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02 Jan 2023 Austin Belcak

What To Do If You Are Laid Off (& How To Be Proactive About It)

Getting laid off is one of the scariest, most troubling things that can happen in your career. It can seem like your world has been turned upside-down.

You may feel shocked, angry, hurt, worried, overwhelmed—and, likely, a combination of all these emotions at once.

Just know that you are not alone!

In 2019, over 21 million Americans were laid off from their jobs…and that was a relatively normal year. The Coronavirus pandemic of 2020 caused one out of every five Americans to experience either a layoff or greatly reduced working hours.

According to the Bureau of Labor, job openings and quits reach record highs in 2021 and layoffs and discharges fall to record lows. In 2023, the market seems to be fluctuating with a total of 6 million people on unemployment.

The bottom line is that layoffs are an inherent part of the employment landscape. So, if you’re ever laid off, don’t take it personally or dwell on your misfortune.

Instead, acknowledge that it’s a difficult situation—but one you can certainly overcome with diligence and perseverance.

In this article, we’ll walk you through the key considerations and actions you should be taking to get back on your feet after being laid off, including:

  • Important questions to ask when you get laid off
  • How to file for unemployment
  • How being laid off can affect your job search
  • Actionable steps to help you move forward

The Difference Between Getting “Laid Off” And Being “Fired”

Before we dive deeper, it’s essential to understand what being ‘laid off’ actually means.

The terms ‘laid off’ or ‘fired’ are both used to describe scenarios in which an employer has terminated an employee’s position at the company.

However, these two terms are not synonymous—in fact, far from it. So, what’s the difference?

In a nutshell, getting ‘laid off’ means that your employer no longer needs (or can’t support) your job role.

A company may choose to lay you off for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Changed business needs
  • Downsizing
  • Reorganization
  • Lack of funding
  • Ceasing operations
  • A merger or acquisition

Note that these reasons do not involve your individual performance as an employee. That’s why you shouldn’t take it personally if you get laid off.

Conversely, getting fired is directly related to your actions and performance at work.

If you aren’t meeting the expectations of your job role or you violate company policies, you could be fired based on these grounds.

So, while most of us are well-aware of what it means to be fired from a job, remember that getting laid off does NOT mean you were fired.

Layoff decisions are based on the company’s current needs/status—not your performance.

6 Important Questions To Ask If You Get Laid Off

You just received the news that you’re getting laid off…now what? The first step in the process is to gain clarity regarding your departure from the company.

Here are six key questions to ask your manager/HR department:

#1. Can I List You As A Reference?

Remember, getting laid off does not indicate that you were performing poorly as an employee. As such, it’s completely acceptable to ask your boss if you can list them as a reference for future employers to contact.

This will give you the ability to show future employers that you have a positive relationship with your previous boss and that they respect your work. More often than not, your boss will be happy to act as a reference—provided that you left on good terms.

#2. When Does My Healthcare Coverage End?

If you have a health insurance plan through your employer, it’s critical to know how your coverage will be impacted. Contact your HR department to confirm how long you’ll be covered (and address any other questions).

Keep in mind that you may be eligible for continued coverage under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA). However, this coverage can be expensive—so it’s important to explore all of your options.

If you’re not eligible for COBRA, you may be able to sign up for a health insurance plan through the Affordable Care Act (ACA) marketplace.

#3. What’s Going To Happen To My 401k?

Don’t worry…if you have a 401k with your employer, you’re still entitled to all the funds in that account—and you can use them as you wish. So, this is more of a question you need to ask yourself…

Generally speaking, you have three options:

  1. Leave the money in the account (to continue enjoying the tax-deferred advantages)
  2. Withdraw the money (subject to all the taxes that were previously deferred)
  3. Roll the money over into another retirement account (e.g. an IRA)

If you are unsure about what to do with your 401k, consider using a financial advisor or CPA to assess your options in detail.

#4. Will I Receive A Severance Package?

Many companies offer a combination of payment and other benefits (e.g. extended health coverage) in the event of your termination from the company. This is known as a severance package.

If you didn’t negotiate a severance package when you were hired, you’ll need to speak with HR about the details of your severance (which was likely outlined in your employment contract).

If you did negotiate a severance package, make sure to review the details of that agreement so you know what to expect.

In either case, it’s important to understand what you’re entitled to before signing any documents related to your severance.

#5. When Will I Receive My Last Paycheck? (And Will It Include Unused Time Off?)

