How to Survive a Layoff

Man checking phone

The social contract between employer and employee that virtually guaranteed long-term employment forty years ago no longer exists. Today, most of us are “at will” employees, meaning that employers can lay us off at any time, sometimes with little or no notice.

Although layoffs tend to be more prevalent during times of economic downturn, they may also occur as a result of reorganizations, mergers, or changes in management. In the first quarter of 2016 for example, employers handed out more than 250,000 pink slips, the highest total for the January-to-April period since 2009.

No matter how comfortable or content you are in your job, being prepared for your next search can help you weather the emotional storm of a surprise layoff.

Prepare your offense

Here are some suggested strategies for taking control of your career whether you expect a layoff or not.

Keep your resume updated

You should always be ready with a list of your accomplishments. Try to make it a part of your routine to update your list on a weekly or monthly basis. An additional benefit of tracking your accomplishments is that they will be top of mind during a performance review or interview. As April Greene says in her recent article, Why You Should Track Professional Accomplishments and How to Get in the Habit, “No matter where you are in your career, making a regular habit of tracking your professional accomplishments is a strategic move.”

Keep your network fresh

Networking is not about how many LinkedIn connections or Facebook followers you may have; it’s about the relationships you’ve built with people over time. Robbie Samuels, networking expert and host of the podcast On the Schmooze, suggests getting ahead of the game. “Don’t wait until you are laid off to start paying attention to and nurturing your professional network. Offer value in an ongoing way to the people who inspire you, who appreciate you, and those that need a little encouragement.”

Invest in yourself

Keeping your skills up to date is one of the most powerful ways to maintain your marketability. And, going to professional conferences or attending face-to-face training is a great way to make new industry connections and expand your network. If you are looking for ideas on where to find trainings, Aaron McCoy offers a number of options in this suggestion-rich “Kick off the new year with these 19 professional development opportunities.”

After a layoff

These suggestions are designed to help you regain your balance and move forward as quickly as possible.

Take stock of your finances

Schedule a meeting with your financial planner as soon as possible. If you don’t have a financial planner, websites such as offer low-cost access to financial planning advice. Understanding how long you can meet your financial obligations without a regular income will give you a realistic sense of how much time you have to explore your options.

Pro Tip: Even if you receive a severance, you are eligible to collect unemployment and don’t have to wait until your payout is exhausted.

Line up your references

The optimal time to ask managers and colleagues to be a reference is as soon as you know that your position is being eliminated, and remember, hard copy letters won’t cut it. Employers want to speak with your references, and you only want to ask people who will support you enthusiastically. When someone agrees to be a reference, let them know that you will brief them on details of the position, talking points, and information on who will be contacting them once you become a finalist for the job.

Create a personal board of directors

Having the support of a small trusted team can be invaluable during a job search. To decide who you should ask depends on your goals for your next career step. Author Dorie Clark suggests asking yourself, “Where am I headed professionally, and what skills do I need to get there?” If you’re planning to change functional roles—from fundraising to HR, for example—you may want to seek out a mentor with experience that relates specifically to the role you’re hoping to land in.

Take care of yourself

Even under the best of circumstances, losing your job is stressful. Whatever form of exercise you participated in when you were working, keep it up! And if exercise hasn’t been part of your routine, now is a good time to start. Yoga is excellent for calming the mind as well as staying in shape.

Meditation is another great way to soothe jittery nerves. In her article, “5 Unexpected Things To Devote Time To While Job Searching,” Victoria Crispo explains the benefits of meditation during a job search.

If you’ve survived a layoff, let us know what helped you move forward. We’d love to hear your suggestions!

Susan Peppercorn Headshot About the author: Susan Peppercorn is a career coach and writer with a passion for helping individuals go from surviving to thriving in their careers. Through her knowledge of personal branding, hiring practices and social media, she enables professionals to realize their career goals. Susan is founder and CEO of Positive Workplace Partners and author of the soon to be published book, Ditch Your Inner Critic: Let Go of Perfection to Thrive in Your Career.

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    • Earl Fong
    • August 2, 2017

    If you do get laid off, it can be a big emotional hit but don’t take it personally. I’ve been laid off twice. On both occasions, I found out later that it had nothing to do with me as a person nor with my job performance. Likewise, I’ve survived lay-offs where colleagues were let go who were just as smart, capable, and hard working as I was if not more so. Go figure.

    1. Great point, Earl! Thinking about a layoff as a business decision can help you move on more quickly and not get stuck in a cycle of blame and shame. Thanks for your comment.

    • Labi Francis
    • August 5, 2017

    Thanks. Really helpful tips.

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