Laid Off? What To Do in That First Week

🚀 Avoid common mistakes before you plan your job search - Issue #167

My original version of this article is locked behind Medium’s paywall. But, the information is so useful that I want to share it with you here.

We’ve entered a global economic downturn, thanks to the current pandemic. Unemployment rates are climbing in many countries, and people are losing their jobs all over the world.

In the U.S. alone, 26.5 million people have filed for unemployment over the last five weeks. In other words, our economy has wiped out all the job gains added over the past 11 years.

If you are one of the unlucky ones who lost a job recently, know that you are not alone. This isn’t your fault, and I want to help you get back to work.

That may require getting a little more creative with what you do, who your next employer might be, and how you choose to make a living. I wrote about that a few weeks ago.

However, all of that comes later. If you have been laid off — or anticipate that you might lose your job — you have to deal with the issues of the here and now.

I wrote this to help you get through that first week after a layoff. I also want to make sure that you avoid some of the most common mistakes that people make:

  • Not taking time to deal with the job loss emotionally.

  • Immediately jumping into a job search.

  • Asking connections for help without a clear idea of what you want next for your career.

  • Setting up an interview before you have your confidence back.

  • Saying negative things about your past employer and manager.

  • Hiding the layoff from your friends and loved ones.

  • Going into isolation and avoiding your support network.

A layoff is stressful and unpleasant. It feels overwhelming.

It helps to have a plan ready so that you know what to expect and can take action at the right time. But, it all begins by dealing with the bad news first.

The Day of the Layoff

The day of a layoff is traumatizing. It doesn’t matter if you expected it, wanted it, or feel relieved. It is still an upsetting event and you need time to let things sink in.

You may feel a sense of urgency to begin your job search, but your head isn’t in the right place. Don’t pressure yourself to be productive yet.

Do what you need to process the event:

  • Go home and talk about it with a friend or loved one.

  • Cry on the couch or scream into your pillow.

  • Spend the evening eating ice cream and watching Netflix.

  • Call your closest and most trusted friends.

  • Treat yourself to comfort foods and pour a stiff drink.

  • Go for a long walk and listen to your favorite music on your headphones.

Everyone handles terrible news and events differently. You know what works for you, so don’t force yourself to do anything that you don’t want to do on this day.

It’s not your fault… You are not alone; this happens at some point in your life — just no one talks about it (Hell, Walt Disney was laid off a handful of times).
— Peter Michaels Allen, Design Systems Lead at Venmo

Give yourself a bit of time to let it sink in b/c it’s usually a shock, even when you thought it was coming.
— Mari Pfeiffer, Copywriter and Website Designer

Pause & allow yourself to be in the suck for a moment.
— Jason Resnick, founder of Feast Club

Tell people early and often. Each time it gets easier and you’ll find many many people have been there before.
— The Entertainment Strategy Guy

Day 1 — Me time

The day after the layoff, treat yourself well. Take some “me time” and enjoy things that you usually don’t have time to do.

Don’t feel guilty about taking a day off. You don’t need to start looking for a new job right away. That would be a mistake, anyway.

Instead, create your new daily schedule. You now have the time to get more sleep, read a good book, watch your favorite shows, eat better, exercise, reconnect with friends and loved ones, etc.

It helps to schedule all of your activities on your calendar. I started doing this when I left the corporate world ten years ago, and I still do it today.

I schedule my workout, meals, breaks, and all professional tasks and activities. Otherwise, the days start to blur together when you no longer leave the house to go to work.

Don’t make these common mistakes:

  • Sleeping in late every day for weeks on end.

  • Lounging around all day in your pajamas and wallowing in your misery.

  • Snacking all day and not keeping up with regular exercise

Wow. This kind of sounds like what’s been happening with the current pandemic and our quarantines. I guess there are some similarities.

My first week of quarantine was a haze of sleeping in, Netflix, eating junk food, drinking too much, and generally feeling stressed out. I had to shake all of that off and get back to a regular schedule the next week.

I feel healthier, more productive, and a lot more optimistic now!

