I Just Got Laid Off--Now What?
by Brenda L. Peterson, The Layoff Lady
It Starts Like Any Other Day
You get up and get ready for work. It starts like any other day. Then, something happens that is a portent of doom:
Whether you have a one-on-one (plus an HR representative) meeting with your soon-to-be-former boss or receive an awkwardly worded email that part of you thinks must be spam or a joke, you are now among the newly unemployed.
Some days, you go to work with lots of plans and come home with a white box filled with all of your workly possessions.
Welcome to the suck.
It's hard to know what to do when you suddenly find yourself out of work. Even if there were rumblings about a possible reduction in force (RIF) at your company, it's still surreal when you realize your job is now over.
Whether you loved your job, hated it, or felt somewhere in between, it's time to deal with your current emotions, assess your current state, and (above all) not do anything particularly counterproductive as you figure out what to do with yourself.
Based on the crazy number of layoffs I've navigated, here are my suggestions for your next steps.
Step 1: Process Your Emotions
Curse you, feelings!
Losing your job, even through no fault of your own, is an emotional roller coaster. Given how much of your life you spend at work, suddenly not having the same job is a huge change. In fact, it’s the same level of change as things like getting divorced, having a close friend die, or going to prison. You may feel fine one moment, angry the next, then ecstatic, then in tears. Realize this is completely normal.
Just like dealing with a death in the family, you’re dealing with the death of the future you thought you had. Losing that imagined future, regardless of your job’s role in your life, is a significant loss that needs to be addressed. Figure out how you will cope with these changes. You might choose positive ways (exercise, reconnecting with friends, journaling) or negative (overeating, overthinking, or a good old-fashioned bender). Find your emotional support people and confide in them. Talk to your partner, family, and friends. Find a support group (in-person, online, or both) to help you work through it.
As much as you may want to jump over the part where you have to admit you have feelings that influence how you live your day-to-day life, you need to address them—whether it happens now or later. During one of my layoffs, I was going through many new and exciting (read "stressful”) life changes all at once. Then, I compartmentalized and focused on the business of moving and finding a new job. Once I was in my new job, I pretty much worked during the day and went through the process of dealing with all of the life changes at night. Do what works for you.
A Note About Social Media
As you process your feelings, be cautious about sharing right away (and/or in great detail) on social media. Give yourself 24-72 hours to feel your feelings and talk to the individuals in your support system offline. After you have had a little time to process, then decide what to post publicly. Be sure to get your head straight before sharing anything with the masses.
Step 2: Review Your Finances
Disclaimer: (You know there has to be one of these now that we're talking about topics like personal finances and health insurance.)
While I know quite a bit based on my previous work experience supporting financial coaches, my own research, and my personal life experiences, I do not currently hold a license or certification to give financial advice. Therefore, the information provided here is educational information provided as guidance.
I hope you can glean value from my lessons learned. Feel free to take my recommendations or not—but whatever you do, double-check my facts (and everyone's facts, for that matter). This is your life, and you will care more about your finances and health care than anyone else. With that, read on.
Possible Money From Your Former Employer
Most of us work because we have expensive habits to support—like living indoors and eating on a regular basis. When a job ends, there are financial concerns that need to be addressed pretty quickly. The money coming into your household will change A LOT, and it's time to get your arms around those changes.
While you won’t have the income from your job, you will receive your final paycheck, possibly vacation time that you have earned and, hopefully, a lovely parting gift from your former employer in the form of a severance package.
If you do receive severance, the amount can vary wildly. In fact, it could be between a fat lot of nothing, to the equivalent of a paycheck or two, to 1-2 weeks of pay for each year you were with the organization, to a big old check from a tech firm doing widespread changes and wanting to be spoken well of in the media. As an extra added bonus, if you do receive severance, realize that it may be less money than you think because of taxes withheld or other various and sundry deductions.
If you get a severance package, realize you will need to sign something before receiving that money. Once you sign, any thoughts you might have about legal action regarding your employment with the organization are pretty much over. Read the agreement given to you, consider having a lawyer look it over, and ask for clarifications (and any revisions) before signing it. After that, there is typically a waiting period before you receive that money. This is big-time adulting here, so enlist help as needed.
