If you've lost your job in this crumbling economy — or if you're worried that a layoff is looming — you may be dealing with almost unthinkable levels of stress right now. And knowing that you're not alone in the unemployment boat may not make you feel that much better. But if you're in this situation, it's crucial to have a plan of attack. The following tips can help.
1Start collecting unemployment. If you lose a job through no fault of your own — i.e., if you don't get fired — you should file a claim for unemployment compensation right away. You can do this online at www.floridajobs.org or by phone toll-free at 1-800-204-2418. That same Web site — www.florida jobs.org — is a good resource to check frequently during a period of unemployment because it provides updates and announcements about unemployment benefits and job-training opportunities.
2Make sure you're registered with the Employ Florida Marketplace. This is the state of Florida's online job-matching and talent-bank tool, and you can sign up at www.employflorida.com. You should get registered automatically when you file an unemployment claim, but make sure you're able to access the system. If you're over 50, also register with the Employ Florida Marketplace Silver Edition Web site: silver.employflorida.com.
3Get trained to do something new if your industry is tanking. This Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation Web site can help you figure out how to get the necessary education, in two years or less, to qualify for high-demand jobs: www.floridajobs.org/etpl. It also could be beneficial to meet with counselors at local colleges and universities to see what sorts of educational programs and financial aid might be available to you during this time of transition.
4Go to a One-Stop Career Center. Another effective way to access assistance with your specific job search and tap into training opportunities is to contact a One-Stop Career Center (www.careeronestop.org or toll-free 1-877-348-0502).
5Tally the costs of continuing health coverage you may have had. Determine how much it would cost to extend your employer's group insurance coverage through the federal program COBRA (www.dol.gov/dol/topic/health-plans/cobra.htm). Be aware that you would have to pay both the employer and employee shares of the premiums — ouch! — but at least you would get to keep the same coverage, and that may be crucial depending on your circumstances. If you have questions about COBRA, you also can call the Florida Department of Financial Services' toll-free helpline at 1-877-693-5236, or visit www.myfloridacfo.com/ Consumers/Guides/Health/docs/health_2008.pdf and read the "Continuation of Coverage" section.
6Network, network, network. This advice always comes up in columns like this, but it's so important it bears repeating: Network as though your life depended on it. You will stand a much greater chance of finding a new job if you know someone on the inside. Reflect on all the friends, colleagues and contacts you've ever made in your industry and reach out to them. Also reconnect with any colleagues who successfully switched careers — because, after all, you may be able to make a similar switch!
7Slash your spending. Do whatever you can not to spend excessively on items and services you don't truly need. Monitor your expenses for a few weeks or a month so you can see where you can realistically cut back. For instance, while unemployed, could you save on child care costs? And as you get back on your feet, could you possibly ask grandparents or other extended family members to watch your child for you for a time? Another idea: If your income level has changed substantially, you may qualify for scholarship help at your day care facility.
8Cut back on car expenses if you can. Could your family possibly get by with one vehicle instead of two for a stretch of time? Or could you get out from under a car payment by selling a more expensive car and replacing it with a less expensive used vehicle?
9Increase your deductibles. Deductibles are the sums of money you have to hand over out of pocket before your insurance policies kick in and come to the rescue. You could save money by contacting all of your insurers — for your home, automobiles and health and disability plans — and bumping your deductibles up by a few hundred dollars apiece.
10Use credit cards with extreme caution. Especially during a time like this, be very careful with credit. A credit card can keep you in denial about your true financial situation. Accumulating debt will only add to your stress — and you don't need any more of that.
Laura T. Coffey can be reached at laura@ tentips.org.
Sources: Florida's Agency for Workforce Innovation (www.floridajobs.org); Monster.com (www.monster.com); Financial Planning Association (www.fpanet.org)