So You Got Laid Off….Now What? (or, “How I Spent My Summer Vacation”)

As some of you may know, my former company and I had a parting of ways not too long ago. It happens. And when it did, I did what every good millennial would do – I Googled “what to do when you’re laid off.”

And what surprised me about that was how little the internet had to say on such a topic.  Sure, there were a ton of articles about asking for references or starting a job search, but there was very little else to help guide people through the rest of the stuff that comes with unexpected unemployment.

So, now that my own period of “funemployment” has come to an end (I’ve been gainfully employed again for over a month now, le sigh), I thought I’d try to fill that void with some nuggets of wisdom I learned over the past few months on how to deal best with the overall situation.

What To Do On Day One: Money, Money, Monnnn-ay

The day you leave your old company, you’re likely to be upset, angry, scared, or a bevy of other negative emotions.  That’s natural. But if your first instinct is to drown your sorrows in booze and/or badmouth your company to anyone who’ll listen, it’s time to take a step back.

On Day One, more than any other day, you basically need to turn into a robot and get some logistical shit done in order to make sure you’ll be able to survive financially for however long your non-working period lasts. That includes:

1.  Ask for severance, and negotiate your severance package, if possible. Remember, even if your company has no legal obligation to give you severance, it never hurts to ask, especially if they want something in return from you — like a non-compete or non-disparagement contract. Severance can turn unemployment into “funemployment,” real quick. However, if you feel there was anything fishy with the way you were let go, don’t sign anything until you’ve had a chance to talk to a lawyer.

2.  File for unemployment benefits, stat. In Texas, it takes at least three weeks for the Workforce Commission to even process your claim, so you need to get this going ASAP.  And remember, you’re eligible for unemployment regardless if you were laid off, were fired (so long as you weren’t fired for cause), and even sometimes if you quit — so it’s worth checking out, no matter your situation.

3.  Request a forbearance on your student loans. Losing your job makes you eligible for a 6-month break in student loan payments. The interest will still accrue, but it reduces your monthly expenses in the meantime.

4. Cancel any unnecessary recurring household services (e.g. maid service, lawn care, grocery delivery, laundry,  cable, etc.) to reduce your costs during your period of no-paychecks.  Similarly, if you have any auto-deposits set up to savings or investment accounts, put those on pause for the time being.  If you have kids that are in daycare, see if you can reduce the amount of days they attend and/or have them go on sabbatical without losing their spot in the facility. (Though realize you may still want them to attend at least a couple days a week so you can get more stuff done.)

5.  Do the math.  The math as to whether you should actually go back to work at all, that is. Maybe read up on some Mr. Money Mustache in the meantime. What you find may surprise you.  Maybe you can afford to only work part time.  Or go into business for yourself.  You won’t know unless you do the math.

What To Do In Your First Week: Begin the Hunt

In the first week after you get laid off (assuming you did the math and it makes sense for you to keep working at all) you’ll do most of the groundwork that will set you up to find your next job – however long that process may take.

1.  Update your resume and your LinkedIn.  I’ve hired a LOT of people in my career, so here are some basic tips: you’re allowed ONE page of resume for every TEN years of work history you have. Under each job heading talk about the IMPACT your work had, instead of rehashing your job description, and include actual metrics if possible.  Finally, proofread your resume at least 10 times, and get a couple friends to do so as well.

2. Create a system for how you’ll apply for jobs. Yes, a system. It’ll help you stay organized, which is something you’ll need when a recruiter calls you three weeks after you sent in your application and you have no idea what position she’s even talking about. I created a spreadsheet that listed the date I applied, company name, position, a link to the job posting, and a section for notes where I could record recruiter information and interview dates. It doesn’t have to be fancy, it just has to work for you.

As for where I did my search, I found Indeed to be the most comprehensive resource, followed by LinkedIn. I like that you can set up saved searches on each, and then, once you’ve gotten through the backlog of matching positions, you only have to check “new” postings for your searches each day.  If you’re in the Bay area, you may also try checking our Hired, but it isn’t widespread elsewhere just yet.