While your regularly scheduled income from your previous employer may end, in most cases with a layoff, you will be eligible for unemployment income. In short, apply for unemployment payments. The money used to make unemployment payments comes from the payroll taxes that employers pay. This money is intended to help people who have been laid off from their jobs to help fund the time it may take them to find a new, comparable job.
Unemployment payments are administered by each state and vary from state to state. (I'll include a link at the end of this article.) After you apply for unemployment payments, there may be a waiting period before you receive a payment (in Minnesota, there is one "nonpayable week" before payments begin.) Your state will also outline the amount of each payment you will receive, the number of payments you are eligible to receive, and additional factors impacting your payments. You may also be eligible for job search support services and even programs to help you upgrade your skills. To learn more, visit this link and click on your state for additional details about unemployment and related benefits and services.
In short, apply for unemployment income right away. In most cases, there is not a reason to forgo unemployment payments.
A Note About The Joy That Is Health Insurance
In the United States, where health insurance for people of working age is often employer paid, thinking through health insurance implications of a job change is critically important.
Since many people rely on their employer for health insurance coverage, figuring out this aspect can be tricky. If you are fortunate enough to have a spouse/domestic partner/parent who can bring you onto their health insurance, check that out right away. In general, if you were covered by an employer's plan, and lose that coverage, you will be eligible to switch to another employer sponsored plan. Be sure to at least ask that question of that other potential employer-sponsored health care coverage.
If that's not an option, you have a few more decisions to make. If you do receive a severance package, health insurance coverage for some period of time may be included. Find out if your previously employer sponsored health insurance coverage is paid for by the employer, or if you will receive money to cover the cost of coverage. (These are two very different things.) You may also be eligible for COBRA coverage, which means that you would continue your previously employer paid health insurance, but pay for it yourself. Be sure to brace yourself when you see the amount that you will now be charged for that coverage--because it is usually A LOT more than you paid as an employee.
If you are not willing and/or able to continue with your previous employer's health plan, you may be able to go on the insurance exchanges to find coverage--which may even be subsidized given your new lower income level. Alternatively, for shorter term coverage against something super big and awful happening, you can check out short-term health care options. The coverage is not as comprehensive as what is on the exchange, but it's also way less expensive. Depending on your situation, you may also opt for the “be careful” health plan (no health coverage, but no sky diving either). Figure out what makes the most sense to you, and how to mitigate any risks you take.
Step 3: Prepare For Your Job Search
Now that you are without a job, you need to figure out how to get a new job—which is no small effort. Think about what kind of a job you want and write it down. Take time to think about the job titles, possible employers and salary range you want to target. It’s hard to find what you want until you actually know what you want to find. Get your resume updated (if you haven’t already). You may even need a couple of different basic resumes if you’ll be applying for different types of jobs. Figure out how to highlight your unique skill set and showcase what problems you can help your potential employer solve.
From here, start letting people know about your new status of being “in transition” (not unemployed) and ask people for help. Many times, people offer help. Letting them know specifics on how they can help will do wonders. Perhaps they can introduce you to people who work at one of your target companies. Perhaps they know about a position that has not yet been advertised. Perhaps they know someone who knows someone who you should talk to. Maybe they have a lead on an up and coming company who needs someone just like you. Rely on those working relationships that you have built and put them to work. (Also remember that this is a two-way street. Be sure to help your fellow job seekers, or people who are trying to fill positions. Creating mutually beneficial relationships helps everyone.)
Keep in mind there are additional resources beyond your current network. Just like with emotional support, there are groups that can help with job searching. Check out LinkedIn groups, in-person meetups, and seminars on how to network. Find a professional group and meet those people. The more people you meet, the better chance you will have to find a new position that is right for you.
First off, this is A LOT of information to manage, and you don't have to do all of this alone. Be nice to yourself and know that you can totally do this.
Through my many, many layoffs, one thing has remained true. I have always ended up in a better place, both personally and professionally, than I would have expected. I learned new skills, met new people and made life changes that I probably needed to make, but I only did when life gave me the shove I needed
Remember, this whole process is a lot, but you can totally do this. I, for one, am here with information and resources to help you navigate some of the yuck as you create your new reality. You've got this.
by Brenda L. Peterson, The Layoff Lady
Managing Job Anxiety
Recently, I was at a professional development event learning about the finer points of corporate training. During networking time, I talked with a woman who had been previously laid off, then called back to work for the same company (which is rare for my chosen field). What was her biggest concern? In short, she was trying to figure out how to be happy in her new/old position and not constantly worry about the possibility of getting laid off again.
