What To Do When You Get Laid Off

By Jeff Gillis

They say there are two constants in life… death and taxes.

Unfortunately, in today’s job market, with large corporations acquiring smaller ones right and left and the general overall nature of business, we need to add a third constant…getting laid off.


Now before you retreat to your cocoon of comfort, hiding out in your blanket fort you’ve dubbed “The Fortress of Solitude” with ten gallons of ice cream and a Netflix queue full of “Supernatural” reruns, let’s talk about the difference between being fired and being laid off.

What Does it Mean To Be Laid Off?

Suck up those tears and cancel that pity party, because being laid off isn’t about you…it’s about them.

The easiest way to break it down is this way: If you’re fired, it’s because of something you did. If you’re laid off, it’s because of something the company did.

While it’s easy to let yourself spiral down into a pit of despair and self-blame about being let go, when it comes to being laid off, it’s generally less about your performance and more about the new needs of the company or the direction the business is going.

In some cases, it’s possible to anticipate potential layoffs by observing the signs around you, including general grumbling by fellow employees, company-wide or departmental financial struggles, and of course news of mergers or cutbacks.

Of course, in other cases, being laid off is a bit like being hit by lighting and seems to come out of nowhere.

Regardless, in 99% of the cases, being laid off is just a matter of dumb luck and being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

True, there are some similarities, with the primary one being you’re now suddenly unemployed and back in the job market pool, but unlike being fired, there are some positives you can reap from this whole experience.

So, dry those red eyes, pop that ice cream back in the freezer, and let’s figure out your next move (and don’t worry about the blanket fort, you can do some of this from inside your new fortress of solitude, so we’ll let you keep it up for now.)

What To Do When You Get Laid Off

Getting laid off can be a huge shock, especially if it’s out of the blue. Being called into HR and told you’re no longer needed can feel a bit like being run over by a truck and it’s easy for emotions to run wild.

While it’s tempting to let loose with outbursts or to react with anger or bitterness, do your absolute best to make sure your interactions are nothing but professional.

Unless you’re a seasonal employee where layoffs are a regular part of the cycle, or in a situation where the pending layoff has been pretty obvious, and you’ve had time to prepare, learning that you’re no longer employed can be a shock to the system.

The first thing you need to do is breathe deep and focus on your next steps, including making sure you’re handling your exit like the professional we know you are. Not only that but taking the time to calmly assess the situation means you’re less likely to allow your emotions to blind you and potentially result in you missing out on critical information.

5 Steps To Take Immediately After a Lay Off

Here are the first five things to do or consider right after you get laid off:

The truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth:

Before you leave the building, you need to determine the exact nature of your layoff.

In some cases, a layoff is permanent, especially in situations where a company is going through a major restructure, downsizing, or an acquisition by another company. In others, it could be a temporary situation and can be a part of the natural ebb and flow of the industry, especially if your job is seasonal.

While not all employers may tell you why you were let go, most will, and simply asking outright why is the fastest and most direct way to get your answer.

Finding out the nature of your termination serves three purposes:

1. You can satisfy your own morbid curiosity.

It’ll help you determine the best way to address this situation on your resume and your upcoming job interviews when they ask you what happened to your last position. It enables you to properly file for unemployment benefits to help you get through this whole “no job=no income” period.

2. Grab your gear

This includes not only your personal effects, but also any contacts you may have made at your old job. If you’re using company equipment like a phone or laptop, make sure you download your contacts and hold onto them. They can be invaluable for your future networking efforts. Of course, this doesn’t mean immediately email all your contacts and bitch about what happened, but it is a great way to jumpstart your job search by reaching out to them personally and letting them know you are no longer with the company and moving onto a new position.

3. Money, money, money

It’s perfectly reasonable to request your final paycheck prior to leaving your job. Now that you’re unemployed, money is going to be a concern and having to wait two weeks (or more) for that final paycheck can be an added layer of stress you don’t need.

Friends with benefits:

While you’re in there talking to HR about your paycheck, make sure you also look into things like severance pay, unpaid vacation time, continuation of your health insurance packages, and any benefits you may have negotiated in your hiring process. The last thing you want to do when facing a period of job seeking and unemployment is to potentially leave any money on the table at your last job.

Put it in writing:

In many instances, you can request a laid-of employee letter from your employer. This is just a short note on the company letterhead stating that you were part of a layoff and that your termination was not a result of a performance issue. This letter is your golden ticket when it comes to verifying why you were let go and should be included when a company requests your references and should also be brought along to subsequent interviews.

Unemployment… You’ve “Earned” It

Unemployment benefits are there for a reason, and now that you’re between jobs, it may be your right to collect. In order to be eligible, you have to satisfy two basic requirements:

Your unemployment isn’t a result of your own actions:

Unemployment can be collected if you find yourself out of work through no fault of your own, including layoffs. If you’re unemployed because you quit or were fired for misconduct, you’re NOT eligible. Again, this is why we need to determine as quickly as possible the nature of your termination from HR.

You’ve met your state’s requirements:

Unemployment requirements vary from state to state, so it’s a good idea to look into what qualifications you’ll have to meet both prior to collecting and while collecting including time at your previous job, amount paid into the state unemployment insurance fund, and your ability to continue to look for a job during your unemployment.

Keep in mind that most states have a “waiting period” between applying for unemployment and receiving that first benefits check, which is why it’s so important you secure your final paycheck from your employer prior to leaving.

