The sinking feeling when you realize that meeting with your boss means you’re getting laid off. The weeks spent sending dozens of applications to receive little or no response. Few things are as demoralizing and financially stressful as losing a job and facing unemployment.
Whether you’re a seasoned worker who got blindsided by layoffs or a recent college graduate struggling to find a job, the goal to secure employment is the same. How you handle your job search, money management, and stress reduction during this time can make all the difference. These five tips can help you minimize anxiety and make the next big move in your career.
1. Make your financial survival plan for unemployment
After losing a job or quitting, your finances probably are going to take a hit. Taking some proactive steps could help you absorb this blow better.
Claim unemployment insurance benefits. Complete all the paperwork to file for unemployment benefits in your state. Once your application is approved, make sure you keep filing weekly claims and satisfy the requirements to maintain your benefits.
Cut back to the basics. Take a hard look at your budget and reduce any and all expenses that aren’t necessary to the cost of living or searching for a job. You don’t know how long you’ll be unemployed, so work out a budget that can buy you time for at least three months or more.
Tap your emergency fund. Hopefully, you had managed to sock away an emergency fund that can keep you afloat until you get on your feet. If so, now is the time to use it.
Consider putting student debt on hold during unemployment. Federal student loans can be deferred or put into forbearance if you lose your job. You also can enroll in an income-driven repayment plan to manage your debt during this time. Many private student lenders also have hardship protections, such as deferment or forbearance, to help borrowers in times of need.
Work on other streams of income. Just because you’re out of work doesn’t mean you can’t continue to earn extra money. “I highly recommend finding ways to get income during a job search,” said Gretchen Hellman, a career coach and founder of Outside the Box consultancy. “Freelance work can also be valuable because it puts negative experiences farther behind and can build self-esteem.”
2. Reduce stress and build your confidence
Unemployment can also hit you hard emotionally.
“The path to unemployment almost always contains some traumas that can negatively affect self-esteem [and] create anxiety and feelings of hopelessness,” Hellman said. “If we are let go or treated so badly we quit, our primal brain interprets it as being expelled from the tribe. That can cause shame spirals, ruminating over events, and feelings of worthlessness.”
Watch out for these emotional and mental sinkholes, and proactively work to manage distress and anxiety. Stick to a routine and keep your days structured with your job search filling the hours you previously spent working. Block out time for fun things that build your confidence, too, such as exercising, spending time outdoors, or working on a hobby.
3. Tap into your social support system
Another important stress management strategy is staying connected with your social circle. “It’s important to establish a support system during job loss — from the community, with a career coach, a therapist, friends, and family,” Hellman said. This is key to fighting off social isolation, which can worsen stress.
Use your newfound free time to get back in touch with old colleagues, college buddies, and close friends. Invest time into strengthening core relationships or re-establishing neglected connections. This networking could even give your job search a vital boost.
“Unemployed candidates should leverage their networks to help them out,” Hellman said. “It’s always important to get introduced into open positions because it increases the trust the employer has in a candidate’s worthiness.”
4. Find lessons and prepare for interview questions
Reflecting on the situation that led to your unemployment can be an important part of processing and learning from your job loss. Ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?” and be willing to make changes as you mull over the lessons.
This self-reflection also will prepare you to answer a common job interview question: why you left your last position or aren’t in the job. “It’s important to really nail the story of your last position without anger, judgment, and have an explanation that shows off a high level of emotional intelligence,” Hellman said.
Develop a response that’s honest but frames you in a positive way. Explain your side of the situation in neutral or positive language, and avoid getting defensive or too detailed. Highlight what you’ve learned and how you can ensure, if possible, that similar problems won’t arise with a future employer. Write your response down or test it with a friend, and practice delivering it confidently and clearly.
5. Make your job search wide and specific
“Job seekers tend to look for why they aren’t qualified rather than focusing on getting the qualification,” Hellman said. If you go down this route, you might unnecessarily narrow your search and miss job opportunities that could be a great fit.
Rather than assuming you’re not a match, stay flexible and open-minded when looking for positions, Hellman said. By widening your search, you can send out more applications, be considered for more jobs, and increase your odds of getting an offer.
You also should look for ways to make the case for your qualifications and draw specific connections between your capabilities and the job description.
“Before you write the resume, know what type of job you are going after,” Hellman said. Make it clear how your experience relates to the requirements of the position you’re applying for. Hellman also suggests customizing cover letters and honing job interview skills to make yourself a standout candidate.
Lastly, counter rejections and nonresponses to applications with self-care and resilience. “Be kind to yourself,” Hellman said. “If you do the work and plant enough seeds, you’ll get the ‘yes’ you’re after.”
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