To Worry, or Not To Worry?
Here in the land of having been laid off from various and sundry positions many, many times over the course of my career, I know from being worried about job loss. Granted, the first time I was laid off, an involuntary job loss was outside of my realm of possibility since it had never personally happened to me. After that, though, once I knew it was a thing, there were many times when I worried about being laid off. Maybe it was concerns about market performance, new management, rumors about reorganization, or other things that caused my anxiety to kick in.
An Alternative to Worry
Way back when, I had two operating modes when it came to work: “I’m happy with my job” mode and “I need to find a new job right this minute” mode. “I’m happy with my job” mode included excelling at my day-job with a side order of inactivity. “I need to find a new job right this minute” mode is when I started to network, look for career opportunities, dust off my resume, highlight my skills, and look to make a change in the very near future.
Now I realize that I needed to change from those two to an all new “working professional” mode—which is a both/and way of being. As a working professional, I still excel in my current role, but I also remember to keep my skill set up to date, continue to make ongoing professional connections, and have a career plan B (and up through about J, honestly) just in case I need it. Regardless of my employment status, this mindset serves me well and helps me live my life without focusing on fear.
Learning and Growing
Once upon a time, I planned to be a high school English teacher. While I didn’t end up teaching in a school setting, I use that skill set to help adults who work for businesses learn the knowledge, skills, and abilities that enable them to excel professionally and personally.
I’m a lifelong learner, and I literally learn for a living—and help others do the same. I’m always learning new technology, reading up on adult education theory, and gaining insights from those around me.
In addition to having a formal background in education, I also attend regular professional development meetings, and I constantly read in and outside of my field. I make sure I can speak intelligently about trends in business, education, and beyond. Staying current and continuing to learn and grow keeps me doing well in my current position and future ready. In an ever-changing world, continued professional growth is the best way to manage whatever happens next.
Building (and Tending) My Professional Network
People talk a lot about “networking.” Too often, I think networking is depicted as a superficial act that involves shaking a lot of hands at a nametag-laden event where people dread the next day’s “would you like to buy something from me” calls. As an introvert, I approach networking differently. My goal is to build mutually beneficial relationships with people. These relationships are an opportunity to share information, help one another out, and feel more connected.
I keep track of my network using LinkedIn. In the beforetimes (aka pre-pandemic), I would typically meet people in person first, then connect with them via LinkedIn. Now, after I interact with someone via webinar (at a professional development meeting or after we work together for the first time), I invite them to connect on LinkedIn.
I've also taken a more proactive stance on online networking out of sheer necessity. Regardless of how that connection comes into my life, from there, I’m happy to help a friend of theirs look for a new job, or talk with one of my connections about how they might want to design their technical certification program, or answer a question about a job applicant who is a former coworker of mine. I expect to help people in my professional network out, and know that they will be willing to do the same
Regardless of the role I’m in, and even if it seems to be going well, I always have a backup plan, and a backup-backup plan, and then a couple more backup plans after those. After many layoffs and the unique challenges of each, I have a broad sense of the types of situations (like figuring out the healthcare exchange and determining when it made sense to do short-term contract work) I may need to mitigate. This means being ready to manage possible adversity or taking advantage of opportunities as they become available.
In addition to being proactive with my network, some things I’ve thought through have made me better equipped for issues as they arise. Here are a few of the things I’ve contemplated:
by Brenda L. Peterson, The Layoff Lady
Interviewing for a New Role
As a many-time layoff survivor, I have done quite a few job searches and had lots of interviews. Recently, I read an article about a job searcher who opted out of one hiring process. He did this after making it through three rounds of interviews and having the organization ask about arranging the next six (yes, six) rounds of interviews.
I felt compelled to share my story about one seemingly never-ending interview process. Unfortunately, like with many things in life, it took a bad experience to teach me how to make better decisions.
Job Interviewing Boundary Setting is Hard
Let me start by taking a moment to acknowledge that this is not always easy to do. It is hard to set boundaries when you’re hip-deep in a job search, especially when you’re unemployed. The longer the search goes on, the easier it is to tell yourself that you’ll summit Everest if a potential employer asks you to as part of possibly FINALLY getting a paying job.
