Thursday, February 26, 2009

Bridges that didn't burn

I know...when you leave a job, one should be very careful not to burn your bridges behind you. You never know when you might have to work with someone again (or worse, they're your new manager) or you need their help.

But sometimes, you just can't help it. When I lost my last job, I have no doubt that my former manager wouldn't lift a finger to help me. We definitely didn't part on good terms. So, you shrug and let it go.

Sometimes, you *think* a bridge is burned, but you find out that the bridge is in relatively good shape. Several years ago, I ended up working as a contractor for a former manager. He wasn't one of my favorite managers, he used to be a bit of a nutcase. But, he did me a huge favor by giving me a very well paying contract job that lasted close to a year. I left when I found a direct employment job and boy, was he mad at me. He was trying to get me hired directly and by not waiting for that, he was furious.

I never kept in touch with him and figured that I never would. But recently, as part of my networking efforts, I reached out. And received an incredibly warm response. He praised my work and seemed very, very glad to hear from me. So, I've just added him to my reference list. Who knew?

Unfortunately, he doesn't have a job for me. And he's still a bit of an oddity. He seemed very interested in getting together for lunch, but when I tried to set up a meeting, he backed off. I dunno. But, it's OK. At least I know that there's one less burned bridge behind me.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

LinkedIn -- a useful resource

I spend a lot of time doing research on LinkedIn. One of the newer features is that you can update your status, like Facebook.

It's useful to update that status. Today, I changed my status and let my network know I was looking for a contact at a specific company. Turns out, one of my contacts knows someone who knows someone in HR at that company. My contact asked what she could do to help. I thought about it and then asked her to write a recommendation that could be forwarded to the company. It seemed a bit of an odd thing to ask, but I figured that anything that might make me stand out from the rest of the zebra herd could help. Certainly couldn't hurt.

It would be a decent job too. It's contract, but long term (6-9 months). An interesting product. And a palatable commute (much longer that what I used to have, but not as bad as it could be).

My former colleagues have been kind enough to forward me job postings. It's so nice to know that I haven't been forgotten. So far, none of the leads were ones I didn't already know about, but I'm happy to have people send me these notices. I remember to thank them. At some point, one of them is going to be something new that I haven't seen yet, so I want to encourage them to keep sending in those leads.

When I finally do land something, I'm going to have a gathering and invite those people who have tried to help me or supported me in some way. It's been gratifying to know that there are people who ARE willing to help.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Maybe April...and a bit about recruiters

That's what a recruiter told me today. People are talking about April as the time when jobs might start to come on the market.


It's hard to tell the fine line between "keeping in touch" with a recruiter and being a pest. I have to learn to nag in the nicest way possible.

There's one recruiter that I call once a week and also email. She always ends the conversation with "keep staying in touch, it helps." And I do. Today, I had to really press her to look at what they have brewing at the agency and whether I might match any of them. It sounded like there were a few possibilities, but, the reqs aren't open or someone's on vacation, blah, blah, blah. She was very vague. I'm not sure she's even going to try to match me up with these openings. So, I'll have to call next week and see what's up. Maybe I'll send her a box of chocolates or something. Does bribing help to keep you on the "A" list with recruiters?

Based on my discussion with the recruiter, employers want the EXACT skills or no dice. Of course, if they thought about it, they'd realize that they're not applying good logic. Companies have an urgent opening, so they only want someone who matches their needs EXACTLY. But they can't find that perfect person, so the position remains open while they search. And the need becomes even more urgent. If they took a close match who could come up to speed quickly, they'd get the work done. If they wait, the work won't get done at all.

And don't get me started about all the jobs that are going overseas. If I wanted to work in Pune or Bangalore India, I'd have a job tomorrow. I think I'm going to write to Obama about this. Reward those who DON'T send the jobs overseas and we'll see a lot more people employed.

On the other hand, I spoke to a recruiter today about a job posting that someone had sent to me. Turns out, I had applied for this job (and was supposed to get a phone interview, but they've dropped off the face of the earth). This recruiter offered to speak to the client and let them know I was still interested in the job, even though he couldn't represent me! How unexpectedly nice. But odd, since most recruiters don't ever do that. And maybe he won't. Who knows.

So far, nothing of any substance going on. One start up company did contact me and ask me to resend my resume and samples (I had applied through a venture capital website). No idea if that means they are interested. I suppose I'll follow up with a call or email at the end of the week. I'll call another recruiter tomorrow to see if she received any feedback from the client where she submitted my resume yesterday. I applied to another start up skills aren't an exact match but I did try to write a persuasive cover email.

That's where it's at folks. I have a lunch scheduled with a former manager this week. She wasn't able to open a req for a writer (she did try), but I might as well catch up with her. And I've contacted another former manager. He also doesn't have any openings, but I'll probably schedule a lunch with him next week, again to catch up and to remind him that I exist. He's rather well connected in the start up world, so who knows. And there are a couple of job fairs I'll attend in March. I'm not convinced that anything ever comes from being part of a cattle call (such are job fairs), but I might as well go through the motions.

