The First 10 Things You Should Do When You Get Laid Off

  1. Take a deep breath. Put aside emotions. Think rationally about practical questions you need to ask in the here and now. Go into calm, problem-solving crisis mode. Take notes. Say: “I want to jot this down because I’m sort of in shock and want to be able to remember what we discuss.”

  2. Negotiate your severance package. If your employer offers two weeks, negotiate for two months based on stellar performance. Can you cash in unused vacation or sick days to be included on you final paycheck? Will your lay-off package provide outplacement services such as career coaching?

  3. Offer to be an independent contractor on an hourly or project-based rate; your soon-to-be-former employer may become your first consulting client.

  1. Ask for a letter of recommendation. Say it would be very helpful to have it in your hands before you leave. Offer a quick draft that you jot down on the spot for your boss: “Reduced attrition from 15% to 2% over a two-year period.” “Managed staff of 14 and $2MM annual marketing budget.”  “Tripled profits while simultaneously cutting department overhead by 50%.” “Identified $1.2MM in underperforming assets.” Walking away with glowing references is an invaluable asset in a tough job market.

  2. Ask about COBRA or health insurance. What about your 401K? Find out who to speak with in H.R. about filing procedures and deadlines.

  3. Gather your intellectual property, contacts, and complimentary or relevant emails. One executive was told on a Wednesday at 5 p.m. that Friday, two days later, would be his last day. He and his tech-savvy nephew immediately pulled an all-nighter downloading his office laptop computer files.

  4. Find out about unemployment and healthcare coverage benefits you may be eligible for in additional to and separate from your severance package at, a site sponsored by the Labor Department.

  5. Immediately update your resume while recent winning projects and accomplishments are still fresh and top-of-mind. Boost your spirits: take in your own expertise and remind yourself that you have value.

  6. Update your LinkedIn Profile. Let people know that you’re available and looking.

  7. Pick up the phone and call (don’t email) everyone in your network. “I have  expertise in new media and branding. Do you know of any opportunities? Can you recommend one or two other people I should contact who might have leads? Know of any industry networking events?” Follow-up with a handwritten thank-you note; enclose your new solo business card and contact information.

Dr. Debra Condren is a business psychologist, career advisor, and author of Ambition Is Not A Dirty Word.

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