Consider this your reminder to realize that jumping through more and more hoops doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll end up with a job at the end of the process. Do your future job-searching self a favor and think through what your boundaries are when it comes to participating in a given company's hiring process. (We'll revisit this a little later.)
The Perfect Job! (or was it...)
During this particular job search, I was laid off at the end of the summer. From previous job searches, I hoped to find a new position before Thanksgiving because otherwise, it might be until February or March before I secured a new role.
I was very excited when I ran across THE PERFECT JOB! It was an opening for a training director position within an easy commuting distance where I even knew someone who had connections within the organization.
Lesson Learned: Don’t fall in love with a job. Even if it seems like “the perfect job,” it is not yet “your job.” Apply, and hope for the best, but keep on applying. Until you have an actual accepted job offer, it is not “your job.
The Inside Scoop
I met with my professional connection, and they filled me in. I learned about the organization, their clientele, their mission, the key players in the hiring process, and helpful background information. My connection even put in a good word with the organization (they had left on good terms.) I also learned that the company had some turnover in this position, so they were trying to make sure they did their due diligence and hired the right person this time around.
Lesson Learned: Gather and synthesize information even when you’re excited because you found THE PERFECT JOB. This company having gone through two people in the role in a relatively short time period and being concerned about making another hiring misstep is something I heard and noted. Still, I didn't really take it to heart. In this case, the company was trying (maybe a little too) hard to hire the right person for the role. It may have also indicated something about the company or the position that caused people not to stay. My future self knows to synthesize information more carefully--and not overemphasize only the good things.
The Phone Interviews
I applied, and my connection put in a good word for me. The company quickly reached out to me for an initial phone screen. Then a phone interview. Then another phone interview. Then yet another phone interview. After four phone calls—each where the new interviewer seemed excited about me as a candidate and talked about who else I needed to talk to—I started to wonder what the game plan was for this whole process (aside from their overwhelming and often stated goal of not to make a hiring mistake).
Lessons Learned: In the initial phone screen or the first interview, ask about the hiring process. This includes their estimate of when this process will be over (a week? a month? 6 months?) and the critical steps in the process. Decide your boundaries and be ready to decide the number of hours you are willing to dedicate to interviewing for this role.
Remember, you are interviewing them, too. Make no assumptions. Don't get so excited that they keep wanting to talk with you that you keep going, not knowing how many hoops there are to jump through.
The Work Samples
In addition to talking to different interviewers on multiple occasions, the company wanted to see instructional design work samples from me. I emailed work samples and reviewed them with a subject matter expert who was well-versed in adult education and instructional design. They complimented me on the trainer guide, videos, and job aids I had created. They told me they were impressed with my work and learned from what I told them. At this point, they told me the next step was for me to meet with the company founder.
Lessons Learned: Have a portfolio online that people can access, or let people know that you are happy to review work samples (and your process) with them in an in-person or Zoom meeting. I keep my work samples online with a note that these are intended to showcase my work and that they are not to be downloaded and distributed.
The Zoom Meetings
I was excited to meet the company founder, who was also a published author. In preparation, I bought and read their most recent book, researched their accomplishments, read their blog articles, and reviewed their body of work. During the interview, we had a great conversation, which included a lot of “when we work together” and “next steps” language.
This meeting was followed by multiple Zoom meetings with different stakeholders (again, one at a time) explaining the next steps in this process—which they called an “in-box experience.” During this phase, I would come into their office and work for a half day. I would have a chance to interact with multiple people I would work with, including consultants and a client. This would require me to sign a non-disclosure agreement, work on a project for an actual client, and present information to a client.
Lessons Learned: No matter how many interviews you have, or how much they seem to like you, remember you do not have the job until they have made you an offer and you have come to an agreement about your compensation. Remember that the goal of this process is that the employer decides if they want to work with you, and you decide if you want to work with them. Looking back, I'm frustrated with myself that I invested SO MUCH TIME with this potential employer without talking about salary expectations.
The In-Box Experience
The Wednesday before Thanksgiving, at 8:00 am, I arrived at the company's downtown office location for my in-box experience. I brought my computer and the work I had done so far. (BTW--there was a project and pre-work that I did, which took way too long. Holy time suck.) I was told that I needed to use their computer for my work that day.
