For the Group

what I've learned about employment and unemployment, while living in Chicago..

is this what panic mode feels like? April 16, 2010

When I woke up today, I had two voicemail messages waiting for me.

1) The first was a follow up call from my pain management doctor’s office. For the past 16 months I have been dealing with mysterious chronic lower back pain. I woke up one day in pain. No explanation, no rhyme, no reason. An x-ray, physical therapy and  a MRI later.. I’m now experiencing the joys of pain management: exercise, pain patches, several medications, SI joint injections and epidural injections. My insurance company denied a simple proceedure that may have really helped. So instead I’m now being referred to an orthopaedic surgeon to explore that avenue. Makes sense, right? “Frustration” does not begin to explain how I’m feeling.

Being unemployed and in need of medical attention, it leaves you with a whole new set of worries. I guess I’m lucklier than some people in this ecomony. When I was laid off, I wasn’t instantly severed from Company X. Instead, they put me on a 90-day furlough, where I have the opportunity to get called back if work becomes available. And for the duration, I also get to keep my medical benefits.

Currently, 10% of my monthly unemployment benefits go towards paying for insurance.  If at the end of the 90 days, I’m not called back and my insurance is cancelled, I’m estimating that 28% will go towards COBRA insurance.  Believe me, that doesn’t leave a lot left over for LIVING expenses!


2) Second was a message from Company X’s human resources department. “Hello this is HR, I have good news, call me back!” Ok, so most people would be stoked to hear that message. First thing on the agenda would have been to call HR back, immediately! Right? Instead, I procrastinated. I surfed the internet, ate lunch, watched a little tv, cleaned out my closet and dresser, cleaned the kitchen and two bedrooms, mopped the floors. Then I called. I had to leave a message. I know she’ll call back first thing in the morning. I will unboubtedly still be sleeping. And when I wake up, I’ll  get the message, surf the internet, eat lunch, clean the bathrooms, work out, go for a bike ride, then call back. “Good news” in her eyes, is not necessarily the same in mine. Either she’s calling to tell me that they have work for me and I am to report back to the poop factory, or that they are extending my furlough past the 90 days.

I’m frantically trying to find jobs I’ll be interested in enough to apply to, so if I go back to Company X, I can keep time spent there to a minimum. Nothing like a fire drill to get your motivation on! hah. So far, I found two jobs to apply to tonight.

Wish me luck!


Holly Hobbie March 25, 2010

Filed under: On Hobbies — freebarl @ 2:28 pm
Tags: , ,

When I started this blog, one of the topics I anticipated writing about was new hobbies.  Since I was going to have all of this free time during my days, I initially thought I would take some classes to pick up some new skills.  ” Ooh, a writing workshop?  Cooking classes? Ceramics?  Stained glass?  The possibilities are limitless!”

Class count to date:  Zero.
Hobby FAIL!

So what have I been doing between my required job hunting activities (i.e. talking with a couple of recruiters, searching the job boards and researching companies)?  Admittedly, I do watch way too much bad daytime television.  I’ve seen more than my share of “Everyone Loves Raymond”, HGTV and WE. For shame!  But I have also been exercising fairly consistently.  The last time I did a daily workout routine was back in 2005.  Getting back into the swing of things has not been very easy, but this is a goal that I have had for a long time.  And now, 2+ months later, I’m still at it!  Yeah!

I like to mix things up because I do get bored.  So here is a list of things I have been doing:

1. “Slim in 6” program. I bought this workout package a couple of years ago and have never gotten past the third week.  “I caught a cold, I have an injury, I’m busy.” Any and all excuses have gotten in my way. 

2. “Leg Magic“.   After seeing the product late one night while channel surfing, I decided I needed to have one. I got a great deal on the thing off of eBay, but I’m still a little embarrassed to admit that I bought this. If you haven’t noticed a theme yet, I will admit that in the past I have been a bit of an exercise infomercial junkie (this subject probably warrants it’s very own post in the future).  The machine arrived, I put it together and instantly I had a dust collector.  Grr. But I finally got it out of the closet and have been using the beast!

3.  Get Bikini Ready in 5 Simple Moves.  I saw this on MSN and have only done it once so far. I was pretty sore the day after, so I can only assume it works well, right?  I think I’ll try to work it into the routine rotation.

4. Weekly volleyball league.

5. And softball season is right around the corner! Our team met up for a batting cage night a week ago and it actually took me 2 days to recover from it!  Sore, sore, sore.

6. The boyfriend and I signed up for 2 months of adult lap swimming that was supposed to start next week.  Unfortunately we found out that the pool is going to be closed this spring for maintenance.  I haven’t done laps since high school and was looking forward to adding a low impact aerobic exercise.  I was hoping that it would help alleviate some of my lower back pain.  Well, back to the drawing board on this one.  Maybe I’ll get my bike out and do some cycling instead.