I'm a bit disappointed that I didn't hear from the start up that wanted someone to work for free. How many applicants could they have had for THAT job? And then there was the part time, telecommute job (pays just enough money to not affect my unemployment benefits). No response there either.

April...sounds like I have to resign myself to waiting for April.


Monday, February 23, 2009

All's quiet on the job front...and it's making me crazy

It's the lack of results that drives me nuts. I had a few interesting leads, but nothing came of them. Yes, I know it's been less than a month since I've been "on the dole," but I'm impatient for something to happen. And I've seen job postings that look like a good fit for me (and great salaries too!) but so far, no one's been interested.

So, in the absence of anything real happening, I have lunch. With former managers, with fellow writers who are self-employed, and sometimes with friends. Not because I think they can actually find me a job, but simply to feel like I'm doing something. The "experts" call this networking. Personally, I wonder if sacrificing chickens or maybe some other mysterious rite would be just as effective. I stay home a lot now.

This week, there's business to attend to at the Unemployment Office. There's a class I'm required to sign up for and attend. And I want to make inquiries regarding grants or loans for education. I've got my eye on some database training that I think would be worthwhile. I need to get the 401K rolled over into my IRA. I need to make the final claims on my Flexible Spending Account before the deadline rolls around. I need to check the budget to see what I actually spent this month so I can plan accordingly for the future (am I still spending too much? Am I being too restrictive? Can't tell yet). Of course, this month had some unexpected plumbing expenses that I won't have again, so I need to take that into account.

And, I really need to get into some type of exercise routine. Maybe splurge and sign up for yoga classes. We'll see how things look after the end-of-the-month budget review.

It's become very odd to hear the news from my former workplace. I feel like such an outsider now. I do want to hear what's going on...and at the same time, I don't. My former colleagues and I are moving in different directions now. A lot of them will disappear from my world entirely. A few will remain as "keepers" -- friends that will remain a part of my life. The rest...poof! This is the way of work relationships...fragile and transitory.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Supplemental income while collecting unemployment

One thing that I discovered is that while I'm collecting unemployment benefits, I can earn up to a third of my weekly benefits without having an effect on the benefit amount. So, while I'm looking for the next big adventure, I'm also looking for supplemental income.

A good place to look is craigslist. You're likely to find an interesting variety of unusual jobs that could help tide you over for a bit. And, you'll also find REAL jobs. Companies seem to be starting to post jobs on craigslist that you would normally find on Monster or one of the other big sites. Someone should start a Facebook page for jobs, hmm? (Maybe I should think about that).

I did find something of potential interest on craigslist...part-time, telecommuting, and involves writing. And, even better, what they're willing to pay fits right in with what the Division of Unemployment allows as supplemental income. I've applied. The big issue is they may think I'm way overqualified or wonder why on earth I'd want such a job. I did try to explain that in my cover letter, though. Another issue is that they may not think I'm the right "type" of editor. They want someone who can write industry articles, not configuration and procedural manuals.

I've also applied for a "volunteer" job with a stealth startup. Hey, I'm not working can't hurt to do volunteer work. And, I can put something on my resume that looks like I'm still working (we are always warned about covering gaps in employment on our resumes).

We'll see if any of these odd little things pan out. If nothing else, they would keep me occupied with more than just trying to think of who else to call who might lead me to a job.

I'm a writer. I want a job that involves writing. The truth is I may have to become a different type of writer (more web content oriented?) or become something else entirely. Yes, that could be exciting...but since I don't know what to evolve into, I'm finding the thought a bit intimidating.

Friday, February 20, 2009

AAA discounts on prescriptions

Who knew that one could get prescription discounts from your AAA membership?

I'm about a week or so away from having my insurance reinstated through COBRA. But I had to renew some prescriptions. I was going to wait, but then I realized that I could use my Flexible Spending Account funds until the end of February, so I went ahead and did the renewal.

The pharmacy, of course, realized that I didn't have insurance under my old plan and called. When I explained the situation, the pharmacist asked if I had a AAA membership. "Why yes, " I said. And it turns out, I ended up with a hefty discount. One prescription went from $181 to 68. The other went from $54 to $30-something. Not bad.

I'll eventually get reimbursed for what I pay now from COBRA, so this will all work out OK.

On the other hand, the job search is dismal. Today is not a good day. Went to a job networking event which just depressed me further. My computer is acting up and the last thing I want to do now is be forced to buy a new machine.

What to do...what to do?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Timing is everything...

Life is a bit like the Keystone Kops these days. Here's how my life works:

I see a job on craigslist or some other web site. Looks appropriate for my skills. So I craft a cover letter and send off a resume (and yes, check LinkedIn to see if I have any way of making a connection to that company).

Time passes, I don't get a response. I have no idea what these employers are looking for but obviously, it's not me.

And then the recruiters start to call. But, since I've already applied to the job directly, the recruiters can't do anything for me. This has happened to me twice already. Two recruiters just called me for the same position. According to one recruiter, the company has interviewed candidates and has one or two in mind to hire, but all of a sudden, they're registering with agencies to find...what?? They HAVE candidates, but aren't too thrilled? I don't get it. Just today, this job showed up on other web sites where the tech writers hang out. I just don't get this at all. I've heard about picky employers, but they expect gods and godesses?

I've decided that my new strategy when I see a new job is to call my recruiters first and see if they're have these clients. If they are, I'll apply through them. If not, I'll go direct. Maybe it will work better that way.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Quiet Days and Budget Issues

The experts say, spend 40 hours a week searching for a job.

But, what is one to do when there ARE no jobs that match your goals and skills? Or, you've already applied to all the ones that exist? Cold calls? But folks in the high tech business don't want them. Lots of ads are very clear about not taking phone calls. I'm going to sign up for the outplacement service after all (my former employee gave me month's worth of their service...better than nothing, but still, rather stingy). I need some direction in how to make my job search more effective. Or at least a way to make it take more of my time!

Networking...well, that only goes so far. At some point, you run out of people to contact or you're waiting for someone to get back to you (and you don't want to seem desperate, so you do wait after making a reasonable effort to connect). Or you ask someone for an introduction to someone else and they never come through.

I'm expecting some type of phone interview from a company that has an opening. Looks like an interesting company. A LinkedIn contact got me that far (I guess networking CAN help). I responded to the email about my availability and then never heard back. I hate that...if you're interested, great, let's get things scheduled. If not, well, let me know.

I'll probably call about the phone interview (hey, the HR rep. DID include his phone number on the email). It would be nice to get the interview although I'm a bit doubtful about the job. I suspect they want someone with more in-depth programming knowledge than I have. But, a practice interview would be good anyway.

And when I don't spend hours and hours on the computer searching, I feel guilty. I don't want to be an "unemployment queen" who just collects her money and doesn't bother with a job search. I know people like that and it just boggles my mind. But, what does one do in a job market that is so incredibly moribund? Go where the jobs are? A lot of good jobs are in India, these days. Sheesh. India!?

As part of any stimulus package, I'd like to see our government give tax breaks to companies that DON'T ship their jobs over to India. If a company like Cisco would stop doing this, we'd have a lot more software developers and technical writers who are gainfully employed. These companies are sending jobs overseas while here at home, we have over 7% unemployment. Shareholders, are you really happy about that? In the long run, your company won't do better if people in this country can no longer purchase products because they're unemployed.

In the meantime, I've been watching my spending to see if the budget I set up makes sense. So far, circumstances have conspired to ensure that keeping to this month's budget is almost impossible. I had to get a new water heater which cost over $1,000 to replace (and don't get me started about the plumber who was supposed to replace one part, replaced them all without asking me, and then broke the toilet tank). Outside of this unexpected expense, I'm doing OK in most other areas of spending. But, I'm starting to keep an eye on that daily newspaper delivery charge. I can do without it, but I feel bad about cutting back because I think it will affect what the paper delivery person makes and the newspaper industry. Although, maybe if I go back to Sunday delivery only, they'll give me one of those 6 months deals where I can get the daily paper for a discount.

It's so weird to be watching the money so closely. Haven't had to do that in years. I suppose it's a good thing. If I hadn't been so free with spending during the last couple of years, I'd have more in savings. Perhaps, should I get back to my previous earning power, I'll remain vigilant about spending (vigilant? I think the word will be paranoid).

Monday, February 16, 2009

Offline job search doesn't feel like enough

Today, there doesn't seem to be much do with regards to online job search work or phone calls. There are a couple of phone calls/emails to try and get a connection with a real human at a few companies. So, today is dedicated to offline work:

Printing my business card: Worked with my friend S to come up with a nice design. Just when I got the template set up correctly, my printer runs out of ink. So, as part of my errands today, I'll buy some printer ink.

Working on my portfolio: I need to get some updated samples into the portfolio.

Writing test for contract work: I have a writing test that I can submit to a company that frequently hires contractors. They have no openings now, so I've been in no rush to get it done. But, I might as well do that.

All of these tasks are useful in the long run, but not sending out a resume feels like I'm not being productive. On the other hand, there isn't any place where I can send a resume.

The rest of the day will be devoted to errands that must get done. Bills need paying, the car needs some maintenance, and I need to clean the bathrooms because the plumber is coming to make some repairs.

Costly maintenance, plumber, and office supplies, and insurance bill. Sigh.

