I was laid off ... Now What? Advice for keeping your career moving forward

No one wants to sit down with their boss only for him or her to open with a line reminiscent of, “I have some unfortunate news…”

But the difficult reality is, many Americans will go through the experience of getting laid off at some point during the span of their careers. This is especially true for professionals who live through times of economic hardship, like a recession or a global pandemic.

In fact, more than 22 million Americans filed for unemployment aid in the month following the national emergency declaration instated in response to 2020’s COVID-19 outbreak. This wiped out a decade of historic job gains, resulting in a level of job loss the U.S. hasn’t experienced since the Great Depression.

So, if you’ve suddenly found yourself without a job, you are certainly not alone. But you’re still left thinking to yourself, “I was laid off…now what?” In today’s job market, the best piece of advice is to act quickly – but what exactly does that entail? Where should you go from here to ensure a good chance of finding a job after getting laid off?

Look no further. We spoke with a career planning expert to uncover the four things you should do immediately after getting laid off. Consider her advice below.

What to do when you get laid off: 4 Steps to take right away

University of Massachusetts Global director of career planning and development Katy Curameng has dedicated years of her professional life to helping others in the areas of organizational management and career development. In Curameng’s experience, there are four key steps you should take if you’ve been laid off.

1. Know you will come out on the other side

Getting laid off can be a scary and emotional experience for many – after all, most people depend on their career salaries to stay afloat financially. You’re suddenly facing a world of unknowns, and it’s easy to let anxiety creep in and overtake you. But the best thing you can do to get your career back on track is to stay calm, according to Curameng.

“You may be feeling a sense of rejection. Or maybe you’re struggling with your sudden lack of control over your current circumstances,” she says. “In any case, it’s helpful to know that you will come out on the other side.”

The most effective way to ensure your new job search starts out on the right foot is to maintain a level head throughout the process. While your next step may be unclear right now, Curameng notes that some people find it helpful to ruminate on the things that are within their control:


To regain that sense of being in the driver’s seat of your own career path, focus on the things you have complete say over, such as your own thoughts and actions.

If you’re able to get your mindset in the right place, she explains, you’ll be better equipped to tackle the more hands-on tasks that await.

2. Determine for how long you can remain unemployed

For many, the scariest part of unemployment is the sudden financial stress you could be subjected to. In fact, a person’s financial state often determines how long they have to scope out new opportunities.

In terms of the logistics, you’ll want to file for unemployment immediately. If you are able to qualify for unemployment payments from your state, you could secure some income that could help keep you afloat during your job search. For some, this could mean the difference between snatching up the first opportunity you come across and taking the necessary time to find the right fit.

It's also important to consider your options as they relate to health insurance. In most cases, you can apply to keep your employer’s plan for up to three years with the federal program, COBRA.

Once you do these things, you can more accurately deduce how long you’re able to spend on a job search. Curameng also points out that:


For some, being laid off becomes an opportunity to reassess their goals and start a new, unexpected chapter in their career trajectory.
She also recognizes however that “for others, it’s a time of severe financial distress, and the sole focus is to secure a job – any job.” Which camp are you in?

3 - Take stock of your industry & your personal brand

Setbacks like getting laid off typically present opportunities to reevaluate what you bring to the table in your current industry. When you do, you may find that you’ll need to upskill if you want to land the types of positions you’re hoping for. Or maybe you’ll decide that it’s time to change industries altogether. Curameng recommends you:


Follow the demand.

She encourages you to “Research what industries are hiring and for what jobs. Then consider preparing yourself for those types of roles.”

This may also require you to fine tune your personal brand. Your brand should be an evolving profile that’s comprised of the unique combination of skills and experiences that would make you an asset to whichever organization you set your professional sights on.

“A powerful personal brand can help define your transferable skills when moving from one organization or industry to the next,” Curameng explains. Use this as an opportunity to redefine your career goals and reevaluate how you want to present yourself as a professional. In doing so, you could find yourself in an even more fulfilling role than the one you had before.

4. Get started on your job search

Gearing up for yet another job search can be intimidating after you’ve been laid off – especially if you were at your former company for a long time. But once you’re ready to begin your hunt for a new career, remember that you’re not completely on your own. Curameng reminds you that:


You are far from alone – there are plenty of people out there to assist you in a variety of ways

“Check in with your alma mater and see if they have resources available. Many schools have an alumni association that provides all kinds of career-related resources.”

She also suggests tapping into your professional network. Start by assembling a list of contacts you can reach out to: former colleagues, fellow alumni, friends of friends who work in your industry. You never know where your next job opportunity might come from, and networking can be an effective way to get your foot in the door for jobs you may otherwise never hear about. More than 85 percent of open positions are filled without even being posted online, so leveraging your network can be key.

You’ll also want to rehearse your elevator pitch. You can expect to encounter some new interview questions that pertain to your current circumstances, and the last thing you want is to be caught off guard and without a solid answer. When asked about the details of getting laid off, for example, practicing your response ahead of time can help you fight the instinctual urge to become defensive or insecure.

It's helpful to remind yourself that getting laid off is not a result of your actions. A good rule of thumb is to keep your trajectory focused on the future, not the past.

Finally, Curameng urges that you get started quickly, but also prepare yourself for what could be a long journey. “The reality is that job searches can take a while,” she says. “Even in the best of times, it can take a couple weeks to get through the recruitment process and actually begin collecting a paycheck. In times of economic hardships – or worldwide pandemics – job searches can last months.” The sooner you start your search, the sooner you’ll be back to work.

Recreate your career

It can be difficult to know exactly what to do when you get laid off. The experience can be confusing, emotional and even a little bit scary. But with Curameng’s expert advice in mind, you’re now better equipped to journey forward and reclaim your career.

As you now know, one of the leading tools that can help you scope out new positions is networking – which takes place mostly online these days. If you fear your networking skills are a bit rusty, we’ve got you covered. Review our four secrets of effective online networking to learn more.



Become a Student

Have questions about enrollment, degree programs, financial aid, or next steps?

Further your education with a few questions

Student Type
Please enter your zip code to proceed.
Please enter a valid zip code to proceed.
Please select a degree type
Please select your area of interest
Please select a program type
Please select a session
Have you served in the U.S. Military or are you a Military Dependant?
Please enter your name
Please enter your last name
Please enter your email to proceed
Please enter a valid email address
Please enter your phone number to proceed.
Please enter a valid phone number.

UMass Global is partnered with hundreds of employers like yours—learn if you’re eligible for tuition discounts by providing your work email address.

Please enter a valid work email address
This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy Policy and Terms of Service apply.

About UMass Global

Earn your bachelor’s degree, master’s degree or certificate at UMass Global, a regionally accredited university.

We value your privacy

By submitting this form, I agree that UMass Global and/or Kaplan North America, LLC may contact me about educational services by voice, pre-recorded message and/or text message using automated technology, at the phone number provided, including wireless numbers. I understand that my consent is not required to attend University of Massachusetts Global. Privacy Policy