This post originally appears in my Work In Progress blog for Forbes.com:
In just the last few weeks, three big companies announced three big layoffs. Pepsi is cutting 8,700 jobs. American Airlines is looking to cut 13,000 jobs. Kraft is cutting 1,600. While the overall unemployment figures are trending down, layoffs are still a very real possibility. Here are 10 steps to take if you’ve been laid off:
- Remain professional to others. A layoff is not an excuse to finally give everyone a piece of your mind. Don’t film a dramatic exit to post on YouTube. This is a tough time for everybody, even people who didn’t lose their jobs. Don’t contribute any additional negativity.
- Stay positive to yourself. This also isn’t time for negative self-talk. Maybe you regret not starting a job search sooner or not saving more money. Dwelling on what might have been is not going to help you and will in fact fuel additional anxiety and frustration. Instead, think of obstacles you have overcome in the past to focus on things that will give you confidence.
- Negotiate your package and end date. Severance packages are often negotiable. Pay attention to your end date because this determines how long you have insurance, how much of your retirement account vests, or how much paid time off you accrue. Don’t feel like you have to sign anything right away. Make sure you understand your package and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
- Consider lateral transfers, both permanent and temporary. Your department might be laying off staff, but other areas might be growing. Don’t forget to consider subsidiaries or joint ventures of your employer. Ask about consulting opportunities; sometimes a department doesn’t have permanent headcount but they have a consulting budget and they could benefit from having someone who already knows the internal ropes.
- Prepare your story to explain what happened. When there is a large layoff that makes the headlines, it’s easy to summarize your story. But for lesser-known restructurings, you will have to explain to your network and prospective employers what happened. A concise story will do – my department was restructured, or my role was split between two more junior hires, or my area moved to headquarters. Make sure your story matches what your manager or any references will say about your departure.
- Collect contact info for when you leave. Don’t forget to get people’s permanent contact information. They may get laid off after you so don’t assume their current company information will last. You will not have access to your office equipment, including an employer-provided cell phone, so make sure you have contact information in your personal files.
- Leave on a positive note with your manager, colleagues and HR. When you do finally exit, don’t forget to thank everyone. Even for people who didn’t lose their jobs, they may feel guilty, anxious that they could be next, or overwhelmed by the plight of their departing colleagues. Your graceful exit will reassure them that you have the confidence to persist and may turn a neutral colleague into an advocate.
- Take time to assess and reflect. This is a big change so don’t feel like you have to go from your job to your job search right away. Don’t be afraid to take a few days to attend to all the personal projects you might have shelved – home maintenance, doctor’s appointments, catching up with friends and family.
- Run the numbers on your cash situation. That said, don’t underestimate the time it will take to search. You are coming into the job market along with thousands of others. You might not have looked for a job in years. Now that you know your severance package, calculate how much time you have for your search. You should plan on at least three months for your search, so if you don’t have the cash to cover that, focus on getting temporary or consulting work to shore up your cash position.
- Launch a proactive, thoughtful job search. Don’t just blindly send resumes in a frantic attempt to find something. Yes, you want to find a job, but you also want to find the right job. What is the right job right now? It might be a temporary one for cash flow. It might be a lateral move to learn some new skills. It might be moving to a different industry that has always interested you. The silver lining of a layoff is that you have this opportunity to find a new job. Would you take your old job all over again? If so, then you know to look for the same industry, functional area and type of company. But if not, then explore what would be a better choice this time and execute your job search to find this better job.