How to Survive and Bounce Back From Being Laid Off
Knowing what to do before, during and after a layoff can help you bounce back.
Dr. Barbara F. Shabazz
A layoff — temporary or permanent — refers to the termination of employment. Companies typically downsize their workforce because of organizational restructuring or to deal with an economic downturn.
A layoff is not an easy experience and can be traumatizing. Since it's not related to poor work performance, employees may not avoid getting laid off. Knowing what steps to take before, during and after a layoff can help you bounce back. The right strategies will help you manage your finances well and find opportunities for career growth.
Preparing for the Worst: Proactive Steps to Take Before a Layoff
Losing a job is common. In the U.S., 40% of workers experienced being laid off or terminated from work at least once. However, around 47% of employees said they were not prepared to handle a potential layoff.
While getting laid off may be inevitable, recognizing the signs can help you prepare professionally. A solid financial plan while still employed will help you deal with possible financial struggles during unexpected times.
Below are some tips you may find helpful when preparing for the worst.
When you find out you're about to lose your job, you may feel confused and overwhelmed. However, you shouldn't panic. Take deep breaths. Try to find out when your last day on the job will be. Discuss the situation with your family so that they won't be taken by surprise once the inevitable happens.
Know your rights and the company policies
Review the contract you signed when you got hired and check the employee handbook. It's wise to reread everything. Familiarize yourself with company policies on severance packages and other employee benefits you may be eligible to get. For example, laid-off employees may be entitled to receive pay for unused vacation time.
If your contract has a noncompete clause or you've signed a noncompete agreement, it's important to know if it's enforceable. A noncompete agreement states that an employee can't enter a competition with the employer during or after working for them. Check the noncompete agreement laws in your state or consult a lawyer.
Get your finances in order
Losing your job means losing a source of income. Review your financial situation while you're still working. It would help to have an emergency fund your family can use in a time of need. Focus on saving money. Having enough money to cover your family's expenses for a few months is ideal.
Find additional income streams
Having other sources of income will help you survive a layoff. You can get a side job based on your skills and time. For instance, you may try selling used items, pet sitting, tutoring, starting a blog, freelance writing or even running errands for others. You may also consider investing.
Skill up and broaden your networks
Regularly update your skills and certifications. Take courses offered by your company. You can also find free online courses.
Build your professional network too. You can do this by keeping in touch with former colleagues, contractors and anyone who works in the same industry. If you want to widen your network, you can attend relevant events and get to know potential contacts.
Seek alternative employment
Upon learning that you will get laid off, it's best to consider other employment opportunities. Get in touch with your network. It may also help to register with online job boards. Even if you don't plan to apply for a job, it keeps you updated on industry trends. Read about companies and job descriptions to familiarize yourself with expectations for the position you're interested in.
Immediate Actions to Take After a Layoff
After a job loss, it is normal to feel a bit lost and scared. Take some time to process your emotions. Don't take a layoff personally. Instead, remain calm and evaluate your situation.
It would help to talk to your company's human resources (HR) department. Ask about severance, benefits or any outplacement help and review your insurance policies. You should update your resume. Take time to determine your career path. Doing all these can help you plan your next steps.
File for unemployment benefits
Find out from HR what benefits you may be entitled to receive and how you can file for them. This may involve a lot of paperwork.
If you have job-based health insurance, check if your plan will extend coverage for a certain period. Ask about COBRA coverage, which could allow you to maintain your insurance coverage after losing your job. You are typically entitled to extended coverage from 18 to 36 months.
Review 401k contributions
You still get to keep your retirement account despite getting laid off. Depending on the balance and your company, you may be able to leave your money in your employer's plan. However, you can no longer make contributions. You may be able to move the funds to a retirement account or your new employer's 401(k) plan. Another option is to withdraw the funds, which may come with penalties.
Ask for a layoff letter
Ask your HR for the layoff letter, which should include information about the nature of your job loss. It can serve as proof that getting laid off was out of your control.
Update your resume
Remember to polish your resume and update the information. Visit your LinkedIn profile and change the settings. Now that you're back in the job market, you'd want recruiters and potential employers to know that you're open to new opportunities.
Evaluate your finances
Make sure you know where your finances stand, as it will help you budget your money. Focus on essential expenses, monitor your finances regularly and avoid making unnecessary purchases.
Determine what career path to take
Would you like to work in the same industry? Do you want a similar position? Or would you like to pursue your passion? Reflect on your priorities and goals.
Strategies for Dealing With Layoffs
Getting laid off is one of the most professionally traumatic experiences for any worker. Besides its impact on your finances, a layoff can also affect your self-esteem.
It's difficult dealing with job loss. However, losing your job can also open new doors for you. You can take it as a learning experience and an opportunity for a fresh start. Take the time to reflect on your career path and professional and personal goals.
