Everything is going great, but one day you get summoned into your manager’s office unexpectedly.
Suddenly you’re gathering your belongings and avoiding eye contact with your colleagues as you head out the door.
What just happened? And worse, what the hell do you do now?
Getting fired or laid off is a stressful life event. You might feel guilty or insecure. You might be afraid of what the future holds, or even a little depressed. But you’re probably not able to think straight.
This is your survival guide so you can land on your feet and keep going. It can also become handy if you want to be proactive and prepare for the worst, just in case.
1. Don’t panic
Seriously, the worst thing you can do is freak out at being fired. As someone who’s been let go a few times in my life, I know how it feels, but you really need to keep your wits about you.
For the next 48–72 hours, just let things happen. Get angry, sad, frightened. Go out for drinks with friends, cry into your pillow, or empty the tub of ice cream in the freezer.
And recognize that you will get through this.
2. Get organized to deal with bureaucracy
Depending on the nature of your job, this could mean a lot of different things. In general, you’ll want to gather everything that might be relevant for state agencies or future employers. Collect performance evaluations, your job description, contracts, and NDAs, and if you can, print out employment emails from your boss or management. You should also include recent pay stubs or invoices.
Put everything in a folder so you can refer back to everything later as needed.
File for unemployment & deal with legal matters. Check with your union rep if relevant.
You can look for low-cost/sliding scale lawyer referral services if you need an employment contract or NDA reviewed.
It’s important that you start the process immediately, as it can take a few weeks for unemployment benefits to get approved.
3. Reduce expenses
Before you jump into the job market, it’s a good idea to first sit down and review your budget.
What are your essential expenses (rent, utilities, car expenses, debts, etc.)? What can you live without for the short term? How much money do you have in savings? Do you have anything you could sell for short-term cash flow?
Cut all of the streaming services, subscriptions, automatic donations, etc. You also should make plans to eat all your meals at home. Focus only on necessities right now. Vacations, holiday spending, and other things can wait.
If you have a student loan, now’s the time to contact your lender and apply for a forbearance, allowing your repayment to be put on hold while you’re looking for a new job. You can also check with other debtors that might give you a bit of leeway or reduce payments.
4. Revise your resume and build a cover letter template
It’s time to pull out the dusty resume and add your latest employment, new skills, volunteer positions, and anything else you’ve accomplished since you last updated it.
If you need tips on how to make a great resume, check out my previous article on how to make your resume sparkle.
Once you get your resume in tip-top shape, you’ll want to update your profile on LinkedIn (or create one!). You can upload a PDF version of your resume to LinkedIn and list out other skills as well. Ask former colleagues to write testimonials, which will help flesh out your profile even further.
Although your cover letter should be customized for each new application, you can make things a lot easier by creating a template with basic information. The Aha! Blog has great tips on what to include.
5. Network your fanny off
You don’t want to be ranting about your situation to your casual acquaintances right after you lose your job.
Give yourself at least a couple of days to process everything and make a plan before you post on Facebook or Twitter. You don’t want your emotions to color your language or turn off a potential employer/contact.
This might also be a good time to join relevant professional groups on Facebook and LinkedIn.
Look for meetup groups, local professional organizations and get to know others in your field. Don’t start off introductions with your employment status. Instead, get to know people and if you hit it off, you can casually mention you’re looking for your next opportunity.
Attend job fairs, company mixers, or other events designed for job seekers.
If you want to read more about effective networking, I’ve got you covered.
6. Start looking for new employment
As you sign up on Indeed.com, Glassdoor.com or LinkedIn, you can easily lose track of what you’ve already applied to.
The best thing you can do for yourself is to use Google Docs to set up a spreadsheet listing every potential employer. You might include the following columns: company, contact name, email, phone, physical address (if known), job title, link to the job posting, date applied, and application status.
Not only will you want to know where you’ve applied so you can track your status, but your state employment agency will want to know where you’re applying. It’s a bit cumbersome to set up but you’ll be grateful to have these records later on.
7. See your situation as an unexpected opportunity
Losing a job almost always sucks, but you can find lots of silver linings. Now’s a good time to write them down.
More often than not, you probably had some dissatisfaction with your job. Maybe you liked the work but hated the company or your supervisor. Maybe you were underpaid. Or perhaps you were bored.
There’s no law that you have to apply for a new job with the same job title as your last one.
Just because you were doing customer service does not mean you have to restrict your search to other support positions. Feel free to expand your search to other positions you might qualify for. Consider what you might have learned along the way—maybe if you did support you could also write documentation, do QA testing, or other jobs.
8. Use your free time wisely
While you’re on the job search, you will likely have more time on your hands than usual. Don’t waste it by binging thirty years of The Simpsons.
Here are a few things to consider.
- Learn new skills. You can find many professional webinars through SCORE. Or maybe enroll in a Massive Open Online Course (MOOC). Coursera is one of the most familiar options, but you can check out Class Central for more ideas. Most of these are low-cost or even free.
- Create or add to a professional portfolio. If you’re a designer or photographer, that’s simple enough. But regardless of your career, barista or bank teller, teacher or truck driver, you could write articles about your profession and share your insights with others.
- Volunteer with community organizations. Giving back is a great way to make a difference and you can even add volunteering to your resume.
9. Find alternate short-term employment
If you need to make ends meet before the perfect new job comes around, you have a lot of options in our current economy. From freelancing to gig jobs driving for ridesharing companies or delivering food or groceries, there are a number of opportunities out there. Check out my article listing a number of ways you can bring in extra income.
10. Take care of yourself
It’s easy to let the stress of unemployment get to you. And it’s not uncommon to feel overwhelmed with everything you need to do, or even fall into a temporary depression.
That’s why you need to make sure to keep yourself healthy and in good spirits. Try to eat healthy meals — but don’t overdo it.
Get exercise, fresh air, and sunshine, which will improve your mood. Allow yourself a reasonable amount of time to engage in hobbies and other entertainment. Work in the garden, or read a good book from the library.
And be sure to get enough sleep — but don’t stay in bed all day!