Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans are facing sudden and unexpected unemployment.
The United States Department of Labor reports that the May 2020 unemployment rate was 15.7%. However, CBS reports that this does not include those who had their hours cut to part-time or laid-off part-time workers. If you take into account that segment of the workforce, the real unemployment rate is closer to 23%.
And unemployment rates continue to increase at unprecedented speed. Even when the pandemic is under control, it will take time for the economy to bounce back and return to normal. Some people will get their jobs back immediately, while others will have to transition to an entirely new field.
Understandably, the economic uncertainty can be frightening and stressful, even with the expanded unemployment benefits package Congress recently passed. However, there are plenty of strategies you can use right now to get yourself ready for the next stage in your life.
How to Cope Emotionally
Unemployment can lead to a complex mix of emotions, including anger, depression, and helplessness. These feelings are called “career grief.”
When we go through a dramatic life change like losing a job, we need time to cope. Many people go through the five stages of grief, the same cycle of emotions we go through when we lose a loved one:
Remember, you might not go through all these stages or go through them in this order. You might start feeling angry about the situation, then become depressed. You might not go through the bargaining phase at all. But you don’t have to endure every stage to get back on your feet.
It’s also important to realize that although this grieving process is healthy and necessary, you have to resist the urge to wallow in grief. Give yourself time to honor and reflect on what you’ve lost, and then turn your thoughts to what’s ahead.
You might not go through a grieving process at all. According to a 2016 study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies, unemployment often leads to a decrease in life satisfaction. And individuals are more likely to experience anger and anxiety as they transition through unemployment.
Unemployment could turn out to be an incredible opportunity for you. The steps you take now could end up leading to a job or career you genuinely love.
And what you do with your unemployment doesn’t just help you recover financially in the long run. It also helps you cope emotionally.
Making the Most of Your Unemployment: What to Do
Everyone experiences failures and setbacks. But one trait that separates successful people from the rest of the pack is how they approach and overcome their setbacks. This resiliency is the foundation for the next steps they take. And often, the simple act of doing, of moving forward, can take you on a path you never anticipated. All you have to do is take the first step.
Identify Important Career Skills
Unemployment isn’t fun. However, it can be an excellent opportunity for you to develop new skills, shore up your weaknesses, and become a better team member and leader.
Now’s the time to think ahead. What can you do to make yourself more desirable for an employer? Are there certifications that can enhance your technical ability? A degree you need? An industry seminar that can lead to valuable contacts or skill enhancement?
Right now, you have the gift of free time, and you can take advantage of it by developing essential career skills. Do whatever you can to make yourself more marketable and gain valuable industry knowledge.
Some basic skills to improve are:
While it’s crucial to develop hard or technical skills, you also need to learn soft skills that can help you be a better leader, manager, or team member. For example, LinkedIn reports that the most in-demand soft skills for 2020 include:
- Emotional intelligence
Right now is also the perfect time to think about your weaknesses so you can work to overcome or work around them.
To figure out what your weaknesses are, think about the tasks or responsibilities you struggled with at your previous job. For instance, perhaps you hated leading team members because you weren’t a confident public speaker. Or you loathed writing reports because you were unsure of your business writing skills.
Tasks or responsibilities you put off, tried to avoid, or outright hated are often signs of a personal weakness and are worth exploring. For some ideas, consider these common weaknesses:
- Having difficulty saying no
- Getting nervous speaking in public
- Not finishing what you start
- Focusing too much on the details
- Procrastinating on important tasks
- Avoiding conflict
- Not managing time well
- Being disorganized
- Having trouble asking for help
- Taking on too many projects at work
Interviewers often ask about your weaknesses, and it’s a sign of emotional intelligence when you can talk honestly about where you fall short and what you’re doing to overcome these areas.
Learn New Skills Online
This period of unemployment is the perfect time to learn new skills to boost your career opportunities. Many virtual learning platforms offer free or low-cost classes, while others are similar in cost to a two- or four-year university.
Another advantage of virtual learning is that it can help provide structure to your days and help you stay focused and productive.
Fortunately, there are plenty of online learning platforms available, and many are low-cost or free.
- Udemy has over 100,000 courses, and costs vary between $10 to $100 per class. Search around for coupon codes and sign up for their newsletter. Udemy often puts their courses on sale at deep discounts.
- Coursera offers courses taught by the world’s top instructors, business leaders, and thinkers. You can even earn a professional certificate, four-year degree, or master’s degree. Course costs vary with Coursera. Some are free, while others have a credit-hour price similar to a university. Financial aid is available.
- MasterClass is an online learning platform that offers classes from some of the world’s best-known writers, business leaders, entrepreneurs, and subject matter experts. It costs $15 per month, billed annually, and membership gives you access to all available courses.
- Khan Academy is a nonprofit learning platform developed for students, and all courses are free. While its classes focus on a K-12 curriculum, the site offers world-class instruction and is a suitable option if you need to brush up on specific skills, such as math, coding, or economics.
- SkillShare is an online learning platform that focuses on the creative arts. Through SkillShare, you can take courses like graphic illustration, interior design, and painting (and if those don’t suit you, Mavenart has more painting tutorial ideas in this list). Skillshare also offers business courses that help creatives start and run a successful company. Prices through SkillShare vary. Some courses are free, but you can access all the content with a monthly membership fee, which ranges from $9 to $15.
Learning at home while you have kids is just as challenging as working from home if you have kids. If you’re at home with your kids, you can watch online courses during nap time, while they watch a movie, or after bedtime. If necessary, invest in some quality noise-canceling headphones.
Now that you have time, there are plenty of nonprofits that would love some help. Volunteering is not only fun and rewarding, but it can also enhance your career skills.
