If you’ve just lost your job — or think you might soon — you’re not alone. It’s been a tough year for mass layoffs.
Job loss is always hard. But factor in economic uncertainty, and figuring out your next steps can feel like … a lot. So we’re here to alleviate some of that stress with the five things you should do first after losing your job.
But first — call it a step zero — know that it’s OK to take as much time as you need (or can) to grieve and reflect. Losing your job is a life-changing event. You’re likely to go through some or all of the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Treat yourself kindly. Then spend some time reflecting: What went well in that job? What didn’t go so well? What are you proud of accomplishing? What might you want to change moving forward? Where do you want your career to go next? Write the answers down; it’s good self-care and will help you tell your story later.
1. Take care of the immediate paperwork
Even as you reflect, there are a few time-sensitive things you need to handle right away after a job loss.
First: File for unemployment benefits now, because it can take a few days before benefits kick in. Here’s a state-by-state benefits tool to get you started. We have more info about how filing for unemployment works here.
If you have a work-owned computer, you’ll likely need to return it. If it’s appropriate in your circumstances, see if you can review your files and make notes of your achievements and duties. You’ll need to respect any terms of your employment about intellectual property and data, of course — but looking over and taking notes about the work you’ve done can help you remember when you’re updating your resume.
Next is your severance agreement, if you have one. How much severance or continuation of pay and / or benefits are you being offered? Are there terms you have to agree to in order to receive them? Are you being provided outplacement services to help with a job search, or any other perks? You might want to have an employment attorney review it if something’s not clear. Don’t feel pressure to sign the day you’re laid off. An agreement will usually include a due date, and employees older than 40 are guaranteed time for review. Take the time you need, and if you don’t see a specified timeframe, ask for it.
Next you’ll need to review your health insurance options. If you’re qualified, COBRA (which stands for the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act, btw) allows you to choose to keep your employee health plan for a while. It’s temporary and you have to pay the entire premium, including the part your employer used to pay — which can be expensive.
You might also have the opportunity to join your spouse’s health insurance if they have it, or your parents’, if you’re 26 or younger. Or you can apply for a new plan via Healthcare.gov (aka Obamacare, federally administered health insurance). For each of these options, losing a job is usually considered a “qualifying life event” (aka “special enrollment period”), so you’d be able to join outside the usual year-end open enrollment period.
If the premiums are too high for your new budget, you might also be eligible for Medicaid (free or low-cost health coverage to some people who meet income criteria, families and children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with disabilities) and CHIP (same, but for children). On the other hand, if you can afford it, you could also explore private insurance, which you’d choose and pay for out of pocket. Both are available year-round, with no open enrollment periods.
2. Get into a routine
Reflect long enough to find some clarity … but not forever. It’s easy to stay in this space when routines are disrupted and it can feel like time has stopped. But it’s important to make your own routine. The structure that a workday gives you has an effect, and the lack thereof can have an effect on you (and your sleep and your mood), too.
So create a structure of your own. You don’t have to fill every minute, but … get up at the same time and go to bed at the same time each day. Do something in the morning that energizes you — exercise, writing, meditation. (If you’re a “need an agenda” type, make a list of things you want to accomplish for the day.) Schedule meals, time to chat with friends, time to connect with family. Then do something that grounds you every evening — gratitude group texts, reading, journaling, whatever works for you.
Btw: You’ll eventually find that you are naturally more energetic at certain times of day, and less so at other times. You can use that knowledge when you’re thinking about job-hunting tasks when you’re ready.
3. Take a financial inventory
Uncertainty is stressful, but information is the opposite. Getting a good sense of your current financial situation is a form of self-care. If you take inventory after your job loss and get clear that you can afford expenses right now, then you won’t need to worry about them every time you shop for groceries or pay a bill. If you take stock and know you can’t, then you have a next step you can act on.
You don’t have to do this all at once — maybe you dedicate 30 minutes each day and incorporate it into your routine. (Chipping away at it can help give you a feeling of progress each day, too.)
Look at your spending and decide how you’ll adjust
Gather your recent bank and credit card statements so you can see everything you’ve been spending on lately. Put each expense in a bucket: essential (no change), cut back, pause, or cancel. Look at where you’re spending, too. Maybe there are less expensive places you could be shopping for food or clothes. Look for places where you could shop around or negotiate prices, like your phone or internet plans — it’s worth calling to push for a lower rate on your credit cards, for example. Here’s more on how to cut back to an essentials-only budget, if you have to.