I suspect I'll be having a lot more of these quiet days. I will likely continue to go to the Action Networkers group and probably sign up with the outplacement service (my former employer provided a month's worth of access...oh so very generous of them in these times when it takes close to a year to find a new job. Bah, humbug). Just to avoid going crazy from the quiet.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Credit Union Kindness

I just noticed that my credit union (Digital Federal Credit Union or DCU) is now temporarily removing penalties for early withdrawal of funds from Certificates of Deposit. That's for full or partial withdrawals.

Nice going, DCU! I've been a member of the DCU for years and usually quite satisfied with their service. They've managed themselves well during these difficult times; didn't seem to get caught up with all this mortgage mess.

And now...allowing people to access funds without penalities...good deal. Hooray for DCU!

Federal Stimulus package is good for the unemployed.

Yesterday's Boston Globe had a good article on the Federal stimulus package (which passed! hooray!). There are helpful things in the package for everyone. There are a few items that are of especial interest to those of us in the unemployed party:

1. An increase of $25 per week. Minus taxes, I'm guessing that's about $80.00 a month. That may sound small, but it *does* help. We, the unemployed, are not likely to be able to save money -- we will spend what we get. And spending helps our consumer-based economy.

2. A 9 month subsidy of Cobra premiums. This is HUGE! I was checking out individual health plans (I WILL NOT live without health insurance) and discovered that the costs of getting a plan with equivalent coverage to what I'll get under Cobra was equal to or MORE than the Cobra premiums. My former employer is covering part of my Cobra premium for 2 months. The Feds will subsidize the premium for9 months. So, close to a year of subsidized payments. That's a gain for me of about $400 per month. So, add item 1 and 2 together, and I get 480 a month that I don't have to take from my emergency fund.

3. Extension of benefits to 46 weeks. Sadly enough, this is needed. Until employers start adding jobs instead of shedding them, the job hunt, especially for the former, highly-compensated folks like me, can take a long time.

According to the Globe article, these benefits go into effect within a few weeks of the Bill's passing. And it did pass. Just saw the headlines in today's paper.

At the networking meeting I went to the other day, there was some talk that recruiters are saying they expect jobs to start opening up in the spring. There is a job I'm very interested in that's on hold. I'm wondering if this news will break the freeze on that job and I can at least get an interview there.

Friday, February 13, 2009

What does networking really mean?

I went to my first job networking meeting, the Acton Networkers Support Group. They're probably the most popular networking group in the area. The Boston Globe is (or has) done an article about them.

It was an interesting experience. I knew I wasn't totally prepared but I wanted to get on the mailing list and you have to attend a meeting to do so. Amazing how many people in attendance! There were over 40 new members there today. And from what people tell me, new members of that volume are showing up on a weekly basis. The organizers had to make arrangements for alternate parking and are now running a shuttle service.

So many unemployed people. Mostly middle-aged, highly compensated people, like me. Sigh.

What they do at the meeting:

  • They go over the ground rules.
  • Any one who has "landed" a job is invited to speak a bit about how they found the job. Then, they have the "leads and needs" section. People get up and ask for things like contacts at specific companies or a pointer to some type of information that they need.
  • Next, announcement...job fairs, who's hiring, etc.
  • Finally, the new members are called up to give their "elevator" speech. I didn't know this was going to happen before I got there, so I wasn't very prepared. But I came up with something coherent. No one had any leads for me, but then I didn't have a list of target companies. That's the best way to get a contact name.
It was good to go because, although I have an better idea of what I *should* be doing and a bit of motivation now. I've been very unfocused and scatterbrained about the job search. Still a lot of emotion regarding the way I was let go and still agonizing over why (no one SAID it was a performance issue, but was it? What mistakes did I make that I need to make sure I DON'T make in the next job?).

I now see that I have to start to be more focused and aggressive. I need to find people who know people who know people that would be willing to talk with me. I need a business card! I need to do a lot more research. I'm thinking that a start up company is the best best for me right now, so I need to get on the VC web sites and see who's hiring and then see if I can find a contact that gets me to someone at that company.

So what is networking? Simple. It's talking...not necessarily to a hiring manager but talking to people who know other people, who will lead you to other people. At the meeting, people were really good about saying, "I know someone here" or "check out this user group." And if you get a name, it behooves you to try to make some contact. They recommended trying to get a 15 minute face-to-face meeting (offer to meet for coffee or something) to get advice, information about a specific company, and so forth. The idea is to become "known" so when a job does pop up, someone remembers you.

For someone who's introverted like me, this task is difficult. But, it has to be done.

Right now, though, I need to do a bit of self caring. I need to get some sleep. I probably get about 3-4 hours of sleep in a 24 hour period. Cat naps in the evening and early mornings. I'm exhausted. My mind is mush. And I need to start eating better. I keep missing meals and that's not helping the energy level. So, today, I will be good to me.

Next week, I will do better with the job search.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

job hunting = mysterious woo

I had lunch with a former co-worker (same company, let go in the summer and then replaced with TWO new people...what's up with that?!). She's been following the advice that all the experts give about job hunting...networking, cold calls, web sites, LinkedIn, outplacement centers, blah, blah, blah. She's been out of work since July. Has great skills, but missing one small component in her field. Which she can only get with on-the-job training (there are NO courses or classes). Only no one will give her a chance to learn what sounds like a simple task. Stupid.

So, I wonder...are the experts really right? Or is a successful job hunt really dependent on being at the right place at the right time? There seems to be an awful lot of luck involved. Yes, the networking is important...someone knows someone who knows someone. But what are the odds that a cold call will result in anything but a time filler for the bored, unemployed person? I suppose that all the hardwork is worth it IF you do land something that way. But what if you don't?

Right now, there are about 5 different technical writing jobs being advertised (really, that few). But, they appear a gazillion times from a gazillion different recruiters, with different titles so they almost look like different jobs. What are employers thinking? There's absolutely NO need to clutter up job boards with redundant listings. IT'S AN EMPLOYER'S MARKET, YOU IDIOTS. Stop registering with every Tom, Dick, and Harry that you think will get you a good candidate. Advertise once and you'll get them all. WE'RE ALL LOOKING AT THE SAME JOB BOARDS! (I can't tell you how many friends have fowarded me listings from the same web sites that I'm browsing).

And, one has to wonder what's preventing employers from filling these few, paltry jobs. There are tons of great candidates out there. Interview a few and get it done, and get your job listing off the job boards! But no, these same 5 jobs are advertised over and over and over again for weeks and weeks.

And some employers don't seem to hire anyone.

Right now, there's one job that is appearing on every single website you can imagine, multiple times. I found out from a friend of mine that she knows someone who was supposedly a "final candidate" for the job back in November. Then the job went on hold. And now the job looks like it's back...but they haven't hired the person they said was a "final candidate." Huh? You found someone, you have an opening...fer cryin' out loud..HIRE HER already. What are you waiting for...God's gift to Technical Writing? And it's a contract job...low risk, folks. If you don't like the contractor, you can get rid of her and find another.

And don't get me started on the job boards. They have the audacity to post a job as "new" when it's really old and often doesn't exist anymore. What a waste of time. There has to be a better web crawler or search engine that produces REAL results. I wish I had a filter where I could specify which redundant jobs listings to hide from view. Get rid of the job board clutter

For me, it's one week inti my unemployed status and the next week or so looks pretty bleak. Very little activity. I've contacted a number of recruiters and they've got nothing. Absolutely nothing.

I'm mulling over the idea of applying for a job at a start up in Boston (and of course, it's no where near the commuter rail station so the commute would be long and brutal). Then again, applying for the job doesn't mean I'd get my foot in the door. Based on the description, I'm wondering if they would take someone with my years of experience (too costly, probably). But, I'll probably apply just for the heck of it. And write some wacky cover letter, just because I think it doesn't even matter.

Awhile back, I decided to have some fun with my hair and add some funky purple streaks, just for something different (I've wanted purple hair for awhile). Then, I thought...wait, what if I get an interview ...would a prospective employer think I'm weird? I've decided that since job hunting seems to be a lot of mystical "woo,", I'm going to get the purple streaks. Maybe that will cause the job hunting gods to throw something my way. You know how it works...if you buy insurance, nothing happens. If you decide not to buy insurance, disaster will, of course, happen.

Seems just as good a way of finding a job as any other tactic.

Onward and upward through the fog...

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Job madness & other miscellany

There are a handful of jobs available for technical writers. They show up on EVERY job board. And there have to be hundreds, if not thousands, of unemployed writers looking for these jobs. So, what I don't get is why are these potential employers signing up with a gazillion recruiters to fill these jobs? You would think internal referrals would get the job done.

But no, for the second time, I've been contacted by multiple recruiters for the same job. I don't get it. Last week, I had three different recruiters contact me about a single job. I ended up not pursuing it due to its location and well, in general, it didn't sound like something I wanted to do for a long time (short-term contract, but not a longer term thing).

Yesterday, the same thing happened. This time, it's a more likely fit. Location is OK, it's a short term contract -- that's OK too. I'm not an exact fit for the job, but I might get in the door for an interview. What I can't figure is why the need for the employer to list the job on every single job board and sign up with so many recruiters. It's an employer's market...what's wrong with the job that it's so hard to fill??

On the plus side, at least I'm getting a few nibbles to my resume postings.

