.  For those lucky people still in a good job, still take time to reflect on things you can do while employed to lower odds of layoff down the road.  Employment is a continuous improvement process, regardless of your position or organization you work for.

While Employed

  1. Add Value Where Possible

While in school, one of my professors told the class to “find out what sucks and do something about it”.  This was our capstone entrepreneurship class for my MBA.  For an entrepreneur, finding something to improve is vital for long term business success.  It also works for everyday jobs. While in a current role with an organization or company, seek to add value where possible.  See inefficiencies in your daily work environment?  Come up with some improvements.  Find better ways of conducting business?  Make some recommendations with tangible plans and data.  It’s easy to complain around the water cooler, or while out on breaks.  But to add value is to be able to come up with ideas.  Add value to your organization.  This will improve odds if the workforce reductions come into play.  More directly, if you can improve processes and operations, the company will benefit.  Everyone wins when staff always strive to improve things.  Regardless of your job duties, your co-workers, or your boss, be positive.

  1. Maintain Relationships

Be sure to maintain professional relationships.  It’s easy to neglect, and I’ve done that many times over my career.  It takes time and effort, and sometimes when things are busy in work and life, carving out time is challenging.  However, keeping professional relationships healthy will create a stream of leads and opportunities.  If you encounter a sudden layoff, reaching out to a professional network can lead to opportunity.  Many times, a professional network can provide leads for opportunities down the road.

  1. Define and Track Personal Goals

Many self-help books and gurus are in agreement with the concept of setting goals for yourself.  While things are well, it’s easy to defer development and training to a later time.  Things are busy at work, and life may be full of its own challenges, but do not neglect your own development.  You have to take ownership of this.  Many companies offer assistance and training opportunities, and taking advantage of these are vital.  However, each individual needs to set goals and to work towards them.  Setting strategies and then tracking progress.  Establish milestones.  Make every day a learning experience.  Add value to yourself and to expand your skills.  The more you know, the more value you bring.  But more importantly, your creating steps for progress in life and in a career.  If you experience a workforce reduction, your skill set will quickly work in your favor.

While Unemployed

  1. Resume Work

As a hiring manager for many years, I see the same mistakes over and over.  I do try to give each resume an honest and thorough evaluation.  In some cases, the candidate we picked did not have the best resume, but they did not do themselves any favors when applying with an under performing resume.  Resumes are not the end-all, be-all of things, but they need to be updated on a regular basis so applying for jobs can be immediate.  Time will be lost updating resumes after years of neglect, or worse, applying for multiple positions with an inferior resume will be counter-productive.

Have you worked in a position for a number of years?  Be sure to break down as many of your tasks and responsibilities as best you can.  I keep seeing resumes where people work in a position for multiple years, only to reduce what they did to a broad, generic sentence.  Look for where you added value, and had measurable success.  Did you improve sales by $25,000 over last quarter?  Ensure it’s represented on the resume.  Were you able to move up within the organization?  Be sure to showcase your progress and growth.

Take time to customize the resume for every position you apply.  For example, someone has accounting and software programming skills.  If this person applies for an accounting position, the accounting experience should be showcased on the resume.  Alternatively, if this individual applies for a software programming position, that should be showcased.  The end goal is to have the resume match up to the job description as much as possible.  I still see so many generic, one size fits all resumes for positions that reduce interview chances.

  1. Go to “Work”

When I was unemployed, I made finding a job, my job.  I woke up every morning same time as usual, set up my laptop and went through applications I’ve already completed, searched for new postings, and also constantly reached out to others and followed up.  I spent hours each day, also on weekends, scouring and searching.  It was time consuming and emotionally difficult.  I often felt weary and more stressed than when I was working.

There will be rejections.  Rare is the individual who immediately stumbles into a new position without effort, but for the majority, it will be a trying experience.  It’s easy to fall into despair and wallow in misery, but you have to get organized and attack the problem. Develop a system that works for you, and devote time and energy to go through the process.

  1. Challenge Your Boundaries and Take Care of Yourself

Get out of your comfort zone.  A previous job may have been convenient and local.  The perks may have been wonderful, and the environment ideal.  As you begin your search, expand your scope and area.  What may have been a ten-minute commute may be an hour with a new prospective job.  Personally, I went from a six-mile commute to fifty.  Fifteen minutes to get to work, now took an hour.  I could have bemoaned my set back, but I got a lot of “reading” (visit your local library for some audio books!) done with the extra time in the car.  Thankfully, it was a lot of back roads with little traffic, so it was a pleasant, if long drive.  For a new position, and to get back in the work force, it may require some sacrifice.  Be prepared to endure some extra commute time to get more opportunities.

In the end, you still have to do fun things.  The depression I felt was real.  I was miserable.  Receiving many rejections when I felt I had more than enough skill and experience to offer.  My spirits were low.  Keep doing the things you enjoy.  Being unemployed doesn’t mean you skip out of life’s rewards.  After a while, I resumed some of my leisure activities, and even though I was mired in misery, I at least gave myself some temporary relief.

No Matter How Bad, Never Give Up

One of the great television moments in my life was the ESPN awards ceremony when Jim Valvano said, “Don’t give up, don’t ever give up.”  There will be ups and downs, but regardless of how things are going, never give up.  I went through long doldrums where I heard nothing.  Everything was rejected or an application seemingly went into the abyss.  But there were moments where I had multiple prospects within a day or two.  I don’t wish unemployment on anyone, and have been through the process myself.  It will not be easy, but keep stepping and moving forward.  In the end you’ll have an opportunity, and will be stronger for having gone through the process.  See the end goal, and always keep moving in that direction.  Never give up.

Don’t ever give up.



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