Some Days You Go To Work and Come Home With a White Box
Recently, I was laid off from my job. It is the fourth time I’ve been laid off over the course of my 20+ year career in corporate training and development. It’s also the third job I’ve had in a row where the company, not me, decided when my tenure at the organization was complete. I have not actively decided to switch jobs in 13 years. Given my field of choice, training, and my penchant for working for companies that are acquired, struggling, startups or reorganizing, this is a part of my professional life (and also why I moved to a larger job market after layoff number 2). Given my track record, I know how to handle a layoff.
Even though I know the drill, it still sucks each and every time. There’s the loss of a daily routine, the changing of work friendships to acquaintances or regular friends, the excitement (and terror) of getting to find a new job, and the highs and lows of not knowing whether you’ll be unemployed for a week or for a year. It also comes with a new unpaid full-time job—which is finding a new full-time job.
Each layoff has also been a little different. My tenure ranged between 4 months and 8 years. My severance ranged from 2 weeks to 16 weeks. Twice, I could rely on my husband’s income and benefits, and once I was mid-divorce with nearly everything falling apart at once. Regardless of circumstances surrounding a layoff, there are a few good next steps to take.
1. Process Your Emotions
Curse you, feelings!
Losing your job, even through no fault of your own, is an emotional roller coaster. Given how much of your life you spend at work, suddenly not having the same job is a huge change. In fact, it’s the same level of change as things like getting divorced, having close friend die or having to go to prison. You may feel fine one moment, angry the next, then ecstatic, then in tears. Realize this is completely normal.
Just like dealing with a death in the family, you’re dealing with the death of the future you thought you had. Losing that imagined future, regardless of the role that your job plays in your life, is a big loss that needs to be addressed. Figure out how you will cope with these changes. You might choose positive ways (exercise, reconnecting with friends, journaling) or negative (overeating, overthinking, or a good old-fashioned bender). Find your emotional support people and confide in them. Talk to your partner, family and friends. Find a support group (in-person, or online, or both) to help you work through it.
As much as you may want to jump over the part where you have to admit you have feelings that influence how you live your day-to-day life, you need to address them—whether it happens now or later. Personally, two layoffs ago, I was going through a whole bunch of new and exciting (read "stressful”) life changes all at once. Then, I compartmentalized and focused on the business of moving and finding a new job. Once I was in my new job, I pretty much worked during the day and went through the process of dealing with all of the life changes at night. Do what works for you.
A Note About Social Media
As you process your feelings, be cautious about sharing too much on social media. Remember, the things that you share on social media are somewhere at least somewhat publicly available, forever. Even if you post things only to friends on the Facebooks, there is no guarantee that other people won’t see it given Facebook's ever-changing privacy parameters. Process those feelings in private, not in public on social media. You are not a Kardashian. You don't want prospective employers--or everyone ever--to see the dirty details of your process.
2. Manage Your Finances
Disclaimer: (You know there has to be one of these now that we're talking about topics like money and health insurance.) While I know stuff, I'm not a currently licensed, authorized anything. Feel free to take my advice, but double check my facts (and everyone's facts for that matter). This is your life, and you will care more about your finances and health care than anyone else does. With that, read on.
Whew! I'm glad we got THAT out of the way.
Most of us work because we have expensive habits to support—like living indoors and eating on a regular basis. When a job ends, there are financial concerns that need to be addressed right away. While you won’t have the income from your job, you will receive your final paycheck, possibly vacation time that you have earned and, hopefully, severance. You may also have additional sources of income (from a spouse, partner, or additional work). If you receive severance, realize that it may be less money than you think because taxes are taken out of that sum. Depending on your severance package, and the length of your unemployment you may also be eligible to receive unemployment benefits. While this may not be a lot, it will help to cushion the blow.
You also need to revisit your budget. Prioritize paying things like your housing and transportation, and plan to spend less on discretionary expenses like entertainment, shopping and eating at restaurants. If you have an emergency fund, this might be the time you start using that. If not, you may end up accruing a little debt. For most people, this isn't the time to buy a new car or build on to your house. This is the time to scale back and get through the yuck until you're gainfully employed again.
A Note About The Joy That Is Health Insurance
Since many people rely on their employer for health insurance coverage, figuring out this aspect can be tricky. If you are fortunate enough to have a spouse/domestic partner/parent who can bring you onto their health insurance, check that out right away. In general, if you were covered by an employer's plan, and lose that coverage, you will be eligible to switch to another employer sponsored plan. At least ask that question.
If that's not an option, you have a few more decisions to make. If you do receive a severance package, health insurance coverage for some period of time may be included. Find out if your previously employer sponsored health insurance coverage is paid for by the employer, or if you will receive money to cover the cost of coverage. (These are two very different things.) You may also be eligible for COBRA coverage, which means that you would continue your previously employer paid health insurance, but pay for it yourself. Be sure to brace yourself when you see the amount that you will now be charged for that coverage--because it is usually A LOT more than you paid as an employee.
If you are not willing and/or able to continue with your previous employer's health plan, you may be able to go on the insurance exchanges to find coverage. Depending on your situation, you may also opt for the “be careful” health plan (no health coverage, but no sky diving either). Figure out what makes the most sense to you, and how to mitigate any risks you take.
3. Start Your Job Search
Now that you are without a job, you need to figure out how to get a new job—which is no small effort. Think about what kind of a job you want and write it down. Take time to think about the job titles, possible employers and salary range you want to target. It’s hard to find what you want until you actually know what you want to find. Get your resume updated (if you haven’t already). You may even need a couple of different basic resumes if you’ll be applying for different types of jobs. (Personally, I have an instructional designer resume, a training manager resume and a program manager resume.) Figure out how to highlight your unique skill set and showcase what problems you can help your potential employer solve.
From here, start letting people know about your new status of being “in transition” (not unemployed) and ask people for help. Many times, people offer help. Letting them know specifics on how they can help will do wonders. Perhaps they can introduce you to people who work at one of your target companies. Perhaps they know about a position that has not yet been advertised. Perhaps they know someone who knows someone who you should talk to. Maybe they have a lead on an up and coming company who needs someone just like you. Rely on those working relationships that you have built and put them to work. (Also remember that this is a two-way street. Be sure to help your fellow job seekers, or people who are trying to fill positions. Creating mutually beneficial relationships helps everyone.)
Keep in mind there are additional resources beyond your current network. Just like with emotional support, there are groups that can help with job searching. Check out LinkedIn groups, in-person meetups and seminars on how to network. Find a professional group and meet those people. The more people you meet, the better chance you will have to find a new position that is right for you.
Through my many, many layoffs, one thing has remained true. I have always ended up in a better place, both personally and professionally, than I would have expected. I learned new skills, met new people and made life changes that I probably needed to make, but I only did when life gave me the shove I needed.
Brenda is an adaptable learning & development leader, innovative instructional designer, and job search coach.