On the plus side again, I went to my beadmaking instructor's studio for the first time last night. Glass therapy. :-)

It was wonderful to be back at the torch. I spent the night making several heart beads (I can use them as gifts, people seem to like them). My instructor was so kind to me. I explained that I had lost my job but that I needed to come to the studio to keep my sanity. She was so sweet and kind to me. I remember when I first started taking classes with her, I wasn't all that good at it and she seemed so brusque and intimidating. In reality, she is one of the sweetest, kindest people. When the other glass studio shut, she KNEW that the beadmakers needed a place to go and she has invested all her personal funds to provide us with a safe haven. And the other people there were so friendly. They were watching me make my heart beads and felt compelled to try them as well...I must have been doing something they thought looked good. :-)

For a few hours, I could almost pretend that my life had not changed so radically.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The nothingness of unemployment

I wonder when I'll get used to the life of the unemployed. Only 6 days in and I'm fit to be tied. I'm still not into a regular routine. I do get up reasonably early and get online. And try to find something to do all morning, but it's hard. There's really not much to find or look at or do that feels productive.

Today, I did the usual search of the web sites, LinkedIn, etc. Sent my resume off to yet another recruiter. I hate recuiter web sites. They post jobs that don't exist. At this one recruiter's site, I saw a couple of contractor jobs that looked promising. So, in goes the resume, I make a LinkedIn connection, I send email.

I get the usual answer...Thanks and we'll keep you in mind.

I got one phone call today for a job that was impossibly far away for way too low money. I got email from another company saying "we're all set for now with contractors, but here, we'll send you a writing test. Send it back to us and we'll keep you in mind."

I got another call for a job that is still impossibly far away with no flexibility and no telecommuting. The work doesn't sound interesting and it's not a contract job so they want you to be 100% committed to wanting the job. But, the salary range sounded promising. I didn't think in my current state of mind that I could fake my interest. So I let it go. The recruiter promised to keep my resume in their "hot file" in case something at a higher level and with more flexibility shows up.

I'm second guessing myself now. Maybe I should have given it a try...maybe it would have been OK. Or is that just the voice of desperation speaking to me? I know, I know. I've only been out of work for a week. Patience, grasshopper.

But at least some response, even if it's no thanks, is better than nothing. A step in the right direction.

I hate waiting. I hate the empty email inbox. I hate the phone that doesn't ring. I sent out requests for LinkedIn recommendations and 2 of the 8 people have responded with really, really nice recommendations. I'm wondering if the others will bother.

As I've said's the uncertainty of it all. Everyone tells me that in the long run, I'll be better off. I'll be content to be "just as good" rather than better.

Tonight I have "glass therapy." I will go to my beadmaking instructor's studio and do some work at the torch. It will get me out of the house and focused on something else for a few hours.

Tomorrow, I'll call the recruiters that I haven't talked to since last week. I'm supposed to go into town to have lunch with a former co-worker. Maybe she has a nice positive attitude that will help me with my bad attitude. I'll do the writing test and send that in. I'll make an appointment to get my routine maintenance on the car done.

And then, maybe I'll sit on the couch and eat chocolate, to console myself.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Finding a balance with former co-workers

There are pluses and minuses with keeping in touch with my former co-workers. On one level, I still want to hear about what's going on. I feel validated to hear that people are angry and upset about what happened to me. It reminds me that I was respected and valued.

But, it's also making me unhappy.

A former colleague sent me an email from the company president that essentially is stating that the company is doing well financially, things are looking good, blah, blah, blah. There was a brief mention that some of the employees have been "impacted" but nothing that clearly stated why people were let go. And nothing to indicate that more layoffs will occur...although the rumor is that more are coming.

This email upset me because if I wasn't let go for financial reasons, then it had to be performance. I'm told that my manager didn't know until the very end who would have to go and that she had no say in the decision. I'll never know for sure if there's any truth to this. I do know that if someone wanted me to stay there are things that could have been done. For example, one of the team leads could have been promoted to manager and I could have stepped into their place. But, the two team leads were told quite directly that they were not going to be considered for the manager's job. (but why not??? My former manager had very little experience and went from manager to sr. manager in three years.)

I also had lunch with a former colleague. Listening him to talk about his plans for his team was hard. Because, they can go about their business, doing good things, and I'm not part of that anymore.

But, there are former co-workers that I want to keep in my life. I don't want to stop talking to them just because they remind me of something I've lost.

I need to find a balance. I need to find a way to nurture the friendships I made and yet, not allow the fact that they work where I don't anymore to cause me pain.

A friend of mine, when talking about a painful layoff that she went through made the point that until I find a replacement job, I will have to deal with the pain and sadness. She said it took her 9 years to finally not feel any residual pain. Well, I don't think it will take me that long, but I agree, that until I am able to return to the ranks of the unemployed, I will need to find a way to balance keeping in touch with former co-workers and not having a meltdown after hearing what's going on in place where I no longer belong.

