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Survive Being Laid Off

By Susan P. Joyce

Sometimes you can see the layoff coming, and sometimes you can't (see Signs of a Pending Layoff for some of the clues).

But, one day you're invited into an unscheduled meeting with your boss and someone from HR. *BINGO* - you're out of a job.

Welcome to the crowd of the formerly employed!

I've been laid off twice, and I know how it feels. Interestingly, both of those layoffs were ultimately good for my career and my bank account. I wish the same for you!


People are usually laid off for being in the wrong place at the wrong time in an organization which has decided it needs to cut expenses, specifically the people costs it has.

Don't expect logic in who gets laid off and who doesn't, which departments survive and which don't, etc.

There is often little discernable logic involved. Employers like to think that they have reduced their staff, carefully trimming the lowest performers and retaining the best.

But, much more often, layoffs are abruptly announced, and managers must make across-the-board cuts as quickly as possible before the end of an accounting period. This is NOT "careful trimming. "

Being selected to be laid off is often just bad luck. Don't feel like you are a failure.

If anyone has failed, it is the management of the organization. Don't let the layoff destroy your confidence.

Do's and Don'ts for Surviving Your Layoff

Do's - Pre-Notification

If layoffs are happening or if the feeling of many employees is that layoffs will be happening soon, get started.

Do's - When and After They Give You the News:

Once you have had the official meeting and gotten the official notice that you have been laid off, collect your personal belongings from the workplace, and then. . .

  • Get everything that is due you.

    Ask about any severance pay or other accrued, but unused, benefits like vacation and sick pay.
  • Negotiate a benefit package.

    Try to negotiate "outplacement" benefits – career coaching and resume writing assistance, office with telephone and administrative support, online support and access to specialized resources, etc. There may be a "standard" package offered to everyone, but you may be in a position to negotiate more. You won't know if you don't try, and, at this point, what do you have to lose?
  • IMMEDIATELY - Request a laid-off (not fired) employee letter from HR

    This is a short letter on company letterhead from someone in HR, hopefully the director, stating that you were laid off as part of a larger general layoff and not fired because of any personal performance problems. Bring this letter with you on interviews, and include it whenever you are asked for your references.

    If your employer's layoff is in the news, you may not need it for your first post-layoff job search, but keep it handy for the later ones. [Many thanks for Margaret Dikel of the - and her sister - for this one!]
  • IMMEDIATELY - Find out about continuing your health insurance coverage.

    Ask for the details on continuing your medical insurance coverage (assuming that you were covered by your employer's group health insurance at the time you were laid off). It's called COBRA - an acronym for the federal legislation that set it up in 1986. COBRA allows you to continue to participate in a medical plan, for a specified period of time, usually 18 months.

    To find out if you qualify and/or if your employer doesn't provide the information, be sure to ask your state's Employment Office about possible COBRA coverage. Do NOT accept your employer's opinion on whether or not you qualify for COBRA.
  • IMMEDIATELY - Register for unemployment compensation with your local state Employment Office

    Even if you’ve received a severance pay package, be sure to register for unemployment compensation. If you wait too long to register, you may find that you no longer qualify, so don't wait!

    Don't try to hide your severance benefits, and don't wait to register.

    Note: In some states, some employers do not qualify for unemployment compensation (e.g. small non-profits headquartered in another state), but check with your state's employment office to find out for sure.
    [Don't pay a "service" to do this for you. That service is a scam, a waste of your money and time. Go to your local One-Stop Career Center and register to get started.]
  • Have personal business cards made, or make your own on your computer.

    You'll need them for networking, to hand to potential employers, etc. See the Preparing for a Layoff - Steps to Take at Home article for more details.
  • Get support in your job search.

    You may feel very confident about your prospects for landing a new job, and hopefully you will land one very soon. But, these days job search is more complex in the past, and doing an effective job search on your own can be very difficult.

    A solitary job search can be demoralizing, too, with unanticipated and undeserved rejection happening on a daily basis.

