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  1. Blog
  2. Unemployment

10 Actions to Take After an Unexpected Layoff

First, take a deep breath

Woman processing after being laid off
Photo courtesy of Ketut Subiyanto

This article is part of InHerSight's Finding a Job series. Discover our most popular and relevant resources for finding a job fast—at a company that cares as much about your career as you do.

Are the recent layoffs at big-name companies like Sweetgreen, Haus, and Calm making you anxious about the future of your own role? You’re likely not alone. Layoffs have been a consistent and valid concern over the past two and a half years. 

The ongoing pandemic and the current recession are triggering layoffs across multiple industries. There were nearly 5 million layoffs in the first three months of 2021, and the latest numbers from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that in June alone there were 1.3 million layoffs. The total for 2022 is 8.2 million so far. 

While you hope it never happens to you, it’s no fun walking into the office—or logging into a mass Zoom call—only to be told your job has been restructured or is no longer needed. The first reaction is often anger, then panic.

Celia E. Jarvis, a success and life coach, says this emotional rollercoaster is normal. “Depending on one’s circumstance, a wide array of emotions are felt after being told, ‘Based on business needs, unfortunately we are going to have to lay you off.’ Having been the recipient of a layoff twice, I can honestly say your brain initially is not processing much; it’s akin to a TKO. ‘I know what is going on, but I’m not fully in the game.’ Then pleasantries turn to irritation (i.e., ‘why me’), which often turns to anger, hurt, and a sense of helplessness during the trip home. ‘What,’ ‘how,’ and ‘why’ questions endlessly circulate through your mind. The key is dealing with them in a manner that enables us to come out on the other side with our chin held high.”

Now take a deep breath. Whether you’ve just been laid off or you’re preparing for the worst, we’ve got some ways to help you navigate what to do after an unexpected layoff. 

10 actions to take after an unexpected layoff

1. File for unemployment.

Once panic starts to set in, or even before if you’re savvy, soothe your anxiety by tackling the most practical step first: File for unemployment so you have some income. “The first action, which should be taken at 12:01 a.m. following layoff, is to file for unemployment,” Jarvis says. “Filing before midnight will result in a rejection as technically the person is still employed by their company until 11:59 p.m. the day they were laid off.” Even though you are still grappling with your emotions, she says, you have to initiate this process so you can draw in some money to help pay bills while you are searching for your next opportunity. 

2. Take time to process and create space for your emotions. 

It’s okay to press pause and create some time and space to allow yourself to cry, scream, or just sit in silence to process what just happened. “Realize the layoff occurred for a legitimate business reason, and that it is not a reflection of you personally or professionally,” says Jarvis.  

Marisa Wheeling Ciesluk, a certified leadership and executive coach, adds: “Being laid off is a form of trauma, and you need time to manage and reset your nervous system. A layoff may cause you to question your skills, performance, and/or decisions. You may experience self-doubt or feel less confident. It may take days or weeks to process and work through all the emotions that surface after being laid off. Give yourself permission to take the time you need to handle all the feelings. One way to process your emotions is to name them and claim them. Be honest with how you feel and be as specific as possible.” 

Ciesluk also advises talking to a friend, or physically moving your body with some form of physical activity. “Research tells us that moving your body is a powerful tool for pushing emotions through your body, which enables you to process and release them. And, on the flip side, practice ‘radical care,’ which means that if your body tells you to rest, listen to it. Rest isn’t just sleep. Rest is giving your mind and body the space to do what it needs to function properly and heal. If you need support to sort out your feelings, reach out to a certified career/leadership coach or mental health therapist,” she adds. 

Read more: Relatable Feelings After You’ve Been Laid Off (and How to Overcome Them)

3. Review and revamp your resume.

It’s time to pull out your resume and review it and make any changes needed. “Ensure the resume is succinct and highlights significant responsibilities of one’s previous position to include key quantitative achievements, and ensure the resume contains zero typographical or grammatical errors. An individual’s resume is the prospective employer's first glimpse at the person’s work output,” explains Jarvis. It also never hurts to ask someone to read over it to make sure you didn’t miss anything. But if resume writing is not your thing, Jarvis suggests spending a little money to hire a professional resume writer because it will pay off in the end. 

4. Tell your network that you’re seeking new opportunities. 

The old adage “closed mouths don’t get fed” rings true here. If you don’t let your network know you are looking for new opportunities, how will they know? Ciesluk says it’s important to communicate with your personal and professional networks to elevate your job search. “How do you share the news of your layoff with your network? Write a post on LinkedIn. Reach out to mentors, former colleagues, managers, friends, and others who may be connected to potential opportunities. Make a list of who you want to contact, then invite them to connect with you virtually or in person to share the news. If you’re not ready to meet face to face, send them an email. Whether you meet with them or communicate via email or direct message, it is important to be as specific as possible about what you’re looking for and how they can help. By sharing with your network, you help normalize being laid off and reduce the negative stigma of the experience. It also puts you in control of the narrative about what happened to you,” Ciesluk explains. 

