12 Steps to Recovering From a Job Loss


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Losing a job is tough. A layoff typically offers a better chance than being fired to claim unemployment insurance, but eligibility varies by state and depends on a number of factors, including how long you have been working. Either way, unemployment insurance payments are only one part of recovering from losing a job. Here are 12 other important steps to take.

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Was there severance pay? If so, was tax deducted from it, and do you need to set aside any more? If you get the opportunity to buy COBRA health coverage, how long will it last? The Department of Labor provides some guidance, but details and cost should have been in a severance package. You will want to ensure you stay covered, so make sure you include health costs in your planning.

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Unless there's income from other sources -- perhaps a rental property, or a separate freelance business -- whatever resources you have now (including unemployment insurance) will be what you have to work with. Be clear about what's in savings, a 401(k), equity in a home, but also any debt that needs paying off.

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A "survival" job might be necessary -- one that might not make optimal use of your skills and experience or pay what you're used to, but may keep you afloat without having to make a huge dent in savings or equity. While in the survival job, apply for more financially and professionally rewarding jobs.

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Figure out how to ration current earnings to sustain a potentially long unemployed period. Be conservative about estimating the length of unemployment (or "underemployment" at a survival job) based on the kind of job that's wanted, location, and job market. Be clear about existing monthly bills, and look at what can be cut. There might even be some luxury items to sell if necessary. If sharing expenses with a significant other, talk honestly and openly about how that will work.

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When looking for a new job, it's easy to feel defining by the tasks performed in the one you just left. You might need a broader view of your skills, experience, and interests. Get perspective from friends, former colleagues, family, and mentors on your strengths and weaknesses to help build a picture of what you have to offer.

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If you were laid off for reasons that had nothing to do with your individual work, asking for -- and getting -- a reference should be straightforward. When someone is fired, however, it's unlikely a manager who did the firing is going to offer a reference. If the firing came after a number of successful years at a company, though, a previous manager might help.

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If you do nothing else, think seriously about what you want as a career, rather than just a next job. There are lots of great resources for career planning work, including at the Department of Labor and through LinkedIn.

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If you're unemployed because there isn't a lot of work in the industry you just left -- or you just want to tackle something new and need training -- start with options and programs available through the Department of Labor's CareerOneStop.

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By far the best bet in looking for work is a network of friends, relatives, and former colleagues. You may want to register for one of a professional network such as LinkedIn to expand that network to become known among those you'd like to connect with. A LinkedIn profile can also show recommendations from former managers, colleagues, and other professionals who have insight on the value of your work.

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Some people approach job-hunting like a lottery: The more jobs they apply for, the better the chance of winning. True, you typically won't get a job unless you apply (or are lucky enough to be head-hunted), with limited resources and time it's better to target jobs for which you are best qualified. Hiring managers also appreciate resumes and cover letters that help them easily and quickly match up skills, experience, and qualifications with a job description. Good places to look for jobs and narrow a search include LinkedIn, Indeed.com, and Monster.com.

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Do the homework before a job interview. Study the job description extensively to answer questions easily about how your skills and experience line up with what might be expected. But go beyond that: Study the business of a company and the role of the group you're applying to within the company, and talk to anyone you may know who works there. The more you know going into an interview, the better the chance of being able to talk intelligently about the contribution you might make.

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Even if it is simply to say you appreciated the chance to apply and interview, it is worth following up after a hiring meeting. If there's no reply, you could do one further follow-up a few weeks later and ask whether there's any other questions you might be able to answer -- underscoring a continued interest in the job. In some cases, you may not be a fit for that specific job, but staying in touch keeps the door open for others. Beware, however, of pestering employers with multiple follow-up emails. Two unanswered emails is a clear enough answer.