Checklist: I Lost My Job

Alden Wicker

Keep calm.

If you’re having a hard time keeping a stiff upper lip, that’s understandable. But don’t go sprinting out of the front door of your office or blow up any bridges. Make sure you fully understand everything that HR or your manager is telling you. Don’t sign anything without reviewing the documents fully or consulting a lawyer if need be. Advocate for more severance if that’s an option. Gather useful contacts off of your computer and write a goodbye email to colleagues and clients, if time permits. If you have time and can do so calmly, say goodbye in person to anyone you’re on good terms with in the office. You’ll be grateful you did all these things later, when you need a recommendation or have more severance to live on while you job-hunt.

Understand why you lost your job.

Everything can be a learning experience, and nothing more so than losing your job. If your whole department just got laid off, maybe the only lesson is to recognize the warning signs. But if you were let go for low performance, as difficult as it may feel to ask, get all of the painful details from your manager and HR so you can avoid a repeat at your next job. They may have valuable advice, such as, “You might do better in a corporate environment.” It’s also worth asking what you did well—not just for the confidence boost, but so you can target your job search more effectively.

RELATED: How to Deal With Your Finances When Unemployed

Apply for unemployment.

Applying for unemployment benefits can be a long process, so you should get started right away. To qualify, you must have worked at your job for a certain amount of time, not been fired for gross misconduct (like doing something dangerous or illegal) and be actively searching for your next job, as opposed to going to school. Find out if you qualify and how to apply.

Check on your health benefits.

Losing your job can mean losing your health insurance, which can turn into a financial disaster if you let it. If you can get coverage under your spouse’s policy, make those arrangements ASAP. You could also consider COBRA, which lets you pay out of pocket for the same health benefits you received at your job, though it’s not necessarily the cheapest option. If you are confident that you understand your needs, you could use a website like ehealthinsurance to compare options. Otherwise, talk to a broker who can help you find the most affordable and appropriate policy for you. Still flummoxed? Here’s a handy checklist to help you figure out what you need.

Review your budget.

Examine your budget to see how your income has changed, and especially to see where you can cut back. For example, you might have to pay for health insurance coverage, but will be able to spend less on gas. And keep in mind you have a more flexible schedule, which can be an advantage. For example, some gyms will give you a discount if you only come during off-hours, during the weekday. Maybe you can save by cooking more in your free time instead of ordering takeout. The goal is to stretch your emergency fund as long as possible.

(Learn how one family cut their spending by $1,000 a month after a layoff.)

If the numbers just aren’t adding up, don’t rule out getting a part-time job, as it doesn’t necessarily nullify your unemployment benefits. But you’ll likely want to think twice about withdrawing money out of your 401(k). You’ll likely get socked with a big tax penalty and fees, which could take a big bite out of the money you have saved, not to mention leave you with a lot less for retirement.

Talk to your creditors.

Your creditors might be able to work with you if you’re honest about your situation. They could renegotiate the terms of the loan or credit card, or freeze your interest rates, depending on what kind of credit it is. So give them a call and ask to speak about some options to make your payments more palatable.

(Here’s how to negotiate down your credit card APR.)

Polish your LinkedIn profile and résumé.

Now that you’ve shored up your finances, you can focus on your future. Update your LinkedIn profile (or create one if you don’t already have one) and your résumé with your latest skills and projects. Even if you were only at your last job for a couple months, you can add a bullet point or two about what you did. Or, in some cases, you may not want to list the job at all, if your tenure was short. Here are six big résumé flaws—and how to hide them.

Spend some time thinking about what you want to do next.

Before you start job hunting, you should have a clear idea of your skills, priorities, goals, passions and values, and take some time to write them down. Also think about what you liked best about your last few jobs, and what you didn’t. If you’re completely confused about where to go from here, use this trick from author and career expert Roman Krznaric: Email ten friends from different walks of life, tell them what your skills and passions are, and ask them to suggest two or three jobs that you might excel at. You may get some surprising ideas to pursue.

RELATED: How to (and How Not to) Brand Yourself When Unemployed

Start networking.

You might be embarrassed by your situation, but it’s time to tamp down your pride and let everyone know you’re job searching, including your professional contacts, former classmates and professors, friends, LinkedIn—even your hairdresser. Studies have shown that weaker social ties—as opposed to your close friends—will turn up more job leads.

Tell them what you’ve done so far in your career, what your skills are and what you would like to do next. Specific is good—if you are too vague (“I want to do a job where I can write”), they won’t know where to start. If you are very specific (“I want to write grant proposals for a nonprofit based in or around the Boston area, one that works with children, if possible”), you’ll get more useful leads. And don’t be afraid of ruling out good jobs by being too specific, you’ll probably get answers like, “I know someone who works at a nonprofit that helps animals, would you be interested in that?”

Also get out there into the world among different circles of people. Attend networking events, volunteer at a new nonprofit—anywhere you might meet someone whose sister’s husband works at that company that needs someone just like you.

Come up with projects and activities to work on.

You can only spend so much time every day job job-hunting. (FYI: If you’re filling eight hours sending out résumés, you’re casting way too wide of a net.) So find something worthwhile to keep yourself busy, feel useful and improve your value to a potential employer.

It could be volunteering in a way that uses your job skills, like helping publicize a charity event if you work in PR, or visiting the local nursing home to give the ladies a new ‘do if you’re a hairdresser. You could also work on building a personal website to showcase your portfolio, making some serious progress on your novel, or taking some free online classes on an interesting subject.

One project should be getting in an hour of exercise every day, like you’ve been promising yourself you would do when you had more time. Exercise is healthy for the body and the mind, which is especially important right now. (It’s even shown to lead to a higher salary.)

Make a schedule.

Losing your job can be hard psychologically, but you know what’s even more depressing? Realizing it’s 5 p.m. on a Tuesday, you’re still in sweatpants, and you’ve spent three hours perusing cat Tumblrs. So create a schedule for yourself and stick to it.

Set an alarm so you can greet the day and answer any important emails that pop into your inbox. Hit the gym, get dressed in a nice outfit, leave the house, schedule time to work on the aforementioned projects, and meet up with friends and contacts for coffee. You’ll feel more capable, engaged and motivated, which will come through to potential employers. Remember, unemployment is a temporary state, not your fate, and you will be working again.

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