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What to Do If You Are Laid Off: The Next Steps for 7 Days


Preparing For a Layoff

If you have advance warning that a layoff is coming whether it be whispers of company restructuring or an economic downturn, prepare yourself by taking stock of your expenses, going to medical appointments in case your insurance is discontinued, and knowing what you need to ask to protect yourself.

The act of making a plan gives you a sense of agency. And at a time when it seems your career has fallen apart – but it hasn’t – a thread of control will help you process what’s happening and move on.

If You’re Caught Unaware

With the at-will employment culture in the United States, most companies don’t give notice. The most important thing is to keep your cool. It’s sudden. It’s frustrating. It’s scary. It’s normal to feel all of those emotions, but having an outburst then, while it may make you feel better, won’t help the situation.

Don’t say or do anything that can hurt your chances for a referral or replacement help. Make sure you have everyone’s (HR, your manager, your colleagues) contact information, so you can ask them questions and work out the paperwork for the termination process over the coming days.

The Day Of

Don’t sign anything in the moment

You need time to review the documents. You don’t want to sign away rights that you didn’t know you had and regret it later. If it’s a reasonable company, they’ll be fine with you taking time to review the documents. If the company is pressuring you to sign then and there, say, “I need a few days to review the paperwork” or “I need to get in touch with my lawyer and I’ll get back to you with any questions we have.”

Ask for a letter that states you were laid off without cause

You’ll need this letter when you file for unemployment benefits and insurance. The company should be able to provide this letter quickly. If they refuse to provide this letter, ask if there was a cause for your lay off. If there was a cause for your layoff you want to know as soon as possible so you can check if is discriminatory. If it’s valid, then you have a chance to prepare your layoff explanation to a potential future employer, and understand if you need to change something you’re doing in order to be successful at a new position.

Ask for your employee rights and insurance benefits

Review your severance pay, PTO, overtime, sick pay, 401k, pension and any other benefits you have. The US Department of Labor shares federal regulations for early terminations. State laws vary so check out your state’s labor department for details.

Ask for replacement help

The company may have resources you can leverage for finding your next job. Don’t be afraid of asking HR a lot of questions as human resources is for supporting the people of a company, especially during drastic changes.

Ask for your employee rights and insurance benefits

Exchange contact information so you can stay in touch and so you’re prepared to give referral contact information if needed by a potential future employer. Ask your reference-letter-givers what they were told about your layoff. If they were told that your layoff was due in part to performance, you want to know that now so you’re not caught off guard by a negative reference.

Call a friend or family member

Find a compassionate ear to listen to your crazy day. Talking about your experience will help you process what happened. It’ll also help diffuse your emotions so you can think clearer in order to tackle the coming paperwork and job search process.

File for unemployment insurance and benefits

Even if you don’t have a laid off without cause letter yet, go ahead and check your local labor bureau for all the information you need to file for unemployment insurance and benefits. Start this process as soon as possible because it can take a few weeks for the department to review. Don’t feel ashamed to take government benefits because the company has been paying into unemployment benefits and they exist to discourage businesses from doing layoffs and support you in your time of need.

The Day After

Organize with colleagues

You’ll have more power to negotiate with the company if you join together. Form a support group with your fellow colleagues who were also laid off so you can understand what happened as well as encourage each other with your job search. Share referrals and job openings with each other because you’ll be stronger as a group than acting alone.

Process your layoff

After you’ve shared your feelings with a friend or family member, it’s time for you to have a talk with yourself and emotionally process it before you face the world. Take a pen and paper and write out what you’re feeling.

  • Here are some questions to get you started.
  • What have you achieved?
  • What are you really proud of?
  • What was your satisfaction level with your role? What was your satisfaction level 6-12 months ago?
    What was your energy level? What was your energy level 6-12 months ago?
  • Why did you join this company?
  • What’s one thing you’re really glad that happened while you were with this company?
  • What did you like about this company?
  • What did you not like about this company?
  • Why were you laid off?
  • In your next role, what would you want to do differently?

