During an economic downturn, one of the first things companies do to cut costs is reduce staff. The financial impact of the new coronavirus is being felt globally across industries as many companies and small businesses are forced to close either temporarily or permanently.
If you’ve been laid off or had your hours reduced due to the coronavirus pandemic, you’re not alone. New claims for unemployment benefits climbed to 281,000 in the week ending on March 14, the highest level since September 2017, according to the Department of Labor’s (DOL) most recent weekly jobless claims data.
So in addition to concerns about your physical health amid the global COVID-19 outbreak, you’re most likely experiencing additional financial stress worrying about how to make ends meet after your sudden loss of income. Again, though it’s little comfort, you’ve got plenty of company.
After you take a deep breath, consider the following tips to help you navigate your next steps, from filing an unemployment claim to embarking on a new job search in the middle of an unprecedented crisis.
File for Unemployment Immediately
If you’re out of work because of the coronavirus, you’ll want to file an unemployment claim immediately. While you might think your circumstances won’t qualify you for benefits, the Department of Labor announced new guidance for states around flexibility to offer unemployment insurance to workers impacted by COVID-19.
For example, states may pay benefits in situations where:
- an employer temporarily closed due to COVID-19
- an employee is quarantined but intends to return to work
- an employee has left work temporarily due to risk of infection or to care for a family member
Update added March 30, 2020: The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, a $2 trillion stimulus package President Donald Trump signed into law on March 27, also expands unemployment benefits. It makes part-time employees, freelancers, independent contractors, gig workers, and folks who are self-employed eligible for benefits, provides a $600 per week federal payout on top of state benefits through July 31, extends state unemployment insurance by an additional 13 weeks, incentivizes states to do away with waiting periods, and waives some work history requirements that would normally make you ineligible.
Unemployment benefits vary by state. According to DOL guidelines, you should file your claim with the state where you worked. If you live in a different state, or if you worked in multiple states, you can turn to the unemployment insurance agency where you now live for help filing your claim with other states. To connect with your state’s unemployment website, visit the DOL’s CareerOneStop site.
If you’re ready to file online, have the following information available:
- Social Security number
- Home address and mailing address (if different)
- Telephone number
- Email address
- Your bank name, address, account number, and routing number for direct deposit
- Most recent employer’s name, address, and phone number
- First and last day worked with this employer
- Reason for leaving
- Severance package or pension information (if you have either or both)
Generally, you’ll receive your first deposit within two to three weeks of filing your claim, but prepare for possible delays due to the high volume of claims being filed right now. If you don’t have an account that accepts direct deposit, you will be issued a debit card to access your benefits.
Do Something About Your Current Expenses
While you wait for your benefits to begin, Arran Stewart, co-founder of Job.com, recommends that those who are out of work contact all of their service providers, from landlords or mortgage companies to utilities, and let them know they have been either laid off or had their hours reduced.
Banks and other service providers will work with you through this time. Citi, for example, has offered assistance to its customers, posting an announcement on its website letting retail bank customers impacted by COVID-19 know that they can have monthly service fees waived and won’t be penalized if they need to withdraw from a CD before it matures. Hardship programs are also available for mortgage customers.
Recognizing that staying connected through the pandemic is crucial, AT&T is suspending broadband usage caps for its home internet customers, which means no overage fees while people are home using more data.
While these may offer a bit of relief, it’s still wise to consider cutting expenses where possible during times of financial uncertainty. If you can cancel non-essential bills, such as subscription boxes or any services that aren’t crucial, that will allow you to save money for other important items, like groceries.
Take Care of Yourself
After you’ve filed your unemployment claim, take a moment to gather yourself and your thoughts.
“The initial anxiety and panic is natural,” says Brandon Johnson, a certified personal development coach and organizational development consultant at Shackleton Group. “Recognize it and give yourself a couple of days to let it process and to collect yourself. There is no need to rush into problem solving and creating more stress immediately after the life-changing event occurs.”
Taking care of yourself and managing the stress that comes from coping with unemployment amid a global health crisis is key.
“Now is a great time to get your exercise routine in line,” Johnson says. “Do a few squats while watching Netflix, go for a jog, whatever it is, get moving to feel better. Do the things you love to do. Rediscover your passions. Find new hobbies,” he adds. “The more action you take that makes you feel good, the more prone you will be to identifying opportunities.”
Consider Your Next Move
Once you’ve taken a moment or two to process this event, Johnson recommends considering where you are and where you want to be.
“Sit down and create a list of both what you like/loved about your job, and the things you disliked/hated about it,” Johnson says. “This will give insight into what your next move could be. You want to find more of those positive experiences in your next career move.”
