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One of the most vivid memories of my career was also one of the worst days of my life. It was the day I was laid off from my job at the end of 2014. It was raining all day outside, which was unusual in Los Angeles. I wasn’t totally surprised that it happened. I had suspected this layoff was coming, but that didn’t stop a shock bubble from forming around me when I left work — for good — by 10 AM that morning. I called my parents to tell them what happened and told my roommate what happened later that evening when she got home from work. In the interim, I ate two slices of sad pizza for lunch — that’s when pizza is really good but you’re too upset to enjoy it.
Being suddenly without a job, and wholly unprepared mentally and financially for it as a single woman, forced me to pause my life. I had student loans back then and rent to pay. Over the course of that week, I applied for unemployment, packed my belongings up to move in with my parents and made Goodwill donations or sold everything I couldn’t bring with me.
Did I follow all the right steps as an unemployed person? What should you really be doing after getting laid off? Let’s see what the experts have to say on focusing your attention on during the first week and why these activities matter during a period of transition.
1. Apply for unemployment or discuss severance pay.
Some jobs provide severance pay to employees that are discharged. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, this payout is generally based on an employee’s length of employment. However, severance pay is also agreed upon between employers and employees. It’s not yet a requirement for all employers to provide severance pay, particularly if your time with a company amounted to a shorter timeline.
If you worked somewhere for a year or less, you’ll apply for unemployment. I would recommend applying as soon as possible with your state EDD office, especially if you’re in a financially-difficult place. This ensures there is less of a waiting period between your final pay stub and the start of your unemployment pay.
Networking strategy coach Stephanie Thoma agrees, saying to apply for unemployment the day you are let go from your job. Having that financial cushion in place, according to Thoma, will help alleviate some of your financial burdens as you focus on the next step moving forward: figure out what happened.
2. Decompress and reflect.
You’d think the next step would be to start applying for jobs like crazy, but that’s where you’re wrong. The next step is reflection. Digital marketing specialist Kelly Newcomb knows that being laid off may make you feel uncertain about the future. This is why it matters so much that you take some time to understand why it happened.
“If it was out of your control, reflect back on what you’ve achieved and learned,” Newcomb says. “You should be able to look back and find some value in what you were doing before you can be expected to move on.”
My decompression time was rough. At first, I dwelled on the idea that losing this job had completely ruined my life. In retrospect, however, I realized that there was so much I had already accomplished. Writing myself off as a failure wasn’t true or fair to me. The reality was I never actually liked that job. It’s true — I couldn’t stand it. The work I did was tedious, my coworkers weren’t nice and the commute was crummy. I couldn’t see a long-term future for myself working there, so there was no need to dwell for too long about my short-term employment.
Reflection through this lens also gave way to rethinking my lifestyle. The most resentment I had about the layoff was that it wiped out my world that exact same day. This was a world built on incredibly shaky foundation. Back then, it was always a paycheck or two away from total collapse. I couldn’t afford to be unprepared again. I needed more out of my next job than an income and work that satisfied me. I needed to pull together a strategy for getting out of student loan debt, too.
3. Put together a job search plan.
How long has it been since you updated your resume? Do you need a website portfolio? Have you continued to put off making a LinkedIn profile? You’re ready for a job search plan. Certified professional resume writer Steph Cartwright says that this plan should be created before you start looking for job openings. A job search plan means job candidates should read up on these key professional areas, then decide how you will follow through:
- Best practices for resume writing and networking,
- How to distribute your resume to recruiters and hiring managers,
- Using social media platforms, like LinkedIn, to get your foot in the door with businesses and target employers,
- Tips for growing your network locally and regionally,
- and how to follow up on all of your job search efforts.
Ultimately, a job search plan does more than help you avoid applying for jobs that aren’t a fit or reject your resume because it lacks specific keywords. Cartwright says this plan hold candidates accountable for following through with the next steps and keeps them organized as they go.
4. Activate your network.
Unemployment or a severance plan is taking care of your finances, you’ve had time to reflect and you’re applying for new jobs with the help of a trusty job search plan. There’s one more thing you absolutely must do, according to career coach Jessica Sweet, and that’s activate your network!
Networking does not mean randomly messaging a successful friend and asking “to pick their brain” for career advice. Sweet says that proper networking is actually a much more selective process. You may have successful friends, but they may work in career fields you’re not interested in pursuing.
What about the millennial you follow on Instagram who opened their first café? How about the retired advertising legend you’re connected to on LinkedIn who just wrote a book? You know the backgrounds of these individuals, admire their accomplishments and consider them to be influential in your field. These are the people you need to proactively network with in order to make the next step forward as a professional.
“The decision about who to network with should come directly from an understanding of what the person wants to do next in their career,” Sweet says. “Don’t just go to open networking events. Reach out to people who can help you accomplish your goals.”
As you go forth in activating a wider network, remember to surround yourself with a people that reflect your vibe. Lean on them for support and guidance as you regain your footing and rebuild a better tomorrow for yourself.