Being laid off from your job can be one of the worst experiences of your professional life. The sting of a layoff can feel personal and traumatic, and while that is a natural human reaction, being laid off can also be a fresh start to something wonderful. This horrible event can lead to a new and better working life. Whether you got laid off because of your performance, because of the budget or economics, or for some other reason, here are some things you can and should do during this period of unemployment.
Before You Go
When you get hit with the news that you are no longer employed, a lot of things can go through your mind. But the most important things you need to think and ask about need to happen before you leave the building. Ask if you will receive a severance. Anything is better than nothing, so if it wasn’t offered, ask about it. If your firm has a website, ask if you can remain on the website for a period while you look for other work. Both severance pay and website time are sometimes referred to as “garden leave,” allowing you to seek work with some privacy and stability. Check how long your insurance will last, or if there is any coverage you can get post-employment. Inquire about any other benefits, like unpaid bonuses, vacation time, or reimbursements for expenses. Don’t leave money on the table! Find out if someone will give you a letter of recommendation, even if it is neutral. Having some references will benefit you on your job search. If you were not let go because of performance issues, but rather because of the budget or economy, ask for a layoff letter. This letter will state those reasons for your termination and can help you when you are explaining your unemployment in a future interview.
Engage in Self-Care
First and foremost, engage in some self-care. Getting laid off is a major life event, and you are going to need some time to process that event. Talk to someone close to you, or engage a therapist to help you work through the issues. Cry and yell about it if that makes you feel better. Being able to process the emotions that come up will allow you to focus on the steps to landing that next dream job. After you have processed some of the negative emotions, focus on something positive. Get active, join a club, volunteer, or take a mini-vacation—get out there and keep active to keep your mind from dwelling on the negative feelings that come with a layoff.
Check Into Unemployment
If you were lucky enough to get a severance package, there may not be a rush to get going on your unemployment paperwork; however, these benefits can take some time, so don’t drag your feet for too long. Lining up unemployment benefits will ease some of the stress, and keep you afloat while you job search. Make sure you understand all the rules for getting unemployment coverage in your state. Most unemployment benefits can be applied for online, and the sooner you get started on this, the better.
Do Some Self-Reflection
It’s not always easy to take a long, hard look at yourself, but taking some time to reflect after a layoff is important. Understand why you are sad, angry, or afraid. Evaluate the reasons why you were let go. Make a list of things you can improve upon while you are off work, and set out to achieve those improvements. Look at things like time management or writing skills—could you benefit from learning some ways to improve those areas? Find podcasts or books on the topic to help. On the flip side, make a list of your skills and assets. Evaluate what makes you stand out against the rest. You also want to take some time and craft your response to any questions about the reason for your period of unemployment. Get a short, upbeat statement ready that reflects your position on the issue, and have it ready to go once you start landing interviews.
Downsize If You Can
If you think your unemployment may last a few weeks or months, start looking at ways you can trim your monthly budget. You can do things like cancel memberships, sell unwanted items, and stop eating or going out as frequently as you did when you worked. There are simple ways to shave money off your monthly budget and still live comfortably while job searching.
Think about downsizing your employment expectations, too. If you got let go from BigLaw, look at mid-sized or small firms for your next job. It doesn’t have to be forever, but you may have more luck breaking into a smaller firm than getting back into BigLaw. The important thing is to keep your options open and wide.
Keep a Schedule
Now that you suddenly have an abundance of free time, it can be easy to slip into a pattern of unproductive habits. Sleeping in, catching up on Netflix, or general malaise can wreak havoc on your job search. Keep a schedule to thwart any unproductive time wasters. Get up at the same time every day. Get ready for the day—take a shower, workout, and eat breakfast. Make to-do lists for the week with job searching tasks and goals to reach. You can still make time for the fun stuff, just don’t sit around all day without doing something productive to find a job.
Revamp Your Resume
Now that you have taken a little time to get in the right headspace both personally and financially, it’s time to revamp your resume. Maybe it has been a while since you last updated it, and it needs an extensive overhaul; or maybe you just need to fine tune it to land your next gig. Whatever the case, really take some time with your resume. Learn what keywords you can easily interchange so you match the job descriptions. Resumes are marketing statements, and you need to really sell yourself. If you aren’t good at that, or are still feeling some insecurity about your layoff, hire someone to help you.
Get a Recruiter—Or Two—and Network!
Once your resume is ready and you are in a good place emotionally, it is time to reach out to recruiters and ramp up your networking. Go to local bar events, jump on LinkedIn, reach out to former connections, and get the word out that you are looking for work. Treat this part of the process as your new full-time job. It takes a lot of energy and effort to find a job, so don’t give up! Contact your school’s career services and have them put you in touch with alumni who work in your area, then reach out to them and invite them for coffee or lunch. When you meet with them, bring a copy of your resume. Do everything you can to get connections to help you find your next job. Email partners or counsel at your target firms, but don’t ask them for a job; ask them questions about the industry and their work. Don’t forget to clean up your social media if necessary. Make sure to update any professional websites, and get rid of anything that takes away from the image you want to portray.
If you have been applying for jobs without responses, or getting interviews followed by rejection letters, seek out feedback. Ask your recruiter or the interviewer what you could work on to help you land a job in the future. If they don’t respond, go online and find some resources, like Fishbowl or LinkedIn, and ask there. If you are applying and not getting any sort of interest, look at the resume you submitted and see if you are matching your resume with the job description. Automated screening can keep your resume from landing in front of a real person. If you are interviewing and not getting to the next step, find ways to practice interviewing skills. Ask a friend or family member to interview you and give you constructive feedback. If all this fails, and budget isn’t an issue, get a career coach. A professional coach will help you improve where necessary and land that great new job. The important thing to remember is not to let a few bad interviews get you down—keep working at improvement and the right job will happen.
No one wants to handle being laid off, but if the worst happens, follow these tips to get back in the game and land your next role.