No matter how many other people might be in the same boat, layoffs are psychologically taxing. Allow yourself to grieve the situation. But when you jump back into the search, reframe it as the opportunity that it is; rejection as redirection. Keep swimming.
— Vidhika Bansal, UX Group Manager at Intuit

I was laid off 10 years ago because of the economy. Advice: give yourself time to grieve.
— Jamie Smith, creator of Jamie’s Notebook, a writing services company

Take time to breathe after the event (1–2 weeks, I recommend) to get your head together.
— Peter Michaels Allen, Design Systems Lead at Venmo

Keep a daily routine.
— Mari Pfeiffer, Copywriter and Website Designer

Day 2 — Assess and update

Take a day to reflect on what you want most for your career and life. You’ve probably been so focused on work and everyday routines that you haven’t taken any time for long-term career planning.

What are your big goals? Where do you want to be in 5, 10, 20 years?

What does the ideal end state look like for you? You can engage in reverse planning to consider potential paths to that final point of success.

Assess how things were going with your previous employer and your work there.

  • What did you enjoy doing?

  • What do you want more of in your next job?

  • What did you not enjoy doing?

  • What do you want less of in your next job?

  • What were your accomplishments?

  • What are you most proud of achieving?

Most people are so busy with work that they don’t see any need to keep their resume or LinkedIn updated. Their website and portfolio are out of date too.

So, spend the rest of this day:

  • Updating your resume the right way (I can help you with that).

  • Creating a draft template for a cover letter that sells you.

  • Refreshing your personal website.

  • Adding work to your online portfolio, if you need one (e.g., you’re a designer).

Your accomplishments matter more than your responsibilities… If you worked on it, take credit for it.
— Josh Spector, founder of For The Interested

 Look at your skills + see where you can use them in the next 48 hrs to help someone.
— Jason Resnick, founder of Feast Club

Day 3 — Connect with people

Join an alumni group to stay in touch with your past colleagues. Your professional network of previous coworkers and bosses is one of your most valuable resources for any future job search.

Every single one of my jobs during my Silicon Valley tech career was due to my network, warm introductions to hiring managers, and having an inside champion.

For example, Yahoo has an excellent alumni network, and we connect in two different Facebook groups. We support each other, make introductions, and schedule alumni events.

Spend the rest of this day:

  • Adding your most recent employment and projects to your interview presentation, if relevant.

  • Updating your LinkedIn profile.

  • I also recommend adding a position for a new “consulting business” to eliminate a gap in employment (e.g., “Susan Smith Consulting”).

You may even use this consulting business to generate some extra income while you are searching for your next job. I spun up a consulting company when I left Yahoo in 2010.

thought it would be a temporary side hustle. I assumed that I would start interviewing and take another corporate job within a few months.

However, I enjoyed the consulting work and freedom so much that I never went back. I’ve been running my own businesses ever since (almost ten years now).

Get yourself online — set up a basic blog or website and start sharing your thoughts and opinion. Vanilla is vanilla…show up and stand out, and leverage online tools to do this.
— Lea Jovy, entrepreneur and business owner

Consider doing consulting/freelance work in your field where possible. Your job is not your identity. Think through your skills and see how they can be applied in a different way. Network.
— Jamie Smith, creator of Jamie’s Notebook, a writing services company

Day 4 — Activate your network

Export your connections from LinkedIn and create a spreadsheet to plan how and when you will reach out to people. Add extra columns to track your notes, additional attributes, useful information, and establish dates to take action. I explain how to do all of this in this article.

Decide why you’d like to reach out to people. For example:

  • Who might know of relevant opportunities for you?

  • Who could make a warm introduction to a hiring manager?

  • Who would be willing to write you a recommendation or testimonial?

  • Who would be best for reference checks?

  • Simply express gratitude to an old boss or colleague.

  • Just say “Hello” to catch up with a few folks.

  • Schedule calls and video chats to light up your network.

If you are no longer under quarantine by the time you read this, schedule coffee meetings, lunches, and dinners with friends you haven’t seen in months or even years.

Your “dormant ties” are your most valuable connections. These people have had new experiences, their network has grown, and their careers have advanced. A strong dormant tie beats a new weak relationship every time.

 Email your closest network + tell them what you want to do.
— Jason Resnick, founder of Feast Club

If you haven’t already, start making LinkedIn a part of every day. It will ‘learn’ from your clicks what you are looking for and anticipate it. It will also suggest better and better additions to your network. Best of all, every day you check in, you move up in search results.
— Rick Planos, Consulting Partner at Global Retail Solutions

Day 5 — Create a plan

Get straight on what you want for your next job and how to position yourself for pursuing it.