Your answers to these questions are for yourself only. This exercise is for you to come to terms with what happened, to understand what you value about your previous role and company, and to move on.

You don’t need to share what you’ve learned from this exercise with anyone. Though you may find that after having a heart-to-heart with yourself, it’s easier for you to develop your public facing answers to what happened and where you want to go next.

Remember all of the positive work you have done. You have a valuable skill set that other companies need. Although it may feel like it right now, it’s not the end of your career – far from it. This moment is a stepping stone to your next amazing opportunity.

Process your layoff

If you’re struggling to find something positive to say, think:

Finding a new job takes time. While you’re on the job hunt, make sure you protect yourself and your family by evaluating your finances. Get your bank account and credit card statements out and check your financial health.

  • What are your monthly expenses? Is there a way you can reduce them?
  • If you have savings, how long will they last?
  • Do you qualify for unemployment benefits? If so, how much are you eligible to receive?
  • Do you need immediate support? If you do, how can you get it?

If you’re at the beginning of your career, expect your job search to take a minimum of 1-3 months. If you are experienced, expect at least 6 months. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics in October 2019, the national average length of unemployment was 5 months.

In general, the more experience you have, the longer the hiring process. Senior level roles have a longer vetting process because the role involves great responsibility so it’s a higher risk for a company to hire the wrong fit and there are fewer job openings as compared to entry level roles.

There are many factors impacting the length of the job search, including time of year, location, industry health, and market demand. If you can have a buffer for longer than a few months that’s even better because it’ll give you peace of mind to focus on your job hunt and do your best in interviews.

If you need immediate support, you can ask family, find a part time job, and do freelance work. Find a balance between supporting yourself and your family and spending time searching for a full time job.

The Next 7 Days


  • Ask another person to review
  • Negotiate severance pay

Ask another person to review

It’s always good to have another person read through the documents, even if it’s a friend or family member, because they may spot items that you missed.

Check for clauses about your legal rights to work, like a non-compete clause, that could limit your new job opportunities. If there’s a non-disparagement clause, make sure it goes both ways so you protect your name and reputation.

The company has drafted this paperwork to protect itself, make sure you read it with an eye to protecting yourself. You want to start your job search with as many opportunities as you can.

Negotiate severance pay

Not all companies will have severance pay, but if they do, check how they determined that payout, evaluate your expenses and your estimate of how long it will be until you’ll start a new job, and if you have advantages like performance that you can use for negotiating for more. If you have access to a lawyer, leverage their expertise and they may be able to negotiate for better terms on your behalf.

Update your Resume

Hopefully you’ve been updating your resume periodically. If not, take stock of all that you’ve achieved since you last updated it and then select skills and projects to highlight in your resume. See how to painlessly update your resume.

Reach out to your network

Connect with your network for referrals and more eyes on the lookout for job opportunities for you. If you want to build your online network, start by finding the experts in your field on social media, following them, commenting on their posts and sharing your perspective. Give value first and build a relationship first before asking for anything. Following experts will also keep you on top of what’s happening in your field.

Search job boards

Check job boards daily for new job postings. Set up a schedule for finding job posts and applying to them. For entry and mid-career level positions, job openings can fill up in 15-30 days so focus your efforts on recent job posts.

Attend local events

Find career fairs near you. Checkout Meetup and Eventbrite for networking events in your area. Join Slack communities about your industry and role. Slack communities usually have a channel for in-person events and a channel for job posts so you can both network and apply for jobs.

Your Next Opportunity is Waiting For You

It’s normal to be angry or sad during this time, but remember to move forward. You won’t go anywhere if you’re always thinking about the past. This time is an opportunity for you to take your next career step. Take it one day at a time and believe in yourself. You can’t control everything, but leverage what you can control so you have the best chances of finding your next ideal job.

Note: This article and the outside resources referenced in this article are not legal counsel. Please seek professional legal counsel for the most accurate and updated resources and expertise in handling your specific early termination case.

Content Creation Manager at | + posts

Evan Daniels is the Content Manager at Wavely. Coffee and hip hop enthusiast, he mainly covers changes in recruitment, job seeking, and marketing.

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