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Tips for what to do if you get laid off

Even though the economy is supposedly starting to look up, layoffs are still happening. Some of the layoffs are due to the economy, but even companies that are making money are laying people off, and it doesn’t seem to matter how talented or loyal you are, or whether you’d voluntarily take a pay cut. For some of those former employees, there won’t be another job – any other job – they can get in the near future. It’s a really scary time for that vast, vast majority of us who do not have millions sitting in a trust fund.

Empty office cubicle

If you do get laid off, here are some tips that might make it easier:

  1. Get every penny that’s coming to you. Make sure any accrued paid vacation you didn’t get to take is being compensated. If you have expenses, charge the company for them ASAP.
  2. What about a transfer? The one time I was laid off, it was by a large company. There was no employment in the city I was living in, but I knew there would be jobs in another major city. I asked my manager to transfer me instead of letting me go. He did. Of course, you have to be willing to relocate and the company has to have branches that are hiring elsewhere. But it’s an option to explore.
  3. Read job listings beyond the usual. Monster.com and Indeed.com are a great start, but there are also specialized job hunter websites and Craigslist. Do searches for your job title, or the type of degree you have. But don’t overlook offline sources – the local papers (including tiny free ones) and any local bulletin boards where people stick up want ads.
  4. Get the news, and your resume, out there. Retool your resume and tell everyone you know about your situation. Don’t be shy or ashamed to share what’s happening. Every person you tell might tell a few other people, and this is how you hear about that job opening that’s not even on Monster.com yet because the employer is gunshy and would rather find someone reliable through word of mouth – you might be that person. Use social networking sites like Facebook, too. You may even want to start a blog – not to make money from directly, but as a way of showing off your skills and how much you know about what you do.
  5. Contact the unemployment office immediately, and research, research, research. Even if you got a severance package, you will be entitled to unemployment at some point, and every week you don’t collect it is a week of money you can never get back. So talk to the unemployment office sooner rather than later. Find out what you need to do and when, so you don’t miss a single week you’re entitled to. Some regions don’t make it particularly easy to collect unemployment. You need to find out the rules in your area and get all the advice you can. Most states demand that you log all your interviews with employers to prove you’re job hunting in order to get paid each week – sounds reasonable, except when absolutely no one is hiring any positions you’re remotely qualified for. In which case you have to impressively document the phone calls and ads you’ve responded to and how many voice mails you left in order to keep getting your benefits. Strangely, I’ve known people who knew how to collect unemployment while they were actually working. I guess it’s yet another American system that works better for scammers than honest people. What a shock, huh?
  6. Register with temp agencies. In times like this, many employers turn to temp laborers for those tasks that absolutely have to get done because you can let go of a temp anytime and it’s not as complicated as letting go of someone you directly hired. There are temp agencies for manual laborers, office workers, and even specialties like accounting and IT. Register with as many as possible, and when they call answer the phone immediately. If you miss a call, they will just phone up the next person on their bloated list of qualified candidates rather than leave a message.
  7. Look for freelancing opportunities. Look for opportunities to do your job as a short-term project for companies that outsource that type of work. You might even find yourself working for the people who laid you off again.
  8. Don’t think you have any special skills? Think outside the box. If you think there’s nothing anyone would pay you to do, think again. Many companies are going paperless – you could go to local businesses and drop off a brochure explaining that you offer a scanning/filing service in which you do the annoying work of scanning all their old files and electronically filing them on the server or computer for them. Or could you set up a small catering service, offering inexpensive but tasty sandwiches or salads for business lunches? Or maybe you could offer data entry services. If you’re at all good at writing, write up an ad for your “resume writing service” explaining how you write dynamite resumes that make your clients sound like great candidates for jobs. (Note: these services are considered businesses. You won’t need to incorporate, but you may need a business license or reseller ID, and you will need to pay income tax on your earnings – possibly even estimated taxes. Check with a pro or do your own research online so you can rest easy, knowing you’re in compliance with the law.)
  9. Set your priorities, just in case you have no income for a while. It’s scary to think of, but take a cold hard look at what would happen if you had no income or just unemployment for an extended period. What’s most important to you? How can you strategize so you have the things you need? What if it comes down to either raiding the retirement fund or losing the house? Either could be the better option – it depends how many years you have until retirement and what other housing options are available to you. Think about these things and put together a plan. The more you think, the more likely you are to find strategies that will extend the amount of time you can live without more income coming in.
