Posted by: G. Lane Cavalier | August 15, 2007

Career Development: What to do if you’re laid off!

“WARNING – This turned into a LONG POST, but I think it’s worth it as I don’t want to cut anything out of it”

I received this in the newsletter from . Note that the current issue goes to subscribers a few days before it’s posted on their site, so as of today it is not yet posted on the site. As such I put the complete article below.

After the article I will break down my thoughts on each of the tips in the article. Though I think it is a good general guideline, I don’t think it talks enough about preparation for “WHEN” you “WILL” get laid off. Because unless your independently wealthy “YOU ARE AT RISK!!”

Begin Article >>>

What to do if you’ve been laid off

WASHINGTON, DC — What would you do if, when you walked into work tomorrow someone told you to head right back out — along with many of your co-workers? Here are some things to consider:

Ask about severance pay. But don’t bank on it. There is no federal law requiring an employer to let you take your half-empty notebooks with you, much less a couple weeks worth of pay.

Apply for unemployment benefits. This seems obvious, but young white-collar workers sometimes forget that such benefits apply to them.

Pare back discretionary spending, immediately. You want your savings to tide you over until you find the right job. Otherwise, you may have to take something awful just to stay afloat. It’s rarely a good idea to let your bank balance completely drive major career decisions.

Take a little time off. You may need a day or two to recalibrate, especially if the announcement came as a complete surprise. But don’t let this drag on.

Perk up your resume. You will be handing it out plenty in the next few weeks or months, so take the time to make it perfect. If you need help, seek out a professional resume writer.

Distribute your resume. Once your resume is ready make sure you distribute it widely to job sites, personal contacts, employers and recruiters.

Turn to your friends. Make sure you have a way to contact former co-workers and supervisors. You will need references, and a mass layoff can scatter your contacts to the wind.

Don’t burn any bridges. It’s understandable that you will feel frustrated, even angry, but channel that anger in ways that won’t damage your reputation with your former colleagues.

<<< End Article

Introduction. As any of you who know me personally ( or thru networking ) know, I was laid off in May of 2005. I spent 8 months out of work, I learned a few things from it and love to share my experiences with anyone who is going thru the same thing. I was a Vice President at a large company for 6 1/2 years and was so much of a fixture I referred to the office as my second home. My termination was done with the utmost class it could possibly be done with, being laid off in itself wasn’t “shocking” but the timing was a “surprise” based on what was going on with the company at the time. I hope you find the lengthy notes and opinions below to be useful for both those going thru this ordeal and those who don’t think they ever will.

I am going to focus a both on what you can do NOW and WHEN you get there. As we hear every day “Preparation, Preparation, Preparation.”

Ask about severance pay. But don’t bank on it. This is the best way to start off this topic. First the key words here “don’t bank on it”. The first key to remember is the only severance you have is the one that is already in your bank accounts. A number of different options to determine the amount in your “rainy day” fund exists, but here is the way I look at it.

“net pay” x “pay periods needed” – where “net pay” is the amount of money that is yours after taxes and retirement (don’t forget that pre-paid bills, flexible spending plans, car allowances, etc should be in your “net pay” ). “weeks needed” can be defined in many ways, but my goal is this option: 3 months plus 1 month for each $15k of gross salary you make. So by example if you make 90k/yr then in my calculation you need “9 months” of liquid cash available So based on that a person making 90k/yr should have almost $75k liquid in the rainy day fund.

The second point on this topic is that if it is available and you are still a “Valued Employee”, then you should be proactive on this front. If you are under an employment contract, try to get a severance plan in it. If you are not, maybe you company will consider giving you a “Key Resource Letter” which is a letter stating the company will give you severance in XX amount or XX weeks notice if you are laid off. This is more common than you might think, but it is not advertised because speaking of your “Letter” is grounds for termination in most instances and makes the letter void. I had 6 employees under “Letters” when I was let go, I guarantee that it made them more comfortable in the transition.

