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Being laid off from a job is something that happens to most of us sooner or later. It’s not a reflection on you; it’s a fact of modern life.

That certainly doesn’t mean it’s painless. Suddenly there’s a lot less certainty in your financial life, and your routines and relationships are gone. You may feel angry, hurt, relieved, anxious, excited, miserable–or all of the above, one after another. At the same time, there are steps you need to take to recover and to prepare for a successsful transition.

What to Do When Laid Off: First Things First

Make sure you receive a layoff letter, which can help prove you weren’t fired.
If you’ve been offered a severance package, don’t sign anything right away. Go home, cool off, sleep on it. Decide whether you’ll make an effort to negotiate any part of the package.
Figure out your health insurance options. Will you enroll in COBRA (Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act) insurance, join your spouse’s health plan, shop around via ACA (Affordable Care Act)? You may be able to negotiate an increase in your severance pay in lieu of COBRA.
File for unemployment insurance. Get the ball rolling ASAP, because it may take a surprisingly long time to receive your first check.
Assess your budget. How long can you comfortably go without a salary? Will you need to trim your spending a bit? Getting clear on your finances can help reduce the stress that comes from fearing the unknown.
Talk it out with the right people: trusted friends and family members, or a therapist–and at the right time and place: privately. Avoid venting and worrying out loud with colleagues. They may soon become important networking contacts, so you don’t want them thinking you’re falling apart or have a chip on your shoulder.
Ask for references and LinkedIn recommendations soon, while your skills (and your boss’s and co-workers’ sympathy) are still fresh in everyone’s mind. If you have colleagues who’ve also been let go, consider offering the same to them.
Take time off for rest and recreation. Spend a few days or a couple of weeks doing things you enjoy. Recharge your batteries. Just don’t let that time off stretch into months that may be hard to explain to prospective employers later.
Understand that this layoff may turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Many of my clients have said to me, “Losing that job was the best thing that could’ve happened. Now I’m working at (X) and I love it!”

Get Ready to Answer the Inevitable Questions

As soon as possible, develop a good answer to the question “What happened to your job?” (or “Why are you looking for a job at this point?”). A brief, positive, forward-looking answer assures others that you’re ready for job leads, introductions, and other valuable networking opportunities.

Example:

“I’m proud of what I achieved during my five years with XYZ & Co. Unfortunately a business decision was made that resulted in the elimination of 150 jobs, including mine. So, I’ll be looking for new opportunities along the lines of…”

That brings us to the next questions: “What are you looking for now?” and “So, what do you do, again? Tell me about yourself.” For help with these, read my post, The 3 Questions Most Job Seekers Flunk.

Prepare for a Successful Job Search

First, assess what you’re looking for in your next role. What have you enjoyed about the job you’re leaving? What would you have liked to do more of? And less of? This is a good time for career reflection.

Getting a new job may be easy, and it may happen fast…or it may not. The safest course is to assume it will require a serious effort and get started within a few weeks, even if you continue to allow some time for R&R. For a quick checklist of steps, here are my Top 10 Ways to Get a Great Job Sooner.

There’s also a lot to be said for freelancing or consulting between jobs, not the least of which is that it can lead to a new job! Freelancing can also help prevent a resume gap, generate income, keep you in a professional frame of mind, and lead to new contacts and skills. Here are seven reasons to consider doing this, and soon.

Update Your Resume and Cover Letter

If you’re thinking of hiring a professional to assist with your resume, cover letter, LinkedIn profile or other marketing materials, don’t wait until you “need it as soon as possible.” Good resume writers are in demand, and often aren’t available to start right away. Once they do, the turnaround time is likely to be a week or more. Don’t put yourself in the position of hiring a resume writer based on availability rather than quality of work.

Look for evidence of professionalism, such as a well-written website and LinkedIn profile that mention formal training and/or certification. Look at samples. Ask about their process, which should be more in-depth than just a written questionnaire. Ask who will actually do the work–the owner of the business, or a subcontractor? If the latter, ask about that person’s qualifications. It’s also worth noting that “you get what you pay for.” Expect to pay $400-$1000 for the resume alone. If you pay less you’re getting a glorified typing service. Your resume isn’t a formality, it’s a highly specialized marketing document and an investment in your future. (If you think I’m trying to sell you on my services, let me point out that I actually don’t write resumes, although I do offer resume review and coaching.)

If you’d rather do it yourself, you’ll need more than good writing skills; you’ll also need to understand the strategies that make a resume truly compelling. Read a good how-to book like Modernize Your Resume by Wendy Enelow and Louise Kursmark.

Handle LinkedIn the Right Way

On LinkedIn, don’t be in a hurry to add an ending date to the job you’re leaving or to add LinkedIn’s “Open to Work” frame on your profile photo. There are many qualities about you that may attract future employers; being unemployed isn’t one of them, so why emphasize that? Realize that even when you don’t currently have a job, you still have a profession, and there are skillful ways you can display your professional identity and value in your online profiles.

Get Ready for Interviews

An interview can come at any time, so prepare well in advance. “Winging it” is rarely a successful strategy. Check out my 12 Tips for a Winning Interview.

“What to do when laid off from work” is a big subject, but the tips above are smart first steps. For more help, subscribe to my blog so I can be your companion and guide as you move forward toward a great new job.