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Ten Things You Should Do When You Get Laid Off

This article was written by in Career and Work. 4 comments.


Overall, the worst of the economic recession may be over in terms of unemployment. If it isn’t, or even if it is, many companies are still struggling as they find ways to cut costs. The next expense that might be cut could be your job. If you receive the pink slip after missing the signs pointing towards the loss of your job then you have some catching up to do.

There is nothing like an expected bout of unemployment to remind you of the benefits of a fully-funded emergency fund. With cash in the bank, you can sit back at the beginning of your time away from working and approach your situation without stress. Stress will cloud your perception and cause you to make choices based on your short-term circumstances rather than your long-term aspirations.

Speaking of long-term aspirations, I’ll start there in a short exploration of suggestions for using your newly found free time effectively.

1. Re-evaluate your life goals. And if you don’t have proper life goals, now it a good time to think about it. A real life goal is not the specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based (SMART) goal that you hear about in corporate development retreats. Leave that to the MBAs. A life goal relates more to what the MBAs mean when they say “mission” and “vision.” (Disclaimer: I, too, am an MBA.)

So what is your mission? Here are a few things that it should not be:

  • acquire a net worth of x by the age of y
  • retire by the year z
  • own my own business

All of these examples are means to an end, not goals in and of themselves. Your goal should explain what you will do with your money, what you will do with your time in retirement, or what you will do with your business. They need not be lofty, but life goals should not focus on numbers.

After you determine your mission, you have the opportunity to make decisions about your career, money, and time that align with that mission. If you need some more motivation, here are 9 tips for choosing a purpose in life.

2. Determine the steps for reaching your goal. With your goal or goals in mind, brainstorm your next steps. The only materials you need here are pen and paper. If you think hierarchically, create an outline in which your main points are the major milestones you’ll need to cross to reach your goals and the next level contain the tasks you will need to accomplish to reach those milestones. If you do not operate in this organized manner, just write down everything that crosses your mind when you think about what you need to reach your goal.

Even if your thoughts aren’t organized, determine the next step for your career. Your emergency fund won’t last forever. And here is what you need to keep your emergency fund as long as possible.

3. Get financial assistance. When you worked, you paid unemployment insurance premiums. Now is the time to be on the receiving end of the financial relationship with the state. Apply for unemployment insurance right away. Don’t stop to think about whether you need unemployment insurance with your emergency fund ready to help you out and with thousands of other people in more need. Unemployment is there for you, to make sure you have more freedom to prepare yourself for your next move.

You may also be entitled to health benefits through your former employer and COBRA. This means that you can still pay group rates for coverage rather than finding individual coverage. Group coverage can often be much less expensive, but you may find that you will still have to pay more than you did as an employee. Most companies subsidize or partially subsidize benefit premiums, and that subsidy disappears once you have left the company.

4. Make smart financial decisions. Here is a short checklist of the most important financial moves you can make while not working in addition to receiving unemployment and carrying over your benefits.

  • If this is an emergency situation, don’t be afraid to tap your emergency fund. This is why you have it.
  • With less income temporarily, take the opportunity to cut back on some luxuries. Evaluate your spending to determine where your opportunities are for reducing your expenses.
  • If you have a 401(k) managed by your previous employer, consider moving it to a Rollover IRA. In many cases, you will find that your options for investing within an IRA are better than what you can find in most employer-sponsored 401(k)s.
  • Don’t withdraw money from your retirement funds if you can help it. If you do, you will be required to pay taxes and penalties. It is not worth risking your future.

5. Refine your self-marketing package. It’s your move. If you have a goal in mind and you’re passionate about it, you’ll want to get back on track right away. Even if your goal hasn’t changed in step one, you have a chance to refine how you present yourself. Resumes and cover letters are not enough.

Even if you are not in a creative field, consider what examples of your work you might include in a portfolio. Just like a graphic designer won’t enter an interview without examples, don’t speak to anyone who has the ability to hire you without preparing some kind of presentation to showcase what you do, what you have achieved, and why you have what it takes.

6. Fashion yourself as an expert. This is part of your marketing package. A great way to establish yourself as an expert in your field is to publish articles in journals or magazines related to your profession. That’s the twentieth-century approach; today every writer is a publisher and every goal-seeker has the opportunity to show the world his expertise.

Start a blog, write frequently, and don’t stop. This works best if you possess writing skills, but you would be amazed at how many mediocre writers manage to find success. Find a community of bloggers who focus on your area of expertise and get to know the leaders of the group. Participate in discussions on their blogs, ask them for their advice, and give back to the community. Once you establish your online writing, look for opportunities to write for others, sharing your expertise to a wider audience. Don’t blog to earn money, blog to perfect your writing and give yourself public evidence of your passions.

