Being laid off can be an emotional, stressful experience. What makes it more stressful is not having a plan.
When you get the bad news, your first action should be taking a deep breath and doing your best to stay calm. Spend the evening with a favorite comfort food or a loved one, how ever you like to unwind.
The next day, don't dawdle. Start on the following five steps. If you take them one at a time, you'll have all of your ducks in a row, and your layoff experience will seem more manageable, which will only help you feel calmer and more centered when you start looking for your next role.
1. Understand Your Severance Package
Severance is more than the money an employer gives you when you part ways.
Sure, one of the main ingredients in a severance package is pay. The amount is ordinarily tied to length of service, with many employees receiving two weeks of pay for every year of service.
However, there are several other elements to severance packages. If you're laid off, you should take a moment to understand the range of components, which impact everything from health insurance to your ability to collect unemployment benefits.
Most of the time, severance agreements include some, if not all, of the following: a description of your departure, severance pay, information on your health benefits, a non-compete clause, outplacement services, confidentiality rules, a waiver of your right to sue and other contractual stipulations.
If you have access to a lawyer or know someone with legal expertise, consider having them review the document. Some components of a severance package, such as a non-compete clause, may affect your ability to make a living in a certain industry or geographic area.
Finally, keep in mind that everything is negotiable. Especially if you've been with the company for a long time, they're likely hoping you'll be an ambassador who speaks highly of them, despite the layoff. Other employees may look to you for recommendations.
Use your experience to your advantage and make sure you have a comprehensive understanding of the agreement before you sign the dotted line.
2. Understand Your COBRA Benefits
Many of us have first-hand experience of the sticker shock that comes when you see the true cost of your employer-based health insurance plan.
The Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), passed in 1986, is a federal law that requires employers to offer at least 18 months of coverage to employees and their dependents. The catch is that you have to pay the full premium, which is often far higher than you imagined—and possibly too expensive considering you're now out of a job.
The benefit of taking COBRA is that you'll probably be able to continue seeing the healthcare providers you've been seeing (unless the employer changes coverage for the company) and your premiums, though expensive, will still be cheaper than comparable coverage on the individual market.
The downside: your coverage could be changed based on the employer's whims, it only lasts 18 months, and while cheaper than comparable coverage, it's still very expensive.
Luckily, there are other options. There is a special enrollment period in which you have 60 days after your layoff date to find another plan. Among your options are your spouse's coverage, your state's insurance marketplace, and short-term health insurance coverage.
One thing is certain: you don't want to wait. Health insurance is complicated. It may take a couple of weeks to find the right plan.
3. Understand How Unemployment Works in Your State
Shockingly, just over a quarter of the unemployed collect unemployment benefits. Don't make the same mistake. There's no reason to be ashamed. You've been paying into this benefit for years—it's your time to collect.
Every state has an unemployment program, and every program goes about things differently. For example, the length of time you're eligible to receive benefits ranges from 13 weeks in Missouri to 30 weeks in Montana.
Another area where states diverge: job search requirements. Many states require you to prove you're conducting a job search. The rules differ significantly depending on where you live. In Florida, you must make a minimum of two job contacts per week, while in Arizona, you must look for work at least four days a week and make at least one job contact each day.
Additionally, just in case you're denied benefits, hang onto any paperwork related to your layoff. Every state has an appeals process should you find yourself denied.
4. Review Your Resume & Think About Next Steps
By day four, you're probably not ready to apply for jobs. However, spending a day reviewing your resume and reflecting on your career is a great idea.
First, if you're like most of us, you'll need to update the bullet points underneath your most recent employment. Hopefully, you've been jotting down your achievements throughout your previous job. If so, now's the time to move them onto your resume. You should also re-weight your resume. Your first job out of college no longer requires the detailed bullet points you once used. Let them go and open up space for more recent successes.
A layoff is a great time to reconsider your career, as well. Are you happy with the direction in which you're moving? If you're unsure, see a career coach who can help you grasp your strongest skills and values. They'll also advise you on how to make your resume as keyword-rich as possible, to better stand out to hiring managers.
Another option is LiveCareer's Resume Builder, which takes you step by step through the process of building an impressive resume that will make employers want to know more.
5. Start to Spread the Word that You Are Looking for Work
Networks are the lifeblood of a healthy career. Experts say the vast majority of job seekers find new work from their friends, family, and colleagues.
For networking to succeed, however, you must commit to fostering and expanding your network, in good times and in bad. In other words, don't let your LinkedIn messages pile up. It only takes five minutes to respond, and people will remember when you helped them.
Within a few days of getting laid off, you should send emails to anyone you've had a relationship with, whether it be a client, colleague, or classmate. Let them know you're back on the market. Don't baldly ask for a job. You can, however, fill them in on the type of role you seek.
Face-to-face networking is most effective, so in the coming weeks, you should get coffee with as many people as possible. Plant the seeds for future career growth.
Bonus: Give Yourself a Break
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, stop and breathe. Good decisions don't come from a place of anxiety and fear. They come from confidence and cool-headedness. Lay out your strategy carefully. When you follow it, success will come.