What to do when you’ve been laid off

Layoffs-sign of a designer for hire.

I had coffee with one of my buddies yesterday. He jumped in “well, I have some interesting news. I was laid off yesterday.” We spent the next hour processing.

There are terrible ways to get laid off and “better” ways, but there is no “good” way. Layoffs are disruptive at best. And no matter the layoff, it will bring many emotions; grief is at the top of the list.

I’ve been laid off a couple of times in my career. It sucks. Hopefully, some lessons I learned can provide a little stability as you walk through a significant life disruption.

What to do if you are laid off.

File for unemployment and make a plan for insurance 

This may feel like a wrong first step, but creating a buffer can help you process.

Try not to take it personal

It feels so personal, but it’s not. Often times it is about companies taking risks they couldn’t afford to make. Try not to be bitter; believe me, I have been there, but stoking the fires of resentment will hurt you more than it helps you. 

Pause and take a breath

The first time I was laid off, I scrambled. I jumped right in. I needed to replace my income, and it felt like if I didn’t, I would lose everything. This may be a real fear; hopefully, unemployment benefits can alleviate some of the pain.

Take a day or a weekend to get away. It could be as simple as going for a solo hike or spending a day in a park. But get some time to think, pick up a journal and interview yourself. Here are a couple questions to get the ball rolling:

  • What did I like about my last role?
  • What did I hate about it?
  • Where did I feel empowered?
  • Where did I feel blocked?
  • Is this the work I want to keep doing?
  • What is the kind of employer and role I need to be successful?

Ask yourself follow-up questions within each question, and just write. Brain dump all your thoughts and sit with them. This helps identify what is important to you: Career growth, opportunities, flexibility, or autonomy. Be specific about what you are looking for.

Make a plan

This could look like outlining steps you need to take to land your next role. Or maybe it’s conversations you need to have to figure out what you want next. I am not a planner, but this is an area where I would create a Notion Doc, Airtable, or Google doc to be intentional and plan out specific things I would need to do.

Be intentional

The first time I was laid off, I jumped at every opportunity, took every call, and applied to every relevant job. But unfortunately, this didn’t prove fruitful. My wheels were spinning, I felt out of control, and I wasn’t making progress because I wasn’t preparing well for the opportunities at the top of my list. So take a beat, and when you realize what you want, focus on those opportunities:

  • Research the company you want to apply for, connect directly with a recruiter before applying, and try to see if you can have a conversation with them to discover their needs.
  • Craft your portfolio, resume, and presentations directly at this organization. Treat them like a customer.
  • If you are applying coldly, craft a unique cover letter. It can set you apart and help ground the hiring manager in how your background and skillset relate to them. I know people say cover letters don’t work, but I landed an interview in my last role precisely because of a thoughtful letter. My wife and I’s offer on our current home was accepted because of a letter (we beat an all-cash offer at a higher bid). Letters demonstrate you care, display that you can communicate, and show that you are willing to do the work. They may get overlooked, but they may not.
  • Practice your interviews. Practice your presentations. Practice. Even a simple run-through with a friend can help polish and presentation. Your former teammates who didn’t get laid off want to help. Reach out to them. This is a way they can help. 

Remember to have fun

You need support during this time, so lean into your relationships. Make time for your friends and family. Find ways to recharge and get energy.

Be thoughtful about your next role

The last time I was laid off, I was given a gift. I knew exactly what I wanted and didn’t want in a company. I landed a job offer with a very ’sexy‘ startup. The job looked great from the outside, and the company looked poised to make a move, but there was something that I didn’t feel good about while interviewing. I ended up rejecting the offer. I later discovered that the work environment at that startup was awful and unsustainable. 

Be curious and trust your instincts. 

Pace yourself leading into your next role

If you are in a position to take some time off from job hunting between an offer and starting a job, I would recommend taking it. Being laid off is taxing and stressful, so taking time without the pressure before your next role is ideal. Fill up your tank as much as possible before your next thing.

Start a rainy day savings account

The first time I was laid off, I had no runway. I didn’t have a bank account dedicated to life happening. This made the whole situation so much more stressful. However, once I found my footing, I started saving money and putting it away in a ‘rainy day’ fund. This made the next layoff so much less stressful. 

I hope I never have to go through this again, but it could happen.

I am sorry you all are going through this. And I wish you the best of luck!