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Avoiding Unemployment Panic

Being in-between jobs is one of the most stressful experiences anyone can go through.Whether getting laid off, relocating for your spouse’s career, or walking away from a bad employer, the uncertainty can be crippling. Fear, self-doubt, and panic can quickly set in. DO NOT PANIC. It’s like the line from Apollo 13: “All right, we're not doing this, gentlemen. We are *not* going to do this. We're not going to go bouncing off the walls for ten minutes, 'cause we're just going to end up back here with the same problems!”

Freaking out about losing your job does not change the situation and is not constructive.

Left unchecked, this fight-or-flight response can result in you grasping for the first life-line job that comes your way. The first offer might not make sense for your career, either in the long term or even short term. If it’s a step down in responsibility or compensation, or is a jarring career change, it can set your career back years if not permanently. We get it – if a middling job offer comes along, and there are no other options in sight, how can you reasonably turn it down? If it’s close enough to perfect, take it. If not, hold out for something better.

(DISCLAIMER: We are recruiting professionals, not financial advisors. This next bit of advice does not constitute professional financial advice. For help in that category, talk to a certified financial planner or accountant.)

To give yourself the ability to be choosy, you need to have some financial maneuvering room. If you are not worried about ending up in a van down by the river, you can be patient for a career-building opportunity. Here are some strategies to help you hold out for perfect:

  1. Define the parameters of your job search. What does next look like to you if you could choose? What compensation will you gladly or grudgingly accept? Is relocation on the table? If so, where and for what? At what point do you expand the aperture of your search? If you have a spouse, significant other, or close family that will be impacted by your job loss or new job, you need to have an honest discussion with them. Some executive-level jobs will most-likely require a relocation, getting to that realization now vs. a year from now and half will only make the process easier and less stressful.

  2. Determine how much financial fuel is in the tank. How long can you go without income? Somewhere between days and indefinitely.

  3. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst. There is a rule of thumb that for every $10,000 in salary, you’ll be unemployed for a month. I’m not sure how true this is but it can be a baseline. The key variables in how long you will be on the bench are how high you are in the org chart, how specific your skill set, how in demand it is, and where you live. If you are the SVP of Manufacturing for the only microchip manufacturer in 1000 miles, it could be a while. If you are a junior accountant in a big city; days, not weeks.

  4. Consider an economic load shedding. Load shedding is what electrical grids do to preserve key systems when the power supply is reduced. Economic load shedding works the same way. If you are suddenly running on one or no income, have a plan for reducing unnecessary expenses. When having the discussion with your family (see #1 above) you also need to talk through this. Do you sell a car to get rid of a car payment? Do you continue trips to the Starbucks or nail salon if it means tapping into your 401k? Do you cut your kids extracurricular activities, or do you keep them to maintain normalcy? The load shedding can come in stages – nothing for the first few months, then more cuts if your unemployment persists. There are tons of resources & blogs about finding ways to cut out costs in your lifestyle.

  5. Explore part-time gigs or side hustles to buy some time. Consulting, temp-jobs, weekend retail, delivering pizzas, driving for Lyft or Uber can give you additional income to stretch your ability to wait for the right job. If you can cover your basic expenses without tapping into savings or retirement income, you’ll be able to be choosy. If you do take on part-time work, it’s important to consider the opportunity cost of the lost time you could be using to search for a job. Getting a 9-5 temp job might help with the bills but can restrict your job search – which should be your number one priority. Our advice is to push any side hustle outside of normal business hours.

  6. File for Unemployment. In many instances, you’ll be eligible for unemployment income assistance. If you just quit or are fired for cause, an employer will fight the claim with the unemployment office. If you are quitting because your boss is a monster, ask HR during your exit interview if they will fight the claim. If they know your boss is a jerk, they might not fight it for fear you’ll sue them. Most military members are eligible for unemployment after active duty ends. If you quit your job to follow your spouse for a new career opportunity, you might be eligible. Rules vary from state to state, so it’s worth exploring. A couple hundred bucks a week can mean the difference between settling for a mediocre job or holding out for spectacular.

  7. Ask for a severance and outplacement assistance. If you are being laid off, most companies will pay you for unpaid vacation (laws vary by state on whether they must do so), back pay or any outstanding business-related expenses. In addition to that, you could be offered a severance package, including pay and benefits for a certain amount of time. These usually come with strings – namely “I won’t sue you” strings. Some companies will vest your 401k match, or stock options, or stock grants if you are not vested. Others will pay out your accrued bonus, but if you are being laid off for financial reasons, this is not likely. If they do not offer anything (again, the laws vary over what they have to offer) you can ask them for severance or outplacement services. Outplacement services are companies that help get your resume in shape, can help with networking and interviewing skills, and shorten the time you spend on unemployment. It’s a win-win for your company and they might be willing to pay for it. I’ve even had candidates ask to keep their company-issued assets - laptop, phone, office chair, and desk phone. If they are a few years old, chances are they won’t be reissued anyway. If you keep your cool and stick to the high ground, you can maintain what negotiating power you have. You won’t get it if you don’t ask. You do not need to sign anything on the spot - you can have an employment lawyer review anything to make sure you are not getting railroaded.

  8. Be realistic – we often talk about the perfect job, but most positions have flaws. Figure out what is most important to you and what you are willing to live with. Is it staying in your house of 20 years? A 10-minute commute? Do you need to make the same money as before? Ideally everything is an upgrade from your previous position, but there is no law that it must be so. Keep in mind that the longer you sit on the bench, the more your value to the market can erode. Every candidate has a shelf life. If you’ve been on the bench for two years in a hot labor market, they might question why. I’ve had candidates pass up great opportunities only to settle for a lesser role two years down the road.

  9. Practice self-care. Exercise, meditate, read self-help books, watch motivational videos. You are an athlete using every minute of the off-season to have the best year yet. If you come rolling into interviews feeling good about yourself and radiating confidence, it will help you get the job and often with a higher salary. If you let the stress get to you, it will show. Desperation has its own kind of repellent properties.

  10. Have faith. Keep telling now-self that your future self will be thrilled at how everything worked out.

Finding a job is tough…we get it. The process is flawed, can be risky, and generally is not fun. If you are lost and trying to figure out what to do next, let us know. We can help. You can share your resume with us or if you need coaching on how to get hired quickly, we can help. We look forward to hearing from you.

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