Apply for unemployment benefits. Huge mistake on my part. I figured with my severance and “rainy day fund” which wasn’t close to my goal now, I wouldn’t qualify or wouldn’t need it. When I did need it (after 6 months) the process starts from when you file, not when you get laid off. ( I live in Illinois, so I won’t claim to be an expert elsewhere). By my calculation it cost me $7-8K of “savings” because I didn’t take advantage of the “insurance.” Remember that $7-8k cost me at present value of money, so I also lost interest, etc. Not to mention the stress of having to wait for the process to kick in when I needed the money.

Pare back discretionary spending, immediately. Ok, this seems like a good tactic, but I would consider doing it now if you don’t have the “GOAL” financial available. It hurts, no question about it, but paring back now both allows you to lengthen the window you can be OUT as well as makes it easier when you are OUT. This probably falls in the do as I say category as it’s an area that I haven’t been diligent enough with.

Take a little time off. I actually was just telling someone this the other day when we talked about “what to do if.” I told them that the morning I got laid off, I went to lunch with my wife, then the next day I played golf with a buddy. When I was out I also kept the kids home from Daycare in the summer on Friday’s and did the Zoo, etc. with them. A good rule of thumb is to make NO DECISIONS for at least 48 hours after the event. Then decide what you want to be when you grow up and make good rational decisions from there.

Perk up your resume. – OK, soapbox time!! If you don’t have your resume “Perky” before you get laid off, you’re in TROUBLE (as Gilligan would say “with a capital T, a capital R, and a capital UBLE”). This is where my 1 day a quarter rule comes in. Give yourself 1 day a quarter NOW to keep your Career/Job collateral updated. Take stock of yourself and your goals. And for HEAVEN’s sake hire a PROFESSIONAL to write your resume unless you are in Marketing or Technical Writing as a career. It will be the best money you will spend on your job search period.

Distribute your resume. I pretty much agree with this one, but I personally don’t like the broad approach mentioned above. It only led to a lot of “thrashing” in my search. I much prefer to bounce though my network with “contact sheets/networking sheets”, short bios, and personal business cards. I try to save the resumes for real opportunities. I also think you should be somewhat selective with recruiters as some of them (though a small percentage) are just sharks or wolves who are not even concerned about your best interest.

Turn to your friends. I will be short on this one. Network, Network, Network! Do it now, don’t wait until you get laid off. It creates embarrassment for everyone involved. More than half this blog is about networking, so I won’t go into detail. As to keeping your contacts in order try Plaxo and LinkedIn, both free and well worth their weight in gold when you get outed!

Don’t burn any bridges. Enough said, you know the drill. People surround themselves with positive people and handling adversity well can only strengthen your image as a winner and valued resource to someone.

Hope this helps!



  1. Well, I’d like to quibble about the calculation of rainy day fund. Clearly, if you are “burning”, then this is academic. However, if you’re “earning”, I think that there are important factors to consider.

    Age is a big factor in any reserve calculation. Depending upon which Big Zero milestone you’ve just passed (i.e., 30, 40, 50, 60, or 70) the length of “time out” you have been given is a consideration. I have many examples of that coming into play. I tell the over 50’s that they may never get another “job”. That’s like a smack in the face with a week old fish.

    “Hotness” of your skills is another important factor. I know that CFOs are a dime a dozen. Whereas any programmer, C – Ruby – Java – dotnet, is as easy to place as the last piece in a jigsaw puzzle. I know several execs who are taking programming courses to have that skill on their resume.

    “Compensation required” is the final factor I suggest for consideration. A programmer who can settle for 100k is much more “place-able” that one who wants 150k.

    So when you are “in” it is important to have a very realistic emergency fund. If your rainy day fund is set correctly, then a layoff, while never “fun”, can be a chance to reset your career path.

    P.S. Any one who has never been “out” is probably not pushing the envelope on “retaining value” or their career in general. You have to take risks.

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