I don't really know how to do this yet.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Budget review for my unemployed life

The dreary theme that kept running through my head once I joined the ranks of the unemployed was that my standard of living would have to change. For the last 4 years, I felt very financially secure. My salary was such that I felt I could buy what I wanted, when I wanted to, with very little worry about affordability. And now, that secure feeling is gone. I've had moments of sheer panic. I've had moments where I've cried over the loss of this change.

On the other hand, I've lived on a budget before; I can do it again.

I finally did a quick review of my standard monthly expenses to see how that measured up to what I would receive from unemployment. Turned out to be not as bad as I thought. The unemployment checks, even after taxes, will cover the basic monthly expenses -- utilities, mortgage, and what not. (although, I keep feeling that I haven't accounted for something and that the situation is actually WORSE than I think).

That's assuming, however, that my interpretation of the unemployment benefits is correct regarding subsidies for COBRA insurance payments. If I read it correctly, the state will cover the part of the premium that my former employer would have paid. My costs will be a bit higher than when I was employed because of the 2% administrative fee that gets added in. But still...I think I accounted for that.

Now, if I actually want to eat, put gas in the car, and have a bit of a life, that money will have to come from the emergency fund. If I'm reasonably careful, I can get the emergency fund to last at least a year, without living like a Depression-era child (yes, I'll be able to go out to dinner, buy clothing, keep my Neflix subscription, rent time at a glass studio, and so forth).

Of course, *saving* any money will be impossible. I'll be stopping all payments to IRAs and such. Unless I'm employed with a decent salary, it's unlikely that I'll be going to my favorite Arts and Crafts show this year. :-(. And discretionary spending will have to be prioritized very carefully.

As I reviewed my past spending habits, I can see that I was leaving within my means (and enjoying it heartily), but I was living at the border of my means. I was saving about 15% of my salary in IRAs and 401Ks...which are sadly depleted now and then spending the rest. I now regret that I didn't save more in my cash accounts.

Well, for now, no more throwing money out the window like there's no tomorrow.

Because tomorrow came.
I believe that part of surving an unexpected job loss is to build a routine and structure of some sort. You need to have something to replace the routine of going to work.

For me, I was at my last job for 4 and a half years. So, there was a rather set routine. Of getting up at a certain time, the routine commute, getting to my office, heading down to the cafeteria for my toast and coffee, reading email, and then getting down to the business of the moment.

Without that routine, I feel scattered and confused. For the first few days after I was unceremoneously escorted out the door, I was busy with email from former co-workers, wandering around web sites, and having a few knee-jerk reactions to potential job postings. But, the emails are done, the regrets from former co-workers that I am no longer a part of the work work have all been said. Now comes the times of silence. We all have to move on.

So, it's time to put some focus into my days. Here's what I'm thinking:

I will spend 9:00 - 12:00 on the job search activities. The afternoon will be spent on long, neglected home projects. I will also make sure I make plans for the evening two or three times a week. Being home all day on my own, when I'm used to being surrounded by people all day will take some getting used to.

Weekends will be job-search free days. I will strive to make sure I have plans for at least one day during the weekend. Again, I'll have plenty of "alone time" during the week. The weekend should bring some relief from that.

One thing that I must do this week is create a clear view of my finances. I know I need to be careful, but being overly obsessive about it isn't good either. If I have a clear view of what my expenses really are, I'll know what I type of discretionary spending I can allow, based on my existing funds. They have to last a long while, but I may not have to be so restrictive that I have to live on war-time rations. I've started cutting out some unncessary costs. Once I have a solid view of what's necessary, I can make some reasonable spending decisions.

sigh. I said it before; I'll say it again. I hate being unemployed; I hate looking for jobs. And being in this place during the worst economy in 45 years ago is a cruel twist of fate.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Taking care of myself after losing my job

Losing a job is a loss that must be acknowledged. We must grieve the loss, we must be gentle with ourselves, and we must also take positive action.

I'm exhausted already and I've only been unemployed for 4 days.

I've decided that I will go back to working with glass (I can rent time in my former instructor's studio) even though it's an unnecessary expense. While I'm very worried about the financial situation -- I have no idea how long it will take me to find a good job -- I also have to take care of my mental health. The glass work has been a big part of my life for a year now. I miss it terribly and right now, I need something to hold on to that's not all about the job situation.

I know my former co-workers miss me and are very sad that I was let go. They've been kind enough to share that with me. Some of the people have sent me very beautiful notes about how much they valued their time with me. I'm going to print them out and make a booklet of them so I have something to look at during the tough times.

The tough thing about work connections is that they are often very fragile. When you're there in the office together, the common thread of work events tie you together. But when you leave, those connections are gone. There's often very little you have in common. So, those bonds are lost. The people are lost to you. On top of the work benefits (the fantastic salary, the nice office, the great commute), I am feeling the loss of the people connection.

