In a similar vein as my previous series “A Gamer’s Primer to Financial Literacy using Warcraft 3″, given recent events I thought it would be prudent to write a primer for those new to the adulting world to help them through a really rough time for anyone - a job loss.
Losing your job often comes as a shock - you may have heard rumors, you may have had an inkling or feeling in the back of your mind, but few are really ready for it when the time comes. It will take some time for the reality of the situation to settle in - you’ll wake up in the morning and feel like you need to get ready for work before realizing that your schedule is… empty. It may take some time to gather your bearings before you can move on, but there are several key practical issues that come with job loss that each have rapidly-approaching expiration dates. The purpose of this primer is to help you remember to deal with these practical things as soon as you can after a job loss, before it is too late. I can’t help with the emotional and mental trauma that comes from losing your job - that’s something each person needs to work out on her own - but I can help with reminders about the practical side of things.
I’ve broken up these elements into three priority categories - Immediate, Short Term, and Long Term.
- Immediate means just that - take care of this as soon as possible. Now, if you can.
- Short Term means take care of it after the immediate stuff is taken care of already.
- Long Term advice is generally helpful, but should always take a back seat to the Immediate and Short Term things to do.
Immediate: Make a Doctor/Dental/etc. Appointment
If you lose your job, you will eventually also lose any sort of health insurance benefits. Most employers will keep you covered until the end of the month at the minimum since they pay for coverage by the month. Some (if they give you severance) will give you more. In the US, there’s also the COBRA plan for continuing the same health care plan, but it is extremely expensive to maintain and I’ve never seen anyone who isn’t financially secure and in dire need maintain it. You need to get yourself checked out and have any work done while you’re still covered. Mention that you lost your job to the doctor’s office so they understand the situation you’re in and they will try to accommodate you as soon as they can. If you need to get work done after you lose coverage, tell them that you will lose your insurance and they will often offer some sort of cash discount for payment.
Think of this as making the most out of your expensive buffs while you still have them. You might not be able to pay for the buffs yourself, but you have them now and should make the most of it while you can.
Immediate: File for Unemployment Insurance
Part of working is paying taxes, and some of those taxes go towards funding unemployment insurance. Here in the states, each state has some sort of unemployment office where you can apply for unemployment insurance. Just google “unemployment benefits <my state/province/etc.>”. Once you get it set up, unemployment benefits will pay out some amount of money to you every week or two to help you survive. Most states will provide you six months to a year of unemployment benefits as long as you continue to look for work and you continue to file the paperwork. The money provided won’t be as much as your paycheck was, but it is a great deal better than nothing when you have bills to pay.
Also, keep careful records of this income, because it will affect your taxes. Not all unemployment benefits have income tax withheld (and it is considered income by the government), which means you may be on the hook for the missing income taxes come tax season.
Immediate: Take a hard look at your finances
Without a steady paycheck coming in, your financial situation is almost certainly going to change. You need to look at your monthly expenditures (rent, utilities, food, gas, internet, etc.), your savings, and any income you may have. Subtract your total income from your expenditures and you have your burn rate. Your savings divided by your burn rate is the rough amount of time you have to remain afloat before going into debt. You need to figure out just how long you can stay afloat at your current burn rate, and whether that’s long enough to find a new job. Switching to a new job takes me roughly two months at fastest to complete the entire process going from initial contact to phone screen, design/code tests, on-site interviews, offer, then finally start date. If you have to relocate, add another month at minimum for relocating, house hunting, etc.. If your burn rate puts you in the negative before that much time can pass, you need to reduce your burn rate. This is why you need to take a hard look at those finances. Prioritize what’s absolutely important and cut back on the things that aren’t. It isn’t worth [putting yourself into debt] in order to maintain your current standard of living when you can’t afford it. This isn’t a permanent change, but it is something that’s necessary until you can secure a new job.
