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If you are laid off, furloughed, or fired, you’re not alone. It happened to more than 35 million people last year, and the tough truth is that there’s no real way to protect yourself from it. Many successful people have been fired–from Steve Jobs to Oprah Winfrey to Thomas Edison–and things turned out well for them. They will for you too!
Going through this can be difficult, so we’ve put together a checklist of nine things you can do as soon as you get the bad news to set yourself up for success:
1. Get Paid for Outstanding Time
No matter the circumstances surrounding your exit, make sure to confirm with the human resources (HR) department that you will be reimbursed for any accrued vacation days you have not used. In many states, employers are required to. Also see if you can be paid out for unused sick days and overtime work.
2. Request Information on COBRA and Rolling Over Your 401(k)
In your conversations with HR, ask them to fill out the paperwork to make you eligible for health insurance coverage via the government’s Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (aka COBRA). This provides you with an option to maintain your current health insurance for some time, despite no longer being with your employer. You are entitled to it, but your employer must take the proper steps. Additionally, request information on rolling over your 401(k). That money belongs to you, and you should move it to an investment account that you control.
3. Ask About Severance Pay
If you are being laid off, don’t walk out the door—and definitely don’t sign anything!—without asking about severance. It may even be a requirement that your employer pay it in your state if the number of people exiting meets a certain threshold. Severance could include months-worth of salary and health benefits. Even if severance isn’t required, it never hurts to ask, especially if the employer asks you to sign something saying you won’t sue. If you aren’t planning on taking legal action, ask for compensation before you sign.
4. Send a Tasteful Goodbye Message
If you still have access to your company email, send a message to your colleagues. It can be simple, letting them know that it is your last day and that you enjoyed working with them. Also mention the type of work you’ll be looking for in case they can make an introduction. Of course, include your personal contact information and connect with them on social media so they are able to reach out after you leave.
5. Apply for Unemployment
It can take a while to get registered in your state’s unemployment system and even longer to receive your first payment. There is no shame in collecting unemployment. In fact, a part of every paycheck you received while you were working was withheld and went towards it. Unemployment insurance was created for people who are laid off, so visit this link for details on how to apply in your state.
6. Post About It on Social Media
If you are laid off, there can be benefits to sharing the news right away, and putting it in a positive light. Update your status on LinkedIn and let your followers know you are looking for new opportunities. The news will invite your network to comment and share it, and spreads the word to keep you in mind for new opportunities.
7. Learn New Skills
Depending on the job you were performing, there is a chance that the work you did is either evolving or disappearing due to technological innovation. If either apply to you, there are online courses you can take to learn new skills and acquire certifications. Many are free or inexpensive, provided by the U.S. government through American Job Centers and the Employment and Training Administration.
8. Start Searching Now
Finding your next role could take longer than you expect, especially at a time when many others are looking for work as well. Between applying, multiple rounds of interviews, and the slow process that the job search can be, you need to be aggressive. The shorter the gap in your work history, the easier it will be to get hired.
9. Use Your Last Job as an Asset
Yes, it’s painful to be let go, but don’t let that stand in the way of leveraging everything you gained from your last job to get a new one. Stay in touch with your past co-workers, keeping the relationships warm for references and recommendations.