Staying Productive While Unemployed
Being unemployed doesn't mean you just have to stay home and wait for a new opportunity to arrive. You can remain productive by being more active in the industry. Take this time to improve your visibility. You can try tapping into your network, enhancing your skills and knowledge and building relationships.
Keeping yourself busy can significantly improve your chances of getting hired for a new job. At the same time, it can help deal with negative feelings. Here are some tips for staying visible in your industry while unemployed.
- Tap into your network: The network you have built throughout your career can help you find a new job. Reach out and reconnect with people. Let your connections know that you’re back in the job market.
- Learn something new: Enhance your skills and expand your knowledge while unemployed to help improve your chances of getting a new job. This also ensures you stay up to date with developments in the industry.
- Use available resources: Explore available online courses and lectures. Consider attending industry-related events and seminars to help you meet new people who can be potential employers or part of your growing network.
- Maintain relationships with former employers: Don't sever ties with former employers and colleagues. Maintain good relationships with them since they may help you grow your network and can be work or character references.
Obtaining Additional Education
Sometimes, losing something allows us to reflect on our goals. For instance, some people choose to go back to school after getting laid off. If you pursue higher education, you can develop your skills and increase your earning potential. This option may not be for everyone, especially since it is expensive and may take a lot of your time. If that’s the case for you, you may consider additional education options like certification and training programs.
Various education programs are available to you. If you think this is the best way to spend your time after getting laid off, consider the following options. Make sure you do your research and weigh the pros and cons of each.
- Look for certificate or training programs: You can improve your skills by simply taking short certificates or training programs. Depending on your choice, these can take a few weeks to a few months.
- Take online classes: Online classes allow you to learn new skills or refresh your knowledge without leaving your home. You may find courses that charge a small fee or even get free access to some lectures online.
- Go to graduate school: You can advance your degree by going to graduate school. Find a course that's relevant to the career path you want to take. To help fund your higher education, consider applying for scholarships, financial aid or grants.
Organizing Your Finances
Losing a source of income can cause financial stress, which may detrimentally affect your physical and mental health. A solid financial plan is essential in helping reduce the economic impact of getting laid off. Determine your financial situation and adjust your budget.
It can be a bit challenging trying to manage your finances, especially if you have limited funds. You should ideally have enough savings to cover your household expenses for a few months. However, this isn't always the case. Here are some tips to help you survive financially after getting laid off.
- Review your expenses: Categorize your expenses and determine which are essential. Figure out ways to reduce your spending. For instance, you may cancel subscriptions or memberships you barely use.
- Manage your budget: Create a budget plan once you've determined your financial situation and expenses. You can use a budgeting app, download a free worksheet or write it down in a notebook.
- Apply for assistance: File for unemployment benefits in your state. You may also be eligible for food stamps, temporary assistance programs, free or discounted healthcare or financial aid. There may also be nonprofits in your area that offer emergency help for unemployed individuals.
- Consider other income sources: Depending on the circumstances, it may take a few weeks or months to find a new full-time job. While you're unemployed, consider other income sources. You can get a gig through sites like Upwork or FlexJobs.
- Think about getting a loan: While relying on loans is not advisable, getting one can help you if you're in a tight situation. However, make sure you review the terms, fees and interest rates. Remember that a loan is a commitment you'll have to repay.
Exploring New Opportunities
Once you feel ready to apply for a new job, it's time to polish your resume and portfolio. You can filter your employment options depending on your chosen career path and goals. You may also opt to start a new venture, pursue your passion or try the gig economy.
When it comes to getting a new job, it pays to be persistent. It would also help to be open to various opportunities that may come your way. Below are some options you may want to consider.
- Give freelancing a try: Whether you're waiting to land that dream job or are looking for a way to hide an employment gap on your record, freelancing may be right for you. Additionally, you get to earn money while job searching. This can help build your portfolio.
- Get creative: Consider other areas of interest instead of restricting yourself to a particular position or industry. Focus on your strengths and talents. You may be able to use these to pursue a career you're enthusiastic about.
- Learn how to filter: Getting too many job listings each day can be overwhelming. You may start by filtering locations, education requirements, years of experience, pay range, type of employment (part-time, full-time or contract) and work set-up (office-based or remote work).
Volunteer work is another option for you. Consider helping local organizations and nonprofits like food banks and shelters. Doing this enables you to give back to the community even if you're unemployed. The experience can be rewarding. In some cases, volunteering may also help you find employment opportunities.
Spending your time volunteering can help you stay focused and prevent you from feeling stagnated. In addition, volunteering allows you to meet new people and even land a new job.
- Check local nonprofits or organizations: Start searching near you. Check out bulletin boards in recreation centers and local stores. Ask friends and relatives if they know of any nonprofits serving your community.