Knowing the exact date of your last paycheck will help you plan your finances accordingly. Typically, the company’s regular payroll schedule will be maintained.

It’s also important to ensure any unused PTO is accounted for. If you have accrued PTO that you didn’t use, you should be paid out for those hours. And, if you’re not compensated for those hours, you may need to raise a dispute.

#6. How Long Do I Have To Exercise My Stock Options?

If you have stock options with your company, you’ll need to confirm the time frame you have to execute them. You can do this by reviewing your employment contract or reaching out to HR.

The most common equity plans provide a 90-day window to exercise stock options (effective after your last day of employment).

It’s imperative to act within this window—otherwise, your stock options could revert back to the company!Someone Feeling Sad Because They Were Laid Off From Work

Filing For Unemployment

If you’re ever laid off, there’s a good chance you will qualify for Unemployment Benefits, which are intended to ease the financial turmoil of losing your job.

To apply for unemployment benefits, follow these four steps below:

Step #1: Determine Your State’s Requirements

Every state has its own system for administering unemployment benefits. To find your state’s Unemployment Insurance Office, you can use this page from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Step #2: Carefully Complete The Necessary Forms

Filing for unemployment can be a tedious process. So, you’ll want to make sure all your paperwork is 100% accurate and error-free (to avoid rejection/delay).

Your unemployment claim will likely include questions about the circumstances of your termination. Your employer will need to verify the accuracy of your answers.

Step #3: Stay Up-To-Date With Weekly Claims

In most cases, you’ll need to provide ongoing weekly claims to continue receiving your benefits.
The purpose of these claims is to verify that you’re still unemployed, in need of benefits, and whether you are actively searching for a new job.

Step #4: Don’t Be Afraid To Ask Questions

Any time you’re dealing with social/government programs, the process can seem complicated and overwhelming.

If you’re confused or feel that you need more information, contact your state’s unemployment office directly.

How Getting Laid Off Affects Your Job Search

After being laid off, you might be concerned about how other prospective employers will view you.

Will hiring managers see your layoff as a red flag? Will this damage your chances of landing another job?

The answer is no.

Recall from above that being laid off does not indicate poor performance as an employee. Most hiring managers understand this distinction, so your layoff will not count against you during your job search.

You should be prepared to discuss the circumstances of your layoff openly and honestly during interviews.

Don’t feel ashamed or try to hide it—there’s no need. Instead, simply explain the situation from a neutral, objective standpoint.

4 Proactive Steps To Take After Being Laid Off

They say, “when one door closes, another door opens.” And, when it comes to getting laid off, this couldn’t be more true.

Now is the time to pick yourself up by the bootstraps and look toward the next chapter in your life. Here are the four primary steps you need to take to get back in the game:

Tighten Up Your Budget

When you’re in limbo between jobs, it’s important to monitor your finances very scrupulously. Without the income from your job, budgeting becomes a top priority.

Eliminate unnecessary spending to ensure you have as much cash as possible to cover essential bills and expenses.

Update Your Resume/LinkedIn

Now that you’re back in the job market, you’ll want to make sure both your resume and LinkedIn profile are up-to-date and polished to perfection.

Use one of these free resume templates to make your resume stand out with a sleek, compelling design. Also, change the settings on your LinkedIn to let recruiters know you are open to new opportunities.

Reach Out to Your Network

Did you know that referrals account for 40% of all new job hires? Seeking referrals is arguably THE BEST way to kick off your employment transition and get the ball rolling.

If you get laid off, you should immediately start reaching out to both your personal and professional network, letting them know you’re actively exploring new positions.

You can learn more about how to make new connections, build relationships, and land referrals in this article.

Begin Your New Job Search

This final step is the most obvious one—and it’s also the most important.
Finding a new job can seem daunting, but with positivity, patience, and persistence, you can emerge from this situation with a new job you love.

Here are some articles to help you get started:


If you find yourself laid off, don’t despair. Take proactive steps to set yourself up for success in the next chapter of your career.

Follow the tips laid out in this article to update your resume, reach out to your network, and begin your new job search. Soon enough, you’ll be back on your feet and well on your way to a bright future.

Austin Belcak

Austin is the founder of Cultivated Culture where he helps people land jobs without connections, without traditional experience, and without applying online. His strategies have been featured in Forbes, Business Insider, & Fast Company and has helped people just like you land jobs at Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, Twitter, & more.



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