For instance, imagine you volunteer to help create an online presence for a small local nonprofit. Your website, app, and social media efforts are so successful you decide to start learning more about digital marketing and end up pursuing a career in this field.
Or perhaps you volunteer to organize a local food drive. You discover you’re a capable manager, which you were never aware of previously.
Volunteering helps your community, but it’s also a valuable talking point to bring up in interviews. You can put these activities on your resume as proof you were doing something worthy and educational during your time off. Volunteering also expands your social and professional network and helps you find a job when unemployment is going up.
Use Your Network
Your social and professional network is a valuable resource you can utilize when you’re unemployed.
Share your plan and career goals with your friends, family members, and colleagues on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Connect with other people who share your skills or interests through Meetup. Join your college or university’s alumni association. Reach out to past colleagues and clients to find out what they’re doing. Sometimes, a casual conversation can unexpectedly open up an opportunity.
If you plan to stay in your current field, join your industry’s top professional association. If it’s within your budget, expand your skill set by investing in seminars or workshops the association offers.
Try to spend some time every day networking and connecting with others.
Fine-Tune Your Resume & Social Media Profiles
You must update your resume now that you’re actively looking for work.
It takes time to write a compelling resume, and even though you’re ready to get it in the hands of as many people as possible, you’ll get better results if you put some energy into making it stand out. Start with a free resume review from TopResume. They will look over your resume and then give you actionable advice for what you can do to make it shine.
Your social media profiles also need to be reviewed. Many employers now search social media sites like Facebook and Twitter to scrutinize applicants before a job interview. Are there any posts that could shine a negative light on you professionally? If so, take them down and replace them with posts highlighting what you’re doing right now to stay productive and expand your skills.
Getting in shape is one of the best things you can do during your unemployment. A 2018 study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies found a positive link between exercise and happiness. Exercise can make you feel happier and more positive about your life.
Daily exercise might also help you avoid sinking into the depression many people fall into after losing their jobs. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders found that exercise was comparable to psychotherapy and antidepressants in the treatment of depression.
For example, a 2017 meta-analysis of 42 studies published in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology found that yoga helped reduce the stress hormone cortisol in participants. And walking can be just as beneficial. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that natural and urban environments provided stress relief for study participants. And researchers found more benefits in those who walked in natural environments with a water source (such as a creek or river). You can even use apps to earn money while walking, which can motivate you to move.
Setting an ambitious exercise goal can also work in your favor when it comes to your job search. For example, many people put a short list of their hobbies on their resume, and some interviewers also ask about hobbies to get to know the applicant better. Being able to say, “I just finished my first marathon,” or “I’m taking jujitsu,” demonstrates self-discipline and focus.
It’s tempting to have the television on all day, especially during the current pandemic. And there’s no doubt it’s essential you stay informed of such a rapidly changing situation. However, the endless cycle of distressing news can affect your mood and even lead to depression.
J.T. O’Donnell, founder and CEO of career management site Work It Daily, tells the Society for Human Resource Management it’s smart to limit your news consumption during the pandemic. When you do need to watch, do so when you’re feeling most positive.
For example, if you’re naturally a morning person, watch the news while you have breakfast, then turn it off the rest of the day. That lets you view and digest the negative news and then bounce back and go on with your day.
Limiting negativity also applies to people. If you regularly talk with a friend or family member who focuses intently on negative events, it can be beneficial to give them some distance right now. Try to surround yourself, even virtually, with people who have positive, resilient personalities.
Prepare for Job Interviews
You can also prepare for a job interview using role-playing. With role-playing, you and another person stage a mock interview to practice answering some of the tough questions you’re likely to face.
Role-playing can feel awkward or silly, but it’s actually a useful exercise to help you prepare for the intense atmosphere of a job interview. It can also help calm your nerves and help you feel more confident when you finally have the real interview.
Spend Time on Hobbies
No matter what your situation, unemployment is a stressful time. That’s why it’s so important to spend some time doing things you enjoy or trying something new. Engaging in activities you love or have always wanted to try is an excellent way to relax and relieve stress. In some cases, you can turn your hobby into a side business or learn a new skill to help your family save money.
If you don’t have a hobby or creative outlet to pursue, now’s the perfect time to start. If you need some ideas, consider these popular hobbies and activities:
- Forage for wild edibles.
- Learn a musical instrument.
- Learn home canning.
- Take up embroidery.
- Start a home garden.
- Brew your own beer.
- Buy some coloring books for adults.
- Learn a new cooking technique.
- Meditate (mindfulness and meditation app Headspace is offering free memberships to those recently unemployed).
- Start a journal or blog.
- Try to go plastic-free.
- Learn to knit or crochet.
- Learn how to whittle wood.
- Write poetry or start writing a novel.
- Teach yourself a foreign language through Babbel.
- Learn to make homemade soap or candles.
- Learn origami.
- Make your own green skin care products.
- Learn calligraphy.
- KonMari your entire house.
- Learn to bake bread.
- Every morning, write down something you’re grateful for.
- Start a family game night.
- Learn a particular dance, such as belly dancing or the Charleston.
- Learn to make your own laundry detergent.
- Learn shibori, the Japanese art of tie-dye.
- Learn to paint.
- Read all those books you’ve had on your to-read list.
Being unemployed is an incredibly scary prospect. After all, we spend the majority of our time working. What do we do when there’s suddenly no more work? How do we find another job (or another pool of clients, or a new pool of customers) when so many other people are after the very same thing?
The key to surviving unemployment is to maintain a positive outlook and focus on learning new skills that make you more desirable to employers. Some employers are hiring during the pandemic, and many companies will start hiring once this crisis is over. The effort you put into bettering yourself now will pay off eventually.
If you’re currently unemployed, what are you doing to stay productive?