How to Survive When Unemployed: 6 Steps to Thrive During the “In-Between”

The other day I had a client in my office completely panicking about not having a job yet. It had only been a few months, and yet she felt like a failure. Finding a job takes time for most grads, and still waiting for the right gig didn’t make her the loser she felt she was. In talking with her, I learned she was letting this “get a job” thing consume her life — making her depressed and rarely getting out of her pajamas. While fighting back tears she even mentioned that getting out of the house and coming to meet me was a huge step.

Talking with her reminded me of my own times of unemployment. I have done two stretches, one well, and one where I walked around in the same sweatpants for 5 days and would forget to put makeup on. I share with you now what I shared with my client that day — my strategies for surviving unemployment.

1. Get Dressed.

No, really. You need to get up everyday and get ready, just like you did when you had a job or went to school. Get up, wash your face, comb your hair, and make yourself look presentable. Maybe you don’t do this as early in the day as you did when you were employed, but still do it. (If you are reading this while in sweatpants or pajamas, go change. Don’t worry, I’ll wait.)

2. Create a Routine.

During the good unemployment stint, I had a routine. I would go to Starbucks a few times a week to study and read. I took a barre class 3x a week (the things people do with their unemployment checks). Even if I was home, I had a routine and list of things I would do that day.

Maybe your routine is watching 30 minutes of the Today Show while drinking coffee and then taking a quick walk around the block. Maybe it’s going to the library to job search at 11am 4 days a week. It doesn’t have to take up your whole day, but add some routine to your life.

So, what routine will you start?

3. Find an “office.”

Get. Out. Of. Your. Apartment. Or house. Or condo. Whatever. Even introverts need some time around other humans. The more you stay in your house, the less you feel like you are contributing to the world around you, so find an office somewhere outside your own home. My office was a fabulous Starbucks with the nicest baristas and seatmates like Bryan Cranston and Chris Noth (no lie). Now these chance encounters with celebrities did make it easier to to want to get out the door and go to my office, but other things can be just as enticing. Think of an environment you would love to work in. Go there.

And also, I understand Starbucks or whatever coffee shop you’re thinking of costs money, but there are other options. What about the library? Not into your library? Okay, hotel lobbies are another favorite of mine. My aforementioned client decided to make her office a table at the high-end outdoor mall-with free wifi included. Don’t give me excuses, you can find somewhere to go a few times a week.

4. Learn something.

No seriously. I didn’t say you need to learn quantum physics, just something. Take this chance to build a skill you’ve wanted to learn. This can cost little to no money. Plus, it can help you create the routine we discussed earlier. Get a book at the library (can you tell by now that I love the library?), watch a how-to on YouTube, or sign up for one of the insane amount of online classes that are out there.

Take a minute to think about what you want to learn.

5. Start meeting people for coffee. Or lunch. Or happy hour.

Look! We made it all the way to step 5 before I brought up networking! Yes, you can apply online for jobs all you want, but statistics show most people will get jobs through someone they know. So start reconnecting with old coworkers, ask for an info-interview with someone who’s career intrigues you, and keep up with friends as well. This is a great time to build and strengthen the relationships already present in your life. Meet friends at their workplaces for lunch. Take your mom to coffee. I had another friend who was unemployed, and we would meet weekly to catch up and talk. Getting out and being social helps you remember that life is about more than a job search. It also helps with the whole “getting dressed” thing that was mentioned earlier.

Who are you going to meet this week?

6. Dedicate time to the job search, but keep a life outside it.

Notice that I’m talking very little, if at all, about the job search itself. That’s because I have faith you will look for a job. I don’t need to lecture you or tell you to do that part. What I want is for you to remember that your life (and your identity) is defined by so much more than what you do for work. So get a life! Join a book club, have fun at a friend’s birthday party, stay on the city dodgeball league, or join the small group at church. It’s harder to sit on the couch all day when you have places to go and people to see. Additionally, having some busy-ness helps you maximize the rest of your time, and I think you’ll be more productive in your job search if you are squeezing it in between activities rather than looking at a whole day of nothing. Continue to do the things that make you, you.

Other than a job, what things give you life? Great, now go do them.

When unemployed, it is so easy to see how much we define our worth by what we do for a living instead of who we are. Hopefully these tips will keep you functioning and remind you daily of what life can be outside of work. Go.

Cassandra Thompson is a career coach living in Orange County, CA. In a former life she worked in television and selected contestants for Wheel of Fortune. Now she spends her days drinking iced coffee while helping people find and get jobs they love. 


This post was originally published on Ellevate and shared with permission.


Want to hone your leadership skills this year?


Bootcamp Promo


  1. Alisa Joy says:

    Thanks for writing this article, Cassandra. I just recently became unemployed and in this transition phase of the unknown, but your tips especially about keeping a routine are so true. I also live in the OC! Another exercise that I found helpful was writing a letter to myself from my future self. You can check it out at


Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *