Top 7 Steps to Take When You Lose Your Job

Take a look at today’s headlines. No, really, I’ll wait.

What did you see? Words like “recession” and “record-high inflation” probably jumped off the screen, creating a sinking feeling in your stomach or raising your level of anxiety. Are you worried about possible lay-offs? Are rising interest rates making the dream of home ownership seem impossible?

We’ve all been there. A lot of us are there right now. And it sucks.

My husband was recently let go from his job, and unfortunately, it’s become a familiar path. While I don’t want to get into the details, suffice it to say that I consider myself a bit of an expert when it comes to dealing with job loss, managing the next steps, and learning how to navigate these choppy waters.

So while I hope you never have to use the advice I’m offering, here are the 5 top steps to take when you lose your job.

1. Allow Yourself to Feel

At the risk of sounding too touchy feeling, the reality is that losing a job is one of the most stressful life situations you can experience. It can lead to depression and anxiety, as well as physical distress as well.

This makes sense when you consider all that happens when you lose a job. It’s also a loss of income and financial stability, routine, socialization (for many), and benefits such as healthcare and retirement.

So, yes, you need to take time to feel sad, angry, mad, confused, or whatever emotion you may experience from day to day. Sometimes this may shift hourly, or you may go in cycles when you feel the loss more deeply. Regardless, know that your emotions are valid and you have a right to feel what you feel.

2. Take Care of Paperwork

Personally, I find this step to be the most unpleasant, as it just serves as an unpleasant reminder of what just happened. But it’s a really vital step as many programs have a limited window when you can tap into making changes (I’ll get more into that in a minute).

Make sure you deal with these tasks quickly and head on. Things will not get better by ignoring them and hoping they’ll go away.

For example, losing a job often means losing healthcare. Will you elect into COBRA, which allows you to continue to pay for your existing health insurance? Will you get on your spouse’s coverage, which usually has a 30 day limit?

If eligible for unemployment, you should look into filing a claim to start that process. How this works will depend on your specific state, but there are usually plenty of resources available for you to research for yourself.

And while not urgent, make sure you continue to track any retirement accounts (such as a 401k) you had through your employer. At some point, you may want to roll that over into another retirement account that isn’t tied to the company.

3. Find Community and Support

Losing a job can be a very isolating experience. It’s normal to feel shame and embarrassment, and withdraw from others as a result. If you had a good group of coworkers, you’re also losing the time you may have normally spend with them, which can be an incredibly lonely place to be.

For us, we’ve found a really great group of people with whom we can do life. They may not understand our exact situation and predicament, but they listen and support us without judgement. To be honest, that’s really what we need right now.

4. Create a Routine

It can be tempting to want to sleep in all day, binge-watch shows, and stay in your pajamas when you don’t have a job to do each day. This can actually be really healing for the first few days and there’s definitely something to be said for self-care after a traumatic event.

But eventually, this can turn from self-care to self-indulgence, and morph into self-pity faster than you may think. And as we already covered above, depression, anxiety, and mental health struggles are not uncommon.

Instead, start to create a healthy routine for yourself. Set your alarm to go off in the morning to get yourself up and moving. Go for a run in the morning, send out resumes in the afternoon, and connect with a friend in the evenings. It doesn’t matter what that routine entails, as long as you’re intentional about building structure into each day to avoid spiraling into an unhealthy wallow.

With this, goes setting small goals that you can accomplish each day. Maybe it’s to send out just ONE quality cover letter and resume a day. Or perhaps it’s tackling a project or activity you’ve been procrastinating each week. Regardless, make it something you can do and hold yourself to it.

5. Examine Your Finances

Yes, this part sucks, and yes, it is extremely stressful. But it’s also extremely necessary.

Look at where you will need to cut back in the coming weeks and, God forbid, months. Pause or cancel those unnecessary subscriptions, be conscious of your discretionary spending, and for the love of all that is holy, create a budget.

In my opinion, the best place to start is to list out all your non-negotiables. This includes categories like your rent or mortgage, car insurance, groceries, utilities, minimum debt payments, cell phone bill, etc. Find your baseline number; that is, what is the absolute minimum you need each month to get by.

Then, find where you can cut back. Losing a job is not the time to DoorDash every meal, continue to pay for pricey memberships (goodbye, gym), or spend money on silly wants. You will need to make sacrifices and wise decisions to minimize the impact a job loss can have on your finances.

This is also the time to tap into that Emergency Fund you’ve been squirreling away. Trust me, you never want to use that money, but it is a huge weight off your shoulders when you need to use that money and you know it’s there for that reason. So if you don’t have three to six months of living expenses saved up yet, you need to MAKE. THAT. A. PRIORITY. It can mean the difference between a few months cushion to find that next job and bankruptcy.

6. Polish Your Resumé

If you haven’t had to look for a job in recent years, then updating your resumé may take some time. But be intentional about crafting a polished resume in order to stand out from your competition.

This does not mean listing every single qualification, experience, and credential you have. Instead, create a few different versions that highlight different strengths and experiences you have that match the type of job for which you’re applying.

Make your resumé short, direct, and clear. Hiring managers don’t want a six-page document when you can condense the highlights to one page.

You should also consider using a template (there are plenty on Google Docs, Canva, or Microsoft Word) to help organize information and give it a pleasing aesthetic.

7. Apply Strategically

It can be easy to upload your resumé to Indeed and start firing off applications with one click. But this rarely works out favorably. While tempting (“Look, I applied for 17 jobs today!”), the reality is… do you even WANT any of those jobs? Don’t waste your time.

Instead, aim to apply for one or two jobs a day. Take time to write a compelling cover letter and be sure to include the name of the company and relevant keywords from the job post. Tailor your resumé to reflect specific skills and experiences you have that are a match for the position. Don’t cut corners because the goal is to get the right job and stand out from your competition.

Even if you have an interview that seems promising, continue to apply and network for other opportunities. Send follow-up emails with additional questions, or simply to thank them for taking the time to interview you.

Remember: Unemployment is NOT the End

Don’t forget that a job loss isn’t permanent. Eventually, you will find another job and there will be an end to this season. Continue to persevere through these stressful times and celebrate your small victories.

Did I miss any steps? What do you think is an important action to take when dealing with a job loss? Comment below!

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