(This article is part of a book called How to Find a Job, which now is available as an ebook on Kindle, nook, and Smashwords. All of the chapters have been revised, many have been expanded, and the book contains three bonus chapters (including Negotiating) that are not available on this blog.)
Being unemployed is no fun.
Trying to figure out how Unemployment Insurance (UI) works is even less fun.
Well, originally, I wanted to fill this chapter with a set of steps that would tell you how to go about filing for UI. But guess what?
Because the rules are different in just about every state. And as a bonus, the rules are always changing. Even if I spent the next couple of months researching (UI), and released this book the moment that information was complete and accurate…
Chances are good that the information would not be complete and accurate by the time you downloaded and started to read this chapter.
That doesn’t mean I don’t have advice. I do.
But before I get to it, I have to make a couple assumptions.
1. You’re a good worker who did your job.
2. You were laid off, and not fired, nor did you quit your job.
Why do I have to make those assumptions? Because if I don’t all my advice is null and void.
At one point, while trying to help a friend, he told me he’d been let go. He told me he was having trouble getting his UI money. I made suggestions. I offered thoughts.
Then I found out he had been fired.
Being fired, whether justly or unjustly, is a whole different issue. It makes it harder to find work, and it makes it harder to convince your local government that you deserve UI, which more often than not requires that you worked hard and obeyed the rules of your workplace.
So if you didn’t, you might be out of luck. And you might want to give some thought to your work ethic before you start hunting for another job.
All that said, a few thoughts:
1. Unemployment Insurance is confusing and underfunded, and getting clarification is a massive headache. So call on Thursday.
A True Story: The week I was going to be let go, I called up the fine folks at UI and to tell them I was losing my job and to ask them what I needed to do next.
I was put on hold for a minute. And then UI hung up on me, with a message to check their web site. I called back several times, and every single time I was hung up on before I could talk to a person. They didn’t have anyone to talk to me, and there was no hold option. There was just the web site.
So do yourself a favor: Go to the web site.
More often than not, your questions will be answered if you read through all the information there. And why not take the time? You could be unemployed for a while, and you have some free time. So sit back and start reading.
If there’s something you really don’t understand, write it down. And call on Thursday. Why Thursday? Because according to a woman I met from the UI office, that’s the least-busy day. You might still have to try a few times (I always did) but you’ll get through.
2. Sooner or later, you may end up Under Investigation. There’s nothing to do but wait, answer their questions, and keep filing for UI.
When I lost my job, I hopped online and signed up for UI, a simple and quick process that resulted in them sending me a check within a matter of days. It was simple and mostly made sense.
Over the next two years I spent five different periods of my life Under Investigation, which was confusing and emotionally draining and did damage to my savings account. Why?
In a word, freelance work.
I started writing for a magazine. And I took on some work at a local school. And I did a freelance movie-editing job. And I wrote a script for an industrial video.
I told UI all of these things, and at the time, they didn’t care.
And then my UI money would run out, and they would have to recalculate what I should be getting, and suddenly, my checks were On Hold.
According to the letter I got, this could last five weeks or longer.
It was always longer, especially the last time, which took 13 weeks.
The fact is, this is an extra-scary time. You’ll get a letter each week telling you they don’t know when you’ll get your money, but that you should keep filing. You’ll get extra letters, asking for monetary information. And you’ll probably end up on the phone with UI, who somehow always manage to call just when you’re in the middle of doing something, and you have no idea where the information they want is located.
Take a breath. Relax. If you did everything they asked of you (and I’m going to assume you did) sooner or later, everything will work itself out.
And please, don’t let my experience sour you on freelance work. While I didn’t enjoy being investigated, everyone I spoke to was kind and fair and just wanted to make sure that everybody on UI was following all the rules.
More importantly, it’s good to get fresh work on your resume. Never pass up that chance.
3. Always remember that it’s your money, and that you deserve it.
One of the things that surprised me was how many people I met got mumbly when they told me they were on unemployment. And I understood. Being on unemployment was something that happened to other people. People with medical conditions. People who were too lazy to work.
But there’s no reason to feel shame. At one point, the country I lived in topped out at 15% unemployment. For those easily confused by math (like myself!) that means every time you saw a grouping adults capable of working 15 of them didn’t have a job.
As I type this, the number is still bouncing up and down a bit, but it’s around 9%. A big improvement, yes. But it still means that when you look at 100 people, 9 of them don’t have a job.
My point? You are not alone in your predicament. And UI was designed to help you through it. Now, it might not be enough (in fact, it almost certainly isn’t) but it is something, you have paid into it, and this is what that money is for.
So if someone asks you, tell them the truth. You’re unemployed. You’re currently searching for a job.
Then tell them what you do, and ask them if they know anyone who needs you. Because people love to help.
4. Don’t expect to be off UI in the very near future.
While this isn’t about UI specifically, I do think that it’s important to keep yourself in a positive frame of mind.
When you lose your job, it’s easy to think that in two weeks, or three, or four, you’ll be back to work and things will be status quo.
When I lost my job, I stumbled across a comforting video that told me that at that time, the average span people were unemployed was about 19 weeks.
Granted, I didn’t want to spend 19 weeks without a job, but if that was the average, well, that was the average, and why fight it?
I hit 19 weeks, and then I started to panic. But then I looked around at all the other people I’d run into in my networking meetings. Most or all of them had been let go the same week I had, and here we all were, still looking for work.
I felt the same way after a year.
I felt the same way after two years.
Then things started to change. More of the people in my networking groups started getting jobs. Soon there were fewer and fewer faces I knew.
And then one day shortly thereafter, I had a job.
The economy is in flux. Look around. If you’re seeing that your friends are still out there hunting for work, then take some comfort in that. If you see that all your friends are getting work, then take comfort in knowing that you probably will as well.
And if everyone you know is getting hired but you, start thinking about changing your strategies a bit. But remember – it happens when it happens.
And you’ll be okay.