During the four hours that I was there working (for free) for them, I had an in-person panel interview with people I had talked with via phone, interviewed via Zoom with a consultant, ran a project meeting, completed work on instructional materials for a client, and got feedback on my performance along the way. I had a final conversation with one of the decision-makers before ending my day. I was told I'd hear back early the following week.
Lessons Learned: Determine ahead of time how much you are willing to do for a role, and when to call it. Remember, you're interviewing them, too. And, for the love of God, don't do a ton of unpaid labor for a business that is not paying you for your work product.
Thanks, But No
In the middle of the following week, I got a call. It was very brief. Thanks for my time, but they had decided not to proceed with me as a candidate. If I like, though, they would be willing to add me to their possible consultant database for future contract work.
Lesson Learned: Never again. In short, I spent about 45 hours total, including about 15 hours of unpaid work that I did for the company, to end up with no job offer. Time to transition all of these lessons learned into new personal guidelines.
My Fancy New Job Search Boundaries
Remember the boundary setting I mentioned before? Here's where we revisit it. After going through this process (and getting mad all over again while writing this article), I am reminded of the outcome of those lessons learned for me.
by Brenda L. Peterson, The Layoff Lady
Network Building in the Beforetimes
Pre-pandemic, "networking" typically meant attending in-person events, shaking a few hands, and having a somewhat meaningful conversation with another human. While in-person opportunities are available again, it's still a good practice to continue to build your network when interacting with people online.
Enter the Webinar
Like many people, I have attended (and delivered) approximately a bijillion online meetings, trainings, and interactive instructor-led sessions. I've been approaching these sessions with a mind towards not just attending, but also making new connections. Although the process differs from in-person interaction with people, I have managed to connect with more people (and often form more meaningful connections) than attending in-person meetings and “working the room.” As someone who runs introverted and communicates effectively in writing, this was an opportunity to turn webinars into a bonus network building exercise.
Your Personal Webinar Branding
When attending a webinar, I make sure that people are able to see who I am, my full name, and a picture if at all possible. I use the same photo I use on LinkedIn so that people associate me with that picture. I also make sure that my first and last name are present so people have a chance of being able to find me after the session--or will recognize my name.
In addition, during the webinar, I interact during the session. This usually involves commenting in the chat when prompted--which is also an opportunity for other attendees to see my full name. During any small group interactions, I'm sure to turn my camera on so people can see my face, hear my voice, and see my name. If the presenter asks people to share out loud, I usually turn on my camera, and share my thoughts. Again, this is another opportunity for people to hear my voice, see my face, and see my name. Each of these "impressions" helps people start to get to know me at least a little bit.
Finding Potential Connections
During the a webinar, I often take a screen shot of the participant list, and a gallery of attendees if people are on camera. Whenever possible, download the chat from the session. This helps me identify who was active in the webinar and gives me additional information on anything they might have shared during the session. I often make notes on notecards during sessions to help me remember who might have said what and key content covered. All of these details can help me when interacting with attendees later on when I send LinkedIn connection requests.
Researching Potential Connections
After attending a webinar, here is my process for adding new LinkedIn connections:
Personalizing a Connection Request
Personalizing connection requests is a great way to start building a relationship with a new professional contact. Here are the key components I include:
Connection Request Examples
Here are a few examples of messages that you can use to invite people to connect. Currently, LinkedIn allows you to include up to 300 characters when personalizing connection requests.
Hi, Jen. I see we both attended today’s White Box Club meeting. I’m also in career transition and seeking a new role in learning and development. Let's connect!
I'm also always up for a 30-minute "virtual coffee" meeting to discuss how we can help one another as we job search.
Hi, Jack. Great to interact with you a bit at this morning's Excellence Share. I love sharing ideas with fellow L&D professionals. Let's connect!
Hi, Javier. I see we both attended today's "Sales Enablement Best Practices" webinar. I definitely enjoy learning from this group.
Since you mentioned that you are job searching, be sure to check out The White Box Club on Meetup to help you as you find your next role.
After The Initial Connection
How do you further nurture that relationship? Here are a few ideas.
Continue to Build The Relationship
After connecting with people initially, be sure to continue to nurture those connections. Posting useful content, and occasionally messaging people is one way to do that. Ideally, you can add value to the relationship before you are in a position where you need to ask those individuals for help.
7-time layoff survivor Brenda L. Peterson, The Layoff Lady, waxes poetic on layoffs, job transitions, & career resilience.