Planning for the worst: How to prepare for unemployment

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Recent unemployment statistics are somewhat frightening: last week, the Labor Department reported that new applications for unemployment insurance had jumped by 38,000 over the previous week. The number of first-time claims, 407,000, was the highest that it's been since immediately after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005.

While your job is probably completely safe, it's never too early to start thinking about what you will do if the bottom falls out. A little bit of planning and preparing right now can pay major dividends if the worst happens.

Do Your Paperwork: Now would be a good time to drag out your resume and polish it up. Add in all the great things that you've done since the last time that you were worried about your future. While you're at it, you might think about drawing up a couple of different resumes. For example, a skills resume could prove very handy if you are applying for a job that isn't in your current field, but uses many of the same skills. Even a traditional resume can be re-tailored to fit a wide variety of job opportunities, so you might want to give a little thought to whether or not you want your next job to be the same as your current one.Get Some Class: When you first started working at your current job, do you remember hearing your boss say something about tuition reimbursement? If so, you might want to give it another thought. From individual classes in computer programs and office skills to MBA programs, going back to the classroom might be your best step to making yourself more attractive on the job market. Best of all, if you can get your current employer to pay for it, you will be able to turn your current job into a springboard for your next one!

Prepare for the Worst: Even if your job is completely secure, you'll sleep a little better at night if you've prepared for the worst. Talk to your significant other about contingency plans in case one or the other of you gets the ax. While you're at it, take a long, hard look at your budget and figure out how long you can survive without your next paycheck. If the answer is "about two days," you might want to start socking away some money.

Keep It Under Control: If the worst happens, keep your emotions under control. Based on personal experience, I can attest that getting fired is a very traumatic experience. You might be inclined to rage at your employer, beg for your job back, sign away your future, throw a brick through the wall, or indulge in some other form of self-destructive and ultimately useless behavior. Instead of going the Britney Spears route, you may be better served by taking a deep breath, shaking hands with your (now former) boss, and taking a little field trip to the batting cages. Losing your temper not only won't get you your job back, but could make it hard for you to get another one. Similarly, losing your dignity will only leave you mortified later on.

Once you've calmed down, take a good look at your situation. First off, find out if you were fired legally. If you were, you might qualify for severance payments and other benefits. Of course, if you weren't, then you should probably talk to a lawyer. Regardless, don't sign any sort of agreement when you are in an emotionally distressed state; it's unethical of your boss to ask you to do so, and you might be throwing away some benefits that you sorely need. The New York Post recently ran a great article about how to negotiate your severance agreement. Given the current state of the economy, I'd say that it's required reading!

Bruce Watson is a freelance writer, blogger, and all-around cheapskate. Getting fired from his last job was one of the best career moves he's ever made.

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