Finally, set a goal for how many jobs you’ll apply to.  Mine was at least 10 per week.

3. Figure out your health insurance situation.  In most cases, your health insurance benefits with your old company will run through the end of the current month.  Which means, if you’ve been putting off any pressing doctors appointments, get them scheduled FAST before your benefits expire.  If you have prescription coverage through your old benefits, see if you can accelerate the date you pick up your prescription so as to get a bit of a stockpile before you’re cut off.

Then, check out your options, which will probably involve choosing between going on a spouse’s plan, applying for insurance through the Obamacare marketplace, or paying for COBRA benefits. If you’re risk-averse and/or have any known conditions, make sure your new coverage is set to start as soon as your old coverage expires.

But, if you’re willing to gamble a bit more…know that you can elect to pay for COBRA retroactively. You have 60 days once you’ve received your COBRA eligibility letter to sign up, so if you’re fairly confident that you’ll be able to find & start a new job within the next 60 days, you can let it ride and go without coverage in the meantime, and only sign up for COBRA if a need arises, like you get sick or are in an accident. Just keep in mind that if a need does arise in those 60 days and/or you haven’t started a new job at the end of them, then you’ll be locked into COBRA coverage which is generally pretty expensive.

4.  Update your social media channels. You may feel like you don’t want anyone to know that you got laid off, or alternately you may want to talk shit on your old company far and wide. Neither are very productive.

Confidently announce on your social channels that you’ve left your old company and are looking for a new opportunity.  Make sure you phrase the announcement in a way that is positive, and doesn’t infringe on any confidentiality clause you may have signed related to your severance, if any.

5. Work For Your Spouse.  If you’re married and your job loss just turned your spouse into the sole breadwinner of the household, a big part of your job just became making their life easier and more pleasant, in order to help them make sure they don’t suffer a similar fate at their workplace.

Wake up when they wake up. Make them breakfast. Pack their lunch. Clean the house and run errands for them while they’re at work. Have dinner ready when they get home. While you may have never harbored fantasies of becoming June Cleaver, if you are no longer bringing home the bacon, you have no excuse not to be a helpful homemaker during your unemployment – and that goes for men and women equally.

What To Do In Your Second Week: Explore New Things

By week two of your newfound freedom from work, you’ll hopefully have gotten through the backlog of already posted jobs available in your desired location, and only have to sort through the handful of new ones that match your search criteria each day.  Assuming that will only take you a couple of hours a day, that opens up a lot of free time in your schedule. But before you give in to the Siren’s call of Netflix, consider that you now have the opportunity to do all the things you always say you wish you could do, but don’t have time to do.

1.  Get in an exercise routine. It’s so tempting to sleep till 10 and wear pjs all day when you’re not working.  But if you manage to get to the gym (or just take a walk in your neighborhood, if you cancelled your gym membership to save money), you’ll feel more energetic and possibly even get in a habit that will continue once you start back to work as well.

2. Start a project. If you’re anything like me, you have a mental to-do list of projects that just never seem to get done around your house. Organizing the garage. Making an upholstered headboard. Writing the great American novel. Now’s your chance. Usually just getting started is the hardest part.

3.  Be a tourist in your own town. There’s a whole other shocking world that takes place during business hours that your job was likely preventing you from enjoying before. Check out area museums, parks, botanical gardens, libraries, pools/lakes, etc. A lot of them either have free entrance, or offer discounted entrance on certain days of the week or for locals.  I spent a good part of my summer at Barton Springs. Whee!

4. Spend time with family. Whether it’s staying home with your kids who are normally in daycare, or visiting nearby relatives and friends, taking a couple days in between the job searching to reconnect with loved ones while you have some extra time available to do so is never a bad idea.

What To Do In Your Third Week and Beyond: Interview, Followup, Repeat.

