Getting laid off sucks.
No matter how much you may like or hate your job, there’s rarely a good time to suddenly and unexpectedly lose an income you had counted on. Thankfully, you can – and should – prepare for the unexpected to make it suck a little less.
I got laid off in early 2017, and it came totally out of the blue. I was working at a job at a start-up that I had been at for just under a year, making significantly more money than the “secure” job I previously had. I was working with great people (for the most part), and doing something I really, really enjoyed. Unfortunately due to some leadership changes, the company structure shifted and, being one of the higher-paid individuals there, I didn’t make the cut. It sucked. I remember walking home on that cold February morning, thinking I’m planning a wedding and building a house…what the hell am I going to do?? For the first time in my adult life, I truly felt lost.
I got a two week severance – more than I’d have expected from a start-up, admittedly – but after that I was on my own. I needed to find something and find it fast. While Kristin and I have a respectable savings, a lot of the money is “already spent” – allocated to the wedding and the house. If I didn’t find a job, we’d have to tap into money allocated for something else. This wasn’t a comforting feeling, but it was our own doing; we got comfortable, and then we got lazy. Feeling comfortable meant saving less and spending more. It meant going out to eat and enjoying happy hour with friends frequently. Yes, we still saved, but we didn’t save nearly as aggressively in the previous six months as we should have.
And then, it bit us in the ass.
Day Zero: The Crash
If you’ve never gotten laid off or fired before (like me at the time), you probably don’t know how you’d really react in the situation. When I came into work on that Wednesday I had a 1 on 1 set up with my manager who was in town to catch up on some of the projects I was working on; typical meeting, nothing special about it. He called me into one of the back offices (which later got renamed by some of the remaining employees as “The Firing Room“) a few minutes before our scheduled 8:30, and immediately after sitting down I see our entire HR department (all one of him) walk in. I knew it was trouble. At that moment I knew one of two things was happening; either I was getting reprimanded (and I had no idea what for) or I was being let go (which could be justified as budget concerns given talk I’d heard around the office in the days leading up to said meeting). My manager broke the news, I asked HR if there was any other position or alternative, and after being told the bad news, gathered my things and walked the mile and a half home.
My mind started racing. The wedding. The down payment for the house. More worrisome than that for me: would we still even be approved for financing? Suddenly everything I was looking forward to in 2017 seemed far off, just out of reach. There was nothing to comfort me, to make the feeling go away. All I had was the support of my friends and family. For all their encouragement and comforting, their words alone wouldn’t get me my job back. I needed to do something. So, I made a list. Here’s what that looked like:
- Step 1: Compose yourself. Being angry, depressed, or complacent with the severance is not going to fix the situation. If the situation isn’t fixed, things that Kristin and I planned will be on the line.
- Step 2: File for unemployment. I didn’t realize how long it’d take to actually get anything from unemployment (and in fact, I found another job before that even happened). Don’t expect to get anything immediately; you have to put in the effort each week, and the sooner you start on it, the sooner you’ll receive it if applicable.
- Step 3: Reach out to close friends and family and let them know. Friends and family can be great networking opportunities, and letting them know you’re on the market early on will make sure their ears are perked up.
- Step 4: Take a breather. Today’s been a sh!t day. By this point you’re likely stressed, worried, and bombarded with phone calls and text messages. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed. If you are married or have an SO who plays a big part of your life, talk with them. Be open and honest. There may be little they can do to fix the situation, but just knowing how much they care can make a world of difference in your attitude and mood in the upcoming days.
Day One: The Recovery
I won’t lie: the day after I got laid off was the weirdest day of my adult life. I woke up and for the first time since I started working I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do. It was surreal. Letting the situation control me wasn’t something that I was going to let happen, though. I kissed Kristin goodbye as she left for work alone (the first time in months; normally she’d drop me off in the mornings) and immediately brewed some coffee and got to work. I made sure my LinkedIn profile was adequately updated (I didn’t change my job dates yet, but made sure my skills were updated and that my experience was properly represented). I called recruiters I had been given phone numbers for, and found others on LinkedIn that I hadn’t.
I knew that with a limited amount of experience – less than a year – in the role I was just let go from, I’d be hard-pressed to find a job with the same title. Add on to the highly competitive nature of the position and the excellent talent in Minnesota, and it was even more difficult. So, I made a decision. I was okay with something that wasn’t my dream job. Call it ‘settling’ or whatever you want, but the fact of the matter is, if you’re not in a position financially to hold out for the perfect fit, it’s okay to take something that is still a good fit, as long as you’re okay with it. In my case, I ended up looking for jobs that I knew had growth opportunities into the role I was ideally pursuing, at companies that fostered that sort of individual growth.
