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Written by Charlotte GraingerCharlotte Grainger

What to do when you lose your job: the definitive survival guide

13 min read
What to do when you lose your job: the definitive survival guide
Artwork by:Alexandra Shevchenko
Your boss has called you into their room and said the words you were afraid to hear. Your guts wrench. Don’t panic. Here’s what to do when you lose your job.

You’ve been given the old heave-ho. Here’s what to do next.

“Shut the door. Have a seat.” The words you were dreading hit you hard… but here we are. Your manager broke the news to you politely — giving you fair reasons for your dismissal. But that doesn’t make the process any easier. In seconds, your world changed. 

It’s hard to know what to do when you lose your job, especially if it’s never happened to you before. Right now, you might be in a mild state of panic and not have a clue how to move forward. Luckily, we’re right here, by your side. At Resume.io, we offer resources to help support your career development. In the following survival guide, we will cover: 

  • The main steps of what to do when you lose your job
  • Statistical insights to help you better understand your position
  • Expert advice for getting back on your feet when you’re unemployed.
What to do when you lose your job
What to do when you lose your job

Step 1: First up, don’t panic

Your heart is racing, you feel hot and sweaty, and your mouth is dry. In the wake of losing your job, your body is likely to go into fight or flight mode. Yes, it’s quite understandable that you will have a physiological response to this bad news. Give yourself a break. 

First up, find somewhere comfortable to sit down… and then breathe. Take some deep breaths in and out. This type of exercise helps to mitigate the stress response allowing you to slow your brain down and, well, relax. Stay in the same place until you feel calmer.   

Step 2: Allow yourself to grieve 

What does it mean to lose your job? While you can try to rationalize this event, the truth is that this loss can cause emotional pain. Experts say that being fired can lead to symptoms of grief, anxiety, and even depression. Numerous factors — including loss of income and how employable you think you are — will determine how keenly you experience the grief.

Trying to run away from these emotions simply won’t cut it. You can tell yourself that it’s “silly” to feel badly about losing your job but — as we’ve covered — it’s 100% normal. Allow yourself to feel the grief rather than pushing it away. Be kind to yourself during this difficult period. Go on long walks, take hot baths, and drink soothing hot chocolates.

Step 3: Don’t keep it a secret 

Next up, let’s talk about the big reveal. You might not know what to say when you have lost your job. However, that doesn’t mean that you should act all James Bond about your newfound unemployment. Repeat after us: Keeping the fact that you no longer have a job a secret will make you feel worse. It will build up inside you and start to fester. 

Practice telling people about your job loss and, remember, it’s not what you say but how you say it. If you go in there, bowing your head with flushed cheeks, you’re giving off the wrong vibe. When you give people news — especially bad news — people will follow your lead when they react. Try to reframe the situation and focus on the positives it may bring.

Statistical insight

Is losing your job a big deal?

The short answer is no. Around 40% of Americans will be fired at some point in their lifetime, according to Zippia. 

What’s more, losing your job doesn’t mean the end of your career — not by a long shot. In fact, more than 90% of executives who have been fired ended up finding better positions than they had before. Yes, getting laid off may turn out to have a silver lining. 

Telling your friends and family is going to be tough. However, getting it off your chest is a smart move. Don’t wait and bottle things up inside. Speak to the people that matter now! 

Step 4: Make yourself a budget 

We won’t beat around the bush — loss of income is a major concern when you lose your job. If you’re worried about getting by, avoid burying your head in the sand. Instead, you should figure out a liveable budget that suits you. The Federal Trade Commission has helpful information on how you can make a reasonable budget and even save money.   

Step 5: File for unemployment insurance

While we’re on the topic of finances, there’s another bit of red tape to deal with. Yes, there is support out there for you. If you have been made redundant and are unemployed through no fault of your own, you may be eligible for Unemployment Insurance

Applying varies from state to state and — as a golden rule — you should apply within the state in which you were employed. Keep in mind that applications can take a matter of weeks to be processed. For that reason, it’s smart to apply sooner rather than later. 

