If you’re a baby boomer, you’ve probably had a number of experiences that were unknown to your parents. Each generation is dysfunctional in its own way.
You probably have a more intimate knowledge of controlled substances than your parents did – although they were undoubtedly more skilled at making cocktails than you.
You probably saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964, and realized it was an important cultural event, even though your father growled, “They look like a buncha girls!”
There’s at least an even-money chance that your parents were divorced, and shortly thereafter a man named Frank married your mother, moved into your house, and demanded that you call him “Dad,” even though he was obviously a real creep, and you secretly wished he’d be crushed by a cement mixer.
And there’s an extremely good chance that you’ve been laid off from your job at least once, if not two or three times. Although your parents were children of the Great Depression, and the Second World War, and probably knew a certain amount of privation during those periods, by the time they reached adulthood the American economy was enjoying one of its most robust growth phases. Business was booming. America was the richest nation on Earth. Layoffs were uncommon.
In fact, the federal goverment took an activist stance to keep job losses at a minimum. The GI Bill, for example, intitiated after World War II, wasn’t about higher education, it was about keeping returning GI’s out of the national labor pool as long as possible, to prevent unemployment from skyrocketing. The idea was that the GI’s would improve their skills for a peacetime economy, and would be phased into the workforce gradually, as the economy expanded.
Naturally, if the government tried to pull the same stunt today, it would branded as creeping socialism. This isn’t your parents’ economy.
This is all by way of saying that there are certain things (I’ve prepared a list of five of them, below) that you must do to prepare yourself for the eventuality of your first (or next) layoff, things your parents probably never told you because it never occurred to them that you would be in this situation. But you are.
1. Dust off your resume. It used to be that most people worked up a resume only occasionally, or maybe just once, when they were fresh out of college. Now, people rewrite resumes they way the scribble on Post-it Notes. Make it a habit to keep yours current. When I say current, I mean keep a draft copy on your PC desktop and tweak it every few days, adding new accomplishment statements whenever you’ve done something noteworthy – or, at least, whenever your boss seems to think you have.
2. Pay down your debt. This will be a challenge. It’s counter-intuitive to pay down debt. If we weren’t meant to be in debt, why did VISA send us all those pre-approved credit card applications when we were still in college? But the fact is, VISA (and MasterCard and your bank loan officer) want you to use credit only when you don’t really need it. At times when credit would be really useful – say, when you’ve been laid off – they’d prefer that you’d exercise some discipline. To help you in this endeavor, they’ll raise their interest rates and late payment fees. This will give you an incentive to cut back on frivolous spending.
3. Trim your budget. We touched on this above. Credit fuels expanded budgets just as calories feed expanded waistlines. Conversely, a debt reduction program requires that you adhere to a spending diet. Again, this is counter-intuitive. We’re educated from the cradle to be good spenders. In a consumer-driven economy, shopping is considered an art form, if not a patriotic act. To live frugally seems vaguely Marxist. Remember the Poli Sci professor you had in your freshman year in college, Mr. Ingersoll, the one who rode a bicycle to campus, wore a long beard, never used deodorant, and had a Che Guevara poster on his office wall? That’s frugal. But you must get used to the idea. Frugal is the new affluent.
4. Start networking early. As virtually everyone knows by now, jobs posted in classified ads, and on Monster.com and craigslist, are the tip of the iceberg, perhaps only 15% of all available jobs. (Okay, since the recession hit, maybe it’s more like 45% of all jobs, but the principle is the same.) Most people are hired through networking. So it’s no longer a question of if you should network. The real question is, when? The general rule of thumb is, you should treat networking the same as you do resume writing. In other words, you start now, and you never stop. From now on, think of every person you meet as a networking prospect. You no longer have friends – you have contacts. Some of your friends will be annoyed by this, but don’t let it bother you. They’re still employed, and employed people, as you will come to find out, can be incredibly obtuse.
5. Have a doomsday strategy. This isn’t quite as bad as it sounds. I’m not suggesting you build a bomb shelter, or turn survivalist, and head for the hills. But I am suggesting that you consider what your worst case scenario might be. Keep it realistic. Don’t assume that, on top of going broke, and losing the house, you get the bubonic plague and your daughter marries an IRS agent. But let’s say it takes you much longer to find another job than you think it will. Think of a number, as in the number of weeks it will take. Now double that number. Now double it again. Now forget that number, because according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics it will probably take you 6 months.
At least, that’s the official median duration of unemployment. Which means that it will probably take you twice that long. The “median duration” usually applies to the guy down the street who has three advanced degrees and a 20-year resume in IT. Or the bank CEO who just left his job in disgrace, having scuttled his firm with exposure to exotic derivatives. There’s another bank waiting in the wings, just itching for a chance to roll the dice with this character.
But suppose the “median duration” is a best case scenario? Suppose your real term of unemployment is significantly longer than that? Pick your number. You’re allowed to be pessimistic here – but just this once. Now do a bit of mental arithmetic to figure out how you’ll cover your bills for that period of time. It isn’t pretty, is it? But remember, we’re thinking worst case here. The point is, you need to develop a plan to make it through this theoretical rough patch – whether it involves begging, borrowing or selling used Hyundais. Then keep it in reserve as your doomsday strategy. Think of it as a mental safety net.
And then, most importantly, remind yourself that it probably won’t come to that. But thinking about it occasionally will help keep your actual situation in perspective.
Image source: Wikipedia, in public domain.