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The Rosie guide to bouncing back from a layoff

by | Mar 7, 2023

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Getting laid off from work is one of the most gut-wrenching life experiences a person can go through. Sure, it’s “just a job”—but it’s one you’ve most likely cared deeply about. For many of us, work is a place where we’ve contributed our best ideas and creations, built strong relationships with colleagues, and earned essential income to support ourselves and our dependents in the world. It’s normal to wonder why this happened to you and to feel stressed about what’s going to come next.

A quick clarification: there’s a difference in getting laid off versus getting fired for cause. A layoff isn’t your fault, and although it may feel hurtful, it truly isn’t personal.

Kerry Hoffman, a project manager with over 10 years of experience, was laid off in early 2023. Of her experience, she says that “the hardest part was deciding what step to take first. Should I update my resume and portfolio first? Should I immediately start applying for jobs? Should I do some soul-searching to figure out what is next for me? Or should I do an entire Lego set while watching all five seasons of The Crown?”

If you’ve also found yourself overwhelmed and struggling to plan your next steps in this stressful post-layoff moment, we’ve put together a guide to help you understand exactly what to do when you’ve been laid off.

Here’s what you’ll find inside our Rosie guide to bouncing back from a layoff:

Ready? Let’s dive in.


Phase One: Closing the chapter after a layoff

Before you can start moving forward, there are some essential housekeeping items to take care of regarding your now former company.


Maximize your window of access

Even though you might feel stunned, the moments immediately following news of a layoff can offer a critical opportunity: a final moment of contact and access to your colleagues and work accounts. Not everyone is so lucky, of course. There have been many headlines lately about people who found out about their layoff after losing access to work accounts. But if you do have the opportunity to access your accounts for a final day or take one last meeting with your manager, here’s what we recommend:

  • Ping your team with your personal email address so they can get in touch.
  • Grab screenshots of any work you might like to add to a portfolio. Make sure your contract doesn’t prohibit this, and keep in mind that you may need to redact identifying or confidential information before sharing your work externally. But, it can be helpful to have these examples even if you don’t end up sharing them, because you can always use them for your own reference!
  • Confirm that you have login information for your benefit accounts, like health insurance and retirement plans. If these are linked to your work email, be sure to change them to your personal email address.
  • Connect with your manager. Ask your manager if they’re willing to provide a recommendation for you, find out what resources are being put together for laid off employees, and check about important dates you need to know.

When reflecting on her layoff, Kerry says, “Since tech layoffs have been happening since mid-2022, I felt fully prepared that I could be laid off from work. The advice I always shared with others is to keep copies of documents for your portfolio on a rolling basis. When you get laid off, your computer could be shut off immediately. You do not want to have to rely on the colleagues that remain to pull documents you need.”

Remember that this “window of access” actually exists before you get laid off too, and staying on top of your important documents and portfolio ahead of time can make the news of a layoff a little less stressful in the moment.


Take note of important dates

There will be a few important dates to add to your personal calendar. Make sure you know the following:

  • What is my official date of termination?
  • When will my benefits end? Typically, on the last day of the month.
  • How long do I have to file for a COBRA extension? Usually 60 days from termination of coverage; more on this below!
  • How long do I have to sign my severance agreement? You may have legal protections depending on your age and/or state that afford you certain time frames; don’t take your employer’s word for it—verify the regulations in your area.
  • When will any severance money be distributed? It’s important to know if you’ll receive a lump sum or regular payments for a certain time. Be sure to check if you have any unused PTO days that should be paid out per company policy. 
  • Do I need to take action on any of my employee benefits accounts? For example, you may need to rollover your 401k. 


Review your severance agreement

When it comes to reading your severance agreement, the most important thing is to take your time. Although the length of time you have to sign varies depending on your state, you’ll have a legally protected window of time to consider the offer.

It’s important to actually read the entire thing to understand any non-disclosure and non-compete clauses as well as other terms. If you feel confused, you may want an attorney to review the agreement before you sign it.

Especially if you’re working remotely, check the severance contract for notes on whether you’re expected to return company hardware like your laptop or monitor.

Also review any information about your benefits. Some companies might let you remain on their health insurance policy for an extended period of time as a part of your severance agreement. Otherwise, you’ll probably lose your coverage at the end of the month in which you’re laid off. Your options will then be to:

  • Get on your spouse’s plan (a layoff is a qualifying event)
  • Find a plan through your state’s health insurance marketplace
  • Extend your employer’s coverage for up to 18 months using a provision called COBRA

Using COBRA can cause fewer disruptions to your healthcare, but it comes with a cost. On COBRA, you’re required to take over the full payment of the insurance premium, including any portion previously paid by your company. For example, if you had an 80/20 split with your employer and your plan cost $500 a month total, you’ll go from a monthly payment of $100 to paying the full $500 yourself.

