Suddenly losing your job is unsettling at any time, but it’s especially scary during the coronavirus pandemic.
With the unemployment rate expected to skyrocket, COVID-19 is turning out to be an economic wrecking ball.
“Almost every company and almost every sector has been hurt, so it really makes this a very, very different experience for the job seeker,” says David Lewis, founder and CEO of OperationsInc, a Norwalk, Connecticut-based human resources consultancy with more than 1,000 clients in 50 states.
“The last thing a job seeker wants to hear in a normal economy is be patient, and it’s the best advice I can start off with for someone who is finding themselves unemployed in this market.”
Still, there are a number of steps you can take to try to regain some semblance of control of your situation if you suddenly find yourself unemployed.
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Here’s what you can do.
File for unemployment benefits
Unemployment insurance is a collaboration between the federal government and state governments to help provide some compensation to people who are trying to get a job but can’t find one. As soon as you lose your job, contact your state’s unemployment insurance program to begin the process. Visit this page to get started.
The good news is that bipartisan legislation making its way swiftly through Congress is expected to increase average weekly unemployment compensation by about $600 for four months.
Lost a gig? A new option is on the way
So-called “gig economy” workers, such as Uber drivers and freelance contractors, are typically not eligible for unemployment insurance. But a new program in the federal legislation, if passed, would provide unprecedented jobless benefits to self-employed workers and contractors.
Stay tuned for details on how to sign up for these benefits, but there’s a good chance you’ll do so through the typical unemployment insurance program in your state.
Dial back your spending
It sounds obvious, but you may need to reduce your spending while you’re unemployed to ensure you can pay your bills.
People who lose their jobs during the coronavirus pandemic and receive the extra boost of unemployment insurance should be “rationing it like they would ration food like they’re stuck on a desert island,” Lewis said.
Pursue a position with a company that’s hiring immediately
Contrary to what you might think, some employers are hiring right now – and hiring in droves.
Amazon, CVS, Walgreens, Kroger, Dollar General, Instacart, Domino’s, Papa Johns, Pizza Hut and other employers have collectively announced plans to hire at least 800,000 workers to keep up with a surge of demand.
If you need to replace your lost income quickly, it’s worth considering.
Opportunities are emerging in warehouse and distribution, packaging, forklift operation and food production, says Debra Thorpe, senior vice president and general manager of U.S. operations at workforce provider Kelly Services.
“Anything tied to those essential skillsets that we need to keep the economy moving is hot and picking up,” she said. “We’re seeing a shift away from manufacturing a little bit and into these other more mobile and agile skillsets.”
Get bill relief
Most major utilities throughout the country are offering payment relief to customers affected by the pandemic. Contact your local provider to notify them of your situation.
Companies like PG&E, Dominion, Duke Energy and DTE Energy are all offering relief and suspending disconnections during this period. Some are also offering flexible payment plans.
Some companies, such as cable and internet provider Comcast, are waiving late fees for customers who call to say they can’t pay their bills on time right now.
Just don’t assume that the company knows you’re having trouble. Contact them and be ready to provide documentation if necessary.
Update your LinkedIn and get your resume together
You might want to spend this period watching Netflix, and that’s normal. But also try to carve out time to update your LinkedIn profile and polish your resume.
While employers may not be hiring right now, you’ll want to be prepared for when they resume adding jobs.
Lewis said job seekers should think about “how do you make yourself more marketable, how do you improve upon the skills that you possess, how do you make yourself the most attractive candidate possible?”
Start networking now (digitally)
Companies are likely to experience a deluge of applicants once they resume hiring, so it could be harder than ever to break through. That means networking is extremely important.
So use this time to digitally connect with friends and colleagues, past and present, to notify them of your situation, your skills and your accomplishments.
“Find side doors to go through versus the front door,” Lewis said.
Look for job retraining resources
You might not be able to take classes in person, but federal, state and local governments have established many forms of job retraining programs that involve online coursework. This could be a good time to pivot toward a new career.
You could also try taking online classes through a free outlet like Khan Academy or even dusting up on skills through YouTube.
“This is a great opportunity for people to enhance their skillsets,” Thorpe said.
She suggested taking online courses to improve your presentation skills, obtain IT expertise, get project management certification or gain engineering abilities.
“There are lot of things we can do to keep people invested in themselves as we go through his time,” Thorpe said.
Contributing: Paul Davidson
Follow USA TODAY reporter Nathan Bomey on Twitter @NathanBomey.