Short Term: Resume, Portfolio, Interview Preparation
You need to set aside time to look over your resume and think about how to tailor it to the sort of job you want. You need to update your resume to include what you did at your most recent job, but you also need to make sure that it’s written to best sell you as an experienced professional. Programmers would do well to hit the books and review code and math principles. Designers should review their work and be ready to defend the decisions they made. Artists should select and update new pieces to their portfolios. All job seekers should practice answering common interview questions, like “Do you have any questions for me?” and “Tell me about your greatest weakness”, but you should also practice what you will say if the hiring managers ask about the things on the resume because they will ask about that.
If you were part of a large layoff, I suggest reaching out to your former coworkers and holding review, resume, and interview prep sessions for those interested. Many people aren’t used to writing resumes or preparing for interviews, but your former coworkers are also professionals in the field and often have insight into the process. Not everybody will join up, but I had a lot of success in post-layoff review/practice sessions with other designers and programmers after losing my job to review things I hadn’t touched in a while.
Short Term: Network and look for opportunities
Be proactive. Tell your friends and social media that you’re looking for work, what you’re good at, what you worked on, and how to contact you. Don’t be too proud to admit you need a job. You never know when someone knows someone who can provide you with an opportunity that might be a perfect fit for you. Get familiar with the various job search engines, as well as industry hiring spots like gamasutra, linkedin, creative heads, the IGDA, polycount, etc. Don’t just fire off applications immediately either - take time to examine each one before preparing and tailoring your resume/CV to the role. You only get one chance per year to make a good impression. Whenever a studio rejects you, it’s not permanent - usually they are ok with a new submission in a year’s time.
Long Term: Don’t neglect your mental and physical health
After reality sets in, it’s really easy to slide into a haze of laziness and netflix/video games/etc.. Entire days have disappeared on me without warning because I just didn’t want to think about how terrible my situation was. I would log into the MMOG du jour and the time would just fly by. This isn’t super helpful in the grand scheme of things and can make things worse if it continues unchecked. Take steps to ensure your mental health, don’t let yourself become a shut-in. Go out in public to do things, set aside time to exercise, and do something constructive with your time. Set some sort of mid to longer term goal that you can work towards, like learning to use Unity, designing a card game, or sculpting and skinning a new model in Z brush.
Long Term: Until you get hired, finding a job is your job
You need to treat finding a job as your job. When you’re employed, you have a set of duties and deadlines. When you’re spending all day at home, it’s super easy to find yourself feeling unmotivated and procrastinate. You should treat finding a new job the same way you treated working. I set a schedule for myself each day - X hours spent working on my indie game title, Y hours prepping resumes/reaching out to recruiters online/applying to job postings, Z hours studying relevant material to refresh my skills and prepare for interviews, with times set aside for breaks. Having a regular schedule that I could follow helped keep me working toward my eventual goal, and I could see the progress I made over time. I took breaks and I made sure the time allotted in the schedule was realistic (including cushion time on estimates), but I tried to stick to it as best I could to keep myself disciplined.
Dealing with a job loss can be very hard. When I went through it for my first time, I fell into depression and lost myself in MMOGs for months. Rejections can pile up and will sap your motivation to continue. The road isn’t an easy one, but it is one that I and every other veteran dev I know have been through. Remember - the number of “nos” don’t matter because you only need one “yes” to win. Once you get there, you’ll feel great. But until you reach the goal, the game is about damage mitigation and loss prevention. You need to buy yourself the time to reach your goal, and you need to make sure that you’re as well-prepared for that challenge as possible when the time comes. During your prep time, you need to be training and leveling up your skills to take on that challenge. That means taking stock of your health and financial situation, making sure you take care of the things you need to like mental and physical health, and sticking to a plan to prepare yourself to interview and get that job. If anyone needs assistance with resume prep or review, my inbox is open. I wish you all the best of fortune. Cheers.
The FANTa Project is currently on hiatus while I am
crunching at worktoo busy.
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