Step 6: Define your career goals 

You’ve dealt with all of the admin. Hurrah! Now that you’ve ticked those boxes, you can start to focus on what really matters here: your professional future. 

When we talk about what to do when you lose your job, there’s one thing that we must not overlook. Now that you have some time, you can take the time to define your career goals. 

Like it or not, you’ve been given a break. Use it to assess what you want from a job. To help you do that, here are some of the key questions you should be asking: 

  • Where do you see yourself in five years?
  • What is important to you in a future job?
  • Was your previous job fulfilling and, if not, why not?
  • If you could start over, what would your dream job be?
  • What did and didn’t you enjoy about your last role?
  • What career do you hope to have in the future?

Defining your career goals can be hard but it will help you decide if you’re on the right path. If you’re looking for some extra inspiration, take a look at our quick career goals guide here.

Expert tip

Start a new chapter of your work life! 

So, you didn’t expect to lose your job. Okay. Let’s change perspective. 

The old saying is true. When one door closes, another opens. At the very least, there should be a window of opportunity cracking open. Take the chance to have a rethink. 

Are you happy with your professional life or not? It may be time to pivot and change careers entirely. Consider your options before you start applying for jobs. 

Step 7: Invest in your professional development

Chances are, you’re not going to land a new job overnight. Hey, you might… but let’s err on the side of caution here. That means that you have some free time to play with. 

So, how are you going to spend it? Rather than binge-watching Gilmore Girls for the sixth time, you may choose to upskill yourself. There are plenty of free and paid-for courses online that you can undertake in your spare time. Look into training options that will support your long-term career goals (see above) and getting started is a savvy move. 

Step 8: Revamp your resume

You’re almost ready to start applying for new jobs. 

However, before you do that, you’re going to need a resume that turns hiring managers’ heads for the right reasons. This single-page document has to do a lot of the heavy lifting when you’re job hunting. Make sure that it is 100% up-to-date and looking its best. You can use one of our field-tested resume templates to make it look as impressive as it is. 

Step 9: Start using LinkedIn 

LinkedIn is a wonderful networking tool. So, it’s no wonder that it could help you land your next job. First up, your LinkedIn profile needs to tell your career story and impress onlookers. 

If it’s been a while since you spruced it up, give it some much-needed attention now. It’s not just about keeping it up to date when it comes to job roles. You should also revamp your “about'' section and ask for some “recommendations” from previous colleagues. 

You can also use the social media platform to search for jobs and engage with other professionals. Look for ways to grow your network, comment, and join professional groups. All of these small but significant tasks will increase your visibility and help you get noticed. 

Step 10: Apply for (the right) jobs 

Ready, set, apply! Now that you’ve worked your way through steps one to nine, there’s only one thing left for it. You need to start looking for new roles and throwing your hat in the ring. Yes, you can go down the traditional route and scour job boards. However, you may have more luck if you widen your net. Here are some additional ideas: 

  • Ask your professional circle if anyone knows about job openings
  • Attend networking events and let people know you’re on the market
  • Speak to your friends, family members, and acquaintances
  • Reach out to agencies and hiring managers about potential roles

The more ways you look for jobs, the more options you will have on the table. Use the time that you have to be selective and apply for roles that align with your values and goals. 

What is the average US salary? Check how much you should be earning now with our complete guide
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What is the average US salary? Check how much you should be earning now with our complete guide

Are you getting paid fairly? In the following guide, we will take a look at what the average US salary is so that you can compare yours. Here’s what you should know.

Key takeaways

  • Losing your job can be emotionally painful. Don’t push these feelings down. Allow yourself the time and space to grieve before you move forward.
  • Deal with the annoying admin tasks. File for unemployment insurance, set a budget, and start considering your future.
  • Take this opportunity to revamp your resume and social media presence.
  • Stay positive! It may seem all doom and gloom right now. However, if you follow these steps and get back on track, you’ll get snapped up in no time!
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