How To Survive Being Laid Off From Your Job

Young adults around a table sharing job search tips

The rumour mill has been speculating about layoffs for days (weeks, months). Even so, you’re completely blindsided when you’re called into HR and told your services are no longer required.

Don’t underestimate the emotional reaction you’ll have. If you’ve been miserable in your day job and have been wishing for a change, you may consider this the universe’s way of telling you to get your ass in gear.

If you love your job, and/or the people you work with on a daily basis, then you may feel absolutely devastated.

Regardless of where you’re coming from (shocked at the betrayal; elated at the new opportunity), there are steps you can take to make the transition to unemployment — and back again—work FOR you.

Know Your Rights

Listen carefully to the details of your severance package. And there should be either a termination or severance package – virtually every province / state has rules regarding what steps need to be taken when terminating an employee.

In Canada, if you’ve worked for the same company for less than 5 years, you are owed termination pay (money in exchange for the required notification period). More than 5 years under your belt? You are likely owed severance pay (depending on several factors including company size and the number of severed employees).

In addition to severance pay, they may offer you additional benefits ranging from career planning / job search assistance, an extension of personal and health benefits, and possibly others.

Read. Everything. Thoroughly. Do not feel rushed. This is your future and it is imperative you fully understand the contents of your severance package, as well as any terms or requirements placed on your acceptance of said package. If the offer isn’t perfectly clear, ask for clarification.

And if you still don’t understand, or don’t agree with either your termination or your severance package, do not sign anything. It is well within your rights to take the offer away and consult with a lawyer before signing any documents. At the very least, sit on it for at least a day, even a weekend. It’s harder to think straight, let alone negotiate, when emotions are running high.

Don’t Forget To Negotiate

Always negotiate. While minimum severance payout is required to be at least 1 week per year of service, more is common. Ask for as much as you can get. If you’re offered two weeks per year of service, ask for at least twice that amount. Request that they take into consideration any commissions or end of year bonuses from which you will be excluded.

You may find negotiations tougher when you’re laid off as part of larger group—the company may be more limited in terms of what they’re able to offer, or willing to negotiate, but you lose absolutely nothing by asking.

Consider also requesting an extension of your group health benefits, if it’s not already offerred. It can take some time for you to replace your salary—more so the further along you are in your career—and you want to be sure you will be covered for all critical needs while unemployed.

It’s not you, it’s them

It can feel particularly hurtful being laid off when you’ve been with a company for any length of time. After devoting more than half of your waking hours to an organization, it can be hard when that loyalty isn’t returned.

Unfortunately, for whatever reason, your position was deemed redundant. Do not take it personally. This is not about you – it’s about what the company has to do in order to survive. (Side note: if you’re confident it IS about you and that you have been wrongly dismissed, see Know Your Rights and consult a lawyer a.s.ap.)

Regardless, it’s a huge change, and you’re bound to feel anything from anger and betrayal to absolute euphoria. Sadness, worry and feeling overwhelmed are completely normal reactions. Allow people to try and cheer you up (or avoid them entirely if that’s more your thing). No one but you knows exactly what you’re feeling—and whatever you’re feeling is perfectly okay.

Regardless of where you’re at, let yourself wallow for a day or two. But no more than that. You’ve got work to do.

Start the Paperwork

It can take weeks for your unemployment insurance benefits to kick in, so be sure to submit your claim as soon as possible.

Research which government assistance programs are available to you. Depending on your personal circumstances, you may qualify for re-training or education rebates.

Find out what your pension options are, and make sure you adhere to all deadlines

Review any insurance coverage you have (mortgage, bank accounts, credit cards, etc) and check to see if you are eligible to make a claim.

Consider consulting a financial advisor for advice on how to best manage your severance package (if you receive one), pension and/or other retirement savings. You need to consider any tax implications and/or investment opportunities so as to avoid any nasty surprises at the end of the year.

Re-evaluate Your Position

You need a plan to move forward, and to do that you need to know exactly where you are. If you didn’t receive much severance, your current finances may dictate an immediate return to work. Re-assess your budget and cut out any unnecessary expenditures.

Take advantage of any career counselling benefits offered. Meet with a counsellor or career coach to find out what your options are and how you can best position yourself to move forward.

If your severance package or savings can buy you some time, this is the perfect opportunity to reassess your career path. Is this even what you want to be doing? Would a different role, or a new industry be a better fit? Perhaps you’ve been playing with the idea of freelancing or starting your own business.

If you regularly dream of self-employment and were just waiting on a windfall and a serious kick in the pants, then—congratulations—that day has arrived.

Do you have a side hustle that has been bringing in some money, or has the very real potential to bring in money? If yes, you need to seriously consider if this is something you would want to do full time. And if you’re not confident enough in your prospects to make the leap, try doing both for a while. Search for a new job while building up your business.

When our bills are paid and our job isn’t SO horrible, it’s easy to become complacent and stay put in a less-than-ideal work situation. Unemployment is forced upon you, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a new choice that will see you happier in the long run. If you’re looking for inspiration on how to find a career you’ll be passionate about, check out Chris Guillebeau’s book Born For This.

Self-employment and freelancing are two very viable options. Less viable if you don’t have a large severance or well-padded savings account, but viable nonetheless. Know that self-employment is unpredictable, and can take a while to build up an income that works. But as history’s just shown you, it’s no less predictable than working for another company that can decide to lay you off at any time.


In every corner of your city there are people much less fortunate than yourself. Not only will volunteering help get you out of your head by doing something for others (studies show that volunteering is effective in combating loneliness and depression ), it will help keep you in a positive frame of mind and allow you to make some new contacts.

Volunteer when you've been laid off to prepare yourself for your next job.

Volunteer in roles that supplement your skill set in an area with which you’re familiar. Or build an entirely new set of skills in an industry that interests you. I am firmly of the opinion that unpaid work experience is just as valuable as paid. Provide value to others and benefit from your service at the same time.

Update your resume with your volunteer experience. This credits you with your new work experience and also alleviates the perceived employment gap, should it be a while before you accept another job.

Promote Yourself Like Nobody’s Business

Regardless of your path forward, promote the hell out of yourself.

  • Let everyone in your circle know that you’re looking for a job. According to LinkedIn, 85 % of new jobs are found through networking.
  • Create / or revamp your LinkedIn profile to suit your target position. Add a great profile photo, get recommendations from former employers and colleagues. Reach out to your connections.
  • Redo your resume – consider having it professionally written if it’s within your budget or provided for in your severance package.
  • Revise your cover letter for each new job you apply for.
  • Revamp your online profiles. Evaluate all of your social media profiles (active and inactive). Delete any posts that paint you in anything but a positive light, and be active in your favourite communities.
  • Reach out to people and research companies you’re interested in working with. Share your knowledge and build / strengthen relationships.
  • Sign up to all of the large job boards (Monster, the Canadian Government, US Government, large Charities). Set up your profile to receive notifications anytime relevant positions are posted.
  • Practice your interview skills. Selling ourselves conflicts with our natural tendency towards modesty, so make sure you’re comfortable speaking about all of your many impressive accomplishments

Prepare for the future

When you get a new job—and YOU WILL—don’t let yourself become complacent. Nurture the relationships you’ve built. Maintain your connections on LinkedIn and periodically review your resume and job search documents to make sure they’re up to date.

And don’t worry too much. Nothing is certain – but you’ll have been through it before. Change can be really hard, but that doesn’t mean it can’t also be incredible and life changing—for the better.

Have I forgotten anything? Please let me know in the comments!

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