Explore your debt options
If you have credit card debt and can’t afford the payments, credit counseling is one option that could be helpful. A credit counselor might be able to help you negotiate a reduced payment schedule and work toward a more manageable plan going forward. Here’s some more info on paying off credit cards and the options you might have.
Think through your possible sources of income
Some things to consider:
Unemployment checks — look at how much, when you’ll start getting them, and how long they’ll last in your state
Your emergency fund (if you have one, now is the time to use it)
Your lines of credit, if you really need to go into debt right now. Can you take out a personal loan or home equity loan, or put expenses on credit cards?
4. Start connecting with others and telling your story
Network, network, network
Checking in with people is important to our well-being. We crave it, and we have the time to do it. That’s all “networking” really is: reaching out, checking in, nurturing connections, being people. And now, you have one more thing to connect about. Tell everyone you’re looking for your next opportunity. You never know where it’ll come from.
So reach out to people you know. Start with your friends — for women, a core inner circle of other women who look out for each other is often the key to career success. (Plus, they can tell their friends, and “a friend of a friend” might be that next opportunity.) Then move out to workplace ties — people who worked with you in the past who can give you a recommendation. One study showed that 60% of people who found a job did it through former coworkers.
Then, we challenge you to reach out to people you don’t know, but who inspire you. If they’re really an influence on you, your true, authentic voice will come when you reach out. That can lead to incredible connections.
Craft your story and get on LinkedIn
You’ve done some reflection by now, so it’s time to take inventory of your skills and unique talents, and get clear on your story. What value can you bring?
A good way to start is by crafting an “elevator pitch” — a concise description of who you are, what you do, why you do it, who you do it for, how you do it well, and what you’re looking for. Focusing in this way can help give you clarity on your own capabilities and career goals, and it also helps you talk about yourself in interviews and connections.
Then it’s time to revamp your resume and LinkedIn profile. A few things to consider for LinkedIn:
Update your entire profile so it reflects who you are now — not three years ago when you last looked for a job. This isn’t just your resume, but your photo and that area on top that LinkedIn calls your “introduction card.” That’s a place for you to expand on your elevator story and tell people about who you are, what you care about, and why you might be great to connect with.
Set your profile to “public” so you’re findable. If you’re comfortable, turn on the “open to work” feature, too.
Join (or interact with) groups around your interests and passions. Find interesting people to follow, and comment on what they share. Share your own interesting or relevant info. Sharing, groups, and comments are easy ways to start a conversation with people.
While you’re there, start learning about other companies. Broaden your scope. What organizations inspire you? What do they have in common? How can your skills, values, and experiences apply to a number of industries, roles, and professions, even beyond what you’ve done before? Understanding why you’d love to work at those companies can give you a baseline to think creatively about where you’d be a fit, and it will inform your questions when you start applying and interviewing.
5. Dive into your job search
Even with the economic uncertainty, many companies are still hiring — and there’s always some natural turnover that leads to open roles. Go ahead and apply to any job you see (and like). With today’s trend toward hybrid (or even fully remote) work, a lot of companies do first interview rounds over Zoom. So now’s the time to practice your video interview skills.
A few things to consider:
Even with all the jokes about working in pajamas over the last few years, interview standards don’t change. Dress professionally (yes — even on the bottom, just in case).
Figure out where you’ll take the call. Is there clutter in the background? Do you have a system set up so that nobody else in the house will disturb you? Do you need to close doors and windows to reduce noise?
Be familiar with your tech. Are your headphones working, if you’re wearing them? Do a sound check. When you have an interview scheduled, do a trial run on the platform they’re using (Zoom, Google Hangouts, FaceTime, etc).
Then you can get into actual sample interview questions in your runthrough. This will help you think on your feet, sharpen your talking points, and become comfortable. Bonus: The great thing about video interviews is that you can have a few notes in front of you! You should never be reading straight from a script, but it’s a huge advantage to have your talking points handy if you need them.
Ultimately, losing your job is just a temporary setback
Every day, people find amazing new jobs (better ones, maybe!) after losing their old one. Plus, many, many people were laid off this year, and potential future employers will understand the situation you’re in.
You can bounce back — and you will.
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