  • Do you want to stay within the same domain and industry?

  • Do you still want to keep doing the same work you performed for your previous employer?

  • Are you seeking a lateral move, or are you ready to push for the next level?

  • This “job hop” may end up being a great way to get promoted.

Start capturing ideas for where you’d like to work, who you’d like to work for and with, and the kind of role you want next in your career. You may need to work on acquiring additional skills and knowledge to land the job that you want most.

Some other housekeeping tasks to consider:

  • You may want to file for unemployment. Many states are making it easier to do so right now.

  • Look into your options for health insurance (e.g., COBRA in the U.S.).

  • Review your finances to determine changes you might need to make to your budget while you are searching for your next job.

To work on your skills and training. Read on your industry and see where you can improve it.
— Teronie J. Donaldson, host of the Orange Sky Life podcast

You don’t know what you want and it shows.
— Josh Spector, founder of For The Interested

Day 6 — Create your story

Do not let this layoff define you. When a massive economic event like this happens, layoffs are an unfortunate consequence. You did nothing wrong, and there is no stigma attached to losing a job right now.

Own your story. Be confident. Go into your job search with feelings of hope, pride, and ambition.

Write your elevator pitch and the story of how you want to describe and sell yourself. Update your social media bios to align with your professional positioning.

Be prepared for that inevitable question, “So, tell me about yourself.

Update your resume, but be ready to customize it for each job application. Write your cover letter template. Create a draft interview presentation.

You should also prepare yourself for questions about your layoff. Even if people understand, they will still ask you about it. Check out my Interview Cheat Sheet for Loaded Questions.

Again, be confident and own your story. Talk about your talent, skills, and experience and explain how the layoff is simply an unfortunate economic event that is impacting millions and millions of people right now.

 When talking to others, share things you enjoyed the most in your previous job. Talk about problems you solved. Positivity attracts.
— Mari Pfeiffer, Copywriter and Website Designer

Day 7 — Start your job hunt

I know. Some of you couldn’t resist looking for jobs right away. That’s a normal reaction to a layoff.

However, it takes time to recover, regroup, and get your mojo back. You need to be clear about what you want. You need to be ready to sell yourself with confidence.

You don’t want to rush into a new job that doesn’t meet your needs, only because you are concerned. But — obviously — if you can find another excellent job right away, then you may want to take it and keep planning your future moves.

However, if you are struggling to find a new role that meets your expectations, then I encourage you to cast a wider net. For example, some people write off the opportunity to work for a startup because they never have before. Don’t reject something if you haven’t at least had a conversation with the hiring manager first.

In the comments online, I’ll share some of the open positions that I’ve seen.

View comments

Don’t look for jobs longer than an hour a day… Don’t run at the first opportunity just because it’s there.
— Peter Michaels Allen, Design Systems Lead at Venmo

Be choosy. First opportunity usually isn’t best one. Two advantages now: 1) UI of up to $1,050/wk, lots more than usual; 2) absolutely no stigma about layoff or resume gap.
— John Ryan

To consider startup as an alternative career option moving forward.
— Ivan Yong, Author of Department of Startup. Why Every Fortune 500 Should Have One

Final Thoughts

I’ve been through numerous layoffs, on both sides of the table. The good news is that most people end up in a much better job later.

I did. Many of my friends and colleagues have too.

It really helps to have a support group of people who have been through it before. My new career community will soon be full of helpful, friendly people who understand the challenges of a job search. You can request to join us if you’re interested.

We’re here to help if you need it. We can provide advice, support, and feedback on your resume, LinkedIn, etc. We share job openings, and some people in the group are hiring managers looking for talent.

Schedule a complimentary call with me if you’d like to chat.

I have, unfortunately, been a helper on reductions in force at several companies in my 20 years of doing HR work. I have still yet to encounter a former colleague who was affected end up in a worse place a few years post-layoff. One door closes/another opens. EVERY SINGLE TIME.
— Cris Barrett, Head Of Human Resources, Privacy at Facebook

Do you have a friend who has lost their job? Do you know someone who is worried about being laid off? Please share this with them. It could help!