Laid Off? Launch Job Search Now and Sidestep Trouble
Mental and physical health, future income take hit during unemployment
You've been laid off, and it's terrible. After years at a company that you'd come to see almost as family, you're out on your own, with no real sense of where to go next.
It's tempting to take time to catch your breath, especially if you've been given a decent severance. You might see it as a critical part of healing. You may also expect you’ll be able to slot into a comparable job elsewhere, once you dust off your resume.
My advice? Don’t wait, not for a bit. The ill effects of being without work are many:
—In a study in the American Journal of Public Health, comparing men who had recently become unemployed to those with continuing employment, the unemployed group quickly saw huge drops in self-esteem, exhibited symptoms of anxiety and depression, and appeared to have physical health problems, making significantly more visits to their physicians, taking more medications and spending more days in bed sick.
—Nearly half of people unemployed for six months or more experienced strained family relationships, according to research from the Pew Center. More than 40% lost close friendships. Almost a quarter of those surveyed sought professional help for depression, compared to 10% of the short-term unemployed.
—In the same study, nearly 30% of the long-term unemployed, upon re-entering the workforce became underemployed, with lower pay and worse benefits than before.
—A separate study, in the journal Brookings Papers on Economic Activity, quantified the income penalty. Men let go as part of mass layoffs struggled to make a comparable living, through a combination of a period of joblessness and poorer pay in their next position, ultimately losing an amount equal to 1.4 years of income from their prior job. That’s in a good economy, with the unemployment rate below 6%. When the unemployment rate exceeds 8%, the income loss doubles to 2.8 years. The longer workers were jobless, the greater the wage loss.
If you’re persuaded that taking a break is ill-advised, then it’s time to think about the job search. My colleague Arianne Cohen has compiled lists of what to include and what to leave off your resume, and what not to dwell upon in your cover letter and interview.
Another colleague, Wade Tyler Millward, recommends setting up alerts on the largest job portals — Indeed, Monster, CareerBuilder and LinkedIn — to remain up to date on the most recent postings in your area.
Too often, the role we trained for is no longer in high demand, and we have to discover jobs and industries with overlapping skills that might appeal to us.
Sometimes, your skills are a better fit for something unrelated than you might realize, such as a bartender turning to selling software.
This is no time to suffer in silence. Reach out to the widest circle possible. Almost three times as many workers found their job through a connection than through a job board site, according to a 2019 survey from CivicScience. Look beyond your friends (or even friends of friends) to people you may have once worked with, who are now involved in projects that could use your skills.
It’s literally a job to find a job so incorporate network-building tasks in your days. Reach out to people in your field whose work you admire and let them know. They’ll appreciate the compliment and may be able to refer you for future positions. Now is also an ideal time to get in touch with someone in management at your dream workplace, even if they aren’t currently listing any positions.
Ask a connection to put you in touch – LinkedIn may help you identify a good common link – or write a short, polite email introducing yourself and outlining your experience. Many companies are currently undergoing a hiring freeze, but once that lifts, these communications could put you front of mind.