Job loss at any time is stressful and disorienting. In the middle of a global pandemic, it seems almost surreal. Yet, all across America this is the reality of COVID-19. Here, in Minnesota, more than 450,000 people have seen their jobs taken away, pared down, or temporarily suspended.
If you have lost work due to coronavirus, there are certain steps you can take now to ease the path forward. (And yes, there are a few things not to do, because they’ll only put unnecessary obstacles in your way.)
Over the years, I’ve dispensed plenty of advice, aimed at helping folks get back on their feet – and pointed in the right direction – after a layoff. Here, I've adapted the old rules to better fit today's circumstances and tried to include the details you’ll need to follow them quickly.
1. Keep the Lines of Communication Open with Your Employer
You’ll likely need information from your employer over the coming weeks. For example: do you know exactly what type of layoff yours is – a furlough, a reduction in hours, a termination, something else? (It’s important to find out so you’re ready for Step 2, below.) Is the company working on any specific timelines for re-opening? Before you reach out, remember that, if ever an employer deserved the benefit of the doubt during layoffs, now is that time.
So follow the wise counsel of the Hippocratic oath: first, do no harm. In other words, vent your desperation, frustrations, hurt feelings, and worst fears in private, not to your boss, coworkers, or on social media. You may feel entirely justified in posting angry, sarcastic comments on Twitter, Facebook, or anywhere else. But if you do, you'll only burn bridges that you’ll likely want to cross again in the near future. As your boss scrambles to piece together their next steps, the ways you conduct yourself and express yourself now, under pressure, will leave a powerful impression.
2. Apply for Your Unemployment Benefits Immediately
In the past few weeks, multiple changes have been put in place to make applying easier, faster, and far more beneficial to unemployed Minnesotans. For starters, you no longer have to be out of work for a week to be eligible to apply. Also, the process is remarkably quick, taking roughly 15 minutes to complete, if you have all of your information ready and you apply online here. It’s also possible (but likely more challenging, due to call volumes) to apply by phone. (651-296-3644 if you’re in the Twin Cities metro or 1-877-898-9090 for greater Minnesota.)
Because of the massive volume of applications currently going through the system, it may take a week or more for you to receive your first check. But once you do, you’ll get half your previous weekly pay (up to $740), dating back to your first week of unemployment. In addition, you’ll receive another $600 per week (dating back to the week of March 29), thanks to the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, recently approved by the U.S. congress. These $600 payments are handled differently in two important ways. First, they’re triggered automatically with your unemployment application so you won’t need to request them separately. Also, they’ll simply go straight into the bank or debit account you set up for your unemployment payments, every week you’re eligible for unemployment benefits.
These benefits are not only for laid off employees.
If you’re still technically employed but your hours were severely reduced, or if you were forced to temporarily leave work to care for a sick or quarantined family member, you may still qualify for assistance. Find out by applying online.
3. Revisit Your Budget and Take Advantage of COVID-related Help from Creditors
Tackling the numbers may feel overwhelming, so forgive yourself if you just don’t feel like doing this. But do it anyway. Even if you know you have enough financial cushion to keep up for the next few months, there may be things you can do now that will make your cushion last that much longer. For each of your regular, ongoing financial obligations (mortgage or rent, utilities, loans, revolving debt, medical bills, even kids’ tuition), reach out directly to the provider to find out what kinds of payment deferral arrangements are available. Because we are all, as a country, going through this together, there is more relief available to you now than there would have been before. (Start online. The information should be there.) Be sure you understand the rules and requirements before finalizing any agreements. Then do what you need to do.
Next, take a cold, hard look at your current subscriptions and memberships. Consider different scenarios and their short-term impact on your everyday life and wellbeing. Here’s one obvious example (but there are many): maybe premium TV channels have come to feel like necessities. But Spring is here. The snow is melting. The sun is staying out later each evening. Maybe the fresh air, walks, bike rides, or Tai Chi in your backyard – along with the knowledge that you’ve eliminated a monthly financial burden for now – might be more of an emotional boost, instead of a loss.
As you work through your budget, remind yourself that this is a fluid, short-term process. You can keep making adjustments as you go.
4. Create 2 Important Lists
Make two lists:
- First, write down your career accomplishments. Include the results you’ve achieved as well as skills acquired and lessons learned. Every time you think of something else, add it to that list. Capture it all. In practical terms, this will make it easier to update your resume. In broader terms, it will also help you remember what’s real and what’s possible during moments of self-doubt. It will help you remember the depth and detail of how talented you are.
- As for the second list, here’s what I’ve often told people: make a real, hand-written list of the friends you know will be there when you feel wobbly. Keep that list next to you at all times. Draw strength from these friends. They are yours. I think it’s still good advice – but now, it comes with a wrinkle: most likely, everyone on that list is going through some amount of COVID-related trauma or worry of their own. As much as you need and deserve their support right now, they likely need yours, too.
5. Be Kind to Yourself.
This last bit might ring hollow or less useful to you right now, as you tackle the very real, very urgent matters suddenly shoved onto your plate by the coronavirus. But, I’ve been working with job seekers for a long time. I’ve always made a point of reminding those who've been newly laid off that, while an employer can take away your job, they cannot take away your dream. Today, in the time of coronavirus, my message has shifted a bit (and I don’t think that’s a bad thing).
As harsh as this virus has been to you, to us all, the truth is, you have neighbors – and I have neighbors – for whom it has been more cruel. It's put a spotlight on human frailties and human needs that we may not have noticed – or thought enough about – before. But maybe our own, shared moments of fear, despair, and loss -- maybe they have delivered us all a much-needed reminder of the power of empathy, of how we can all do better. As we emerge from our quarantines to rebuild our careers, and our plans, and our dreams, I want to believe that, this time, we can expand also our dreams to include do better at rebuilding our communities. If we do, we will all fare better.
6. Find Out Who Is Hiring.
This pandemic has changed the world in countless ways, perhaps including your field of work. Many who have lost their jobs during this time won't see their jobs return in the future. When this is the case, many individuals consider a career change.
The MN Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) has launched a new Occupations In Demand data tool. The tool allows you to find out what jobs are in high demand in each region of the state. The typical wage, long-term employment outlook, training (or degree) required and schools that offer training programs for each occupation are also listed. Some occupations listed come with no surprise such as nursing and delivery drivers. However others currently in demand such as careers in marketing and development might be unexpected to see listed here.
If you've ever thought about changing careers and working in the field of marketing, development, the finance field, and more, definitely give this tool a try to see which careers are in demand in your region.