From The Huffington Post’s Arthur Delaney, author of “A People’s History of the Great Recession“
The Three Things You Must Do the Minute You Lose Your Job
Over the past two years, while reporting the stories that make up “A People’s History of the Great Recession,” I’ve learned a few things about what unemployed people can do to improve their chances of getting back on track. The newly jobless these days face some gigantic obstacles. They must compete with 25 million other people who don’t have full time work, and they must also contend with companies that only want to hire from the currently employed. Statistics show that the longer a person goes without a job, the harder it gets to find a new one. Sadly, there’s no guarantee of getting a job, but these tips may help.
Spring into Action.
When Steve Clark’s career employer laid him off in 2009, he didn’t treat the initial days of his unemployment as a time to take it easy.
“First of all, I panicked,” Clark said. “Second of all, I gathered my database of every possible professional contact I had in the St. Louis area and composed letters letting them know I was available to work. I had personal meetings with everyone I could possibly have personal meetings with.”
Clark intuitively knew in 2009 that as someone older than 60, he’d have a tough time getting back to work. As the Great Recession has dragged on, the stats have confirmed that while older workers are less likely to lose their jobs, their layoffs are more likely to drag endlessly. Clark said he felt so uncomfortable doing nothing at home that he eventually volunteered to work for free for a former client.
“He said, ‘Well gosh, Steve, if you’d talked to me a year ago I’d have hired you, but business isn’t good right now. I can’t afford anybody.’ I knew his business because I’d been selling to him for 20 years. I said, ‘I can come in and work in your office. I can answer the phone, I can dispatch your technicians. I’ll do it for free just because I want an office to go to, a place to work out of.’”
Clark said the former client set him up with a desk and a phone. He got to work and within three months, Clark told me, he’d made himself so useful that he got hired. Now 62, Clark is making a third of what he used to, but by God, he’s employed and he’s happy about it.
Volunteering for a private business that is also a prospective employer is one approach. A more common, and more readily doable way of handling unemployment, is to volunteer for a charitable cause. The unemployed help themselves tremendously when they help others, though data show the jobless volunteer at a lower rate than working people. There’s no barrier to getting volunteer work, and it’s essential to fill gaps on a resume.
“With so many candidates and with so few jobs right now, volunteering is a must,” Doris Applebaum, a resume consultant, in Milwaukee, told me. “Learn something, take courses in something, preferably IT, and volunteer. There isn’t a nonprofit out there that isn’t looking for help.”
If You Can’t Find Work, Complain.
Ernie Soto lost financing for his fledgling mechanic business in Alamogordo, N.M. early in 2010. The following April he lost his regular job at a car dealership. He and his wife quit paying the mortgage, moved out of their house and into a trailer.
Soto was mad as hell. So what did he do? He complained. He railed against the indignity of his situation in emails to several reporters at different news outlets. The Huffington Post picked up his story and wrote about his decision to walk away from his mortgage in February 2011. Later on, when Soto heard about a federal program that brings struggling homeowners current on their mortgages with a forgivable loan, HuffPost reported on his decision to move back in. He’d also scored a job as a manager at a furniture store.
The coverage caught the attention of Soto’s congressman, Rep. Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), who reached out to his constituent with an offer of help. Soto signed a disclosure form that would allow Pearce’s office to lobby on his behalf.
Soto told me he had no idea what the congressman’s office might have done, but he said in August that the company servicing his mortgage had offered him a modification (though it wasn’t a great offer), and that he’d been granted preliminary approval for the federal loan. He said that if he could reach a more favorable situation with the mortgage, he’d stick with it even though his home’s value was well below what he owed.