Anyway, that’s my “hobby” count so far.  I’m actually a little behind on my schedule (I am using the term lightly!) today so I’m off to decide on what I will be doing this afternoon.


mistakes women make March 15, 2010

Filed under: On Life — freebarl @ 1:04 am

On a recommendation, I borrowed  “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office: 101 Unconscious Mistakes Women Make That Sabotage Their Careers” from the library.  If for nothing else, I thought it would make for an interesting blog post topic.  Sadly, I never once opened the book.  Blame it on laziness, lack of motivation, bad tv?  Day after day it would glare at me from the bottom of the stack of other ignored or partially read books that I left on the kitchen table.  “Don’t ignore me. Don’t sabotage yourself!”  

The day it was due I tried to renew it, but it was already on hold for someone else. Ah well, I guess that makes it 102 mistakes.


Could your boss do your job? March 2, 2010

Filed under: On Work — freebarl @ 9:30 am
Tags: , ,

Have you seen Undercover Boss on CBS yet?  I think it’s an interesting concept.. for one season.   I mean, unless they have taped tons of these shows already, they cannot keep it going since the cat is out of the bag now. 

My boyfriend read an article (which I have been trying to track down to no avail) about how they reduce around 40 hours of footage into 40 minutes for each show.  Apparently, part of signing up to do the show is that the companies have no say into what will air or into who they interacted with in each location they visited.  Sounds like a risky move that could potentially back fire/blow up on these corporations on national television. I.can’  😉

Anyway, I just came across this SNL clip, Undercover Celebrity Boss.  haha. Pretty much Martha Stewart!

I try to imagine how this experiment would have gone down at Company X.  Since the CEO is very recognizable, I imagine that it would have been more like the Celebrity spoof version.  
“How did you know it was me?”  
“Uhm, your face is plastered on every company email announcement that goes out.”
“Oh, right.”


What I’ve learned about headhunters.. February 24, 2010

Filed under: On Finding New Work — freebarl @ 2:07 am
Tags: ,

Last week I sent my resume to two headhunters at the overzealous urging of a colleague.  I’m not sure if they like to be called headhunters or perhaps recruiters?  Regardless, the companies they work for specialize in staffing placement for contract positions, direct placement and consulting services.  The main thing they boast is that they provide “solutions” for their clients.  Sounds simple enough, right?  I mean, I need a “solution” to my unemployment problem, so why not?

I was reluctant to work with a headhunter again because of a negative experience I had back when I was new to the game.  I was one year out of college, working as a contractor (to a large consulting company) for one of these placement services, and I was in contact with another headhunter.   I had no insurance, no vacation time, no 401K, no benefits.  So I was hoping he could help me find a permanent gig that would supply all these things that, after slaving through 4 years of college, I thought I deserved. 

I was looking through the “Jobs” folder in my email archives and came across some from 2001 (yes, apparently I have emails saved from over 9 years ago!).  This folder is where I came across the last correspondence I had with this certain headhunter.  As I reread the emails, the emotions and negative feelings came flooding back like it happened yesterday.  Miscommunication occurred, words were exchanged.  It was not pleasant, but at least I learned a few things from that encounter. 

  1. In most cases, headhunters are trying to fit a candidate (any candidate)  into a job description.  If your resume has the keyword they are looking for, you are a match. For example, if it says “design” anywhere on it, that means you are a designer, right?  Wrong!
  2. You do not have to settle on a job just because it is either presented or offered to you. 
  3. Do your homework.  You do not have to interview with every company that is interested in interviewing you.  If you find that the job really isn’t what you are looking for and you know it up front, do not waste everyone’s time by going on the interview. 
  4. If you are not comfortable with the way a headhunter is talking to you, distributing your resume and/or setting up interviews for you, you should stop working with them.  Keep it professional, but tell them their services are no longer needed.

If I can keep these things in mind as I’m diving back into the unemployment pool, I know I will thank myself later.


Certifying benefits.. as easy as pie February 23, 2010

Filed under: On Unemployment — freebarl @ 3:00 am
Tags: , , , , ,

Week 2 came and went before I knew it. There really doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of time in the day to get things done, especially when you sleep in until 10am every day! I’ve experienced such a drastic change in my schedule in the past two weeks. seamlessly, I’ve gone from the alarm going off at 4:50am, being chained to my desk for 10+ hour days doing a job I didn’t particularly like and getting 5-6 hours of sleep a night to waking on my own (usually around 10am) having most of the day free to do what I want and staying up until 2 or 3am. Always a night owl.. (for some music to listen to while reading this, check out “Night Owl” by The Pietasters. Yeah!)

Anyway, today was my first day to check in with IDES to “certify for benefits”. When I was on unemployment the first time, nearly 7 years ago, the system was not as streamlined as it is now. For instance, to apply for Unemployment Insurance benefits in Illinois, you can file online!

