Lacy

Your job was purged, not you

CorrespondentSeptember 25, 2011 

Editor's note: Bridgette A. Lacy, a former News & Observer reporter and a laid-off state worker, writes about managing your life and your job hunt after a layoff. Her column appears twice a month.

So you've received your pink slip. You may want to start your unemployment journey with a prayer: Please, God, let me be patient.

Why? Because you are going to have to wade through a mess of paperwork, deal with people who don't know what they're talking about (and fortunately some who do), and be caught in a head spin by a bunch of things coming at you at once, including more paperwork. And all the while, you'll question your own worth as you deal with your job loss.

Linda DeFrancesco, career consultant for Right Management, a workforce consulting company, says it's important to remember that your layoff was a business decision. While it's hard not to take a layoff personally, it's not about you; it's about your position. It was an unfortunate twist of fate.

She also suggests coming up with a "reason for leaving statement" - "Due to economic conditions, my company re-evaluated all of its positions. My position, along with many others, was affected."

It's important to avoid negative terminology, DeFrancesco says. For example, say "affected" instead of "eliminated."

Preparation and information can help take the sting out of this new challenge. With the state's unemployment rate ticking back up, this is a good time to start preparing. This unemployment primer walks you through the initial steps of surviving a layoff.

Getting started

Understand that unemployment insurance is not an entitlement. Workers do not pay into it as they do Social Security. Instead, it's a tax on employers. Unemployment insurance covers workers who lose their jobs through no fault of their own. That means if you were fired or quit, your situation will be adjudicated to decide eligibility for unemployment. The Employment Security Commission does check with employers for the reason for separation.

Get letters of recommendation, personal contact information, and copies of your evaluations before you leave the company, says Mary F. Moore, human resource development coordinator for Durham Technical Community College. Most bosses are more than willing to help out, but it's best to ask while you are fresh on their mind.

Find out your benefit. Get acquainted with the ESC of North Carolina's estimator. You can access this before your last day of work. Go to https://ncesc1.com/individual/EstimateBenefits/ESTBenefitsMain.asp , and type in your last name and Social Security number. You'll get an estimate of your weekly benefit along with an earning allowance. The earning allowance is how much you can make above your benefit without changing the amount of your benefit.

Understand how benefits work, says Antwon Keith, deputy director for Unemployment Insurance with the state ESC. When you file for unemployment insurance, your claim is set up for a set maximum amount of money. In North Carolina, the most you can get is 26 weeks of benefits (this does not include any federal extensions). Any employer required to pay unemployment tax that you worked with during that base period will be used to establish your claim. You have one year in which you can receive benefits off of that claim.

Check with your company's Human Resources department to see whether you will receive a severance package. Take notes about deadlines for turning in important paperwork such as COBRA continuation documents for health care coverage.

File for unemployment insurance. Remote filing by Internet or telephone (877-841-9617) is best. Filing by phone is simple. The ESC response is automated, but if you have questions, request a call back. Or you can go to any ESC office.

Keep a log of your job search. You have to seek work actively while you're receiving benefits. That means applying for a position, sending out résumés to potential employers and going on interviews. There's a work search record sheet on the ESC site.

Check out the Frequently Asked Questions section of the ESC site at ncesc1.com/individual/FAQs/faqMain.asp .

Know the terms

Waiting week. This is the first week of eligibility that, under any other circumstances, you would have received benefits, except that state guidelines don't allow it. You still file for the benefit because that waiting week has to be established before you can get any weekly benefits. Think of it this way: If you receive 26 weeks of benefits, then you would have filed for benefits 27 times.

Separation pay. If your employer says you'll get separation pay, know that it is treated like vacation, terminal leave pay and wages in lieu of notice, meaning the time frame it covers has to have expired prior to unemployment insurance being payable.

Severance pay . If you're getting a severance package, it is treated like separation unless you are in an "approved school or training program," in which case you can collect severance and unemployment at the same time.

Employers decide what they will call that last compensation payment.

Sign up for classes

Add Pat Taylor, office assistant to HRD director at Wake Technical College, to your email contacts. She prefers to receive email if you want to register for one of the more than 40 Human Resource Development classes offered free to the unemployed and underemployed. These courses range from updating your résumé to computer skills, as well as the popular LinkedIn class. Her email address is pstaylor@waketech.edu.

For information on Wake Technical Community College's Human Resources Development classes, visit http:// hrd .waketech .edu/ .

Register for HRD classes at Durham Tech by calling 919-536-7222, ext 4011. Durham Tech doesn't have a particular contact person to call. For information on Durham Technical CommunityCollege's Human Resources Development classes, visit www .durhamtech .edu /html /current /noncredit /workforce .htm .

The job hunt

Update your résumé. Make sure it's focused on accomplishments and skills. Remember, potential employers want to know what you have contributed in your previous job, Moore says.

Google yourself. Make sure there is nothing negative about you online. If there is, try to correct it.

Take advantage of volunteer opportunities, says Teretha Bell, Durham Tech's HRD/Workforce Transitions Program director.

Use job fairs for more than looking for a job: Network and develop relationships with potential employers, Bell says.

Fully engage in any services available to you, DeFrancesco recommends. In addition to the free services at area technical colleges, turn to job-seeking network groups for support. They include Colonial Jobseekers in Cary, the Career Transformation Mission at St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in North Raleigh, and To Avoid Future Unemployment. TAFU doesn't have a website but meets from 7:30 to 9 a.m. the first and third Thursdays of the month at Café Carolina's Weston Parkway location in Cary. Here are the links to the other groups: jobseekers.colonial.org and sapc.com/portal/prayer-care/career-transformations .

Spread the word that you are looking for a new position with your contacts.

Reflect on your successes, DeFrancesco says. Use them in your résumé. Use them in conversation. Remember: You had a successful career, and you will again.

Reach Bridgette A. Lacy at RIFworker@gmail.com

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