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Five Things to Do If You Get Laid Off

By Christopher Schonberger

Recently we've focused a lot of attention on the challenges of finding employment, but unfortunately, a lot of our readers are currently struggling with the more pressing issue of getting laid off from a job they already have. With "the next round of layoffs" looming on the horizon at companies across the country, it's good to be prepared for the worst. Here are five important steps you should take if you're the unlucky victim of downsizing.

1) Be wary about signing anything without looking over it very carefully. You may be handed severance/termination agreements to sign, but don't feel you have to do so before taking a very close look and, if possible, running them by a lawyer. Firstly, you want to make sure you're getting fair compensation for your severance and that it's clear you're not being fired (which will make you ineligible to collect unemployment). But just as importantly, you need to make sure there are no terms that could potentially limit your prospects moving forward, such as "non-compete" clauses regarding your ability to work for other companies in the same field.

2) Don't let your health insurance slip away from you. Losing your benefits sucks, but it doesn't mean you should risk forgoing healthcare during your job hunt. In most cases, you can sign up for COBRA—this way you get to maintain a full-coverage plan, but you have to pay for it yourself. You've got 60 days after you leave the job to sign up, so comparison shop like a mother on Einsurance.com. If that's not in the cards, check out our guides to short-term health insurance and Getting Healthcare without a Job.

3) Avoid the temptation to go out in a ball of flames. Getting laid off is never fun, and your first reaction may be anger or an overwhelming desire to slink off quietly and never speak to anyone from work ever again. But in the long run, the much more constructive reaction is to make nice with all your bosses and co-workers, because they can be crucial networking contacts down the line. If they walk you out with your belongings in a paper box, resist the urge to cry and/or yell, "You haven't seen the last of me! I am going to take you all down. I am going to take your down to Chinatown."

4) Gather all your files and any other work you don't want to lose. HR will probably say something to you on the last day about handing over any company property and not taking "proprietary" files out of the office. And yeah, you shouldn't take stuff and put it up on the Internet in some sort of insane act of vengeance. But if you just want it for your own personal uses in the future, go for it. After all, you did the work. And it could save you a lot of time in the future if you end up working on similar things.

5) Tell everyone you know that you're back on the job-hunt. It can be embarrassing or painful to tell people you got laid off. But honestly, in the current economic climate, people are more likely to be sympathetic than they are to call you a loser. And more importantly, if your network doesn't know you're looking for a job, the hunt is going to be a lot harder. So first things first: throw up a Facebook status message letting people know your situation. Feel free to make it lighthearted. Here are a few examples:

  • Got the axe this week. Timberrrrrrrr!!! Anyone seen any job openings in publishing?
  • Anyone see the front page article about me in the New York Times? "600,000 people lost their jobs this February." Anyone know people applying to B-School I can talk to? Thanks.
  • Remember when I worked at Lehman Brothers? Yeah, me neither! Looking to switch modes -- interested in marketing and branding. Holler if you've got any tips.

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