What to Do When You Get Laid Off

Following these steps will help you get back to work as quickly as possible.

  • Don’t Burn Any Bridges
    This is the number-one post-layoff rule, and it applies to almost every layoff-related situation. In all your dealings with the company, your supervisor, your human resources representative, and your former coworkers, use “don’t burn any bridges” as your personal mantra. You never know when contacts you made at your job will help you in your new life. The company’s fortunes could take a turn for the better and you may be invited to return to your old job; a former coworker might find a perfect place for you at his new company; a headhunter might call your old company’s HR department looking for someone like you.
  • Negotiate the Terms of Your Departure
    If you’re laid off, there’s a good chance you’ll be offered some kind of severance package, generally a continuation of your salary for a set amount of time. What you may not know is that you do have the ability to negotiate for more benefits. For instance, if your company doesn’t offer to keep you on the health plan for a while, at no cost to you, ask it to. If you have stock options and are near a vesting milestone, ask HR to accelerate your vesting schedule. The company may also be able to help you with outplacement services.

    You should also try to negotiate for more money. The key is to come across as professionally as you can. Appeal to the company’s sense of fairness. Chances are, your managers feel horrible about the layoff and want to be as just as they can with your parting package. Don’t be afraid to request as much money as you need. After all, you don’t have anything to lose. What are they going to do, fire you?

  • Understand Your Severance Package
    You’ll probably be asked to sign something agreeing to keep the details of your severance package secret. You may also be required to sign a non-compete clause (saying that you won’t work for any of your company’s competitors). Use your intuition and best judgment when asked to sign this one, but keep in mind that the clauses are illegal in some states and unlikely to hold up in court in others. If you have any questions about your benefits package, don’t hesitate to ask HR. Before you leave, make sure everything is clear.
  • Make It Easy for Your Ex-Employer
    Be sure the company has updated contact information for you so it can send you your COBRA notice (allowing you to continue purchasing health insurance on your company plan until you find a new job), W2 forms, and any other correspondence.
  • Decide Whether You’re Resigning or Getting Laid off
    You’ll probably have the chance to decide whether, in official terms, your departure from your company is the result of your resignation or your getting laid off. Discuss this question with HR. My advice is to avoid resigning whenever possible; it may disqualify you for unemployment insurance–and being laid off no longer has the stigma it once did. You may feel strongly about resigning, though, and if this is the case, let HR know.
  • Get a Reference Letter before You Leave
    Ask your supervisor for a letter of recommendation before you leave the office. You may be able to write it yourself and have your supervisor sign it. It should include a description of your duties, a verification of the dates of your employment, and, hopefully, unqualified praise for your skills and talents. Even companies with a policy of not providing references will often make an exception in the event of a layoff.
  • Clean out Your Desk and Computer
    In a best-case scenario, the company will allow you privacy and plenty of time to get your personal belongings and computer files out of the office. However, it may watch you to make sure you don’t take anything belonging to the company or tell you that you only have a certain amount of time before they’ll cut off your computer access.

    Try to take your time and be sure you don’t leave anything you wouldn’t want someone else to see. Remove any confidential information, personal contact lists, and paper files that you’d rather keep to yourself. If you have any personal office supplies, you may have to prove that they belong to you and not the company. Don’t lose your cool if you’re asked to do this. Remember that the idea is not to burn any bridges and to remain calm and professional.

    On your computer, delete all personal e-mails and documents. It’s true that nothing is ever completely deleted, but you can at least make personal information more difficult to find. And make your post-employment life easier by transferring important personal documents and files (e-mails, e-mail address books, et cetera) to your home computer or a CD-ROM or floppy disk.

  • Use and Expand Your Network
    Don’t be afraid to let people know you’ve been laid off. Tell family and friends that you’re in the market for a new career and ask them to think of any acquaintances or colleagues who might be interested in hiring you. When you meet a stranger at a party or on the bus and he asks you what you do, go ahead and tell him you were recently laid off and you’re looking for a job. You never know who might be the key to your new dream career.

    In the name of never burning bridges, keep in touch with all your fellow laid-off coworkers. They’ll have new jobs soon, which means they’ll be in the position to help each other out. One of them could start working at your dream company.

    Start attending job fairs and contact employment agencies and recruiters. Get reacquainted with all the old-standby job-search resources; post your resume on the Internet and start perusing the classifieds.

    You should also consider the tactic a group of laid-off Canadian Nortel Networks workers took. They created a website called Hire Top Talent using resources and time donated by friends and sent the URL to every hiring manager they knew and some members of the press. Within a couple of weeks, most of them had more than one job offer. Visit their site for inspiration and think about making one of your own.

  • Polish Your Resume
    Update your resume right away. You might also consider showing your resume to someone who worked closely with you at your old job; he’ll be able to help you put your experience in the best light.
  • Stay Organized
    It’s tempting to look at a layoff as a vacation, and there’s nothing wrong with taking a few days off (or more, if you were lucky enough to be granted a generous severance package). But when you’re ready to find a new job, buckle down. Right now, the job search is your job, and you need to tackle it with energy, discipline, and organization.

    Put yourself on a schedule and make yourself spend a certain amount of time each day on job-search activities. Keep track of the companies to which you send your resume, companies where you interview, and your follow-up activities. Start each day with your newspaper’s classified section or with a visit to the job listings sites. And look for new resources each day.

  • Keep Your Chin up
    Even though it seems like everyone is getting laid off these days, you can’t help but get discouraged by losing your job. Don’t let it get you down too much. Vent to close friends, spend a couple of days feeling bad, and then get back to work. You got laid off; it’s not the end of the world and it doesn’t say anything about you as a person.

    If you need to, see a counselor to work through your feelings. Ask friends and family members if they’ve ever been fired or laid off and how they bounced back; you just might hear some motivational stories that will have you looking on the bright side. You’ll also feel better about yourself if you don’t let yourself spend too much time wallowing in self-pity. Networking and searching for jobs and going to interviews, besides getting you a new job, will also help your self-esteem.


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