Yesterday, I went into the office for the last time to gather my things. A few people driftedby to say goodbye, and then it was done. For a day or so, there was a big flurry of email from so many people. They were sad, angry on my behalf, and very generous in their support of me. But, once it's all been said, there's nothing left. And they go about their work life...a life that no longer includes me.

This is a grief that hurts. I'm also very, very angry. That the people who got rid of me didn't have the decency, respect or humanity to let me pack my things on the day they made me turn in my badge. That they made me turn in the badge so that I had to beg for entrance like a leper when I came back to get my things. That they made me wait TWO days before I could come in and get my stuff. I think they assumed that I would be content to let them pack my things and send them to me. And, that I had no wish to say goodbye to my colleagues face-to-face. I've gone through layoffs before, but I was never treated like this. There was something so very personal about it all. About the fact that my manager never warned me that I was at risk. That I wasn't given a chance to find something else in the company. My manager was able to get a new position opened for herself and the company plans to backfill her old job. No one offered me a chance to take her job. They simply assumed that I didn't want it. But, I would have taken it, if only to keep my income going for awhile. It was as if someone had decided that I had to go, no matter what. Not personal? I wonder.

I know enough to realize that I have to sit with the grief and the anger. I have to allow it when it comes so I can work through it and then leave it behind. I have to be kind to myself. Hence, I will allow myself to spend the money to work in a glass studio. A type of therapy for me to help my own mental health. I know also that I need to be careful of becoming overly obsessed with the hurt feelings and start moving towards a new beginning. I am pleased that whenever someone has offered me something -- even if it's just to have lunch with me -- I am accepting their help.

I didn't love my job. I didn't get along with my manager. I had great ideas but she never supported them. But I loved all the things that came with it.

I was reading someone's posting on Flickr awhile back. Someone who had also lost her job and had been going through other difficult times. She said that for her, 2009 was the year that she would embrace the uncertainty in her life. I, too, must learn to do that now.

Next post...steps I'm taking to get put structure into my life while unemployed. Stay tuned...

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Tough days ahead

I was caught completely by surprise the other day. Shortly after I arrived in the office, I was marched over to Human Resources and told that my job had been eliminated. The reasons I heard were vague and didn't make much sense. They just dismissed the person in the group with the most experience, knowledge, and expertise. Don't these attributes have value to any company? Apparently, not in my case.

I was handed my walking papers and escorted out the door. I wasn't even allowed to pack my things. No, they insisted that I could come back in a couple of days to do that...or have someone else pack my stuff. Nope, as much as I don't really want to go back into the office, I'll be damned if I'll have someone else pawing through my stuff. So, I'll haul myself back, like some type of unwanted disease and gather my things.

The truth? I didn't have allies in the right places and when it came time to chop a few heads, mine ended up at the top of the chopping block. My manager not only managed to find herself a new job but she also managed to make sure there was a replacement req for her position. I'm told they need to cut people from the organization, but they create a new job and backfill the old job? How does that make sense?

Being unemployed in this economy sucks. There aren't many jobs. The jobs that do exist will require a long commute and I'm expecting a pay cut. While I may not have loved my job, the pay, the location, the office suited me just fine. And it's all gone now.

I suppose the positive thing is that people have been so supportive. My colleagues at work are mostly stunned, angry, and just plain baffled as to how I ended up at the top of the Reduction In Force list. And by putting up my status on Facebook and LinkedIn, I've been able to get the word out. I've started to hear from people that I haven't heard from in a long time. Unfortunately, no one has come up with a job offer (but it's only been two days...too much to expect, I know), but it is good to hear from others. And maybe someone will know someone who knows someone who will have something wonderful for me.

I did get a bit of severance pay and I had a lot of vacation accrued. But still, that only gives me 3 months before I have to start using the emergency fund. Which I don't want to use, even though it's there to be used in an emergency.

I hate being unemployed. I hate looking for a job. I hate that the job market really, really sucks right now. The hardest part is the uncertainty. How long? How long will I have to put my plans for vacations, fun, and planned purchases on hold? How long will I have to haunt the job website and recruiters? How long will I have to spend my days looking for new ways to network with people in the hope that something, anything worthwhile will come my way?

I am blessed in that there are people around me who have offered support, love, and comfort (unfortunately, no job leads, yet). As with any sudden rejection (and being sacked is definitely rejection), there is a big hit to one's self esteem. Why ME? Why not someone else? But, I know that these questions are not ones for which I'll get an answer. I need to grieve the loss and try to move on. And having people offering their time and opening their homes to me so that I don't have to get through this on my own is good for my soul.

So, I will start to plan my days...making sure there's structure and goals so I don't end up sitting in a dark corner mumbling to myself. And, to paraphrase something from my favorite online guru, Susan Elliot, "I won't give up the day before the miracle happens."

I'll be OK.