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Out of a job? What you should do
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February 05, 2009

Remaining unemployed was something that was a personal choice this time last year. But over the last few months it has become a very real and frightening possibility that you have no control over -- one that can throw your finances off carefully planned paths, whittle your self-esteem down to almost nothing. And in extreme cases, sink you into a deep depression.

While you can't do anything about being laid off, you can certainly learn how to deal with this misfortune should it ever happen to you. The need to keep yourself buoyant and on top of things while you ride out the storm is important. Here are some strategies that will help you do just that:

Read on to learn in detail how you can cope with the pink slip, both emotionally and practically.

Apart from the financial hit your life takes when you find yourself out of a job, the emotional aspect of it is a force to reckon with. Losing your job can be truly traumatic and needs to be dealt with properly.

Professor RSS Mani, a renowned HRD expert and management educator says, "When people come to us, sometimes they are so depressed, we have to recommend them to a psychological counsellor. They come with low self-esteem, a feeling of worthlessness and a sense of failure. At this time, therapy is important, but so is family support. The person needs someone to talk to and needs to be told that this time is transient and will pass."

The professor recommends yoga, music therapy and meditation to calm the mind and curb anxiety during this time. He also recommends that this time be used for higher studies and to further professional skills. "In the hustle-bustle of getting ahead, most people often don't realise that they haven't advanced their skills in the past decade! It's a good idea to use this time to do that," he adds.

Sunder Ramachandran, managing partner at WCH Training Solutions, a New Delhi-based training and consultation firm explains, "The key reason for stress when one is laid off is the anxiety of not being able to find a new job. In India, we don't have an ecosystem to support job loss or unemployment and it can become a cause for social embarrassment."

Mani agrees. "People thrive on gossip and bad news, so there is no reason to let outsiders know that you were laid off. Instead, tell them you quit because you wanted to study further or because you have other commitments that need your attention," he says.

Shailaja Mulay, a vocational guidance counsellor and education consultant believes that a good support system is of paramount importance in situations like these. Often, families are not able to extend the kind of support a person may need, because financial worries plague the whole household. Also, most young people are used to a lifestyle that is very hard to keep up without a regular paycheck coming in each month. And the fact that most young people have loans to pay off is not a comforting thought either. "If the trauma is not taken seriously and dealt with properly, it could lead to a lot of problems, including alcoholism, depression and nervous breakdowns. It's important to find someone to talk to and seek counselling as well," says Mulay.

Dr Seema Hingorrany, a Mumbai-based clinical psychologist and psychotherapist agrees. "Don't keep your emotions bottled up inside. It's very important to vent and share your feelings and anxieties with someone. Often people don't share their worries with family members because they don't want to create panic in the household, but this is detrimental to their health, and can cause physical ailments as well."

Hingorrany goes on to discuss a case she has been dealing with recently -- "One of my patients, a young man, came to me recently with immense problems of anxiety and stress. He had lost his job and had been unable to share his worries with anyone. By the time he came to me, his mental condition had led to bowel and stomach problems and these health issues had become an added problem to his already existing stress."

If you are a family member of someone who has just been handed the pink slip, Hingorrany has a nugget of advice for you too. "Don't lecture and hound the person. He is already stressed, so try and help him relax. Be a good listener and encourage him to talk about his thoughts, feelings and fears. Be his support system so he doesn't feel alone and depressed during this hard time."

On a more practical note, Mulay advises job seekers to locate their strengths and hunt for jobs that need those skills. Also, if you are out of a job, you could think about starting something on your own instead of joining someone else. Networking is important during this time -- let people know you're looking for work, ask for help from ex-colleagues and friends and try to remain positive while job-seeking.

You need to understand that layoffs are a very real part of the global economical atmosphere right now, and that many more are expected to take place in the coming year. It's going to be hard, but it's not the end of the world. If you are seriously worried that you might be the next to go, contact a recruitment agency immediately and start sending out your resume to companies that are hiring. Don't wait for the bad news -- start preparing for it right away.

Says Kapil Gupta, CEO of recruitment firm Shella Consultants, "Contact recruitment agencies as soon as possible, because in the current market, it might be months before you find a suitable job. We have been getting a lot of CVs from people who are anxious about their job security. Since some sectors are slow, we have to tell them to wait for four to five months before something comes up."

Being pro-active is of supreme importance. Ramachandran advises, "Never just sit quietly. You are in charge of your own career. Regardless of how secure you may be in your job, you always need to be prepared to look for work in a volatile business climate. Even when you are working, you should stay abreast of the job market. Now is the perfect time to do some research. Take time to network and take on some informational interviews, if you hear of any."

Mulay, says, "I have been seeing lots of people who are ridden with anxiety and insecurity about the future. They want to know what their options are. My advice is to choose a career where there is no crowd. It's the crowded sectors that are facing the most trouble these days. Also, everyone has at least three skills that they can use in different ways, depending upon job requirements."

Gupta has some advice for job-seekers -- "When applying, keep your salary expectations reasonable. Also, certain industries are doing very badly at this time, so be flexible about your sector. In addition, you should be open to relocation -- you might lose out on a good opportunity just because you don't want to move to another city or country."

He also advises job hunters to be aware of the exact situation in different sectors as well as countries. "For instance, Dubai [Images] is not such a hot location right now -- in fact, Indians are returning to India in search of better opportunities. If you are young and your sector is doing badly, think about switching careers/ sectors. This is also a good time to invest in yourself, so if you want to pursue higher education, or do some course that you have been putting off, take advantage of your unemployment to do that."

While it is okay to use your time to do other things apart from work, it's important to stay grounded and not treat the time off as a vacation. Don't splurge on expensive holidays or shopping sprees. While using the time to bond with your family is fine, taking them on a month-long holiday to Europe is not -- especially when you don't know where your next paycheck is coming from. It might be a good idea to re-visit your financial plans and see where you can cut corners to help you tide over the next few months till you find employment elsewhere.

Mulay also echoes Gupta and Mani's advice, saying, "If you are unemployed, use the time to learn new skills and hone your existing talents. Explore the possibility of doing short-term, job-oriented courses that will help you in your next job."

Also, it's important to be prepared for the worst. Make sure you are abreast of the job market, your network is reasonably strong and you have enough savings to last you a few months. Says Ramachandran, "It is amazing how many people just sit back and wait for the axe to fall. They did not see it approaching and did not have time to prepare for change. Many people assume it's never going to happen to them because of their long service and value to the company. Make sure you don't fall into the trap of thinking it could never happen to you, or you could end up being unprepared to survive economically or professionally."

If push comes to shove, take a clue from the old adage of turning obstacles into stepping stones. Mani tells us about one case he came across recently -- "I met a man who was living away from his family and has been working for the past 20 years. Suddenly, he lost his job, and was understandably quite disturbed. However, after talking for a while, we came up with a solution. His son happened to be studying for the IIT exams and as it turned out, this man decided to go home and use the time to coach his son as well as reconnect with his family. Now he looks at the layoff as a blessing in disguise."

Need to speak to a professional? Professor RSS Mani offers free telephonic and email advice -- contact him at

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