No more dragging yourself down to the nearest unemployment office. No more spending the better part of your day waiting in line with the rest of the disgruntled masses. No more talking to an underpaid and overworked counselor who points you to the “learning center” where you are supposed to scour the bulletin board of outdated “available” jobs, for which you will undoubtedly be under- or over- qualified. “Oh and please use our 10-year-old computers to create your Illinois Skills Match profile, which is mandatory in order to receive benefits.”

I don’t think I can express enough that this time around I am having a completely different experience. I won’t go as far as saying it’s enjoyable, because let’s face it, unemployment is not fun. But at least the process is a more convenient. Also, instead of calling in bi-weekly, you have the option of filling out a form online instead of dealing with a difficult automated phone system. Woo-hoo!

Here is a rundown of the questions you have to answer:

Holiday Pay:
Have you received or will you receive holiday pay?

You must enter the total amount of holiday pay, before deductions. Enter the total amount of holiday pay for the week of Sunday through Saturday.
Sun. 02/07 – Sat. 02/13
   – N/A
Sun. 02/14 – Sat. 02/20  –  N/A

Did You Work?:
Did you work? 

You must enter the total amount of gross wages you earned for the week of Sunday through Saturday.
Sun. 02/07 – Sat. 02/13
  –  N/A
Sun. 02/14 – Sat. 02/20  –  N/A

Were you laid off, fired, did you quit, were you involved in a labor dispute or are you still working? Please identify.  N/A (I initially answered this question and it came back as an error saying this question did not need to be answered. Uhm.. then delete it!)

Has your dependency status changed during this certification period? 

Able and Available:
Were you able to work and available for work each day during your normal work week? 

You must select the number of days you were unable to work and/or unavailable for work during your normal work week for the period of Sunday through Saturday.
Sun. 02/07 – Sat. 02/13
  –  N/A
Sun. 02/14 – Sat. 02/20  –  N/A

Did you actively look for work?  Yes

Social Security and Other Pension:
Are you receiving or have you applied for Social Security benefits? 

Other than Social Security, are you receiving or have you applied for a retirement or disability pension?  No

Has the amount of your retirement or disability pension changed?  N/A

Did you attend school or receive training? 

Workers’ Compensation:
Do you have a current workers’ compensation claim or do you expect to receive workers’ compensation for a temporary disability? 

Name/Address Change:
Has your name or address changed? 

Has your telephone number changed?  No

Enter your ten digit telephone number beginning with the area code.  N/A


I think I passed! 😉


The Color Test – I’m a creator and a persuador February 12, 2010

Filed under: On Life — freebarl @ 12:52 am
Tags: ,

So after reading this article on USA Today, I took the “Color Career Counselor” test on Career Path.  The test spits out a report that tells you what your “two most enjoyable day-to-day occupation skills” are.

I found my results (see below) to be interesting. I do agree with my “best occupational category” of creator. It explains why I have felt so stifled at Company X.. where I have had no creative outlet whatsoever. 

Just thinking out loud.. is it better to have a good paycheck and be miserable, or to enjoy what you do and struggle a little financially? I actually am feeling pretty good about making a potential change, regardless of the pay.  One of the headhunters I’ve been in contant with balked at the idea, but it felt like the first honest thing I’ve said (out loud) in years.  

Best Occupational Category
You’re a CREATOR

Nonconforming, Impulsive, Expressive, Romantic, Intuitive, Sensitive, and Emotional

These original types place a high value on aesthetic qualities and have a great need for self-expression. They enjoy working independently, being creative, using their imagination, and constantly learning something new. Fields of interest are art, drama, music, and writing or places where they can express, assemble, or implement creative ideas.

Suggested careers are Advertising Executive, Architect, Web Designer, Creative Director, Public Relations, Fine or Commercial Artist, Interior Decorator, Lawyer, Librarian, Musician, Reporter, Art Teacher, Broadcaster, Technical Writer, English Teacher, Architect, Photographer, Medical Illustrator, Corporate Trainer, Author, Editor, Landscape Architect, Exhibit Builder, and Package Designer.

Consider workplaces where you can create and improve beauty and aesthetic qualities. Unstructured, flexible organizations that allow self-expression work best with your free-spirited nature.

Suggested Creator workplaces are advertising, public relations, and interior decorating firms; artistic studios, theaters and concert halls; institutions that teach crafts, universities, music, and dance schools. Other workplaces to consider are art institutes, museums, libraries, and galleries.

2nd Best Occupational Category

Witty, Competitive, Sociable, Talkative, Ambitious, Argumentative, and Aggressive

These enterprising types sell, persuade, and lead others. Positions of leadership, power, and status are usually their ultimate goal. Persuasive people like to take financial and interpersonal risks and to participate in competitive activities. They enjoy working with others inside organizations to accomplish goals and achieve economic success.