7. Start networking with the right people without being obnoxious. Like Penelope Trunk from Brazen Careerist mentioned in last Sunday’s Consumerism Commentary Podcast (listen and subscribe if you haven’t already), sending a resume through an online job service is not enough. To get an advantage you need an “in.”

When someone I know is trying to “network” with me, I know it right away. They ask questions to determine my decision-making authority and anything else they feel I can do for them. Serial networkers tend to think only about themselves their needs; show more class by considering the larger picture, being empathetic, and showing your personal side.

8. Sharpen your skills. Your life goals may require you to establish new qualifications or credentials. There is nothing like time off to inspire you to enroll in a class, earn a new degree, or qualify for new certification. Above, while you were listing the steps for reaching your goal, education should have been at least one of the ideas you prescribed for yourself.

The great thing about pursuing additional educational opportunities, in addition to the knowledge you acquire, is it provides you with an answer to the question, “What were you doing between jobs?”

9. Start consulting. The steps for approaching your goals may lead you to working for yourself. But even if they don’t, start consulting in your field. With your blog established earlier, make it clear to the public that your expertise is available for a fee. You will have to do more than putting a billboard on your website, of course. Contact people, particularly the people with whom you networked in step seven, and ensure they are aware of your business.

Erica Douglass who writes at Erica.biz has a number of thoughts about creating a business identity for yourself online. In this upcoming weekend’s podcast, Erica has a number of suggestions for establishing your business as a self-employed individual. Her thoughts are destined for those permanently leaving the corporate world behind in favor of the make-your-own-rules lifestyle of an entrepreneur, but her suggestions will apply to those establishing themselves as a consultant as a means to advance their career and reach their ultimate goals.

10. Don’t lose confidence. Unemployment can be a financial and emotional strain on an individual and on a family. The good news is that all of these tips should keep you busy, and if you are busy, there is less opportunity to get drawn into negative feelings about your situation. Keep working, keep improving, and keep your ultimate goals in mind.

Published or updated June 26, 2009. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Candide

Some good ideas here, but a bunch of things are very industry- and career-dependent. For example, if you’re an attorney who’s been laid off, there’s extremely little you can do to improve your education, sharpen your skills or make yourself more marketable. Likewise, becoming a consultant is easier said than done, especially if you’re young. Also, filing for unemployment isn’t an automatic, especially if you’re considering ever running for office.

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avatar Luke Landes ♦127,475 (Platinum)

I don’t believe there’s ever *nothing* you can do to improve your education. That’s basically saying once someone passes the bar, there’s nothing more to learn about the law. Even in a specialty, there are often interesting developments to follow. The same applies to sharpening your skills. In fact, there’s no reason attorneys can’t do everything on this list with a little time, effort, and a modicum of creativity.

You have an interesting point about unemployment. Prospective politicians probably shouldn’t patronize prostitutes or proliferate pornography, either, if they’re worried about perception problems, but that doesn’t stop some of them.

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avatar Dan Holt: Laid Off

“I don’t believe there’s ever *nothing* you can do to improve your education. That’s basically saying once someone passes the bar, there’s nothing more to learn about the law.”

Right on Flexo. Candide, I’m gonna run with your attorney laid off example. When we say she was laid off, I assume she worked for a corporation that was downsizing, and was therefore in some field of corporate law. Now, there are plenty other fields of law, and some of them are in fact growing as corporate lawyers are laid off. Civil litigation, small business start-up law, criminal law, civil rights law, education law, employment and labor law, environmental law, health law, and the list continues. 14.5 million people and growing are unemployed. It’s almost certain that a small proportion have been discriminated against (even 0.1% would equate to 14,500 potential lawsuits.)

Flexo: “You may also be entitled to health benefits through your former employer and COBRA. This means that you can still pay group rates for coverage rather than finding individual coverage. Group coverage can often be much less expensive, but you may find that you will still have to pay more than you did as an employee.” No joke about having to pay more than I did as an employee. My first month’s COBRA bill was 500% bigger than my payroll deduction.

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avatar Candide

I didn’t say there was nothing to be done, I said extremely little. Yes, attorneys can take CLEs. Those will do nothing to improve your marketability if you’re looking to be hired. Legal employers are interested in intelligence, experience and whether or not you can bring in clients. Whether or not you took a few classes in, say, employment law, is not going to get you a job. I have a half a dozen friends who have been searching for a while now–it’s just tough out there now, and it’s fairly luck dependent, sadly.

Dan Holt: not necessarily the case. I know attorneys who were laid off from private practice, corporations (in house) and the government. And you can’t just switch fields that easily. Putting aside that you should like what you do for a living (I know, novel concept), you can’t just open shop on a whim because you’ll need clients and a good amount of overhead expenses (rent and malpractice insurance, to name 2).

Again, there are some very good points here. My argument is that it’s industry-dependent.

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