    A job search support group or job club can be extremely helpful in your networking, in understanding what works for job search, and in realizing you are not the only person being rejected for no good reason.

    Each state has several One-Stop Career Centers where you can find assistance and support.
  • Catch your breath, and deal with your feelings.

    You'll probably be angry, hurt, scared, discouraged, and depressed, at least for a while. It can be a grieving process - we often identify with our employer. Sometimes our job is our identity.

    Take a day (or a week) off to cry, if you feel like it, and rage at the unfairness of the situation. If it helps, and it does help many people, dump your anger out on paper. Write it down. Get rid of it so it doesn't sabotage your job search. Then, unless you can afford to be unemployed, move on with your life and career.

    Read the advice in Job-Hunt's Job Loss Recovery section. Let author/expert Nan Russell's Job Loss Recovery column help you deal with this loss so you can move on to the rest of your career.
  • Take a few moments to count your blessings, every day.

    Yes, a layoff often feels like a sharp blow to your ego, and it is. But, you have many blessings in your life! We all do.

    When I was first laid off, I would name them in my head before I went to sleep to stop the voices in my head telling me I'd never find another job. I still do it, and, no matter how miserable a day has been, remembering those blessings keeps my spirits up. Hopefully, you will be helped too.
    Your blessings probably include:

    1. A safe, warm, dry place to sleep.
    2. A roof over your head.
    3. Family members who love you.
    4. Friends who will give you moral support and encouragement.
    5. Food, water, electricity, telephone, Internet, and on and on and on
    6. . . .

    You get the idea - we all have MANY blessings we're usually too busy to notice and appreciate.

Do NOT's - Don't Do These Things After Your Layoff

Some things are better not done!

  • Don't feel like you've failed personally.

    Most likely, you haven't failed, except perhaps in your choice of employer or job or ignoring the proverbial "handwriting on the wall" that a layoff was probably pending. So learn from this experience, and be more careful when you choose your next employer.

    Usually, you've just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. It happens (too often). Be more selective with your next employer and career to minimize, but it is not - unfortunately - possible to eliminate the possibility that you'll be laid off again.
  • Don’t hide the fact that you’ve been laid off.

    Millions of people have been laid off. If your employer was large and the layoff was very public, you won't be able to escape it. So don't try.

    It can be an advantage - you won't have to explain why you left your last job (or if you do, just say that you "left as part of a down-sizing that eliminated my job"). Many people (but, unfortunately, not all) will know that your effectiveness at your job had little to do with your job loss. That's just how layoffs work.
  • Do NOT consider yourself "fired. "

    That can be too demoralizing, and it's NOT appropriate, either.

    People are "fired" for a reason related to the employer's negative perception of their work performance, also known as "for cause. "

    People are "laid off" because the employer has restructured the organization and eliminated that position. BIG DIFFERENCE!
  • Don't trash your former employer in interviews or networking conversations.

    Be as positive and upbeat as you can be whenever discussing your former employer.
    In discussing the last company that laid me off, my favorite phrases included "I learned a lot there," and "I worked with some great people. " All very true!

    Of course, I also learned some very valuable things I don't often discuss, like that I am responsible for my own career and future, that even good management teams can make strategic mistakes ending a company's market viability, and that some co-workers are just co-workers but others are life-long friends.

    I have always called myself a "graduate" of that company - not a "layoff victim"(!), because I really did learn quite a bit while I worked there. The layoff was my "graduation" as it was for thousands of others.

    As they say, " Fake it 'til you make it. " After a while, you may not be faking.

Look ahead to your future!

Strangely, being laid off can be a good thing. We often stay in jobs we don’t like out of inertia – too busy, or not quite unhappy enough to make the effort to find a new job. A layoff pushes us "out of the nest" into an involuntary job search -- which can lead to a better job, a promotion, a career change, and, even, more money and happiness! See Involuntary Change Can Be Good for another perspective.

Additional information: See Nancy Collamer's excellent Website for MORE tips and information.

About the author...

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 Follow Susan on Twitter at @jobhuntorg and on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google+.


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