Professional who just got laid off holding a box of their things

If you were recently laid off, you’re not alone. Major employers, including IBM, Nike, Morgan Stanley, Instacart, and PayPal, have all announced cuts so far in 2024.

Unfortunately, with instability across the globe, high interest rates and inflation, and the uncertainly of an election year, we likely haven’t seen the last of staff reductions. But that doesn’t mean you must sit there and watch it all unfold, either. Quite the contrary – in times like this, assertive job seekers have the most success.

In this article I’ll outline what to do if you’ve been laid off, from making sure you can collect the benefits you’re entitled to getting ready to enter the job market once again. Let’s get to it!

Take a moment to process the loss

It’s normal to experience grief, anxiety, and anger after losing your job, regardless of whether it was in your control. Experts say giving yourself time to absorb the impact of being laid off is healthy and necessary. 

Vent to a trusted friend or family member, allow yourself to feel confusion or uncertainty, and don’t rush to feel “okay” with your new situation. But don’t let your feelings completely prevent progress during this time. The sooner you take action, the better.

File for unemployment as soon as possible

You file for unemployment with your state, and each state’s timeline for approval and payment varies. Typically, though, it takes one to three weeks from submitting your claim to receive your first payment. That’s why you want to file ASAP. It shouldn’t take more than an hour.

If you’re unsure whether you qualify, you should still apply. Many states made sweeping changes to their unemployment programs after COVID-19, significantly expanding the eligibility pool. So, it’s worth a shot.

Each state has slightly different requirements for applying for unemployment. Still, in most cases, you’ll need your social security number, bank account information for direct deposit, most recent employer’s name and contact information, and the dates you were employed there.

Sort out what you’ll do for health insurance

After filing for unemployment benefits, the next thing to do is get your health insurance in order. If you had insurance through your job, it typically won’t continue for more than a month after you’re laid off. If your last day falls early in the month, you may have a little more time left on your coverage than if you’re laid off later in the month. 

If you lose access to employer-sponsored coverage, you have two options for health insurance. The first is COBRA, which is available if you were laid off from a company with 20 or more employees. This allows you to continue your health insurance coverage for yourself and your family for up to 18 months. You’ll be responsible for paying the full premium—your share and the share your employer previously paid—yourself. 

The second option is shopping for your coverage on the Health Insurance Marketplace.

Take stock of where you stand

Once the dust has settled and you feel ready to jump into your search fully, it’s time to formulate a game plan. One of the first things you’ll need to figure out is how urgently you need work; this will determine how selective you can be about the types of roles you pursue.

If you have a comfortable emergency fund, you may be able to wait it out for an opportunity that’s a strong match for your skills and aligns with your salary expectations. If you need funds fast, you might be in the market for anything that will deliver a paycheck. 

Remember—just because you take a position now to bring money in the door doesn’t mean you can’t still actively search for a job you truly want. We’re living through an unprecedented time employment-wise, and many traditional expectations about job hunting, resume gaps, short-term work, and the like will go out the window for the foreseeable future. 

Know who’s hiring

While many companies are cutting thousands of positions, others are still going strong with hiring. The hottest industries that are hiring in 2024 include technology (yes, still), healthcare, biotechnology, construction, and finance.

Even if your job isn’t specifically within one of those categories, it’s a good idea to browse employers in those fields. If you’re in communications, for example, you might have better luck right now looking for work in a hospital’s PR department than in a social media company.

A good place to start your search is with a resource like the Monster 100, which lists 100 companies hiring right now.

Polish up your LinkedIn profile

Now’s the time to revisit your LinkedIn profile and clean it up for prospective employers. First, ensure you’re using a recent clear, good-quality photo. It’s the first impression hiring managers will have of you, so make it count. 