Pro tip: Severance agreements are contracts, and like any other contract, you’re allowed to negotiate! Want to keep your equipment, or have the employer pay for a skills course to help you get into a new industry? It doesn’t hurt to ask. In fact, you don’t actually have to sign it at all—although that would mean you’d forgo the severance money being offered. You’ll have to weigh the pros and cons.


Know your unemployment options

One of the first things many people want to know in this situation is: If you get laid off can you collect unemployment?

You’re given certain rights and options when you’re laid off from work, from the amount of time you have to review the severance agreement to your options for extending your benefits coverage, and, yes, your access to unemployment payments.

Most of the time, when you’re laid off, you can apply for unemployment payments in your state. These payments are part of an insurance policy, hence the official term “unemployment insurance” (UI).

When your company employs you, they pay money into your state’s unemployment fund. This gains you access to income in the event of a layoff. The amount you’ll receive depends on what your salary was, and the maximum UI differs in every state.

So, how do you collect unemployment after your layoff? You’ll file a claim with your state, typically online, and meet certain weekly requirements. Usually you have to report any income earned (like from freelancing) and regularly apply for jobs to indicate that you’re seeking work.

While 1099 contractors normally aren’t eligible for UI, if you’re a freelancer on a fixed-term W2 contract (meaning taxes are taken out for you), you may be eligible for UI when that contract ends. Check with your company’s HR rep or the contact you’re given when your assignment ends to clarify these details.


Phase Two: Pause to assess what comes next (and breathe!)

Give yourself a minute

Initial reactions to the news of a layoff can encompass a range of emotions. It’s normal to feel a sense of panic and an urge to dive right into your job search, just as much as it is to feel frozen and unable to take any action at all.

Corean Canty is a life-centered coach and consultant who has herself taken the leap from a corporate career (which included a stint with We Are Rosie’s core team) to building her own business. She now helps others recognize that they don’t have to be stressed, burnt out or miserable to be successful.

No stranger to the heightened emotions that can come with layoffs, Corean says that “getting laid off can be a very shocking event. The first piece of advice I would give to someone whose immediate future has shifted is to allow space for grief. When our lives change, we become a new version of ourselves. We often need to create space to let go of the old version that no longer exists. It’s important to process your feelings and not to be afraid to ask for help.”

Although we (and many others) try to remind everyone that layoffs aren’t personal, that can be a tough pill to swallow. Jocelyn Johnson, now the owner and creative director of her own business Jocelyn Designs, was laid off back in 2020. Jocelyn says that the experience is a challenge because, “Yes, we work and are compensated for that work. But when you love what you do and sacrifice your own time and sanity to get the work done, it starts to feel personal, so you hope to be rewarded with that same level of care and concern.”

That’s why we recommend taking an intentional moment for yourself to pause, recover, grieve, reflect, and plan what’s next post-layoff. This might be a few days or a few weeks, depending on your personal circumstances. Either way, it’s an important time to take stock of your finances, clarify how you’ll frame your experience, and determine what your next steps will be.

Jocelyn shares that “for better or worse, I didn’t take time off before searching for a new role.” Now reflecting back on that time, she says, “I was the person obsessively reaching for every job opportunity I could find only to end up even more stressed and exhausted. Once I hit that wall, I had no choice but to relinquish control and be open to unexpected work opportunities, not just a standard 9-to-5 job… Being willing to dive in and explore opportunities I didn’t plan on proved to open so many doors.”

Still feeling nervous about taking an intentional pause after a layoff?

Kt McBratney is the co-founder and chief community officer at OwnTrail, a platform that pushes back against the myth of there being “one right path” or a singular definition of success. OwnTrail offers tools, connections and support that help people take control of their personal and professional journeys.

Kt shares that “reflection is an often overlooked part of the post-layoff process, but it can be one of the most valuable actions. Take the time to sit with yourself and get really honest. Deciding whether to take a career break requires tapping into logical and emotional data—your finances and the job market are as valid of data as your feelings and emotional runway post-layoff.”

Only you can determine what’s right for you in the moment after a layoff, and we just encourage you to be intentional about reflecting and deciding exactly what that is.


Decide what you want (and need) to happen next

When deciding what to do when you’re laid off, it’s important to make a clear plan for approaching your next steps instead of taking a haphazard approach to job applications.

To get going on the right track, Corean shares steps for a thought exercise she regularly does with coaching clients called Find Your Thread.