  10. Write down everything your employer said about why they laid you off. Most layoffs are above-board, but there is always a chance you’ll later find your company did something underhanded or lied to you about something. You might even have cause for a wrongful termination lawsuit. But only if you document everything.
  11. Keep in touch with former co-workers. It could get you re-hired at some point down the line. Or they may hear of an opening somewhere else. Or they may decide to start their own company, and consider you a great candidate to work for them. Or you may learn something that gives you cause to sue your former employer – such as that they immediately replaced you with a new hire, which is not kosher in lay-offs. Such a thing could mean you’re the victim of age discrimination.
  12. If you’ve still got insurance or COBRA, get a physical. A document that says you’re in good health may save you money when/if it comes time to buy your own insurance.
  13. Go to conferences! If you can possibly put together the money, do attend conferences or conventions where you might meet someone who could give you a job.
  14. Could this be a time for more education? If you can afford it, a time of unemployment is sometimes a great time to get a degree or take some vocational courses. You might qualify for college loans (that are deferred until you leave school) or find a relative willing to front the money. Do not waste your time and money with a degree, certification or course that won’t make you more employable.
  15. Cut your expenditures, but don’t give up fun. The first part of this tip is a no-brainer. Spending less is good during uncertain economic times. But – and this is based on my own terrifying experience of a several-year period in which I could only find temp jobs and minimum wage jobs that weren’t even full-time – do not cut your expenditures to the point where you get depressed from lack of anything to enjoy. If you love movies, and you have lots of paid channels on the cable, plus Netflix, plus trips to the theater, don’t totally eliminate movies from your life. Decide which of these things you love the most: if it’s trips to the theater, dump the paid channels and the Netflix, and start going to cheaper movie showings (and maybe less often) and not buying snacks. If it’s the paid channels, dump all but one, and lose the Netflix, and the theater trips. And keep an eye out for cheaper interests: if, for example, you find you love borrowing books from the library just as much as movies, you can dump movies completely and read books for free. But you have got to stay positive, and that means having some unnecessary fun somewhere in your life.
  16. Sell stuff. Between eBay and Craigslist, with a little research and time taken to make your ads appealing, you can sell off anything from small cheap items to appliances or cars you don’t really need. Of course, there are lots of other ways to sell stuff – local bulletin boards and papers, online forums, etc.
  17. Should you take the first job that comes your way? It depends. On the one hand, it will reduce or eliminate what unemployment you can collect, so if it’s not a great job, it might not be worth it. On the other hand, what sounds like a less than perfect job for you could take you in new and wonderful directions – and in some cases, turning down a job that pays as well as your unemployment benefits could cause you to lose those benefits (depends on the rules where you live). The only tip I can really give you here is: give every offer its due consideration. Be open-minded about the possibilities, but don’t panic and assume you have to take whatever’s on the table for fear nothing else will be offered.
  18. Stay positive. This is really tough, but the more desperate or angry you feel, the less compelling people will find you. Those feelings are natural, but you need to find a way to vent them and let them go before going on job interviews – or even going to parties where you might run into someone who knows of a job for you. You need a support structure – not just family and friends who love you and care about you, but also people who know firsthand what you’re going through, especially if you’re feeling shame or panic. You need the understanding of people who’ve actually been there. If you can’t find these people offline, look online.
  19. Don’t let rejection get you down. It’s scary, especially if you’ve always gotten jobs easily and been a prized worker, to get turned down over and over. But I assure you, it can happen to anyone. Just chalk it up to the job market being terrible and don’t let it get you down. I believe we make our own luck by shortening the odds (or failing to). If there’s only 1 in 100 opportunities out there right now that will work for you, then the sooner you face 99 rejections, the sooner you find that one that’s right.
  20. Tell your friends/family how to be there for you. People who love you may not know what to say. They may get angry on your behalf and rant about the unfairness of your layoff. It’s okay to tell them that you appreciate their concern, but what’s done is done and you need to look to the future instead of feeling angry about the past. Let them know it’s okay to talk about other topics. Or your problem might be the opposite: if someone keeps complaining about their job to you and that annoys you (understandably), let them know! If they care about you, they’ll adjust.

As scary as sudden unemployment is, especially in a really poor job market, I can offer you one solid positive to hold onto. People who persevere through unemployment often report ending up with a much better job situation a few months or years later. Some of them find better jobs; some of them end up becoming self-employed or starting their own business. It could be this is just how the market tends to work, but I think it’s that you develop a lot of determination and savvy in challenging times, so when times are easy again you’re more than ready to take advantage of them.