A Guide to Surviving a Lay-Off: Five Steps to Take

Surviving a lay-off can be one of the most stressful moments in your life. As Americans, many of us live to work and our whole identity can be tied up with our job. When that is suddenly taken away from us, it can cause an extreme reaction. Everyone reacts differently to a lay-off and this can end up being one of those life moments that really stay with us. It can affect our confidence, relationships, and future performance. I can tell you that it’s “just a job” but many of us will carry our feelings about getting laid off long into the future. Why is getting laid off, fired, downsized, etc. so hard to move past? What can you do to move on and move forward? This Guide to Surviving a Lay-Off is meant to help you move past this moment with grace.

Surviving a Lay-Off

1. Keep Your Cool and Get Your House in Order

Getting laid off, let go, or fired can happen at any time; sometimes you know it’s coming, but other times it can come as a complete surprise. It can be hard to think clearly when someone is dropping a bombshell on you. The first thing to do is breathe! Keep your cool and maintain your professionalism throughout the process. You don’t want to be remembered as the employee or coworker that had a meltdown or left in a huff. I’ve been there – it might be completely warranted, but no matter the situation, stay as calm as you can. You WILL get through this.

This is the time to shore up your financial situation and figure out your benefits. You want to make sure you can focus on the future without having to worry about the administration of it all. A few things to consider:

  • Get EVERYTHING in writing. Make sure you have copies of everything you’ve signed, non-competes, contracts, severance agreements, etc.
  • Find out if and when you get a severance or when your last check will be. If you have unused PTO, you might be able to get the monetary value of those days.
  • Find out the last day you are covered by benefits and what your options are. If you have a few weeks you might want to take advantage of the time and schedule doctor, dentist, or vision appointments to get them in before you lose benefits. Also, check on any FSA accounts and make sure to use your money and get your receipts in.
  • If the company allows it, download your contacts and any files you want to keep (reference your employee handbook to make sure this is okay).
  • Apply for unemployment immediately even if you are getting a severance. These benefits are there for a reason and the sooner you get your application in the sooner you can receive a payment. This will help if you are unemployed long-term.
  • Be mindful of who you’re processing your termination to. It can be tempting to vent to coworkers who still work at the company, but you want to keep it professional. Find someone who doesn’t work at your company to process your feelings with. This might be a therapist, friend, spouse, or family member.

2. Get Those Endorphins

Getting laid off can really mess with your head and your body. Your feelings can run the gamut of depression, anger, sadness, imposter syndrome, shame, and everything in between. And it’s important to feel and process your feelings. In those first few weeks, you might book some axe-throwing or boxing time to work out your anger. You could start a journal just to get your feelings out. This is an important part of the healing process.

Now that you’re not going to work every day, it can be easy to get isolated, so you want to make sure to get your endorphins flowing. This is the time to stay active, it can be as simple as a 30-minute walk every day Just plan to move your body every day. Moving your body helps move your brain!

Surviving a Lay-Off Exercise

This is also the time to exercise your creative muscles. If you have any hobbies like music or art that you love, try to practice every day. Go to the library and pick up all those books you’ve always meant to read. There are very few times in life when you have time to decompress like this. Make this a time to rediscover things that you used to love to do. Visit family and friends, and enjoy community groups and events. Remember that you have a whole life outside of your job. You are working to live, not the other way around.

3. Take Time to Reflect

Getting laid off is a good time to reflect on your career. Is this the path you want to continue, or do you want to take advantage of this break and try something else? Just because you have a history in one industry doesn’t mean you have to stay there. I wrote another post about how to change your career you can reference here.

If you were fired, this is also a time for serious self-reflection. No one is ever completely innocent, or completely guilty. What role did you play in what happened and what can you work on? If you lack time management skills, you might spend some time with a therapist or accountability coach to work through this issue. If you are missing a skill set or something isn’t up to par, you can take a class or course to improve this skill for the next job. If you are burnt out from being stuck in a toxic situation, take some time to process why you stayed for so long. Going into your next position you want to be confident, with firm boundaries, and positive stories to share.

4. Rebrand Yourself

Now is the time to hire a career coach. A neutral third party with an outside perspective can help you think about yourself and your experience in new ways. You may not feel confident or comfortable talking about yourself, yet, but you need to create materials that show the best parts of you! A career coach can help talk about your experience and your skills and package it in a way that shows your value to a new company. Most of my clients struggle with talking about themselves and they end up with a lackluster resume, cover letter, and LinkedIn profile. This shouldn’t be the case, but we’re all taught to be humble and keep our heads down so this is sometimes the most difficult part in a job search. You have your memories of your entire career experience, and some things might not seem as interesting or impressive to you as they would to a new person. A career coach can also help you create documents that get noticed!

While you work on your career materials, consider getting new headshots and a new interview outfit that you feel amazing in. These things can make a big difference in your confidence level which makes an impression. Think about the job/career that you want and visualize yourself in that role. What do you look like? What is your daily routine like? How do you feel? Start creating a vision board of yourself in that role.

Surviving a Lay-Off Personal Brand

Think about yourself in your desired industry. How can you make an impact in your industry? Be a  speaker? Get certifications? Go to conferences and present? Submit research or training materials? Write a book? Coach? Be a thought leader and write for Forbes? These are all things that you can do regardless of the company you work for. With or without a company, you still have an opinion and experience in your industry that is valuable. Don’t ever forget that. These things can help you stand out for your unique contributions, not just what your company has done.

5. Network

It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again, relationships are the key to a successful career. If you haven’t been networking, there’s no time like the present. And if you’re currently unemployed, you must take advantage of this time to (re)connect with your network. You can set up three different groups of people to network with: Past relationships, personal relationships, and aspirational relationships.

Your past relationships are people who you’ve previously worked with, or for.  Connect, or reconnect with people on LinkedIn. Make a list of people you want to reach out to. You can also engage with college friends that might have been in your classes and now work in the industry, or people from alumni groups, sorority/fraternity groups, professional organizations, etc. Anyone you’ve worked or volunteered with in the past. Some of these people might be great references as well.

Your personal relationships can be family and friends that you know that might have connections you haven’t considered. Think about the jobs that they have and industries they work in. Do they have any connections that they can connect you with? Everyone should know that you are on the market, what you’re looking for, and how to reach you.

Your aspirational relationships will take a little more legwork. These are people that you want to meet but don’t already know. You can start by seeing if you have any mutual connections through social media and ask for an introduction. If you don’t have any mutual connections, look, and see if you have any shared interests – maybe a group or a hobby. See if they are involved in any professional organizations and try to meet them at the next event.

Surviving a Lay-Off Networking

Make sure during your unemployment period that you set specific networking goals for yourself. That could be something like attending two networking events every month, setting up two monthly lunches or coffee dates, or reaching out to 5 people every week. This is an easy task to forget to do, but it has a HUGE impact on your search.

Surviving a lay-off no matter what the circumstances is a big change, and it can be challenging to get into the right headspace to stay positive. This is where I come in! I can be your accountability coach throughout this process and help you move forward in your career journey.