- Research online: You can easily find nonprofits and volunteer initiatives online. Simply type in the search toolbar. You may also find organizations on social media sites or websites like VolunteerMatch.org and Idealist.org.
- Consider your skills, experience and interests: The right volunteer opportunities may vary depending on the person involved. Assessing your skills and interests is important when deciding on volunteer work or activity. Determine how much time you're willing to commit.
Inspiring Stories of People Who Beat Layoffs
Besides dealing with the loss of a source of income, laid-off workers may struggle emotionally. Losing a job can leave you feeling confused and at a loss. However, it's important to remember that you're not alone. There's hope despite the many challenges you may face. Here are some individuals sharing their experiences, lessons learned and a few tips to help you deal with getting laid off.
- When and how did you learn that you’re going to be laid off?
- What were the first things you did when you were getting laid off?
- What tips can you share to help laid-off employees manage and fight the overwhelming negative feelings accompanying bad news?
- What helped you improve your professional career and finances after getting laid off?
- What's the biggest lesson you have learned through this experience?
Strategist at Awning.com
Founder and CIO of Intentional Activities
Psychologist and CoFounder of personalitymax
Getting Back to Work After Being Laid Off
It's okay to take some time to reflect after being laid off. However, it's important to move forward. It would help if you planned for your return to the workforce. Re-evaluate your career choices. Revamp your resume. If possible, gain work experience while you're still trying to figure out your career path.
Reassess and Evaluate Your Career
Whether you've been laid off recently or unemployed for quite some time, finding a new job is possible if you have a solid strategy. Evaluate your career and reassess your choices. Take note of your interests and talents. Also, determine if it's the right time to change career paths.
It can be scary to resume the workforce after being laid off. But knowing how to evaluate your career properly can help you get back on track.
- Focus on your personal goals: When reassessing your career, it's important to consider your personal goals. From there, you can figure out whether you should switch career paths entirely or continue where you left off before the layoff.
- Determine your strengths: By understanding your strengths, you will also be able to assess your capabilities and the best career for you. Consider what you enjoyed most in your previous job and which areas you excel in.
- Evaluate the market: Your career reevaluation should not be limited to what you can expect in the next few months. Ensure you evaluate the overall market and have a long-term plan to maximize your career development.
Revamp Your Resume and Nail the Interview
Before applying for a new job, you should update your resume. Review its contents and retain only relevant information. Revamp it to make it stand out.
Once you get interview schedules, make sure you prepare for each one. Research about the company and the position you're applying for. Take note of any specific skills the company prefers.
Your resume is the first thing hiring managers see. It serves as your ticket to landing an interview, which could lead to employment. That is why it's important to update it regularly.
- Tailor it to the industry: When creating a resume, it's important to know what qualifications a company or hiring manager is looking for. This way, you know which employment experience and skills to highlight.
- Be concise: Avoid putting too many details in your resume. Hiring managers tend to receive multiple resumes at once, so avoid redundancy. Ideally, you should limit your resume to one to two pages.
- Keep it professional: Typically, hiring managers and recruiters contact prospective job applicants via email. So, having a professional email address in your resume is extremely important.
- Attach a cover letter: When sending a resume (especially online), don't forget to include a cover letter. Make sure its color scheme or design matches your resume.
- Don’t forget to proofread: Before submitting your cover letter and resume, review it for possible errors. You can also ask a friend or loved one to check for spelling, grammar or punctuation mistakes.
Gain Work Experience While Being Unemployed
Unemployment shouldn't hinder you from gaining work experience. You can grow your resume while waiting to find the best employment option for you. There are many alternatives available. That said, make sure you conduct research first to ensure the legitimacy of the offer.
If you're unemployed and looking for a way to gain work experience, you can start by trying any of the following options.
- Internship: Many internships don't come with a salary. They may not also always lead to a full-time job. However, internship opportunities can help you gain relevant skills and experience working in the field.
- Project-based work: If you find it hard to get a new job, you can try assisting in projects by offering your services. For instance, you can apply to projects that require an extra pair of hands for only a short period.
- Apprenticeship: A training scheme wherein an individual works in a specific job, trade or for a certain person. Through this, you can get paid while gaining skills and knowledge that could help you land the job you want.
Coping With Layoff Survivor Sickness
A layoff affects the whole organization. Those who get laid off suffer from job loss. Meanwhile, those who are left behind may struggle with layoff survivor sickness. They may feel guilty, stressed out, disillusioned, insecure and scared. Employers — especially HR departments — should have a plan to help these employees deal with the issue.
Overcoming Fear, Insecurity and Disillusionment
Companies need to have a program that provides support to employees who experience layoff survivor guilt. However, knowing how to overcome your negative emotions can also help. Here are some ways to cope.
Learn techniques to help you stay calm
Knowing relaxation techniques can help you stay calm during a stressful time. This will allow you to think more clearly and act rationally. There are various techniques you can learn. One of the easiest techniques that don't require any equipment is focusing on your breath.
