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Surviving Unemployment

Copyright © 1999 by David E. Ross

In 1995, after 33 years of continuous employment in my career as a software engineer, I was laid-off from my job. I was without work for nearly six months, starting a new job in 1996 just two weeks before my eligibility for unemployment benefits was exhausted. Unfortunately, that new job lasted only seven months, after which I was laid-off again. This time, I was unemployed for four months. Finally, in April 1997, I was employed by a major Department of Defense contractor where I still work.

Early this year, while being evaluated for a security clearance, an investigator from the Department of Defense strongly questioned how I was able to survive financially while being unemployed for a total of ten months out of a 17-month period. Of course the government is concerned that an individual who is in desperate financial trouble might sell defense secrets. (In general, this is a far greater problem with government employees than with contractor employees; but for political reasons, the government always focuses its attention on the latter when the former "sell out".) I gave the investigator the information I present below.

Because I have friends who are occasionally unemployed, I thought I should share this information. No, these measures for staying financially healthy are not generally applicable to everyone; they are very specific to my own situation. However, they should help others to find their own measures.

The question is: "How does someone financially survive unemployment after a long career as a highly-paid professional?"

I was somewhat fortunate that my wife still had her job. Her wages were only one-fourth of my former salary, but her job also provided us with excellent health insurance (not an HMO!). Her paycheck assured us that we would still eat.

In the short-term job after my first period of unemployment, I again received a nice salary. However, neither the salary nor the duration were sufficient to restore fully my depleted savings. In my current job (which ended my second period of unemployment), my savings were finally restored about a year after I began work. It was not until about six months after that when I became comfortable about spending money on things I merely wanted but did not truly need.


This is about financial survival. However, I must also cite one very important job-search technique. Above, I briefly mentioned networking when describing Experience Unlimited. Networking is what you do when you make use of established friendships and even mere acquaintanceships to obtain leads to employment. If you are unemployed, DO IT! It works. I am now in the 37th year of my career, during which I have had six different employers. Three of those jobs — so far amounting to over 28 years of employment — I obtained through networking. My current job is one of those three.

Also, when you are employed, you should help others to find employment through networking. You will never know until it happens that they in turn might help you later. A friend (a former coworker) knew I was unemployed in 1997 and helped me to get my current job; I am now helping him because he was just laid-off.

28 September 1999

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