What to do when you've been laid off
Your personal road map to bouncing back after a lay off.
So you’ve been laid off.
No matter what the circumstances, being let go is rarely easy. It’s been a few years since I’ve been laid off, but I remember it quite vividly. The rush of adrenaline, the knot in my stomach, and the immediate flood of questions and concerns.
How long can I survive off my savings?
How am I going to get another job before I go into debt?
Will the citizens of the tent-city accept me when I’m homeless?
You’re faced with a lot of uncertainty right now. Maybe more than you’ve ever faced before. But as my favorite philosopher, Van Wilder says, “Worrying is like a rocking chair. It gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere”.
For me, the antidote for worrying is action.
If you’re wondering what your next move should be now that you’re in between gigs, I’ve put this quick start guide together to get you back on track.
Check With HR Regarding Employee Benefits
Depending on your employer, you might be entitled to a variety of employee benefits upon being laid off. Benefits could include severance pay, accrued vacation, sick pay and possibly more. If your company has an employee handbook, look through it to see what is available– if anything.
If you have an employer sponsored health plan, you’ll also want to inquire about the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (commonly referred to as COBRA for short) to keep your health plan benefits active until you can make other arrangements to sign up for a different health plan either through a new employer, or through the healthcare.gov online coverage marketplace. Being laid off counts as a “qualifying life event” that allows you to enroll in a new health plan outside of the usual open enrollment periods.
Additionally, if you have a 401k or pension account, you should check in with your HR representative to see how to transfer those funds.
Don’t be shy about calling a human resources representative to answer your questions, or to tie up a few loose ends. These are all very common and important questions that they should not be surprised by, and should be able to answer easily.
Learn more about employee benefits.
File for Unemployment Benefits
Your first priority after being laid off is to file for unemployment. It can take weeks to get your first check, so you’ll want to make sure that you get your application in as soon as possible.
Eligibility requirements for unemployment insurance benefits vary by each state, but here’s a rough idea of what you can expect in terms of criteria:
- Your unemployment stems from a lack of available work
- You were let go through no fault of your own
- You meet or exceed your state’s work and wage requirements for the time you’ve worked, or the wages you’ve earned in a specified time period known as the “base period”
You can get started here with your application.
The information you’ll need to fill out the application will also vary by state, but it could be helpful to have your last W2 handy in case you’re asked to give specific details regarding your earnings or your employer’s tax identification number.
Allow Yourself to Feel the Feels
Now that you’ve covered your major bases, it’s time to take a deep breath and deal with whatever feelings you may have about being laid off.
Which of the following options best describes what you’re feeling right now:
- All of the above
It is perfectly normal to feel any and all of these emotions, so let yourself mourn. Whether we like it or not, our jobs become a part of our identity and having that identity taken away unexpectedly can be very jarring.
A job can even sometimes morph into this complete second life that is separate from our family and friends. It’s a place where you’ve spent countless hours, and formed friendships, and hopefully earned a fair amount of respect and status.
It’s okay to not be okay right away.
What’s not okay, is getting stuck in a pattern where you’re having extended periods of inactivity. So take a day to be sad or angry if you need to. Buy some Double Stuffed Oreos, binge watch whichever streaming show all your friends talk about but you still haven’t seen, and then get a good night’s sleep.
Because you’re starting a new chapter in the morning.
Even though you filed for unemployment, you’re really not unemployed as much as you are working for yourself now. Whether you choose to return to full time work, or you want to try your hand at going freelance, the reality of the situation is that at this moment, you are your own boss.
It’s now up to you to manage the projects that will lead to your next paycheck, and if you want to expedite that process, you’ll need to be strategic and have a plan of attack.
If your goal is to find a similar role to what you just left, you should consider it your full time job to find a new job. When I was laid off, I logged into my computer at 9 AM every morning and I worked all day to fill out applications, improve my resume, learn new skills, and build my network. Then I’d log out at about 5 PM just like I would for a normal work day. After about two and a half months of this routine, I was fortunate enough to snag a new job.
If your home is now your job-hunt-headquarters, you should check out my tips for working from home.
Update Your Resume
A resume is one of those things that always has room for improvement. So even if you’ve recently updated it, you should constantly be revising and making tweaks—especially if you can personalize it to a job description you want to apply for.
Do some research on your job title and find other resumes to compare to your own. Are you using the most current technical verbiage? How does your template and design stack up? Are you seeing patterns in terms of skills that other people with your job title have, but you don’t?
By looking at other people’s resumes and analyzing my competition, I was able to tighten up the language I was using and identify some holes in my game that I studied up on while I was in between jobs.
Some resume guidelines:
- Keep it to one page. Anything you can’t fit onto one page is something you can go over verbally during your interview.