Next, make sure you’re taking full advantage of your headline—the line that appears directly underneath your name in your profile and search results. Many people use this for their job title and company name, and that’s perfectly fine, but you can also add a few more words that promote your top selling points and help search engines find you. So, for example, instead of ‘Marketing Manager,’ you might expand your headline to read ‘Senior B2B Event Marketing Manager.’ This way, hiring managers searching for ‘event marketing’ and ‘B2B marketing’ will be able to find you more easily. 

Rather than using your profile summary (the short blurb of text under your name and headline) to describe yourself or provide biographical information, use it to showcase your results and convey the specific value you can deliver as an employee. 

For example, instead of writing, “two years of experience as a technology sales associate,” show that you are “a trusted resource that helps clients solve their technology problems using Acme Company software.”

Capture the attention of hiring managers and recruiters by following these steps on how to optimize your LinkedIn profile!

Update and post your resume

Once your LinkedIn profile is cleaned up, you will have all the building blocks needed to update your resume – even if it’s been a while since you’ve needed one. Your employment data and experience will be the same, so it’s primarily a matter of arranging it in the right format.

Since this article is focused on the steps you need to take after being laid off I won’t go any deeper on resumes. Instead, please review our sample resumes and resume blog articles for detailed advice.

Once finished, have at least one trusted friend proofread your resume, and then post it on all major job sites. I recommend Indeed, CareerBuilder, Monster, and ZipRecruiter. There are countless niche or industry-specific sites, but start with these four for the greatest coverage, and decide later if more are necessary.

Tap your personal and professional network

One silver lining of being laid off is that you don’t have to be discreet about your job search. Quite the opposite – tell everyone you know that you’re on the job market, and don’t hesitate to ask for help. Broadcasting far and wide that you’re looking for openings will expand the number of opportunities you’re likely to hear about.

Now is an appropriate time to contact your professional connections to let them know you’re in the market for a new job. Do this one-on-one rather than via a mass email, and be specific. Instead of just asking for job leads, tell them exactly what kind of roles you’re looking for. This will help trigger a lightbulb if they know of anything that might be up your alley.

Need help making professional connections? Follow this guide on how to network.

Sharpen your skills

When you’re unemployed, you suddenly have a lot more time on your hands. After a certain point, filling all that time with job searching can be exhausting and counterproductive. Instead, break it up by pursuing activities to expand your resume. 

Take an online course from Coursera or Udemy, learn a new application, or even focus on a non-technical skill you want to improve, like creative writing or public speaking. This will strengthen your skillset and give your mind a break from the monotony of poring over job applications. Plus, it will give you something concrete to talk about in future interviews if you’re asked what you did during your break in employment.  

Work with recruiters

Professional recruiters locate talent and fill jobs on behalf of their clients, who are the end-user employers. Recruiters, also commonly referred to as headhunters, often have visibility into jobs that will not be posted directly by the company that is hiring.

If you haven’t previously worked with a recruiting firm, recommend asking friends and colleagues for referrals. You can also search the Clearly Rated to find the top recruiters by location and/or industry. Also, check out our recent blog article that describes the pros and cons of working with recruitment agencies.

Use our resources to help better position yourself as a candidate

We have many further resources to help you in your job search. Check out our career guide library, where you’ll find guides on hundreds of positions; our job search blog articles, which will be especially helpful if you’re thinking of changing fields; and our interview questions and answers, which will help you ace your conversation with a hiring manager.

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Pete Newsome is the founder of zengig, which he created after more than two decades in staffing and recruiting. He’s also President of 4 Corner Resources, the Forbes America's Best Staffing and Recruiting Firm he founded in 2005, and is a member of the American Staffing Association and TechServe Alliance. In addition to his passion for staffing, Pete is now committed to zengig becoming the most comprehensive source of expert advice, tools, and resources for career growth and happiness. When he’s not in the office or spending time with his family of six, you can find Pete sharing his career knowledge and expertise through public speaking, writing, and as the host of the Finding Career Zen & Hire Calling podcasts. Connect with Pete on LinkedIn