What to Do After Losing Your Job

Woman sitting with head down.

There are few feelings worse than losing your job. It’s a panicky, anxious feeling, often mixed with dread and shame. However you may feel about your job, as long as you have a steady income most problems feel manageable. When that’s gone, it can feel like the tide’s about to roll out and drag you off to sea.

It’s a terrible way to feel, but there’s always something you can do. Creating a plan and taking real action is the best way to combat that negative feeling and put yourself in a position to weather the storm. If you ever find yourself facing an unexpected unemployment, consider the following ten steps to be your unemployment checklist.

Decide between resignation and termination

How the job ends matters. If you find yourself able to choose between voluntarily resigning or being fired, think carefully before choosing. In certain instances if a work situation is untenable and the writing is on the wall, you may consider resigning in order to avoid the potential stigma of having been fired. Sometimes an employer may inform you that you are being fired and then offer to let you quit if you’d prefer. It seems like a kind gesture, but usually it’s nothing of the sort.

Voluntarily resigning may make future job interviews less tricky, but by doing so you also forfeit your right to unemployment benefits. Which is more valuable to you – the unemployment check or the job reference? Be clear on what you’re agreeing to and what that impact is going to look like. In the immediate aftermath of learning that you’ve lost your job, you may make a snap decision based on the high emotion of the moment. Take a little time before deciding. It makes a big difference.

File for unemployment

Presuming you haven’t resigned or been fired for cause (meaning that you were fired for engaging in an illegal or unethical behavior), you’re likely eligible for unemployment benefits. The amount of your benefits will vary depending on your prior income and the process for application is different in every state. So go to your state’s unemployment office website and begin that process immediately. The sooner you apply, the shorter you’ll have to go without at least some income.

Contact your creditors

Even with unemployment benefits, your money is going to be extremely tight until you find a new job. And when you’re in a financial crisis, one of the first expenses to suffer is going to be your creditor payments.

Get out ahead of that inevitable issue by contacting your creditors directly to let them know about the situation. Many creditors offer short-term hardship programs that could significantly reduce your payments for six or 12 months. Some may even let you miss a set number of payments. (It’s important to note, however, that in most of these hardship programs interest continues to accrue, meaning you won’t fall behind, but your balance may increase.)

See what your creditors can offer you. Some won’t be able to do anything for you, at which point you’ll have to weigh the cost of keeping your accounts current against the more important cost of maintaining your household. But at the very least, you need to pick up the phone and see what’s possible.

Make a decision on health insurance

Maintaining your health insurance coverage through COBRA can be expensive, but dealing with a medical emergency while uninsured can be even more costly. You need to decide what you’re going to do about health insurance while you’re laid off. If you have the ability to be added to a spouse’s insurance plan, begin that process right away.

Make an honest assessment of your finances

How much is unemployment paying you? How much do you have in savings? What are your living expenses? Where can you cut back?

You’re not going to be able to wing it at this point, so it’s important to create a detailed list of your available funds and ongoing financial responsibilities. You may also want to sort your expenses into different categories based on priority.

Create your unemployment budget

Once you have the raw numbers it’s time to create a spending plan to see you through your unemployment. Bear in mind, your finances may be especially irregular during this time, so you might consider using short-term, week-to-week budgets, especially if your unemployment checks arrive weekly.

Understand what elements of your budget are optional and which are not, and try to keep your expenses as basic and necessary as possible.

Prepare yourself to become a job applicant

Being a good job applicant has never been as simple as just having the required skills and experience. As a job applicant you are essentially a product that needs to be sold. And just as cautious consumers do a lot of research before making a purchase, so too do employers research their applicants before making a hiring decision.

Becoming a desirable job applicant begins with a well-constructed resume, but it goes much further. Consider your online presence. We’d like to imagine that our social media accounts are a part of our civilian life, so to speak, and shouldn’t have any bearing on our job prospects, but that’s simply not the case. If it’s online, it’s more than likely public, and you have to assume that the things you post on social media could very well be viewed by someone in charge of evaluating you for a job.

So think about how you present yourself online. Don’t go on Facebook and badmouth the company that let you go. Don’t go on Twitter and say things – even as a joke – that a reputable company wouldn’t want to be associated with. If you need to clean up your social accounts, now’s the time.

Go to work finding a new job

When you’re unemployed, your job becomes finding a new job. It’s time-consuming and often very defeating, but you need to treat your job hunt like the work that it is. Be diligent. Put in the hours. Set aside a specific portion of the day for job hunting tasks and be consistent. If you mirror your job hunting hours with your previous working hours, it can help you to maintain a schedule and avoid the kind of lengthy periods of inactivity that can lead to anxiety or depression.

Don’t neglect your health, hobbies, and relationships

Just because your budget needs to tighten up doesn’t mean that no need to stop living your life. People in the midst of unemployment very often begin to isolate themselves because they’re too ashamed to be around friends and loved ones. Joblessness also has a tendency to lead people to stop taking the time and effort to exercise and maintain their hobbies and interests.

Adding additional layers of misery to an already difficult situation isn’t going to improve anything. Be sure to stay active during a layoff. Spend the necessary time hunting for a new job, but once those tasks are over, let them go and focus on personally fulfilling ways to spend your time. Stay physically and mentally fit. Continue interacting with friends and family. Don’t forget to continue being you.

Focus only on the things you can control

Finally, during the course of your unemployment, there will be things you can control and things you cannot. It’s natural to worry about things that are out of our control, but try to focus your time and energy on the things you can actually do to actively improve your situation. Let go of everything else. Eventually, with a lot of hard work and determination, you’ll make it through to the other side. But until then, stay positive and stick to the plan.

Need more advice? Our financial counselors are available to provide support and guidance. Begin your free, confidential session anytime.

Tagged in Earning extra income, Goal setting, Managing a loss of income, Navigating change

Jesse Campbell photo.

Jesse Campbell is the Content Manager at MMI, with over ten years of experience creating valuable educational materials that help families through everyday and extraordinary financial challenges.

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