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Build Your Career Get Ahead

Laid Off? 5 Steps to Move Forward

Laid Off? 5 Steps to Move Forward
Credit: moomsabuy/Shutterstock

Whether you suspected it was coming or it was a total shock, being laid off from your job is never easy to handle. The loss of stability can present a serious financial, mental and emotional blow, and it's natural for your confidence to be shaken.

However, a layoff is not the end of your career. With the right strategy and attitude, you will be able to move on and find a new position. We spoke with career experts about the steps you should take after you've been laid off, and how to kick your new job search into high gear.

Cutting employees' positions isn't easy for a company to do. They know how difficult it will be on the affected employees, and many times, they will provide some kind of severance benefits to help ease the transition. Your boss or HR manager should have explained what the company is offering you during your layoff meeting, but you will likely have some questions about your benefits and severance contract afterward — and what you might be giving up by accepting them.

Rebecca White, area director for staffing firm Kavaliro, advised following up with your human resources department to get full clarification on the terms of your severance and how it will affect your existing company-sponsored benefits and legal rights. [See Related Story: Got Fired? Here's What You Should Do Next]

For example, you should ask, "How long will your health insurance be in effect for, and how does the COBRA plan work?" White said. "If you are being offered a severance payment, be aware you might be giving up some legal rights by accepting it, and you may want to discuss the details with an attorney prior to [signing]. Typically, when you decide to accept a severance package, you are waiving your rights to take any legal actions against the company."

David Dourgarian, CEO of TempWorks Software, said that before you agree to accept the severance package, you should ask how much money you can expect, whether your pay is contingent upon your decision to apply for unemployment and how your layoff might impact any noncompete agreements you signed when you were hired. 

While your employer may not be too quick to offer information about your layoff, Dourgarian said you should try to learn as much as you can about the circumstances that led to the decision.

"Find out all you can about your employer's reason to terminate you," he told Business News Daily. "You don't want to walk away thinking it was 'just a layoff' when your company actually had some grievances that could affect future reference checks."

Not all companies offer job search resources to help their laid-off employees move on, but some do, especially because professionals often express interest in assistance following a layoff. A survey by RiseSmart, a career transition company, found that 90 percent of job seekers who were laid off took advantage of outplacement services, such as career coaching and resume support, when provided. Seventy percent of those who didn't receive these services said they could have benefited from them. Dourgarian noted that these job-hunting resources may have geographic or time restraints associated with them, so be sure to clarify with your former employer exactly what they can offer you.

At the very least, you can try to secure a positive job reference from the employer in the future, said Fred Mouawad, founder and CEO of Taskworld.

"If you end the relationship on good terms you can ask your manager for a reference to help you in future employment," Mouawad said. "In case the management can't give a positive reference, settle for a neutral one. You can also ask your manager for potential job opportunities in their network."

Another option is to ask your company if you could temporarily continue your position in a different capacity, perhaps on a freelance or contract basis, Dourgarian said. This may not be feasible (and you may not even want to at all), but it doesn't hurt to ask if you're open to that possibility.

It's good to start looking for work shortly after you've been laid off, but you might want to give yourself a few days to grieve before you fully dive into your job search. Tom Casano, founder of Life Coach Spotter, said it's good to check in with yourself and be honest about how you're feeling.

"Are you feeling angry, resentful, victimized or worried?" Casano said. "You might take a week or two for yourself to first process any strong emotions towards losing your job. When you're ready to bounce back and start searching for jobs, you can start the process with a fresh perspective."

"Make time to recharge your batteries," added Michaela Haas, author of "Bouncing Forward: Transforming Bad Breaks into Breakthroughs" (Atria/Enliven Books, 2015). "A job loss often triggers past traumas, issues of self-worth, shame or feeling unsafe. Don't add self-blame on top of the job loss. Treat yourself with kindness. Consciously invite positivity into your life. Try mindfulness meditation, such as mindfulness-based stress reduction, to help you navigate the roller coaster of emotions."

Mouawad noted that it's important to remind yourself that there is no shame in being laid off.

"A lot of people hide this news fearing that that they will lose respect in the eyes of their friends and family," Mouawad said. "[Being laid off] doesn't mean that you are not capable. It’s a result of multiple factors which are not always in your control."

As "Fight Club" author Chuck Palahniuk wrote, "It's only after we've lost everything that we're free to do anything." This applies to your career following a layoff. Finding another job doing what you were doing isn't your only option. Perhaps you want to change careers or start your own business instead. Casano said to focus on the opportunity your layoff has given you in order to pursue your passions.

"Perhaps in your old job, you didn't love the people, the work politics or the work itself," he said. "No matter how you look at it, you have a new opportunity to start again and do something great for your career."

"A layoff might force you to realize that you're in a position or an industry that no longer suits you," Haas added. "I have a client who turned his hobby of wood carving into a lucrative career after he was laid off from his job as a dental hygienist."

Regardless of the path you're choosing, it's a good idea to update your resume, portfolio and any social media accounts to reflect your new ambitions, White said.

"Prepare an updated resume, and then reach out to your professional network of contacts," she said. "They can be a great resource as you set out to connect with new opportunities."

Dourgarian agreed, and noted that if you're planning to get back into the workforce, it's smart to craft a truthful but emotionally neutral "narrative" about your layoff to share with potential employers and networking contacts.

"It will prove useful to have a practiced answer to, 'Why were you let go?'" Dourgarian said. "Was your layoff part of a string of layoffs? That shifts the focus off of you and your perceived dispensability and makes it clear that the company was struggling. Were you already thinking about quitting when your employer beat you to the punch? The ill fit was mutual, and your job wasn't living up to your expectations. A future employer will understand these reasons, and the layoff will become less personal and more circumstantial." [Looking for a new job? Check out Business News Daily's job search section.]

There are no rules about exactly how you should proceed after a life-altering event like losing your job. For some, the answer is taking a break from the full-time workforce to focus on all the self-care items they felt they were "too busy" for — exercising, sleeping and eating better, meditating, spending time with loved ones, seeing a therapist, etc. For others, it's about hitting the pavement right away and getting back into a job or starting a new venture. Either way, don't remain static and stuck in a state of self-pity for too long.

"Volunteer, attend industry networking events, take community courses to freshen up your skills, make a lunch date with that LinkedIn contact, and don't avoid social outings with friends and family," Dourgarian said. "Avoiding them will only make you feel more isolated."

"See a setback as temporary — this is crucial in moving forward," Haas added. "You might have to let go of the expectation to achieve a certain outcome. But at the same time, keep trying. Never give up. Instead of saying, 'Why me?' change it to, 'Why not me?' Instead of focusing on all the things you lost, focus on the things you can do. As Nelson Mandela said, 'It always seems impossible until it's done.'"

Nicole Fallon Taylor
Nicole Fallon Taylor

Nicole received her Bachelor's degree in Media, Culture and Communication from New York University. She began freelancing for Business News Daily in 2010 and joined the team as a staff writer three years later. She currently serves as the managing editor. Reach her by email, or follow her on Twitter.