I have always been a firm believer that "Keep calm and carry on" is the most enraging and overused expression in the English language. I imagine it emblazoned on mugs and cross-stitched cushions in the homes of people who have never had to keep calm or carry on in their life. Yet, a month ago, I found myself in a stuffy meeting room with a recruitment consultant, two weeks after being made redundant from my cosy job working on the website of a high-profile celebrity chef. After a grim 45 minutes, during which I was told that no one in their right mind would be hiring before at least the third week of January, the well-dressed and fresh-faced consultant slapped her thighs, stood up and casually said, “Oh well, these things happen. Keep calm and carry on!” Her chipper smile stayed with me for the rest of the day while I wandered aimlessly around London – my adopted home city – trying on clothes that I knew I shouldn’t buy, for job interviews that I probably wouldn’t get until after Christmas, when I’d be two dress sizes too big to fit into any of them anyway. After weeks of CV-tweaking, countless job applications, endless online job searches, a mental health crisis and too many glasses of wine, being told, effectively, to shut up and get on with it was the last thing I wanted to hear.
Redundancy is for grown-ups, and as an 11-year-old trapped in a 25-year-old’s body, it didn’t really fit in with my plans.
Being made redundant in your 20s is – for want of a better word – weird. No one talks about it, because redundancy is reserved in our minds for people who have been in their job for two decades and who have families and mortgages. Redundancy is for grown-ups, and as an 11-year-old trapped in a 25-year-old’s body, it didn’t really fit in with my plans. With rent prices at an all-time high and jobs concentrated in major cities, having a contingency plan in case you’re made redundant isn’t always achievable. When you find yourself in a position where you have no stable income and zero chance of moving back to your parents’ in the middle of nowhere, where there are no jobs and no friends, it's easy to understand how people become depressed, even suicidal. So how do you get through being made redundant unscathed? And how do you ensure that you make the most of the time off work while staying focused on the future? Start by dealing with the practical problems that you won’t have the energy to tackle when you start to make progress on future plans. The biggest worry that accompanies redundancy is money, and your first task is to create a budget.
Budgeting is something that neither interests nor excites me, and I’m very much of the opinion that any potential savings are for spending. That said, you’ve got your redundancy payout in your account and you need to work out how long you can live off that before you’re in serious trouble. It doesn’t have to be a fancy spreadsheet with formulas and macros – it just has to be functional. Write down your expenses, allowing a chunk for extracurricular activities (e.g., going out with your friends on a Friday night because you haven’t spoken to anyone who’s not a recruitment consultant all week), and work out your timeframe. Once you’ve done this, you’ve set yourself a deadline and you are well on your way to dealing with redundancy like a boss. With money worries now on the back burner, it’s time to start thinking about getting back in the game. Executive career coach, Zena Everett says: “The clue to getting back to work really quickly is not to overcomplicate things. Just stop and think – what have I got and who wants it? Start asking yourself that question with a blank sheet of paper and go from there.”
The next step, Zena says, is to get out and speak to people. “80% of jobs for professionals come from your network as opposed to a recruiter or a job advertised online. Don’t be afraid to go back to previous employers. Think about who you worked for earlier in your career, even if it was just work experience. You need to tap into the people who know you and know what you’re good at. They might need you.” While getting yourself out there might seem like a full-time job, Charlie Ryan AKA The Recruitment Queen recommends structuring your day and designating around two hours to finding your next job. “We’re all different, so understand your personality to know when your best two hours would be,” Charlie says. “Whether it’s early morning or late afternoon, make sure you have other plans around this time to engage in activities you love and those that make you feel good. When you feel good, your approach to the next day is more positive.” Remaining positive in your redundancy period can be the trickiest challenge, but try to think about the good things that have come out of a clean break – at least you’ve been saved the rigmarole of lying about dentist appointments to go to interviews and handing in your notice via email to your manager who is sitting within touching distance. Zena recommends doing something tangible in your in-between period. “Chances are you’re going to find something else quite quickly and you’re going to really regret not doing anything with your time,” she says. “Now is the time to go and do that gym class in the day that you never normally have time to do. Some people learn to cook or learn to knit – it’s good to do something where you can see an end result, because sometimes job-seeking can be frustrating. When you can look at something else you’re doing and see that you’re making progress, you’ll feel a lot better about yourself.” So, been made redundant in your 20s? From someone who’s been there, the best advice I can give is to get yourself out of bed, get dressed, go for a run or to a gym class, structure your day, meet friends for coffee (or, let’s face it, a bottle of wine), email everyone you’ve ever worked with, learn to knit, write a blog, make a realistic budget so you know how long you’ve got before shit really hits the fan. I’ve realised that the best way to cope with finding yourself unemployed is – and it pains me to say this – to keep calm and carry on.