Recognize the guilt
Denying your feelings won't help. Learn to acknowledge the guilt. Avoid bottling your emotions up as this may take a toll on your mental health. Give yourself time to grieve the loss of your laid-off colleagues. If necessary, consider getting professional help.
Change can be stressful. However, it can sometimes be inevitable. Rationalizing your fears can help you come up with a proper plan. Determine what's stressing you out. Then, lay out possible solutions to deal with it.
Let it out
Holding the frustration in isn't healthy. Let your feelings out. Confide with someone you trust. It can be a loved one or a close friend. If you're uncomfortable venting your feelings to someone you know, consider going to a counselor.
Find ways to boost your self-esteem
Self-esteem is one of the most affected aspects after a layoff. It can apply to survivors too. You may start questioning your abilities and fear that you may be next to lose your job. Find other activities that may boost your self-esteem if that is the case. This way, you're placing your self-esteem in your own hands.
How to Lower Your Chances of Being Laid Off
In most cases, getting laid off is out of the employee's control. Even the most experienced employees may sometimes lose their jobs through layoffs. However, there are certain instances when it's possible to prevent being among the downsized. Below are some strategies to help lower your chances of being laid off.
Demonstrate your value
Grab opportunities that will let you showcase your skills. Show initiative by volunteering to lead projects or presentations. However, make sure not to go overboard. Taking on too many responsibilities may backfire and negatively impact your performance evaluation.
It would help to show a positive attitude towards work. Be confident with your talents. To stand out, show a can-do attitude and avoid getting all frustrated by minor issues.
It's essential to expand your skill sets. You can take free online classes or enroll in certification programs. Familiarize yourself with important work systems and processes widely used in the company. You're providing extra value to the company by growing your skill sets.
Hone a unique skill
Being well-rounded helps keep a job. However, it would also help to hone a specific skill that may not be well-known by others in the team. For instance, you can master useful software that others in your team may not know.
Build good relationships
Whether working with a team regularly or occasionally, it's crucial to build a good rapport with your coworkers. Get to know the people you're working with.
It also helps to make yourself indispensable to clients. Being a valuable asset to the company can make your job more secure.
Expert Insight on Layoff Survival
Dealing with a job loss due to a layoff can be a bit overwhelming, especially if unexpected. MoneyGeek spoke with industry leaders to share some tips to help you bounce back after getting laid off.
- What's the first thing an employee needs to do after learning that they're going to get laid off?
- What financial advice can you give employees who recently got laid off?
- What resources, tools or programs do you recommend to employees who are about to get laid off or have been laid off?
- What tips can you share with people who want to advance their professional careers after getting laid off?
Leadership & Career Coach, Speaker & Author of "Red Cape Rescue: Save Your Career Without Leaving Your Job"
CEO at Inspire Careers
Senior Lecturer, Management Department at Darla Moore School of Business, University of South Carolina
Executive Coach at The Big Game Hunter
Certified Financial Planner at Childfree Wealth
Founder of Professionals in Transition, Certified Career Counselor and Author
Resources for Layoff Survival
Getting laid off can be a stressful time, but you're not alone. Explore the following resources to help you overcome the challenges of job loss.
- 211 Resources: Find a list of resources for people needing mental health or food assistance. Dial 211 and get connected to an expert.
- AARP Foundation: Find job listings for individuals aged 50 or above. Get tips on how to apply for a job and what to expect for an interview.
- abilityJOBS: Search for employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities.
- Adult Students in Scholastic Transition: Adult women facing economic, social or physical challenges can get up to $10,000 to help them pursue higher education.
- Benefits.gov: Find out how to apply for unemployment assistance in your state.
- CareerOneStop: This one-stop site sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor offers various resources for career, training and job search. Find the information you can use when you change careers or return to work.
- Federal Trade Commission: This government resource helps you cope with debt when you're having trouble paying your bills. Learn about debt relief services and debt consolidation.
- Freelancer: Find freelance jobs based on your skills.
- Remote.co: Use this search tool to find companies offering remote work.
- Scholarships.com: This search tool helps find scholarships and grants that may be available to you.
- USA.gov: Find out how to apply for temporary assistance, unemployment benefits, COBRA coverage and workers' compensation.
About Nathan Paulus
- INTOO. "19 Fascinating Stats on Layoff Anxiety — Infographic." Accessed July 19, 2022.
- National Bureau of Economic Research. "COVID-19 Is Also a Reallocation Shock." Accessed July 19, 2022.
- U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "TED: The Economics Daily." Accessed July 19, 2022.
- U.S. Department of Labor. "COBRA Continuation Coverage." Accessed July 20, 2022.
- WARN Database. "WARN Layoff Data." Accessed July 19, 2022.