- Find the right template. Standing out is the name of the game, and while you don’t necessarily need to have rainbow colors and an elaborate design, you should do your best to make sure that your template is somewhat eye catching, and not just a sterile black and white document.
- Be deliberate. Don’t just list a random assembly of duties, tasks, and buzzwords. Think about each line on your resume and consider the value it brings to your candidacy.
- Be specific. The things that are much more important to a hiring manager than a list of your job duties, is specifics regarding your results. These are the lines that stick out the most in a resume, and you should include percentages and numbers if applicable.
Write a Cover Letter
Before you start responding to job openings, you should have a basic cover letter ready to go that you can customize and build upon for each individual job you apply for.
Cover letters can be tough to write. I know I find it difficult to talk about myself, especially when it comes to tooting my own horn. There’s also the issue that if I write too much, the letter might not get read at all. If I don’t write enough, or my message isn’t clear, I might have blown my shot before the hiring manager even has a chance to review my resume. There’s a lot of pressure.
Once you find a job opening you’d like to respond to, adapt your cover letter to speak to what skills you bring to the table for that specific role, and mention any examples of specific results you’ve achieved.
A few cover letter guidelines:
- Craft an opening line that makes it apparent that you are interested in the role, and that this is not a generic letter that you’re cutting and pasting all over town.
- Communicate your qualifications and how you meet/exceed the requirements listed on the job description.
- Provide at least one specific example of results you’ve been able to achieve that are directly relevant to the job opening.
I’ve seen a lot of conflicting advice on how long your cover letter should be. For me personally, I try to keep it to 5-8 succinct sentences with the goal being to give a preview of my capabilities, and to leave the hiring manager curious enough to inquire further.
The old saying that it’s not what you know, but rather who you know, might be a cliche...but it’s also a cliche that rings true rather often. Now is the time to strategically engage with your network to see if your connections know of any job openings that would fit your skillset.
Polish Your Profile
Before sending out a message to your connections, I recommend making sure your profile is updated and in good order. Make sure to include a thorough description of your most recent role, and make sure that your profile looks well maintained and cared for. If your profile picture is also a selfie you included on your Tinder profile, it may be time to update that bad boy with something a little more professional.
It’s easy to neglect your LinkedIn when you’re working full time, but if you’re about to reintroduce yourself to the free-agent market, you’ll want to make sure that all your ducks are in a row.
Craft a Message to Your Connections
It’s time to wordsmith a message that will announce publicly to your network on LinkedIn that you’re looking for a new opportunity. Choosing your tone and language carefully for this post is key. Regardless of how things ended with your last job, or how serious your current circumstances are, it’s important to convey a sense of confidence and positivity in your writing.
Even though LinkedIn is a social network, you should keep your communications strictly professional. This is not the time to take a swipe at your former employer, or an opportunity to garner sympathy from your network. If you feel like you need to, it’s okay to reference your former employer, but the focus of your message should be to describe the type of role you’re looking for, and to showcase the skills you have that make you an attractive candidate for that role.
It may seem like a long shot, but it’s a very real possibility that you could get a bite. In my experience, resumes that are referred personally have a much better shot at getting closely reviewed as opposed to the stack of anonymous applicants. It’s worth a shot.
Hit the Job Boards
If you’re looking for a 9 to 5, the job boards that I’ve used frequently (and have heard numerous success stories about from colleagues) are LinkedIn, Indeed, and Ladders. Some of my friends have also reported success stories from Craigslist, and you might be able to find a diamond in the rough as well, but I would encourage you to spend the majority of your time working the “big 3” job boards that I just mentioned.
Keep in mind that there’s also a number of companies that won’t publicly post their openings on job boards, but rather have “Careers” or “Jobs” pages within their own websites. Make a list of companies in your area or who hire remote workers that you are interested in working for, and spend some time searching their websites for opportunities.
When I was laid off, I was already living paycheck to paycheck. I had a small emergency fund that kept a roof over my head, and the unemployment checks helped to keep gas in my car and toaster pizzas in my belly, but I knew I was going to have to find some extra cash in a hurry.
I started cruising sites like Fiverr, Upwork, and Freelancer to pick up odd jobs and put a few extra bucks in my bank account while I focused the majority of my efforts on securing a new corporate gig.
If you haven’t considered freelancing before, now is a good time to take stock of the skills you have and assess whether there is a market to sell those skills. You may be surprised at how many people are looking for your skill-set, and are willing to pay for it. If you pick up enough steam, you may be able to turn your side hustle into a legal business entity.
A Final Word on Your Layoff Response Plan
I know firsthand that getting laid off can throw you for a serious loop. But if you stay proactive and you’re consistently improving yourself as a candidate, you’ll be back on your feet in no time.
Did I miss any effective strategies regarding bouncing back from a layoff? Or maybe you’re having trouble finding freelance jobs in your line of work? Sound off in the comments, and let’s figure it out together!