According to the experts, many of us will be laid off more than once. So, it's a good idea to be prepared. It's is survivable, but still a very stressful time, even if you are one of the "stars" in your workplace. Stars get laid off, too. Don't expect a layoff to be rational.
DO NOT look for a new job from your current place of employment!
Employers in the U.S. typically have the right to watch what you are doing with company assets (e.g. your work computer, your work Internet connection, work email, work voice mail, work cell phone, etc. even if you work from home), and they may see that e-mailed resume and/or your many visits to Monster, etc. That can a very quick way to get fired!
If you've done a little ground work and some planning, you'll feel more in control when the proverbial ax falls. Here are some things you can do in advance of being laid off, both at work (below) and at home.
Exchanged LinkedIn recommendations with your co-workers (those who are good at their jobs) and, if possible your current and former bosses. This will enable all of you to have complete LinkedIn Profiles if (or when) the layoffs begin.
Read the articles in Job-Hunt's free Guide to LinkedIn for Job Search column.
Things like vacation time, whether in hours or days, has value. Know what you have currently accrued, and look for the policy regarding how it is treated when someone involuntarily leaves the organization. Typically this number increases with every pay period, so keep it up to date.
With luck you may leave with a fat check for unused vacation time, and, possibly, even for unused sick days. Alternatively, if the policy does not allow for payment, you can use the vacation time for job interviewing and other job-search activities.
If you think that the company is at risk of going out of business completely, look into your company benefits - can you re-allocate all or part of your 401K if it is 100% invested in your employer's stock? Can you take your pension as a "lump sum" when you leave? If you are part of a profit-sharing plan that is 100% invested in company stock, can you diversify with investments in other companies' stocks?
Even if you are in your 20's or 30's, be protective and pro-active about retaining as many of these long-term financial benefits as you can. They will come in very handy some day...
Try to get a copy of your personnel file - awards, performance reviews, letters of commendation, warnings, etc. Stop by the HR department, and offer to copy the file yourself - "just for my own records." You are looking for documents you don't have in your personal personnel folder (which, of course, you have been keeping over the years), but make a copy of everything you can.
Be sure to get a copy of any document you signed on your first day of work that might limit your options in your job search for a year or two. These are typically called "non-compete agreements" but it may be titled something else in the version you might have signed.
Take copies of all of this documentation home, just in case...
If layoffs have already begun, get written recommendations before everyone scatters, preferably posted on LinkedIn. Hopefully, also printed on company letterhead. You may not be able to reach people if they leave the employer, too, so get those recommendation NOW, to have at home "just in case" the layoff hits you.
If someone has had an opportunity to see you at work and seems to think you do a good job, ask if they will be a reference for you. If layoffs are already happening, ask supervisors, managers, colleagues, co-workers, and even subordinates. Then, ask for their non-work contact information so that you can stay in touch after you - or they - leave your current employer. Get approval from as many people as possible because there will be attrition as the layoffs continue.
If someone doesn't agree or seems reluctant, don't use them as a reference. They could hurt your next job search if a potential employer calls them.
If you liked their work, be willing and prepared to be a reference for your co-workers, colleagues, supervisors, and subordinates, too. This is one of the ways to start your post-employment networking, and that's a very good thing for your future job searches.
I've spoken with so many job seekers who have new jobs because they were contacted by former co-workers or former bosses who already worked for the new employers and helped them land jobs there, too.
In addition to the people who may serve as references, connect with your current and former co-workers on LinkedIn, so you can stay in touch.
Also, collect personal contact information from colleagues as well as permission to stay in touch. Then, when/if you (or one of your co-workers) disappear from the workplace, you will be able to stay in touch through the coming months and years.
Your "former" co-workers will ultimately be part of your network. They will be a good source of support and information for you in your job search, as you can be for them in their job search.
The former employees of some companies join together in an "company alumni group" to facilitate staying in touch, and your fellow ex-employees may, too, but get that contact information before everyone leaves, just in case.
LinkedIn has many groups of corporate alumni, and you may want to set up your own.
Start taking home personal items, particularly the ones that are most important to you, as quietly and as unobtrusively as you can.
If you are selected to be laid off, you may not have time to pack your things to take home. Someone else may do it later, or never. So, do it in advance yourself. Take the family photos, awards, etc. home.
If you've installed your own software on your company's computer, be sure that you take home the package, manual, CD, etc.
Also, if you've done any personal work on your office computer, be sure to take copies home and delete those files from the office computer.
Caution: Be careful about removing anything that the company would consider to be "company property" - anything that would be "proprietary" to the company, or anything that would compromise their business and your future (like customer lists, proposals, patent applications, financial reports, etc.).
Note that, unless you've made other arrangements in advance, your employer probably "owns" what you have created at work. They also own your office computer, and the office supplies you use.
Use your own judgment and ethics, but be careful. If something is marked "company confidential," leave it alone. Former employees can be, and are, sued for violating agreements. They can even be accused of theft. If you aren't sure, call an attorney outside the company. You don't want to become a "criminal" in the process of preparing for your next job search.
Particularly if you have been working on a project or product which you can take home (like a brochure you created, a report you wrote, or something similar), take a few samples home to have.
If you were salesperson of the week/month/quarter/year, take the certificate home, if you can do so unobtrusively. Send at-a-boy emails and other emailed pats-on-the-back you've received from your managers to your personal (non-work) email address.
Make sure what you are removing to show a potential employer does not reveal anything confidential about your current employer. That can backfire on you very publicly and very seriously. Only use public versions of the samples or at-a-boy's.
Stop using the company e-mail for personal messages to family and friends outside of the company. Be very careful of what is charged to the company credit card, etc. If there is a layoff pending, someone viewed as "abusing company assets" for personal use may be at greater risk than other employees.
Look into severance packages and what you may be able to negotiate on your way out the door. People being laid off are often provided with "outplacement" services - which includes career counseling, help with a resume, sometimes even offices with phones and IT support. Several weeks, or months, of vacation or continued salary are VERY handy!
If out-placement services are provided, take full advantage of them! Effective job search has changed substantially since your last job search, even if that one was only 2 years ago.
Read Job-Hunt's free"15 Minute Guide to Layoff Self Defense" and the "Preparations for Layoff You Can Do at Home" article for more ideas if you haven't already read them. If you have read them, move on to the "Surviving Being Laid Off" article.
Being well-prepared will help you land on your feet, quickly, with a great new job. Avoid job hunting in solitude if you lose your job. That's very discouraging and disheartening work. Find a buddy, or join a job club. Don't job hunt alone!
Online job search expert Susan P. Joyce has been observing the online job search world and teaching online job search skills since 1995. A veteran of the United States Marine Corps and a recent Visiting Scholar at the MIT Sloan School of Management, Susan is a two-time layoff “graduate” who has worked in human resources at Harvard University and in a compensation consulting firm. Since 1998, Susan has been editor and publisher of Job-Hunt.org. Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn.