A job loss in March was a "bittersweet" experience for 27-year-old Erin Suhy, who had been working as a development assistant for a nonprofit organization. "I lost income and the potential to work in a field that I respect," she says, but "the job wasn't challenging and it made me miserable."
Since then, the New York resident has worked on and off doing administrative work and is currently collecting unemployment insurance while considering post-graduate certificate programs in Web design. She's also thinking about moving. "This time has given me the opportunity to think about what I really want out of life," she says.
However, the worst part of being unemployed is feeling insecure, she says, and constantly wondering "am I making the right decisions?"
Twentysomethings often agonize over every career move. "They feel like their choice has to be momentous," says Larry Root, a professor of social work at the University of Michigan. And when a job doesn't work out, he says, it "can be hard psychologically," leading to low self-esteem, mental stress and feelings of inadequacy.
But young people in this position should remember that it's not unusual to switch careers -- not just jobs -- several times before finally settling down, say career consultants and counselors.
Try to not feel discouraged if you wind up unemployed. Instead, use this time wisely to get back in the game. Here are some tips:
While you look for a new job, you may be eligible to replace some of your income via your state's unemployment insurance benefits. The length of time and the benefit levels vary from state to state, as do eligibility rules. On average, you can collect for 26 weeks and replace perhaps 55% of your former income, up to a specified dollar amount. In Virginia, for example, the maximum is $330 a week.
One frustration: the payment based on your last job could be greater than some job offers you receive.
Remember that unemployment insurance is taxed as regular income, just like salary, so come April 15 you may get a big tax bill too. You should either deposit a portion of each unemployment check in a savings account or request that your state's unemployment-insurance agency withhold tax. For a link to all the relevant state agencies, go to workforcesecurity.doleta.gov and click on the map of the U.S.
Kelly Duncan, executive director of the South Dakota Counseling Association, recommends asking your former employer for feedback on your performance. Find out if there were things you didn't do to fulfill the employer's needs and ask specifically how you could improve.
Also look critically at yourself, says Ms. Duncan, and ask: "Did I lose my job because the company downsized or was it something I personally had a part in?"
You may want to use this time to gain new skills or hone the ones you have. Your local unemployment office will generally provide a minimal amount of free job-search training as well as information about educational programs. Many colleges and universities offer reasonably priced continuing-education courses that you can take even if you aren't enrolled in a degree program.
If you aren't able to find a job right away, keep busy. Look into building up your portfolio if you're in a creative field, or volunteer with an organization you could see yourself working with, says Elizabeth McAloon, an executive career coach in New York.
"If people see you in action, they will think of you when something comes up," she says.
Losing a job for the first time can be an anxiety-laden milestone for twentysomethings. But it can also be an opportunity to rethink your course, and possibly make changes, before you've proceeded very far on a career path.