“This exercise helps you reflect back on the things you have done that bring you more joy and the things that might make you a little miserable, even if you are good at them,” she says. “It’s very simple. On a piece of paper, divide it into three columns. In the first, list all of the roles you have ever had. In the second, list everything you liked or lit you up about each role. In the third, list everything that stole your joy and left you drained about each role.

“Find the threads. Use the list of things that brought you the most joy as criteria for your next move. Work to minimize the things on the draining list. This exercise will help you check in and determine whose life you have really been living. Use this insight and leverage this time to transform your life into the one you really want to live.”


Share the news of your layoff

Many people experience a sense of shame and wonder what to say when they get laid off—totally normal. Take some time to decide how you’ll communicate the news. Will you post publicly on social media and share it widely? This approach can open up new opportunities from your extended network and help reduce the stigma associated with getting laid off from work. It’s OK if that’s not the right path for you, though, and you may choose to share the news on a personal and individual basis.


Review your finances

After a lay off, it’s critical to assess your finances and make a budget. How much “runway” do you have in your savings account? (AKA, for how long can you cover your essential expenses before cash runs out?) Don’t forget to factor in any severance you’re receiving when you calculate this!

Gather an understanding of how long you can make ends meet on any other income sources or just your savings, and see if you can temporarily reduce your expenses to help extend the runway. Give yourself a time frame in which you’ll look for work before making a plan B, or even consider taking an extended break if your finances support that option.

If you don’t have the funds or resources to take extended time off, you’re not alone. A good option to consider is project-based work, which offers a financial and time cushion to reassess your career and figure out what’s next. This move can also work great for folks who need to bolster their income quickly after a layoff or are considering a major shift, like going freelance or changing industries.

(Psst: If you’re a marketer, you can join We Are Rosie for project-based work as well as full-time roles with top brands and agencies.)

Kerry, for one, decided to turn her layoff into an opportunity to take the leap to freelancing full-time.

“For the past few years, I’ve offered a few project management workshops, but never had the time to see if I could also add consulting, finish writing my book, and further diversify my offerings into full-time work,” she explains. “I was never brave enough to quit my job to see if this option was viable. Losing my job felt like the push I needed. I already have three clients and am excited to continue to grow my own business.”

To those considering a big career pivot, Kt, who uses the pronoun they, suggests looking inwards.

“Get clear about whether you’re motivated toward something new versus going away from where you have been,” they say. “Running toward something is much different than running away from something else. Once you’re clear on feeling out a new direction, lean into community! Ask to chat with people in that field or who have made the shift to freelance. Make a list of your assumptions and worries, then ask people who know. You want to know the good, the bad and the things you haven’t thought of yet, then use that information plus what you know about yourself and your aspirations to guide your next steps.”


Find community support

The only thing worse than going through a layoff might be the feeling that you’re going through it alone. Thanks to their company OwnTrail, Kt has a unique bird’s-eye view to reference when it comes to shared experiences throughout career journeys.

“Based on the more than 32,000 unique milestones shared on OwnTrail, I can tell you that there are many shared themes in our journeys!” they explain. “Self-doubt and imposter syndrome are frequent occurrences regardless of industry, seniority and accomplishments—so know that you are not alone if you feel this at some point.”

Finding a supportive community that truly gets what you’re going through has a whole host of benefits, from providing you with talent and upskilling opportunities to expanding your network to learning from others who have been in your position. There are tons of great virtual communities out there that can help you build connections and skills right from your home base. Here are a few great communities to check out in addition to our community for marketers at We Are Rosie.


Phase Three: Looking forward to life and work after a layoff

Reach out to your network

It might surprise you how the loose connections in your extended network can come together and help you find the right opportunity after a layoff.

Kerry has a tip on this point: “I put a LinkedIn post up with a Calendly link to connect with me for 20 minutes and over 20 people-scheduled calls. Some were former colleagues, newer network contacts, and total strangers. It made me realize that I already had an amazing network in place and that it would expand the more time and energy I put into my network.”

Coach Corean also reiterates the importance of a strong network: “The most powerful thing I did when I stepped away from my corporate career to be a caretaker was expand my network. After 20+ years in a corporate career, I had a large but narrow network. Almost all of my network came directly from the companies I worked for, my clients or industry events. When I no longer was part of a company, I intentionally joined groups that were different and my world opened up. My network is much richer, more diverse and teaches me new things every day. Having conversations with people from completely different industries and in different parts of the world also helps you recognize your own areas of expertise and build your confidence about your knowledge and skills. Also, use this time to build new routines that support your own wellbeing and hold them sacred as you re-enter the workforce.”

Putting the word out can bring new conversations and opportunities right to your doorstep, so being intentional about networking opportunities is one of the most important things you can do to support your own growth after being laid off. Pay it forward, too, and consider stepping up when you see people in your extended network looking to connect, even if you’re not sure what you might have to offer just yet.


