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 a