Unemployment is Hard Work

03/08/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Are you unemployed and working harder than ever? You probably can't rest until you find another job or even a career direction. First make sure you've applied for unemployment benefits. No, if you're a well paid professional, it isn't a lot of money, but it is income and you have paid for this stipend through your taxes and years of hard work.

The amount varies by state. In New York state, for example, you can receive a maximum of $405 a week, in California $450 and in Texas $392. Yes, if you work your payment can be diminished or eliminated for the week. New York visual display artist Susie Shop says, "It's crazy. I'm actually debating whether I should accept a day's work because it may pay put me over the limit." And don't forget unemployment benefits are considered taxable income.

All of this adds up to a big incentive to focus on finding a new job as quickly as you can.
Claude Leak of Harlem can't find one soon enough. With two sons in college and a daughter headed there, he has been out of work for seven months. Laid off after eleven years in customer service and accounts billable, he wants to shift gears into communications technology. However, he has to retrain to do that and that means spending money and then he has to compete against young college grads for the same jobs. "It's scary and depressing," he admits. Leak says he does keep busy all day looking for work and working to improve his skills at a free computer class.

All of this frustration is leading up to two questions. Should you hire a career counselor? How do you find a good one? An experienced and competent career counselor can keep you focused and direct your efforts to fields that are not only within your reach but have viable openings. An inexperienced and incompetent career counselor can waste your time and money. Erica Keswin, a counselor at the Career Center for Working Professionals at NYU Stern School of Business says, "first, asks if your college or university offers any help for free."

If you do want to hire a private career counselor, a good place to start is the National Career Development Association's website. It provides a list of master Career Counselors and master Career Development Professionals by state. Look for credentials such as membership in a national or state career counseling professional association. Ask whether he or she has any special training or prior certification. A career counselor should hold a graduate degree in counseling with a specialization in careers.

A knowledgeable career counselor should assist you in developing individualized career plans. You should expect nothing less than specific strategies and skills to aid you in your job search or career switch and detailed attention to the development of your new resume.
Don't be afraid to ask for assessments and tests to gauge both your interests and abilities.

Professional career counselors are expected to follow ethical guidelines set down by industry groups such as the National Career Development Association. Beware of promises that sound to good to be true and fees that seem too high. Ask any counselor you're considering for a detailed explanation of what you're going to receive for your money and the parameters of your financial commitment. Ask for references from satisfied clients and check your local or state department of consumer affairs for complaints.

Remember, you don't have to be laid off to seek the services of a career counselor. One can help you hold onto a job or even gain a promotion by helping you reshape your professional profile. Unfortunately, most people seeking such help are already afloat in the mass sea of the unemployed.
(To see more of my stories, visit