Registering for unemployment is not only a great way to continue to receive financial assistance while you job seek but can also potentially lead to other opportunities. Almost all states have programs and representatives that can and will assist you in your job hunt, but many also have programs dedicated to further career training and education that you might be eligible for as well.

Once you’ve gotten everything squared away with HR and properly filed your unemployment claim, it’s time to really get moving on finding your next position!

9 Tips On Attacking the Job Market

We fully support taking a day or two after you’re laid off for some well-deserved self- care, but the last thing you want to do is to slide into bad habits and depression. Rather than mope around bemoaning your lack of work, treat your job search as work and tackle it head on. Staying busy is the best way to fight off the doldrums and will help get you back on track.

1. Get Introspective:

Sometimes things happen for a reason and taking a little unplanned time off from your job might just be the universe telling you it’s time to refocus and really evaluate what you’re doing and where you’re going.

  • Was the job you were just let go from right for you?
  • Was it something you were really finding satisfaction in or was it something you were doing just to collect a paycheck?

While being unemployed can be a shock to the system, it’s also an amazing opportunity to potentially look for something new and exciting that you’ve been dreaming about but hadn’t actually started to pursue. Really sit down and ask yourself some hard questions before you move onto the next steps.

Now might be the perfect time to pivot and it’s better to decide this now rather than lock yourself into another position you’re not entirely happy with.

2. Brushing up the resume:

Now’s the time to double check that all your information is correct and that you include in your resume all the details from your most recent position. While you’re at it, if you anticipate the time between your last position and your next position to be lengthy, consider adding in any additional work you’re doing while you look for a job including volunteering, temporary projects and assignments, or professional consulting.

3. Write it up and then reach out:

Make a list of all the companies you’d like to work for and jobs you’d like to focus in on. Dig out your phone book and start looking up any contacts you might have at those companies and let them know you’re available for work. Statistically speaking, more than 80% of all available jobs are never actually posted and are filled through networking, so putting the word out now is the best way to get the ball rolling towards future interviews.

Jeff's Tip: You don't need to wait for Monster.com or any other job site to post a job that you think is a good fit for you. What is your ideal job, and with which company? Identify some companies that you would like to work for, or at the very least, would like to learn some more about. You can craft a letter of introduction that you can submit to these companies in order to get an informational interview. Not only will this give you more information on the company, but it will also act as your "foot in the door" and give you a direct contact at the company to speak with in the future.

4. Coffee break:

While you’re networking, do more than just drop notes and make phone calls. Invite people out for coffee and lunch. Often times when we’re working full time, we tend to isolate ourselves and focus inward. Take some time during your layoff to reach out and expand your circle. You never know who might have an opportunity for you.

5. Back to basics:

Don’t forget to also participate in “traditional” job search techniques. Update your information on all your networking websites including LinkedIn, Glassdoor and of course your personal website. Make sure you’re checking job boards and listing sites for positions that fit your qualifications and skills. Now is also a good time to research new opportunities, especially if you’re considering a career change.

6. Apply yourself:

Fill out those applications and start sending your resume and cover letters out to the companies you’re interested in. Remember to always target each one individually to increase your odds of landing that interview.

7. Keep it professional:

Getting laid off can feel like a personal attack (even though we’ve already stated more than once that it’s not about you…it’s them) so it’s vital to remember not to trash your former employer during your next interview.

Yes, it’s tempting and yes, it’s natural to feel some anger, but save the venting for your therapist, not the hiring manager who is considering offering you a job. Always remain positive and upbeat about prior positions and focus on your accomplishments and contributions.

8. Stay Focused:

Landing that next job might not happen as quickly as you’d like, so it’s important to stay focused and on track.

The job market right now isn’t the easiest and it’s tempting to slide into bad habits and depression if things don’t move as quickly as you’d like. Take time every few weeks to reevaluate where you are and what you’re doing to keep moving forward.

  • Are there any changes you can make to your job search to increase your chances?
  • Does broadening your search make sense?
  • Are you open to big changes like moving to a new city or state to increase your odds of landing a position or is an entirely new career a viable option?

9. Part-time perks:

One way to keep yourself busy while you job seek and also help either supplement or completely replace your unemployment benefits is to consider part time work, even if it’s not related to your long-term employment goals.

Picking up the occasional shift here or there at a local coffee shop or business is a good way to stay busy without cutting into your job search time. On top of that, the added income can be a nice way to help avoid financial panic.

Of course, the idea is to continue to look for full time work in your desired area, so make sure your part time work stays part time…unless you suddenly discover your new passion and decide to transition it into full time, in which case we say congratulations!

Putting It All Together

Losing your job for any reason is never easy, but when it’s due to a layoff and not your own fault, it can actually be a good thing in the long run…as long as you handle things in the right way.

Stay focused, stay on top of your job search and avoid the temptation to make your layoff personal. Use this time to really reevaluate and examine your career path and the future you see for yourself. Keep your contacts updated, your network fresh, and your attitude positive.

While landing that next job might take a bit of time, approaching it with the right attitude can make the difference between seeing your layoff as a defeat and seeing it as an opportunity to bigger and better things.

Remember, you have no control over being laid off…but all the control in the world over how you react to it.

Good luck!

About The Author

Jeff Gillis

Co-founder and CTO of TheInterviewGuys.com. Jeff is a featured contributor delivering advice on job search, job interviews and career advancement, having published more than 50 pieces of unique content on the site, with his work being featured in top publications such as INC, ZDnet, MSN and more. Learn more about The Interview Guys on our About Us page.