5. Start the job search process.

When you are ready, start the job search process, start by scouring the internet, especially job boards and social media. (Or InHerSight, we have jobs too!) “Reach out to staffing agencies and headhunters, where the employer pays the fee. These resources will conduct targeted searches based on your conversation and resume,” says Jarvis. She says she has also used the same resources and it resulted in her only being unemployed for a few days. 

6. Create a LinkedIn profile and add the “open to work” badge.

If you haven’t created a LinkedIn page, that’s the first step. Then let everyone know you are open to work. Ciesluk explains, “To do this, click the ‘Me’ icon at the top of your homepage. Then, click ‘View Profile’ to pull up your personal page. Below your name and title, click the ‘Open to’ button, and select ‘Finding a new job.’ Select your job preferences and who you’d like to see this information. This increases your visibility to recruiters and notifies your network that you are conducting a job search.”

Read more: Should You Use LinkedIn’s #OpenToWork Feature? A Recruiter Weighs In

7. Optimize your LinkedIn profile for results.

Again, you’ll need to create a LinkedIn profile if you don’t have one. It’s free. There are a few steps to optimize your profile so you get more visibility and recruiters are inclined to reach out or respond to your application. “Create a custom URL, update your profile picture, set a background photo, craft a solid headline, and fill out the ‘About’ section,” advises Ciesluk. She also says for your headline, make sure to include keywords that recruiters may use for your industry. Don’t forget to fill in the experience section with your work history. “Once you have created/updated your profile, use it. Create content that communicates who you are and showcases your interests, talents, and accomplishments. Remember, you are your best advocate. Your accomplishments do not speak for themselves. Use your voice. Consistent positing is a way to tell your network who you are and will enable you to be more visible to your network and recruiters,” Ciesluk adds. 

8. Use your resources.

If it’s been a while since you have had to even think about applying for a job, you may need some support to help you get started. “Many colleges and universities offer career search resources for their alumni. Check in with your alma mater to see what resources they may be able to offer you during this transition period. Additionally, local libraries and community colleges often offer free (or minimal cost) career development workshops, resume/LinkedIn reviews, and training courses to learn new skills or refresh old ones,” says Ciesluk. If you are a member of industry-related associations or groups, she adds, reach out and see how they might be able to assist, and if you aren’t a part of one, then now is the time to join. Another option is to check with your local workforce development board; often, the career centers they operate will have free workshops for resumes and skills training. 

9. Find a new hobby or side-hustle. 

Take breaks from job searching to tap into some self-care by finding a new hobby. You may even stumble upon something you are passionate about and you can create your own opportunity. Jarvis shares her own experience in finding a side-hustle that led to her next professional venture: “When I was laid off, I became an independent consultant to the company that laid me off. I was initially willing to respond to their questions post-layoff, but I had to remind myself that nothing is free, and my expertise has value. Being a consultant to this company positioned me to continue management consulting with other organizations. What I initially perceived as a setback resulted in my becoming a minority, female, and veteran-owned business owner.” 

10. Reflect on what you have accomplished.

It’s understandable that being laid off hurts. It can impact your confidence and have you questioning your self-worth. “Write down what you’ve accomplished and be specific. Think about all the things you have done personally and professionally that have brought you to where you are today,” says Ciesluk. Keep the list in a desk drawer or in your journal, so when you feel the self-doubt creeping back in, you can refer to the list. Share the list with loved ones to get their feedback. “Pay attention to any limiting beliefs that arise as you begin to take the next steps in your journey. Use this list of accomplishments to remind yourself how brilliant you are and the value you offer,” Ciesluk adds. 

You can’t prevent a layoff. Allow yourself some grace because it wasn’t your fault. The important thing to do is make sure you regain your confidence and believe in yourself and know that you will find the right position that values you and your skills.

Read more: How to Reply to A Job Offer

About our sources

Marisa Wheeling Ciesluk, founder and Chief Firestarter of MWC Leadership, a leadership development company specializing in equipping brilliant women and teams with the tools to build coaching cultures, optimize individual and organizational performance, disrupt the burnout cycle, and give rise to more without compromise.

Celia Jarvis is a certified life and success coach and is the founder of Excelsior Living Consulting. She’s an Air Force veteran and has over two decades of experience in Human Resources.

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