Making an Unemployment Plan

Unemployment is one of those circumstances that few people ever really plan for. Sure, you put money away “just in case,” but in the back of your head you finished that sentence with “…in case I want a new car.” You probably assumed that you would begin your career and then work your way up, change jobs, or strike out on your own until you get the corner office and the big paycheck. Having to go back to ramen and TJ Maxx wasn’t a possibility that you took seriously, until you woke up the morning after your last day of work and thought “now what?”

Well, even if you didn’t plan for unemployment, you can still make this period easier to handle by planning your unemployment. It seems like a daunting and inherently uncertain task, but if you approach your unemployment systematically the way you would tackle any other project, you will emerge from the other end both stronger and more aware of your capabilities.

Define your goals

This might seem to be an easy step at first. The goal is to get a new job. But what kind of job? Do you want prestige and fulfillment or do you just want to pay the bills? Will you take the first thing that comes along or can you hold out for a better offer? Large organization or start-up? Do you want to stay in the same field, or try something else out? Maybe you don’t want to get a new job after all. Maybe this is the perfect time to go back to school, or stay home with the kids, or start your own business.

When you start to consider all of the possibilities out there, you realize that there is nothing simple about defining your goals. That’s why you need to give it some serious thought. Consider your immediate needs, your medium-range goals, and your long-term dreams. Think about the things you really value, and whether your last job was helping you achieve them. Once you have your ideals and values defined, you can start to think about what you can do professionally to make them happen.

Make a survival plan

Of course, your long-term goals don’t mean much if you can’t make it through the next few months. That’s why your next step is to figure out how you’re going to pay the rent, buy groceries, and keep yourself dressed while you are moving toward the next phase of your life.

Since housing is usually a person’s biggest expense, you should focus first on your living situation. Can you afford to stay where you are, or do you need to move to cheaper digs? Maybe things are more drastic and you need to consider moving in with a friend or even (God forbid) your parents.

The next step should be to figure out your financial situation and hammer out a budget. Find out where all your money is and where it might come from, including all your bank accounts, investments, and benefits you have coming from your former employer or union, and the state. Then figure out how much you need to spend each month, and how much spending you can afford to eliminate.

Make an action plan

Now that you have established a destination and a base camp, you need to map a route. Specifically, this means figuring out what actions you need to take to get yourself where you want to go. If a new job is your goal, then this will probably mean spiffing up your resume and looking for openings. Set a goal for the number of applications you want to complete every day. Keep an ongoing list of where you applied and when to follow up with them. Treat your search like a serious part-time job: something you work on at least part of every day. Not only will this force you to broaden your search until you find some way to do it every day, but the constant activity will help you feel like you’re making progress.

Identify your support network

Unemployment is a difficult experience for anyone to go through. In addition to the financial hardships, people can easily succumb to shame, self-doubt, and depression. Knowing whom you can count on for material, financial, and emotional support can mean the difference between making it through unemployment stronger and more resourceful, or not making it through at all. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from people who care about you when you need it, and don’t be afraid to accept help when it’s offered.

When it comes right down to it, unemployment really is like any other project. You need to define your goals, assess their feasibility, identify your resources, and craft a plan. Like any project, there is no guarantee of success, but you improve your odds significantly if you have a plan.

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