Sunday, August 16, 2009

Another new chapter begins

My visit to the strange and curious world of unemployment has come to an end. Tomorrow I start a new job as an implementation specialist for a tech company that focuses on continuing education for the medical industry, bringing to a close both my forced summer vacation and my 20 year career in the outskirts of the printing industry.

And I ain't looking back.

Hmm...medical and pharma industries. Well THAT'S new. But I'm kinda thinking it's an industry that isn't exactly going away any time soon, so there's that. All in all, I'm giddy. I've got my new pencil case with my #2's freshly sharpened, mom bought me that new backpack I was hoping for, the one with Obi Wan on the outside pocket, and I spent the evening cleaning out my thermos and making my salami and cheese sandwich. I'm ready. For my first day, I get to come in at 10:00am, have lunch with customers, sit through some training, and go to dinner at one of the nicer restaurants in town. Not a bad way to start a new gig.

So how was unemployment? All in all, not so bad. I'm still getting severance from my old place, so double-dipping for the next few months will be very nice. It was also nice having the time to focus on one thing at a time during the day, as opposed to constantly multi-tasking in an effort to avoid staying up til 3 in the morning just to find extra time to pay bills or watch the last three weeks' episodes of the Simpsons on Tivo. But all those stories I heard about unemployed folks tackling major projects like repainting the dining room or replacing the roof? Yeah, not so much. I've got a long list of projects that went untackled. And they will remain that way for some time. In fact as I write this is occurs to me that back in March I bought a new faucet for the guest bathroom, which is still sitting in the box. Hmm, I should get to that.

I suppose now would be a good time to list a few things that I've learned during unemployment. Sure, I could write a list that includes things like "make time for family" and "make sure to exercise" but you could find that in just about every professionally-published article on the subject of dealing with unemployment that exists on the web. Instead I will list a couple of things that might not have gotten mentioned on CNN.

1. Even if you feel you are comfortable with your current job and career, don't use that as an excuse to not look around, to not keep your resume current, or to not continuously network and learn. I fell victim to complacency while I was working. I hadn't brushed off my resume for almost 15 years and, even though I sensed my layoff coming, I still couldn't motivate myself to get moving on it until the day I was let go (okay, the day AFTER I was let go). Plus, as I networked and met people I was stunned to learn what was out there in terms of resources, industry knowledge, and continuing education.

2. Don't be late with your unemployment claims. Filing for unemployment was surprisingly straightforward, and the initial process was entirely done on the phone. Once filed, every two weeks I went to the state's website and file my continuing claim. But, my advice to you: don't forget. If you do, you might just get denied. I skipped a claim at one point, and when I tried to play catch-up a month later I felt like I'd been sent to the principal's office. Oh, and, most importantly, never, NEVER mention the word vacation. If you go on vacation, you can't claim for the week that you went. When asked why I was late in filing my claim, I said something like, "you know, I got busy with interviews, went away on vacation for a couple days...just forgot...". Yeah, I shouldn't have mentioned that middle part. Just having said the word meant I could not claim for that missing week. Now, I kind of feel like arguing this point, because when the family and I went on vacation I perhaps spent as much time following up on contacts and job applications as I would have if I were home. Yet just the fact that I mentioned the word in a sentence meant not being able to claim for it at all. Whoops.

3. It's ALL who you know. and similar sites were USELESS to me. And I never even bothered to fill out an application for a single job posted in the local paper. Instead, I looked first to the people I knew, then to the companies I thought I might be interested in working for. I very rarely came across a company that DIDN'T have a job posted on their website, so in many cases I applied directly through those website posts. However, the ONLY ones I got any traction on were ones where I knew someone, or knew someone WHO knew someone. so network. Network, network, NETWORK!!!! How, you ask? First of all, go to EVERYTHING. Come across a free seminar on social media? Go to it. Job fair? Go to it. Scrapbooking club? Join it. you never know who you might come across. My family and I went to the opening of the Roboworld exhibit at the local science center, and while there I struck up a conversation with a guy demoing a new robot built by a local startup. We talked jobs, he gave me my card, and I would have pursued it if in fact I could figure out how to operate the danged toy robot, but it daunted me, so I figured I wasn't qualified to work there. However, this new job I'm starting is a perfect example of the value of networking. I was forwarded a link to the job post by a former coworker who was laid off the same day I was. Turns out he wasn't the right fit for the job, but thought I might be. I applied, and heard nothing. Then, my wife discovered that the names of the executive team a this company were familiar to her, and that she knew a person who knew the team. This person she knew was a former coworker of mine as well. And I'd already interviewed at this person's company, where they are currently still deciding how to fill that position. Long story short, I contacted her, she contacted the company, I got an interview, and they liked me enough to throw me an offer after that interview. It's all who you know. You'd be surprised just how willing people will be to stand up for you.

4. Don't be a hermit. I read an article here about how lots of unemployed people are embarrassed to tell their friends, and instead dress up in a suit and tie every day and pretend to leave for work each morning. Morons. Absolute morons. I told my neighbors. I told the mailman. I told the guy behind the counter at PetSmart. In fact, as a result of telling my barber, he got his girlfriend to give me a reference at her company. You can't network if you don't talk to people.

5. Take notes. I use a program called Evernote to take all sorts of notes. I also use it as a todo list. During the job hunt, I had one note that served as an ongoing to-do list specifically pertaining to the job hunt. I had another that served as a daily diary of accomplishments, no matter how large or small. Whenever I sent a resume, my accomplishment note included a web link to the job, contact information, and even my opinion about what I thought my chances were like. I referenced it constantly. And the nice thing about Evernote is that it's a web-based service, so I could take notes on my computer and those notes would automagically sync up so they could be viewed on my blackberry, ipod, or on other computers.

6. Relax. It's only your job. Your salary. Your career. But it's not you.

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