Especially in light of world events, some days you might not feel inspired, and that’s OK. “Do what you must to get through the hard days,” he says. “On those days you feel good...carpe diem!”
Get Some Help
Millions of people are following stay-at-home mandates. Just because they’re not in their office environments, that doesn’t mean they aren’t ready and willing to help or offer career advice to someone in need. “Find a mentor,” Johnson says. “Right now a large portion of the population has downtime. Reach out. You will find that people are much more willing to help than we typically assume.”
In addition, companies sometimes offer career guidance services as part of a severance package. Don’t be afraid to take advantage of them. “Ask your [former] employer if they have any formal or informal outplacement or job coaching resources available,” says Stacey Berk, a managing consultant for Expand HR Consulting. “This could be in the areas of resume development, interviewing, and negotiating an offer.”
Follow the Demand
If you know you could be facing a long stretch before securing a full-time position in your previous industry, you may be considering a temporary gig to make ends meet in the meantime. COVID-19 has substantially increased the need for employees in certain sectors.
If you’ve been laid off or have had your hours reduced but are looking to get right back to work, the need for delivery drivers, warehouse workers, grocery employees, and more is increasing. Even if it’s not your core skill, these jobs allow you to earn an income now.
To that end, Amazon recently announced plans to hire 100,000 workers in the U.S. to meet the spike in demand for deliveries as the coronavirus sweeps the nation. Walmart, too, is looking to hire 150,000 new associates through the end of May to work in stores, clubs, distribution centers, and fulfillment centers. Kroger is advertising a hiring push and Instacart announced plans to hire 300,000 new shoppers in the next three months.
Other new opportunities may arise as a result of coronavirus, according to Berk. “Some sectors, such as IT, sanitation, and virtual operations support, are expanding quickly,” she says. “In the medical industry, look for jobs related to health care, emergency services, diagnostics, pharmaceutical, medical supplies, and personal protective equipment. Depending on trends, as time goes by, some government agencies could seek an overwhelming amount of new workers.”
Berk suggests creating an ongoing list of companies or organizations in your area (or ones outside of it that hire remote workers). Visit their websites or contact their human resources department to check for openings. “Perhaps you have a skill set within your functional area that would let you work in a newly created job,” she says.
Before pursuing these options, it’s important to bear in mind that contract and part-time gigs, which offer flexibility and freedom, don’t always come with health insurance or paid vacation or sick leave. And even if you do get benefits, depending on the nature of the position, you may risk exposure to the new coronavirus in some of these jobs. Weigh these factors carefully as you consider applying. And be sure to ask about the measures that are in place to keep workers healthy and safe.
But Also Keep Up Your Search for Your Ideal Role
Employers are in fact still hiring—even in the markets that look uncertain right now, such as the finance, hospitality, construction, and retail industries—which is why career coach and executive recruiter Sandie Troup recommends continuing to apply and network online throughout the coronavirus crisis.
Looking for companies that are still actively hiring during the pandemic? Check out this list.
Trying to gain employment in your core occupation may be tough, but you should still keep your resume fresh and circulating, and devote a portion of each day to job seeking.
Of course, in light of social distancing, the job search process is changing, so be prepared for the hiring process to look a bit different from what you’ve previously experienced. For example, you’re likely to have to do more phone and video interviews, so you can also start preparing and practicing to present your best self in those mediums.
Read more about how to navigate your job search during the COVID-19 pandemic here.
Boost Your Skills
If you find that you have a skill gap or you’d like to move in a different direction, take advantage of this downtime to gain what you need through online learning. “There are hundreds of free courses online from Ivy League institutions,” says Johnson. “You can also take advantage of YouTube.”
No matter what your short- and long-term plans are, gaining new skills can help. It will make you a stronger candidate if you’re looking for a role in your previous industry. And, if you’re looking to make a switch and have a background in fields related to those that are in higher demand, you can boost your skills through online learning and may be able to find a new position more quickly than you anticipated.
Though finding yourself un- or underemployed is never easy, it can feel all the more stressful amid a global health crisis. Once you’ve taken a beat to process your new situation, use these tips to help you file for your benefits, assess your skills, and job search—and look forward to finding your footing in a new position.
Photo of person working on a computer at home courtesy of Maskot/Getty Images.
When Elizabeth Alterman isn't searching for a full-time job, she's writing about it. You can read more about her adventures in unemployment at ballsofourasses.blogspot.com. The writer, editor, and mom of three also recently completed a memoir chronicling the period she and her husband lost their jobs simultaneously.More from this Author