Day One was a lot of talking with people. Recruiters want to know what you’re looking for. This goes beyond just job titles. Make sure you know what you want as it pertains to culture, management, learning and growth opportunities, on-the-job training, team composition, specific tools and technologies you may be working with, how far you’re willing to commute, industry, and compensation.
Regarding compensation: Some folks will say this shouldn’t be discussed with recruiters, others say it should. I’ll leave this to your discretion. For what it’s worth, I was open and honest about what I was making previously and what my expectations were going into the marketplace.
Also be prepared to know if you want to be a full-time employee or be a consultant. Consulting can be extremely lucrative but it comes with its own set of caveats. Knowing what you want out of your career will help you narrow your search in on specifically what’s going to work for you. If you’re not sure, take the time as soon as you can to iron these sorts of details out.
Day Two and Beyond: Don’t Play “The Waiting Game”
After the first day of being unemployed, it’s easy to get discouraged if you haven’t had any good news. Every day feels like a week when you don’t know when you’ll be earning money again (and it’ll be more painful if that’s your only income, or if you were the primary bread-winner of a relationship). But every day will also seem to just go too fast. You may have reached out to a dozen friends and half a dozen recruiters. They might not have anything for you right now. It’s easy to get distracted by something, and play “The Waiting Game”. Don’t. There’s plenty to do. Research jobs and companies that have openings with positions that interest you. Even if you don’t apply for them yet (for example maybe a recruiter hinted at a position at Company X and is waiting to talk to the hiring manager), being prepared – at least a tiny bit – is helpful. Brushing up your resume should be one of the first things you finish doing if you didn’t get it done on Day Zero or Day One.
Unfortunately, job hunting can be monotonous. Stick with it and something will come up.
Preparing for Disaster
The entire experience, as painful and inconvenient as it is, can be easier. By preparing for the worst you’re setting yourself up for more opportunities and more flexibility. There are some easy ways you can make unemployment less sucky:
- Start with saving 20% of your take-home income. Building an emergency fund that will comfortably last you at least three months should be your goal. Depending on your specific circumstances and how long you’ll potentially be out of work, you might want to beef this up to 6 months or more.
- Keep your resume updated. It’s so easy to forget all the cool and impactful stuff you’ve done at a job, especially if you have been at a company for a long time. I try to make a habit of reviewing my resume at least quarterly, and on an ad hoc basis as I switch roles or projects wrap up.
- Stay connected. Just today I went out to lunch with one of my old managers who I really enjoyed working with. I didn’t get a job offer out of it (hah) but at the end of lunch he did tell me to reach out to him as soon as I’m back on the market (ie after the mortgage company says it’s okay for me to switch jobs, or after we close on the house). That sort of support doesn’t come if you don’t keep in touch with people. This also means that you need to continue to meet new people and establish good working relationships and friendships with people.
- Always be on the look-out. Knowing the job market will make your job hunt easier, and window shopping is free and easy to do. You don’t need to entertain every opportunity from a recruiter. But by being on the look-out, you may find something that you didn’t expect. That could be an industry change, a foot in the door at a company you’re wanting to work at, or the opportunity to take on some new responsibilities to help you with something on the side.
- Diversify your income streams. This one is harped on over and over, and for good reason. Losing a significant chunk of your income is a lot less painful than losing all of your income. By diversifying your income streams through things like blogging, real estate, online businesses, or anything else, you lessen the blow.
- BONUS: If you’re currently on two (or more) incomes, try living as if you were just living on one. For example, if Kristin and I have two income streams (each of us has a job), living off the lower of the two specifically would make sure that if one of us got laid off we’d be able to cope fine. This will be a stretch for a lot of people, but pushing yourself as close to that point that you can will make rocky situations a bit easier to navigate. As for the extra income you do have while practicing this? Bank it, invest it, and pay off debt. It’s a win-win.
The Bright Side
Finally, know that even though getting laid off sucks, it might not be half bad. My new gig pays better, has me working with technologies I wanted to try, is in an industry I’d wanted to get into, and is working with some great people. In retrospect, there is a strong likelihood I would not have grown as significantly as I wanted in the next six months had I stuck around.
If you’re in the position to be able to do it, getting laid off might be the kick in the ass you need to make the changes you were too scared to make before. It’s an excellent time to learn a new skill like software development or focus on writing. Maybe you find yourself in a position to focus on furthering your education. Depending on your circumstances, it might be a great time to travel. You may want to focus on building up your blog or starting a business.
No matter what it is, there’s going to be a silver lining somewhere. Find that and capitalize on it.
Have you gotten laid off? What advice would you give to someone who was just laid off, or is worried that they will be laid off soon?