1.  Interview. In my experience it took about three weeks to start getting much response to my applications. But then I got my first nibble, then another, and another, until by the end of my fourth week I had 6 different interviews in one day.

Since so many early interviews take place over the phone these days, it’s especially important that you have your 1-2 minute “elevator speech” down pat.  Review the job description for each job before the interview (using the handy-dandy spreadsheet you created in week one) and then customize your own work history to match as closely as possible to what they’re asking for. Also remember to ask smart questions (almost every interview will end with “what questions do you have for me?”) and always write a quick followup thank you email to every interviewer and recruiter you speak with.

2. Follow Up. Sometimes you feel like you have a fabulous interview, and then just nothing.  You don’t hear from the company at all.  If this happens and it’s been at least two weeks from your interview, it’s perfectly acceptable to email your recruiter (a recuriter is preferable, but the person you interviewed with is an acceptable alternative if the company doesn’t use recruiters) to ask for an update.  It’s certainly better than waiting in the dark.

Also, use your network.  If there’s a job you’ve found that looks like exactly what you want, try to find a friend who has a connection to someone who works there. Then, use LinkedIn to ask for an introduction.  A lot of companies offer their current employees bonuses for helping to find candidates that actually get hired, so you’ll be surprised how many people will be willing to help you get a foot in the door.

3.  Repeat.  When you’re not interviewing, keep up your steady stream of new applications.  It’s very easy to become complacent and think you’ve applied to enough new places once you start getting a good number of interviews, so do your best to avoid falling into this trap.  Nothing is ever a done deal until you have a countersigned offer letter in your hot little hand.

Also take time to research the companies who express interest in you.  Glassdoor is a good resources for company reviews and salary info, and plenty can be gleamed about company culture through most corporate websites.  You can also get a better sense of salary ranges at the company to help you negotiate the best possible package when you do get an offer.

What To Do Once You’ve Got a New Offer: Party Time

  1. Negotiate The internet is chock full of advice on how to negotiate a salary, and a lot of it is conflicting. Here are the basics though: a) ask for time to consider the offer, and get a firm date you need to reply to them by; b) inform all the other recruiters/employers that you are actively interviewing with that you’ve received an offer, and what the deadline is; c) try to determine how much wiggle room there is in your offer, if any.

If you feel there is some wiggle room, a good standard rule is just to ask for 10% more salary. If they balk (and they may) see if they’re willing to negotiate on softer factor like % bonus, sign on bonus, stock, stock vesting schedule, or vacation days. You also should think about negotiating a severance package now — to prevent your current situation from happening again. Try to give your recruiter a few different potential options they can work with, and you may be surprised at how much you can improve your situation.

2. Travel.  Once you’ve lined up your next gig, it’s time to celebrate, and as any regular readers know, for me, that means travel.

Once you start your new job, you’re gonna be at the bottom of the totem pole in terms of how many vacations days you’ve earned, so travel before your start date to make sure you’re rested and ready for your first week. And, if you’re still in the saving money while unemployed frame of mind, man, have we  got you covered  on that front  for traveling  on the super-cheap.

3. Prepare. In the last week before you start back to work, think about all the things you can do to set yourself up for success.  If you need new business clothes, go buy ’em.  (The credit card bill won’t come due until after your first paycheck anyways, and you can only make a first impression once.) Restart any of those household services you cancelled when you first got laid off — you won’t have time to be making a hundred phone calls to do so once you start back to work. Clean your house, like, really deep clean it. Go grocery shopping. Make a few freezer meals. Get yourself on your new sleep schedule.  Basically, just prepare  yourself both practically and mentally for having a lot less free time in the near future.

So, that’s it.  A layoff is certainly not the end of the world, unless you let it be. Hopefully, by following these tips, you’ll find your next opportunity at a better company, making more money, with better coworkers, and better perks, just like I did.  Good luck!

What tips do you have for the recently job-challenged?  Share ’em in the comments.

Whitney