Prepare your resume, career story, and other job-seeker materials

When you’re actively networking and seeking new opportunities, having strong materials at the ready makes the entire process better, faster, and easier. You’ll be sharing these widely with your contacts and in job applications, so you definitely want to put your best foot forward and have it all ready to go.

Take the time to refresh and review your LinkedIn, resume, website and portfolio of work. This can also be a helpful exercise to prepare you for speaking about your top strengths and favorite past projects and to give you a sense of the work you most want to do as you move forward.

Get more detailed advice on our best practices for updating your LinkedIn, creating a standout resume and preparing for job interviews.

One hesitation that draws many of us back into the job search earlier than we really want is fear of how prospective employers will perceive a career break. So what’s the best way to frame a career break later on when looking for work again?

According to Corean, “If you find yourself with a career break, there are many positives you can highlight when re-entering the workforce. Several studies have shown that sabbaticals from work provide a strong return on investment for employers, and promote wellbeing, reduced stress and increased knowledge and skills in workers.”

Corean advises, “Take advantage of a layoff to take a real break, fully unplug, for however long aligns with your situation, and allow yourself to have expansive experiences. Be a tourist in your own town, check out new parks, go outside more. These experiences will unlock your creativity and innovation. Take note of new ideas, inspiration and insights gained and highlight this experience and why this makes you a better employee because of it. Remember, a company can only be as well as its people.”

When framing a career break to a prospective employer, Kt says to “remember that it’s your story. You own the narrative of your journey, career included. Don’t be afraid to stand by your decisions as well as the facts. A longer-than-planned career break due to broader economic issues isn’t something you had control over—so speak to how you controlled what you could. If you chose to take a professional break, own it! It might help to practice talking about this from a place of confidence and control to account for the sometimes-imbalanced power dynamics in the hiring process.”


Prevent discouragement and burnout while applying for jobs

We won’t sugarcoat the reality: it can be challenging to find the right career opportunity. Interviews take time, and you might not get the first—or even the second or third—role that you interview for. So how do you stay motivated after being laid off?

Organizing your day around a starting and ending routine can help with motivation because it “sets the tone for our relationship with ourselves and our ability to show up for others,” Corean says.

She adds, “Being intentional about what you do when you wake up and what you do at the end of each day sets the container for your life. I call this your ‘Sacred Brackets.’ Even if you can only manage 10 minutes, start there. Give yourself those first minutes after waking to do something that makes you feel good, brings you joy and allows you to connect with yourself before you do anything else. At the end of your day, come back to yourself. Learn to let go of any negative energy from the day and discover what your body needs to wind down and get the type of rest that will restore you and give you the energy to live fully the next day. Find the routine that works best for you. What matters most is that you intentionally hold this space for yourself.”

When it comes to burnout, Kt has personal experiences to share on the matter.

“I’m prone to burnout—I have three milestones about it on my trail on OwnTrail, even,” they explain. “Being aware of my tendencies toward burnout helps me proactively take care of my wellbeing, and being open about it with others helps call in my community to hold me accountable. It also means I have people who can save me from myself when I might not see the signs!”

For others in the same boat, Kt has some suggestions. “Start where you feel supported in talking about it and asking for help, and build from there. Boundaries are a practice. We each have our own starting point, but starting is the first step. Then it’s a matter of keeping going. You won’t get it right all the time—I definitely don’t—but like any skill we develop, the more you try and learn, the better you’ll get. Treat yourself with the grace and kindness you’d extend to others.”

Creative Director Jocelyn also says that discouragement can be helped by “having something that forces you to maintain some sort of routine and expands your life beyond work. For some people, that’s their kids. For others, it’s a workout routine or being part of a community or religious group. For me, it was having an active dog that requires park trips. Also, going hiking or grabbing lunch with peers or friends can be an easy way to unwind while maintaining your network.”


Yes, you can bounce back (and even forward) after your layoff

Of course, no one wants to be laid off from work. The experience can bring financial and emotional challenges that you weren’t prepared for, and the timing of a layoff knows no mercy: we’ve heard from Rosies who were laid off the day after moving into a new home (hello, mortgage) and even while on maternity leave (talk about a vulnerable time!).

But with support from the right community and a clear action plan, you can overcome this hurdle and even transform it into something positive, like the push to finally start your own business, take the leap to a consulting career, or pause for an extended break to support your personal wellbeing. Whatever path you choose to take, we know you’ve got this!

Written by Isabel Sachs
Isabel Sachs is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer and content marketing consultant helping startups grow brand awareness via inspired content & the power of community.

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