It's been a tough few years when it comes to career certainty, and if you're worried about joining the ranks of the laid-off, you're not alone.
Losing your job is hard enough. There’s the stress of paying the bills and the emotional tug of feeling expendable. But there’s also the job search process. Successfully navigating the job market requires skills and strategies that don’t always come naturally, and when you’re navigating with a level of fear, it can make the next step in front of you even harder to find.
But it’s not impossible. If you’re an employee who has been laid off or are just worried you’re about to be, take a deep breath. Here’s what to do next.
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Getting laid off can be a very emotional time. However, many employers will offer severance pay or a limited continuation of your pay when terminating your employment.
You may feel relieved to get any continuation of pay, but take the time allotted to you to review your contract so you can read the fine print. (Also, don’t forget that severance pay is taxable. Plan ahead!)
During the termination meeting, take notes, ask questions and don’t sign anything immediately. Give yourself time to think through the next few months and arrive at the answers to these critical questions:
Does the severance package reflect and respect your time committed to the company?
What other employee benefits are included with the severance? Sometimes this may include a release from a nondisclosure agreement, continued health benefits or outplacement services.
If you think a layoff is coming, review your company’s policies now to be prepared with the right questions and information should the worst happen.
Step 2: Get on the unemployment train
The next step is to get unemployment help by filing for unemployment benefits. These benefits can provide temporary financial assistance after your layoff while you hunt for your next gig.
Check out your state’s unemployment agency or the U.S. Department of Labor to get started. Eligibility requirements vary by state and are based on factors of your layoff such as the reason for separation and wages earned.
While you’re at it, review your continuation of health coverage plan, commonly referred to as COBRA. If you were given a severance, continuation coverage may be something you can negotiate into the package. If not, check to see if you are able to maintain employee health benefits for a limited time. Or, check out the Health Insurance Marketplace to explore your eligibility for special enrollment periods that may be available.
Step 3: Work that budget
Being laid off is stressful, especially if you’re worried about money. Evaluate your income, expenses and savings to create a plan that will help you stay afloat during your hunt for employment. Don’t forget to include recurring expenses like mortgage or rent, utilities and gas. Consider cutting back on non-essential expenses, including any superfluous subscriptions, to help make your money stretch for as long as possible.
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Explore local resources, such as food banks or rental assistance programs, to stretch your budget. These resources exist for this exact reason, so let them help support you during tough times!
Additionally, consider getting in touch with creditors, utility providers, gym memberships, and even internet and cable companies to ask for discounts or promotions, even for just a month or two.
Step 4: Brush off your job search tools
It’s time to look for new employment. Here’s how to set yourself up for success.
Spend some time reflecting on the projects and results you’ve accomplished throughout your career and start updating that resumé. Make sure your resumé highlights your accomplishments and achievements so hiring managers and recruiters can quickly and easily see your impact and value.
Your profile photo is a clear and professional headshot.
Your headlines speak to what you’re going after in your next step.
Your resumé’s bullet points are in the Experience section of your profile.
Becoming active on LinkedIn will help you connect to hiring managers and recruiters, so consider logging in regularly and targeting ideal decision-makers and employers.
While seeking employment, make sure to prepare for your interviews. Research the company and position you’re applying for and practice answering interview questions out loud. Be ready to talk about your work history, employee accomplishments and gather questions of your own.
If asked, be prepared to talk about your layoff. Never speak poorly about your previous employer but be ready to address the situation and why you are a good fit for this new organization. Consider seeking the advice of a professional resumé writer or career coach to help you prepare for these conversations and ensure that your resumé and LinkedIn profile are as strong as possible.
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Networking is key to any successful job search. Reach out to your contacts and colleagues to let them know you’re looking for work. Also, create connections with industry professionals through social media, especially LinkedIn. Building strong relationships with other employees in your industry can help you find job opportunities. In fact, employee referrals are four times more likely to be hired than website applicants, according to Zippia.com.
In my own consulting work, I have found time and time again that workers are nervous to network but eager to help. Now is the time to get out there and ask for help! When you’re gainfully employed, you can return the karmic favor.
It can be hard to find the silver lining in a layoff, but consider this: If you’ve ever dreamed about a career change, now is the time!
Perhaps you could expand your job search to related fields or positions you overlooked in the past. Use online job search engines, attend job fairs and network with other workers in your field or different fields that appeal to you to increase your chances of finding a new position.
Perhaps the most important aspect of the transition from unemployment to employment is your mindset. It’s important to stay positive and optimistic in the face of the stress and uncertainty that come with a layoff. Wherever you ultimately end up next, you can take this time to explore new career paths and discover how capable you truly are.
How to prepare for a layoff
While it’s impossible to predict if or when a layoff might occur, you can take proactive steps to protect yourself.
Stock your emergency fund
Consider cutting non-essential expenses and building an emergency fund. Ideally, you’d build up enough cash to cover three to six months of your monthly budget in case something happens. And if something does happen, removing financial stress from the equation lets you hit the ground running on your job search.
Keep your skills up to date
The job market is constantly evolving, so it’s important to keep your skills up to date. Take courses or attend training sessions to learn new skills or enhance your existing ones. This makes you a more valuable employee or a more attractive candidate to a hiring manager. Also, knowledge is power: Equip and market yourself as the expert you are!
Keep your network fresh
Most employees are willing to network for a new job but are hard-pressed to find the time during their busy workweek. Try setting aside time each week or month to network anyway. You can even create a recurring appointment in your calendar to keep you accountable.
By staying active in your networking game, reaching out to industry leaders and growing your presence on LinkedIn, you will be well positioned if the day does come that you’re let go.
Keep your kudos folder full
After writing thousands of resumés, I can tell you it’s surprising just how many workers forget the great things they’ve accomplished throughout their careers. To counteract this, I highly recommend keeping a “kudos folder” on your personal email, Dropbox or Google Drive. This file should store notes on all the incredible projects you’ve completed, accolades you’ve received and accomplishments you’ve nailed. Having a working list will not only help you in updating your resumé but also in driving your confidence and successfully sharing your achievements during interviews.
Getting laid off is never fun, but it’s also part of a lot of people’s careers. Remember: Prepare for the worst, hope for the best and stay focused when it’s time to change jobs.
Career resources at University of Phoenix
Don’t embark on your career journey alone! University of Phoenix equips its students and graduates with the following resources to help them on their professional paths.
Career Services for Life®: Available to UOPX students and graduates, this offering comprises complimentary career coaching, including guidance on how to build a personal brand and write a resumé.
Free career resources: Browse a range of downloadable guides and templates to help you optimize your LinkedIn® profile, get ready for a job interview and write a resumé and cover letter.
Kara Dennison is a certified Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR), an executive career and leadership coach, and a Forbes contributor. She’s the CEO of Optimized Career Solutions. Her dream job is helping high achievers and leaders live authentic lives, starting with their careers. When she’s not writing for University of Phoenix or coaching high achievers and leaders, you can find her hanging out with her husband and two black cats or swinging in the hammock out back in her small, remote town in Tennessee.