Dealing with unemployment

Written and accurate as at: 9 December 2013

To many of us our jobs are much more than just the way we make a living. They give us structure, purpose, and meaning and influence not only how we see ourselves but how others see us as well. It’s these factors along with financial uncertainty that can make facing unemployment, expected or not, a very stressful experience.

Losing your job can force you to make rapid changes. Beyond the loss of income, losing a job may also mean loss of your professional identity, lower self-confidence, loss of your daily routine, work-based social network and sense of security.

It’s common to feel hurt, vulnerable, or angry after losing a job, although not everyone experiences these emotions.


Regardless of your initial reaction, it’s important to find ways to get back on your feet as quickly as possible, for both your financial and emotional benefit.

Here are 13 things you can do to help take control of the situation, stay financially well, reduce stress and find a new job, if that’s what you want.

1. Look for the silver lining
Look for the silver lining in the situation: Has your job loss and unemployment given you a chance to reflect on what you want out of life and given you the opportunity to rethink your career priorities? Were you happy in your career? Is there something you have always dreamed of pursuing, or perhaps just a different organisation to work with?

2. Work out your current position
Once you know where you stand, you will be able to make a decision on the best way forward. Take a stocktake of where you are financially. This may include listing your savings and expenses to work out what position you are in and how you will cope financially.

Knowing your financial commitments may give you some clarity on how long you can remain unemployed without changes to your current lifestyle, what income you may need going forward and what type of work you should be looking to secure.

3. Adjust your spending
A job loss is often a motivator to revisit where your money is really going. Although it can be uncomfortable, a budget planner helps you calculate your income needs and identify current spending habits. It may be necessary to consider changing your spending habits, even temporarily. You may be surprised how much “extras” add up to and how much you can save by cutting back. Changing habits won’t necessarily be easy, but developing new disciplines will benefit you well into the future.

Importantly, try not to use your credit card to fund any shortfall in your spending. Your credit card might be helpful for emergency expenses, but using it as a replacement wage to fund other expenses can lead to debt blowouts very quickly. Check out our Budget Planner Calculator and savings tips for some ideas on how to create a budget and save money.

4. Talk about it
A natural reaction is to withdraw or resist asking for help but don’t try to shoulder the stress of your job loss and unemployment alone.

Emotional support can make a big difference when dealing with unemployment. Be willing to seek out support from family and friends, but remember sometimes they won’t really understand what you’re going through.

Depending on the situation, you may benefit from seeking professional advice as this can accelerate your transition.

5. Check if you’re entitled to any payments from your previous employer.
Under Australian law you may be entitled to payments from your employer. These can include accrued leave entitlements, redundancy payments and unpaid superannuation contributions.

If your unemployment is a result of a redundancy, it would be worth reading our ‘Receiving a Redundancy? ’ article.

Make sure you familiarise yourself with your entitlements and check you’ve received (or will receive) what you are owed.

6. Investigate Government benefits and financial support
If you’re not entitled to a redundancy or termination payment and don’t have much savings to support your period of unemployment, you may be entitled to the Government Emergency Relief program. The program, runs through a range of organisations across Australia, provides assistance with food, transport, and chemist vouchers, assistance with rent and accommodation, utility bills, and clothing.

You may also be entitled to Government assistance whilst you look for replacement work. There are a range of payments designed to support job seekers and families on a low income. All payments have waiting periods and specific eligibility criteria, but are designed to help people get back on their feet, or support them whilst they are actively seeking permanent employment.

To start with, call or visit your local Centrelink Office.

7. If necessary, talk to your lenders or bank
If money is particularly tight, then it’s important you speak to the people you owe money to, particularly if they have security over your home or car. Explain your situation and discuss your repayment arrangements. Some lenders will provide you with a short-term break on repayments or can work with you by providing extended repayment periods. Some utility providers such as electricity, telephone and other services may also offer assistance with repayment periods if you are upfront with them about your situation.

8. Review your super and insurances
Some employers arrange for insurance cover for employees to be owned within their superannuation fund. The insurance premiums are then typically paid out of the Superannuation Guarantee contributions made by the employer on the employee’s behalf.

If you have employer-sponsored Life, Total and Permanent Disability or Income Protection cover then it’s important to check whether this insurance cover will continue. Some superannuation funds provide a continuation option for members meaning the policy can be retained by transferring it and paying for premiums from your personal cashflow or personal contributions to superannuation – but be aware that there may be a specific time-frame within which you need to act retain the insurance/s.

Ceasing employment with an employer is also an opportune time to review your superannuation fund. Depending on your age and several other factors, many strategic financial options arise upon losing a job making it well worth seeking professional advice. If you are a member of a corporate superannuation plan, then some changes may be necessary.

9. Make finding a job your priority
If you’re looking to find new employment, being proactive is very important. Register with recruitment agencies and search job vacancy websites and boards. Some companies also have career pages on their websites.

Identify prospective companies you’d like to work for and contact them directly. Use your work and social networks to put the word out that you’re looking for work, and tell them what type of work you’re looking for.

With technology, job hunting goes beyond newspaper ads and recruitment agencies. The popularity of social networking platforms are increasing employment opportunities by allowing the unemployed to network with employers and the market directly.

If you use social media, make sure your profiles are consistent and up to date. If you want to stay in your own industry and work with one of your former employer’s competitors, you may not need to change any of your profile wording. However, you may want to consider a “rebrand”, which means rewriting your profiles and previous job descriptions towards what you want to do next.

10. Network – Face to Face
Whilst connecting with potential employers and other contacts online is important, equally important is to meet people face-to-face and develop relationships with them.

Networking may be the best way to find a new job as a large percentage of job roles aren’t advertised but are filled by word of mouth. Networking is about building relationships. These relationships can provide much-needed feedback, advice, and support as you look for a new job.

Keep in mind the saying “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know”.

11. Consider part-time work
Getting casual, part-time or temp work while you look for another permanent job can be a good way to boost morale and provide some financial relief. Even if the job is short-term, it may be a good way to boost your income, gain new skills or experience and make new connections.

Consider registering with temp agencies, approaching local businesses or asking friends and family if they know of any job vacancies.

12. Arrange a clear out/clean up
If you have a bit of extra time on your hands, have a clean out at home. You could either sell, donate or throw out rarely used or unwanted items, which will help you rid your home of clutter and potentially earn some extra money for those items you sell. Having a clean and organised home environment can also leave you feeling refreshed.

13. Look after yourself
When faced with unemployment you may find yourself falling into a bit of a rut. 

Focus on maintaining some routine to look after yourself. Regular exercise, good sleep and healthy eating can help you feel more confident, boost energy and help you gain and maintain a positive outlook and attitude.

The job hunting process can be discouraging but be patient and don’t give up. A positive attitude goes a long way toward securing a new role.

Facing unemployment can be a challenging time but don’t lose sight of the fact that it can also provide an opportunity for personal growth and new direction.