Monday, June 15, 2009

Unemployment, facial hair and water fowl

Hockey players apparently have a tradition of not shaving their facial hair during the season playoffs. Known as the playoff beard, this superstitious act is somehow supposed to increase a team's ability to win the Stanley Cup. Yeah, brilliant idea and so original, too. Back in '92, I myself didn't shower the entire two weeks of finals at Carnegie Mellon University, and look at me now - unemployed.

So speaking of that, I realized I've been a bit lazy in chronicling my adventures into the world of the economic recession. Go figure, rather than blogging I figured my time was better spent actually job hunting rather than blogging about job hunting. But I had quite a productive day thus far and a little bit of literary inspiration, so I thought I'd touch base with my loyal followers. Oh, and while I considered growing facial hair during my time off, I figured that showing up to a career fair looking like the Unibomber was probably not in anybody's best interest, so that's out.

First, the good news is that I've made progress. I actually had two phone-based interviews and one face-to-face meeting with a local company, and it looks very promising. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I care too much about my career and reputation to spout opinions about the company or the job opportunity, so I will leave it at that and simply update y'all when they realize they can't survive without my world-class talents and offer to pay me hundreds of thousands of dollars to come join their team. That aside, I thought share some thoughts about being laid off.

First of all, it's really nice not having to get up in the morning. However, my brain and my clogged sinuses still team up to drag my lazy ass out of bed each morning at 6:30, which is great because I've found that for the next half hour, before the crazy munchkins rouse and severely limit any chance of productivity, I can get a lot done.

It's apparently a myth that, once you're laid off, you'll have a wealth of time to get all those projects done you've been putting off. That's crap. Sure, I get to spend a bit more time in the Spousal Avoidance Center lately (that's the workshop, FYI) but don't expect that in the first couple of months you're going to tack an outdoor kitchen onto the back of the house or anything. Not to mention that once she hears you're laid off, your wife is probably going to make the tough decision to put the house cleaner on temporary furlough, so you'll be stuck cleaning the bathrooms. Yeah, make sure to put that on the to-do list.

And speaking of to-do lists, expect that once you're laid off you'll be spending the first couple of months getting your proverbial ducks in a row. Making folders for everything, organizing your contact lists, putting a to-do list together...it's all pretty endless. I've come to rely on Evernote, which I use to store all my job hunting information from notes on individual companies to my daily to-do lists and accomplishments. Evernote is handy because it's web based, so as long as you have internet access you can access your notes from anywhere. And that's very important when you're standing in line at a career fair trying to remember the name of the guy at ACME Widgets that you ran into a couple of weeks back. Of course, no matter how organized you are, once you get those ducks in a row you need to keep paying attention to them, otherwise this might happen:



And that's not good. Do I even need to break down the whole falling-through-the-cracks metaphor here?

Unemployment compensation has been an interesting experience. First off, the idea of standing in line at the unemployment office is no longer the reality. You sign up online. Wait for your paperwork, then once every other week you log into the site and answer four questions (Still unemployed? Yes. Still looking for work? Yes) and a few days later you get a direct deposit to your bank account. However there's one bit of governmental stupidity I'd like to share regarding this whole process.

When you first apply, you're sent a 29-page document with details of the program. In the back of the book, Appendix A contains a 5-page chart that enables you to figure out how much you're going to get as an unemployment benefit. In short, the chart starts with, "If you made between $800 and $812 per quarter, you're eligible for $35 unemployment compensation per week." The next line shows that you will make $36 if you made between $813 and$817 per quarter. And so on, for five pages.

So let's think about this. $800 per quarter, that's $3,200 per year. Most of you well-edumacated folks reading this blog probably make much more than that annually. I know I did, so I figured I'd have to scan pretty far down the chart to find where I stood. But wouldn't you know it...at the end of page 5 the last entry states that if you made $13,888 per quarter or more, you make $$558 per week in unemployment benefits. Couldn't they just say at the beginning that if your annual salary was $55,552 or greater, you make the max? Ah, government.

But frankly, I shouldn't complain too much about this. Uncle Sam is sending me money and all-in-all it's a pretty painless process. Not like those folks handling COBRA.

COBRA is a pain in the butt. My former company offered to pay for many weeks of COBRA payments (and hopefully I will be gainfully employed well before I have to pay for it myself) but in order to do this, they use a third-party administrator. Between my old company, the administrator, blue Cross, and myself, there are way too many cooks in the soup right now. As a result it's been two months and our doctor still can't get Blue Cross to recognize that we exist. As a result I've got a stack of medical bills on the corner of my desk that seems to grow by the day. Joy.

Okay, my break is done. Tune in next time when our hero talks about how useless newspaper want ads are in this day and age, and how to avoid driving his family completely nuts with his constant presence in the house.

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