Friday, May 20, 2005

The Trials of Joblessness

I was laid off from my contracting gig in January 2004. That's OK; I was on disability leave from September 2003 with a detached retina that took a long time to get better. My company kept me on for 2 extra months (Nov-Dec '03), in the hopes they could find me another gig. But it didn't happen, and I joined the jobless rolls.

I was hired by a local tech-writing company recently, so that period of wandering in the valley of the shadow of don't-call-us is over for now. But it's made me think about what I would do differently the next time I find myself without a job, and, just as important, what I should do now to ensure my next jobless stint doesn't last so long.

So herewith: a personal checklist.

What to do immediately after

  • Cancel subscription services you don't need. I kept Audible and Rhapsody. I should have cut off Netflix.
  • Scale down the budget. Create a new spending plan.
  • Upload your resume to Monster. It won't do any good, but it forces you to update the resume. Make one copy in WinWord, and another in text format.
  • When my brother got laid off, he immediately made a plan, figured out the budget, made a list of places to call, etc. Don't let the grass grow under your feet.
  • Apply for unemployment. In North Carolina, it's all online, with only a token first visit to the unemployment office. (Where I found one in three to be interested and helpful and offering advice that was useful. Counselors are assigned at random.)
  • Create an HTML page or set of Firefox tabs that holds all your job-search sites: Monster, companies you want to work for, etc.
  • Start networking if you've stopped.
  • Read Ask the Headhunter and Diary of a Job Search. Their message: Network, network, network.

What to do during

  • Read Ask the Headhunter again and again. Realize that there are not hundreds of jobs out there for you, only 2 or 3 at the most, and it's up to you to ferret them out.
  • Go to professional association meetings, participate, network. It's still the #1 way you find out about jobs. Try new professional groups that are on the fringes of your industry.
  • Do something that distracts you or occupies you. My friend Lew worked on his drawing and salsa dancing. I took the BioWork class at Durham Tech. That class was a life-saver, in a way, because it was 3 meetings/wk, for 4 hrs at a time. I was kept so busy it served as a very useful distraction.
  • Get down a routine for creating new resumes in Word and text formats.
  • Exercise. You have the time. It helps me regulate my moods and even out my sleep cycles.
  • Go out for coffee or a lunch with your spouse or spousal equivalent. The people in your life who love you feel your disappointments as keenly as you, and you need to acknowledge their support. Use this time to get to know them again.
  • Don't spend hours online looking for jobs: stay until you start getting down and depressed, then quit. For me, that's about 90 minutes.
  • Network.
  • File your ESC claims every week.
  • Exploit all those O'Reilly books the local B&N has. I should have spent my time learning DocBook and XML and SQL.
  • Read. Fiction, memoirs, biography--whatever. You've been given a gift of time--use it.
  • Learn something. Pick a "fun" project that you do simply because now you have the time to do it. Like learning Spanish or XML (or however you define "fun"). I was t-h-i-s close to taking banjo lessons. You really do need to do something to blow off the steam.
  • Spend time away from the computer. Take a walk.
  • Leverage the local community/technical college system. I recently discovered that Durham Tech offers the Ed2Go online learning program for popular mainstream apps, as well as SQL, XML, and other stuff. And for pretty cheap. This stuff looks good on a resume.
  • Leverage the library. We just visited today and I was amazed that I'd forgotten, yet again, how many computer books our local branch has. Yes, there are some outdated items (Quicken 99 for Dummies), but they had at least 12-15 books on XML, more than that on Linux, Java, Javascript, PERL, Python, and the like. (Their employment/job/resume books are pretty outdated too, but still, some good ideas here and there, and it doesn't cost anything.)
  • Go to museums and places that are free for the wandering. Enlarge the soul whenever possible.
  • Don't feel you have to be at the beck and call of contract agency reps. I eventually found 2 or 3 reps at different companies who were polite, efficient, used my time well, and offered pretty good advice. There were many other reps who set off my alarum bells and I should have told them I was busy or unavailable. These people wasted my time, held me to standards they didn't hold themselves to, and in general put me through more anxiety than the experience was worth. Adopt a zero-grief policy regarding these losers.
  • Also recognize that some days you'll get 4 calls from 4 different recruiters for 4 different jobs (and 2 others called you too late about the same jobs to get in your queue). You'll mail out the resumes to satisfy their requirements. And after that flurry of activity and excitement and hopefulness ... you'll never hear from them again. Learn to deal with the disappointment.
  • Get a part-time job. In NC, you can earn a certain amount of money without lowering your unemployment check. Also, since your part-time employer is also paying back into the unemployment program when he pays you, it extends your time on unemployment.

What to do when you get a job

  • I always deactivate my active resumes on Monster and other places.
  • Figure out your own "lessons learned." You've just been through a massive project. What went well? What didn't? What could make it go better next time?

How to prepare for the next time

  • Network.
  • Keep your skills up. Leverage Ed2Go, the library, etc.
  • Stay tuned with what the market is looking for. Scan the Monster boards for what companies are looking for.
  • Use MemoToMe to remind yourself to update your resume every 3 or 4 months.
  • Help out others. I pass people my personal Job Search page as a starting point for their own pages. I've also shared my reading notes on Ask the Headhunter.
  • Go to professional association meetings and participate this time. In the STC, I've heard the really good information is passed around at the board level.

Ask the Headhunter book | website

Diary of a Job Search

I'm a technical writer, so I also turned to the Intercom, the STC's professional magazine. Here are some good articles (if you're an STC member, you can access these articles from the web site):

  • Job Hunting in an Economic Downturn, 6 April 2002 BY JOHN H.THOMSTATTER
  • Fire up Your Frozen Job Search, July/August 2002
  • The Ten Commandments of Job Hunting, April 2004 BY PAULA BANNISTER GREY
  • Viral Networking: Tactics in Today's Job Market, Sept/Oct 2003 BY CAROLINE A. DRAKELEY
  • Job-Hunting after Thirty-Five, Jul/Aug 2002
  • Minding Your Business: No Work? Strategies for Surviving a Dry Spell, May 2003
  • Selling to the Hidden Job Market, June 2004 BY PAT O’DONNELL
  • Adjusting to Changing Times in Technical Communication, Apr 2003 BY CEIL HALL
  • (And dang it, there was another strong article from which I borrowed many of the above bullet points, but I couldn't find it using my search terms. I'll post it here if I come across it again.)