How to be Jobless

Unemployment Rate to Feb 2014“And I don’t have a job/ but I can show you how to be a slob.”
No Use for a Name, “Not Your Savior.”

Hello guys.  Today starts Week 5 of my first-ever stint in the ranks of The Unemployed.  So this pretty much makes me an expert, right?  Journos are like that.  A month of furious outreach has yielded a passel of no’s and a foreboding sense that this could take longer than expected.

Up to now, I had been employed most every moment of my 34-year career.  Left my fourth and final college internship early to take my first real job, at a paper in South Florida long ago.  Had maybe two weeks off to move up to New York to join the Wall Street Journal.

After 16 years there, I quit and a week later started at Forbes magazine, and after nine years there I switched to CNBC—while still working a full final month of overlap at Forbes.  My three-year deal at CNBC flowed seamlessly into three years at FoxBiz.

So this sojourn in joblessness can be jarring and unsettling.  Some 10.5 million people were jobless last month, an unemployment rate of 6.7%, the Labor Department reports.  The total rises to 20 million when you add part-timers who want full-time work (7.2M) and the “marginally attached,” who want work but haven’t looked in the past month (2.3M).

Work is identity for many of us, how we prove ourselves and carve out our place.  It’s how we matter.  So suddenly when there is no work, you can lose your hold on the world.  You must find something, fast, to replace it:  Your work becomes the search for work.  A few rules might help:

Rule #1:  Stick to the same routine.  Rise at the same time in the morning as you had when you had to get up for your job, and try not to end the day before your old quitting time.

Rule #2:  No jammy pants.  It invites laziness and procrastination.  Put on a pair of pants, dude.

Rule #3:  Get ripped.  Work out more than ever before.  It will elevate your low mood, raise your metabolism and imbue you with can-do.  At least, I’m gonna try, okay?  If not ripped, less… roly-poly.

Rule #4:  Cut back immediately.  Even if you get severance and believe you will snag a job soon.  Kill plans for that spring break in Fort Lauderdale and the $10,000 summer week in Myrtle Beach.  Cut back on the $100-a-week cleaning lady.  Drink coffee at home instead of $6 lattes at Starbucks.  It adds to the urgency you should be feeling.

Rule #5:  Apply for unemployment.  Immediately.  Yup, it’s embarrassing, but get over it.  You paid into the state unemployment-insurance system for many years; it’s your turn to make a withdrawal.  And you need every dollar you can get, from every source.

Rule #6:  People not websites.  Skip the mass online carpet-bombing at job-hunting websites, at least at first.  Work the colleagues and friends you have known over the years, in a network you may not even realize you have built.  Ask for advice, not for a job; and ask them to introduce you to still others.  Why people first?  Business is a relationship.  Better business gets done between people who like each other.

 Rule #7:  What to say about your sitch.  Touchy subject.  A PR pal advised me to avoid the f-word (“fired”). People flinch when you say it.  Her fix: “I decided to pursue other opportunities.”  But my agent demurs: “The problem is, nobody ever believes that.”  I’ve always been a fan of the f-word, and of the truth.

Rule #8:  Shed the shame.  You can’t help but feel it—the whole verbiage “I lost my job” implies you are to blame and must have blown it.  Find a loophole:  Maybe it’s not your fault.  It’s business-not-personal.  A bad fit.  Stuff happens.  Blame the Internet.

Rule #9:  Strike quickly.  A friend advises you should try to land a job in the first few months, even if it isn’t the right job.  Otherwise you risk going stale, and your contacts turn back to their own lives and forget about you.

Rule #10:  But don’t panic.  You may have to take a job that pays less than the one you just lost (there’s that word again).  Brace for that—but how much less?  Figure out how long you can hold out.  Yet don’t turn down too many jobs early on or you’ll run dry and regret it.  Like the struggling comic in “Swingers” who ends up rueing his rejection of a job playing Goofy at Disneyland: “I’d kill for that part.”





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